It's both refreshing and a little concerning that absolutely everybody has an opinion on paid mods. As tumultuous as this April has been for pretty much everybody in the world, from Nepal to Baltimore to Steam users, it seems the most voracious topic of the month has been Valve's implementation, and sudden retraction, of paid mods for Skyrim. The debate has at least brought to light just how important mods are to the PC audience.
INtense's article currently on MODDB's front page pretty much summed up everything Valve did right and wrong. The concept of paid mods itself isn't evil, in fact it could be brilliant, but introducing them to a game community that's already existed on the free medium for years was a terrible idea. It would have gone down like Hernan Cortez bringing Christianity to the Aztecs.
"If the customer is always right, how can they accept something they disagree with?"
But I think one major reason paid mods drew such a strong reaction is that the gaming community is fed up with feeling like they've lost control of their own market. In the past 5 years, gamers have had to deal with the overwhelming torrent of publisher policies such as day-one DLC, always-on connectivity, season passes, microtransactions, preorder bonuses and forced account registrations. These are all concepts that are extremely unpopular with the consumer yet are sprouting up everywhere. Industry leaders say this kind of post-release monetization is something gamers just have to get used to, but that doesn't compute in the traditional market sense: If the customer is always right, how can they accept something they disagree with?
"Digital markets now work on coercing the consumer to follow the publisher's direction by ensuring they have no adequate alternatives."
Now, I trust Valve and Bethesda with mods. Bethesda is the reason I got into modding in the first place. The problem is when other companies adopt a paid-mod marketplace. EA and Activision, two companies that have been notoriously hostile to modders, could very quickly open their doors to modding, which would be great. However, if these publishers start earning income from paid mods, then any site hosting free mods suddenly becomes a competitor. I could see them taking action against sites like MODDB or the Nexus and modders who release their content for no charge. As it stands, modders operate in a legal grey area and their work exists at the mercy of whoever holds the rights to the game they're built on. One cease-and-desist notice is all it takes to halt months, even years, of nonprofit work on a mod.
This month brought modders dangerously close to the threat, and potential, of capitalism. With Valve and Bethesda reversing their policy, many are breathing a sigh of relief, but it's clear the debate hasn't ended. Valve is going to do exactly what made them into software giants: They're going to back to the drawing board, beat themselves up over where they failed, relentlessly fix the flaws in their design and come back with something everybody can appreciate (or at least tolerate). Then other publishers will copy their move. We can fully expect paid mods to become a reality within the next 2-3 years. Whether or not that's a good thing will come down to how much gamers have a say in it. I hope that when they do come, they exist in a market where paid mods are priced fairly and free mods will continue to be made with passion. Hell, I'd gladly produce both free and paid mods in such a system. But like many gamers, I don't trust the market to be fair and balanced anymore.
And without further ado, here's the weekly music video.