Well, the gaming community is divided--yet again--over another controversial issue. This time it's about content creators getting paid for their work, and it all started last Thursday when Valve posted a press release stating that community modders would now have the option of being paid for creative mod work they have published on the Steam Workshop--probably the most visible and active public forum from which game modders can publish their creative content of games that allow mods.
Up to this point, Valve's Steam Workshop has allowed community modders to share their work on a donation-based system. In games like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, with one of the most active community of modders, individuals create new in-game items, maps, characters, and quest. The quality of mods varies, but on the far end there is work being done that rivals the professional content being produces by game developers. Up to this point, people have thrown countless hours into mods because of how passionate they are for game deisgn. There have been ways by which users can donate to the creators of mods, but no pay-for-content systems have been put in place until now.
And gamers are going bananas. So much so that they've created a petition to remove the paid content features from Steam. While there are some valid concerns as to how paying for mod content will affect the modding community, there's a lot of misguided, impotent rage now that a thing gamers liked is changing. And if we can say anything about internet culture, is that this is pretty typical behavior. But I think a lot of the response to paying for mods is pretty short-sighted.
The backlash against community modders getting paid for their work is problematic for a few reasons:
To begin, we should look at what people are saying about Valve's new policy. The most prevalent argument is that modders should be making content for the love of the game, and not to do it because they want to get paid. This is an extension of a pretty toxic argument that runs through creative, content-producing fields everywhere. Part of it comes from a lack of understanding as to the level of knowledge and work that goes into creative content. People who make things don't just start doing it one day. It took months or years of practice, time that they were most likely not compensated for. People see value in the product, which is why so many are upset that they now have to pay for a thing they want, but not the process.
And we should be clear, the new pay for content policy being established by Valve is optional. Modders will get to set how much users pay for their mod, and whatever they set, part of the profits go to the game developer and part goes to Valve. Alternatively, content creators can institute a pay-what-you-want policy, or they can continue to offer their work for free. Realistically, things might not change all that much for a vast amount of content available through the Steam Workshop.
So why is this pay-for-mods policy a good one? Besides combating the notion that creative content isn't worth paying for, modding may very well become a legitimate branch of the gaming industry. If business is good for premium content from the mod community, who's to say it won't become a more integral part of the gaming experience?
I don't know that modding will compete for the same dollars as DLC from developers, but I think there's a healthy market for well-made community mods. Will it rival developer DLC? I doubt it, but it wouldn't surprise me if we see established modders enter the field professionally and bridge the gap between modder and game developer.
Well-made, for profit mods will help extend the life of games, long after developer support has ended. Ultimately, paid content means more money traveling to creators, whether that be casual modders or professional studios. Paying creators makes them feel like their work is worth something. Creators who feel like their work is meaningful and profitable will continue to do work that is meaningful and profitable.
Now all of this said, if Valve wants to make this work, there's a long road ahead. Modding is a community-driven activity, and ownership of content often exists in murky grey areas. Use of assets and modding tools complicates the question of who owns modded content, and there are going to be a lot of legal ramifications that are now starting to show, even just hours and days after the news was announced. Want to see how quickly it can get messy? Check out one modder's post on reddit. It's harrowing stuff.
Additionally, the profit cut only gives 25% to the modder, 25% to the developer, and 50% goes to Valve. There are lots of issues I have with this, but perhaps it would be prudent to see how events unfold over the next week.
UPDATE(4/27): Just as soon as the payment feature for modding sprang forth from the head of Gabe Newell, it was extinguished by the clamor of the raging, untempered masses. Fogive them, Gaben, they know not what they do.