Valve Corporation, the company in charge of PC gaming content platform Steam, In cooperation with game developer Bethesda, introduced a new feature to the Steam Workshop: Paid Mods.
Steam Workshop allowed fans with the technical know-how to create modifications of games and share them with others, but until this decision, it was all available for free. The first game to offer paid Workshop content was Bethesda’s 2011 mega-hit, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. However, a huge backlash caused Valve and Bethesda to rethink the decision.
The official announcement from Valve described the move as “a new way to support workshop creators, but any gamers were skeptical of this. A look at the comments on the subreddit /r/pcmasterrace (reddit’s largest PC gaming community) revealed that many believed this move will hinder the modding community by sticking the worthwhile mods behind a paywall, with only low-quality ones available for free. They also fear it will give rise to fraudulent ‘snake oil’ mods which don’t deliver on claims they made before payment or “stolen” mods where people re-package mods created by others as their own and sell them for a profit. They were also highly critical of the fact that modders received only a 25% cut of their mod’s profits.
Steam users organized online protests, petitions, and email-writing campaigns to Valve’s staff, most notably the company’s co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell. The response was so overwhelming that Newell decided to directly engage the community in an AMA (or “Ask me Anything). Newell claimed that his reddit account had recieved over 3,500 inbox messages in the span of just a few days.
“Let’s assume for a second that we are stupidly greedy. So far the paid mods have generated $10K total. That’s like 1% of the cost of the incremental email the program has generated for Valve employees (yes, I mean pissing off the Internet costs you a million bucks in just a couple of days). That’s not stupidly greedy, that’s stupidly stupid. You need a more robust Valve-is-evil hypothesis,” Newell said in response to one critic who accused Valve of simple greed.
The outpouring of negative attention prompted Valve to announce the discontinuation of the program less than a week after unveiling it.
“We’ve done this because it’s clear we didn’t understand exactly what we were doing. We’ve been shipping many features over the years aimed at allowing community creators to receive a share of the rewards, and in the past, they’ve been received well. It’s obvious now that this case is different.” said Erik Johnson, one of Valve’s business development authorities, in an official statement made on reddit.
However, Johnson suggested that Valve will be considering implementing a similar sort of paid feature, with the community’s feedback taken into account.
“We understand our own game’s communities pretty well, but stepping into an established, years old modding community in Skyrim was probably not the right place to start iterating. We think this made us miss the mark pretty badly, even though we believe there’s a useful feature somewhere here,” Johnson said.