Post news Report RSS The uncertain future of paid mods

It has been a huge week for the mod community, following Valve launching paid modding then later retracting it. Many have asked our stance, so it is important that we outline that now.

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In the space of 4 days, Valve has launched paid modding support for Skyrim only to remove the feature following significant community backlash. The discussion has involved many prominent people in the modding community with strong opinions, including Valve’s CEO Gabe answering questions in a reddit thread, Dark0ne from SkyrimNexus who is concerned about the DRMification of mods and Garry from GarrysMod and Rust who believes we need to give this a chance.

We’ve sat back and watched this drama unfold - and whilst it has been put on hold for now, this will have fundamental repercussions that will forever affect how developers approach modding and how players consume mods. There is a lot to cover, so please read this entire post before passing your judgement. First up some background.

More important than ever before

Valve is a company who have built themselves on the back of mods success. They know that the wisdom of many cannot be matched by the wisdom of one, so when amazing ideas from the community emerge, Valve is there to nurture them to success and eventually big business. We’ve got the original Team Fortress, Counter-Strike and DotA mods listed on ModDB as proof of that. They have already been toying with paid mods for many years now, which begun in Team Fortress 2 and it has been a huge success, which they discussed in a Steam Dev Days presentation in 2014. The numbers are impressive, since 2010 Valve has paid over $50million (25% of $200million) to modders and has seen TF2’s popularity increase 5 fold. They even encourage other developers to think about paid modding… so this change has been a long time coming.

We brought this on ourselves

Our reluctance to pay for anything digital, is forcing the music, movie and games industries to adapt. In the case of music and movies, they have turned to streaming with ads and subscriptions. In the case of games (especially F2P and mobile) we have tried many ugly ideas such as pay to play, pay to win and ads, but all of these ideas punish the player. So in comes DLC and addon packs to the rescue, as a way to generate revenue while giving something back to the player. But even DLC is often viewed as a negative, as content that should have been shipped in the original game… so what’s left? MODS!

Mods are the holy grail

They cost little to the developer to support once they are implemented, other than providing tools and attempting to maintain compatibility. Modders are not bound to deadlines, financial pressure, social norms or company politics, which often yields amazing results. Modders have created new genres MOBA, Survivalist and Sandbox, brought the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R vision to life, added multiplayer to the unmoddable and experimented with unusual ideas like The Stanley Parable. In all cases games with mod support are better for the players, mod developers and publishers.

Gone but coming back

The numbers don’t lie, every good game that has mods has abnormally high user engagement and longevity. As Team Fortress 2 shows, revenue skyrocketted when user-generated content was sold. As we run towards a F2P content based economy, the significance of this cannot be understated, as publishers explore new ways of making money (which doesn’t have to be a bad thing). This is why despite support for paid Skyrim Mods being retracted, it is clear when you read between the lines “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” that Valve intends to return with a similar feature, but likely in new games only so as not to disrupt established modding communities.

So with all of the background out of the way and the expectation that paid modding will arrive in a big way at some point soon, where does that leave us?

How should paid mods exist?

Right now there are a number of opinions floating around:

  • The community generally believes it should be optional and donation based, but that won’t work. Too few people will donate to make it viable, and even if you believe you would donate, do you actually intend on following through with that promise?
  • Modders that create for the love of it believe modding should remain free, and it will, but it will be a choice: free or paid
  • Garry from Garrysmod believes we should just suck it up and accept paid modding, because there will still be free mods and more content is better right?
  • Dark0ne from Skyrimnexus is ok with paid mods, but more concerned about the DRMification of mods, and the implication of Steam being the only way to find, install and play mods
  • Everyone feels that Valve’s split of 25% mod maker, 25% Valve and 50% game owner is wrong

The good

All of the arguments above have their merits. Paid mods will definitely lead to more content, better content and well supported content. It will also lead to more free mods as tools improve, and more developers participate. A healthier mod community is a great thing and if optional (and I must stress optional) paid mod support is how we get there, then I’m on board. More games today support modding because of this potential than ever before, and if once-great moddable games were to contemplate a return to modding if it continues, isn’t that a win?

The bad

There are however a lot of problems that will need to be overcome, which concern me greatly:

  • This may be the end of epic total conversions. Right now massive teams across the world, make amazing 5+ year projects like The Nameless mod for Deus Ex, Nehrim for Oblivion, Sven Co-op for Half-Life. They are united by their love of the game and desire to sculpt it into something different. Forging a bond through money will shift individuals priorities and lead to fundamental disagreements that cannot be overcome. Money is a finite resource, greed isn’t
  • Expect the greatest influx of hats you have ever seen, this change will encourage the development of cosmetic mods because they are easier, quicker and better revenue generators. Mods need to be more than just a way to make a quick buck
  • Money will put enormous pressure on modders. Want to collaborate but don’t know how to share the profits, or don’t want profits? It’ll be hard to compete with teams that have money, so you will be forced to take less risks and a lot of the incredible creative work we have experienced in the past may be lost to make something safe and simple
  • This will introduce scammers and spammers to modding, those who knowingly steal assets and others work for profit because they can
  • Fan projects, parodies and controversial topics are frequently explored by modders. If mods are tied to Steam and essentially DRM’d, these projects will be shut down and locked out with no way of existing. Freedom of speech will be difficult to protect when money is involved and the sharks are circling

Where do we stand?

13 years ago we started ModDB, because finding mods is tough, and ending up at a broken download link is heartbreaking. A lot of great mods and ideas have been lost along the way, but since 2002 we have never lost a mod hosted on our site and every month you download over 800TB from us. It is amazing that modding has never been stronger than it is today, and Valve is a big reason for that. We need to be understanding that growth may come at a cost, and to approach all change with an open mind. Doing so as a community and our voice will continue to be heard. We also need to encourage game developers to keep their mod platforms open, and for modders to share their work everywhere they can (Steam, Nexus, Curse, ModDB etc). In this scenario Valve can experiment and attempt to make installing mods easier and ask users to pay for the convenience, and we can continue to offer an alternative that is free and open forever.

Comments  (0 - 50 of 163)
CptIstvanofArdeal
CptIstvanofArdeal

I personally think that this a stupid idea Moddb should never host payed mods and those big sharks are already circling around as we speak.

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INtense! Author
INtense!

We will not be hosting paid mods, we will always be a free community. All I was implying is that it is important for competition to exist and in that scenario others can explore different models and consumers will still have a choice as to what they want

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Redsparten321
Redsparten321

Want to know whats stupid? Steam making us pay for mods. Mods are free as said, from these sites Nexus, here and so forth. Mod Developers will have a harder time getting more people to buy and download because of this.
For example, (not saying it will happen).
But if they make a new Sven Co-Op, and make it paid, how much do they want you to pay for it? They could make it Free-Anything (I have no clue on the steam limit).
But what I do know, is that steam is losing alot of support, and alot of people will most likely pirate the mods with a Readme on how to manually install it, if not.
Well its a lose for us, and a win for steam is it not?
Yes, it is. Steam gets more money, we lost more money.
ON MODS.

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CiforDayZServer
CiforDayZServer

(buried)

You are seeing this as too black or white. If, IF I were to ever sell mods on Steam, they would still be freely available in the existing routes that I've always supplied them.

This is about modders being able to sustain their free modding with mass market consumption sales.

How many new players would rather pay 3-10 dollars on mod subscriptions in steam instead of having to learn all the ins and outs of launchers, download sites, patching etc etc.


It's a convenience charge, one which you DO NOT HAVE TO PAY. Which is the same thing as an optional donation.

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-Ghost-
-Ghost-

Skyrim was probably a terrible game to start it with, but modders were putting more up to date versions of their mods behind the paywall. So if you don't pay you wouldn't get that later, more updated version.

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Chrissstrahl
Chrissstrahl

@CptIstvanofArdeal
You should have read the entire post before making a comment like that, what you are doing is putting rumors out and making people that agree with your opinion jump to conclusions that are in no relation to the actual content of the post. Please don't do this, this is how you make good things turn bad.

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Machine-Reaper
Machine-Reaper

Look this thing is just like making Firefox into Shareware...Mods are a haven for gamers cause they are free, not cause they are special BUT free, Please DON'T turn into Steam...

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AncientT
AncientT

Instead of calling it mods, why not call it: Community DLC?

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CMDKeen
CMDKeen

I think this is a great idea. Community DLC, User-created DLC, or any other name to stress it's paid content and separate it from mods. The word "mod" has grown to mean something free made in spare time as a hobby, and making some of them paid and some not is bound to create outrage and confusion.

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Major_Kirrahe
Major_Kirrahe

I'll Drink to that. Great mods are something that people do because they have the drive and vision to create something spectacular. If a pay system in introduced, but no distinction is made, there will be a lot of anger and confusion.

I personally am very torn on the issue. I know that the gaming industry has suffered massively recently. We've all watched the deaths of familiar company names in the last few years among them THQ and Capcom. I I want the industry to be able to survive without screwing over their devs. At the same time, I fear people taking advantage of the pay for system and charging $10 for a weapons pack for Fallout 4 only for said pack to be defective and buggy.

My biggest fear is that Mods have always been a place to experiment and push the boundaries of what can be done. We may see the death of such experimentation at the hands of pay for mods.

Maybe if there was a middleground? Never charging for a mod's initial release? If it is a successful mod then offering the opportunity for the dev's to get money out of it? Kinda like what happened with Stanley Parable or Team Fortress or Garry's Mod?

I'm just thinking out loud...thoughts?

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INtense! Author
INtense!

Some good ideas in here for sure. Game companies die on the back of one bad title, multiplayer servers get shut down because running and supporting these services is expensive. Making a critically acclaimed game doesn't guarantee success.

For an industry to thrive, we cannot be ignorant of these costs and that as we demand more sales and lower priced games the difference will need to be made up somehow. The masses have spoken very clearly, but is it because we want everything free, or is it because we fear the effect this will have on the mod scene?

The later I can understand, the former... well as you said we need to be open minded and figure out a middle ground. We are and always will be a free modding community here at ModDB - but i'm not against others exploring new ideas and passing judgement once those ideas have had a chance to sink or swim

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sirdione
sirdione

Great piece! Good to get the viewpoint of a subject matter expert. I think modders should be paid for their work, but not in the way that Valve proposed with this initiative. You've asked a couple of times that perhaps the masses just "want everything for free" but I don't think that's the simple problem here--meaning, selfishness and entitlement from the community. People are willing to pay for things that have a worthwhile value attached to them. I'll use Cities: Skylines as an example. The game wasn't that hyped (nothing like say, Evolve) and was priced at a point that would make most shareholders cringe. It also offered mod support that the devs had to devote extra time and effort (money) to provide. All the keys for financial ruin, right? No, the price and mod support (and the game being good of course) generated goodwill with the PC gaming community and the title has since turned into a great success story: both for the devs and the players.

Certain game publishers and devs being forced to fold isn't on the backs of tightwad gamers, it's the responsibilty of those business to adapt to the consumers, just like in any other industry that doesn't sell its wares digitally. I don't think the games industry thriving requires us to help support it in any other way than to vote with our wallet on what things we think are worth paying for. 2K, you want to have better sales that make your shareholders happy? Don't make the consumers feel screwed by convoluted DLC schemes, hype, and inappropriate price points. You brought up the Stanley Parable and I think that's a great example. People voted with their wallets and essentially declared that what was previously a free mod was worth paying for because it was good and had value. Modders who want to get paid for their efforts will have to put in the work to demonstrate something is worth paying for just like any other product vying for consumers.

So, hats and skins work in TF2 and CS:GO and Valve has paid out $50 million to content creators. That's great for F2P games where the items are simple and cosmetic only and don't require a collaborative community to produce. Not so with "traditional" mods for PC games. Imagine if every PC question you posted on a forum required you to pay the most prolific and helpful posters (that are there on there own time) that helped you solve your problem. What if several people worked together to help you. Who do you pay? What split? Now imagine if academic science articles weren't shared openly and collaboratively? "Don't share our new synthesis with those doctors over there, what if they take it and do something else and it leads to a blockbuster drug someday?! We need to keep it secret so WE can get paid!"

As for the companies, I personally think the extra sales that they'd see by generating a little more goodwill with the gamers (mod support, free content updates, less hype and cash-grab business models) would give them the sales numbers they're after. Something along the lines of the way Tripwire chose to handle Killing Floor 1 (again, previously a free mod). Look at what they can accomplish now as a company (publishing, developing higher budget games) thanks to the generous sales they received over the years as an outcome of their continued generosity.

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INtense! Author
INtense!

A very well thought out response - I do appreciate being challenged and certainly agree with your points.

Mods are what makes PC gaming great, and when I look at mobile and console gaming I see publishers turning to subscriptions, ads, pay-to-win and reward timers for profit when high sticker prices fail.

I'd much rather we at least consider a future where we harness PC gaming's strength, and it is funded by a vibrant motivated development community working together and pushing boundaries, than the ugly alternative.

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aurora419
aurora419

The fundamental problem with paid mods isn't the fact that people might have to pay money for mods. It's the fact that mods themselves are not cross-compatible with each other and very unstable compared to official patches/dlc because they're not supported by the original developers. Modders have the freedom to modify the game however they want, and sometimes they modify the game executable itself. This obviously causes conflicts with other mods. So what happens when you pay for one mod and it doesn't work with the other? Or what if you pay for a mod and it breaks your game? Modders are not bound by proper quality assurance, and that's the core of the issue. If we're paying money for a product, we better get what we paid for. People who pay for mods are no longer freeloaders, but CUSTOMERS.

There is a way to implement paid mods, but it will be at the cost of the modder's freedom to create what he wants. In order to make all paid mods cross compatible, a system will need to be implemented which will restrict mods from making drastic changes to the game. Basically, paid mods will be nothing more than endless DLC of items, unlike the total conversion mods that you would come to expect out of paid mods.

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Azatoth027
Azatoth027

Changing the label only moves the problem. Additional content is additional content. If people are encouraged to create (paid) community DLC instead of (free) mods then we get back to the negative points of this article.

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Sensi7
Sensi7

Free is dead ...

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GojiraFan
GojiraFan

I have no problem with modders getting something in return for their hard work,but what Valve and Bethesda tried to pull was criminal,the modders themselves would have gotten a miniscule percentage of the money while they fattened their wallets even more.

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INtense! Author
INtense!

Agreed so your main beef is with the 25%? Whilst I am not defending valve, they pay credit card, forex, vat, hosting and many other costs which are significant especially when mods may only cost cents. But why they didn't decide to split things evenly between the modder and game maker Is a risky call

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saivert
saivert

Actually this was based on the industry standard cuts. They don't treat mods differently than AAA games. Steam is a publishing platform and should be treated as such. Mod makers are not dependent on Steam to publish their mods. They have moddb and can just set up a website if they want. Game devs actually depend on Steam as a popular one stop shop for games. They need to sell as much as they can as it is their bread and butter. Mod makers primarly make things for fun and the income would be a nice touch but not what makes or breaks it for them. If you are a mod maker and intend to make a living on it you should get together with some other guys and make an indie game. That would be a wiser way of using your talent. The same skills are involved, 3D modelling, programming, etc.

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INtense! Author
INtense!

There has been a major shift from modding to indie games for this exact reason. 5+ years ago making an engine was too much for most so you modded, but now you have Unity, Unreal, Cryengine etc exist making this possible

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Lord_Baal
Lord_Baal

Give it a chance. NO.

If a company wants to make money out of a mod then contact the moder and proceed in another way. Selling mods will kill moding for good, it would simply turn all moding into third parties DLC's. And that would be a world I don't want to live in.

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Erayser
Erayser

Absolutely. I'd rather contribute to a donation system than a sort of DLC.

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Noobkiller2
Noobkiller2

The main idea is:

The developers of modifications that worked very hard on a mod for a game,even using paid content in it should sell modifications.

Those who made modifications just for fun should share to community without any transactions,or the mod lovers could just drop some donations

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moddlord1
moddlord1

Most important if people pay for a mod and the makers quit the mod you do not get a refund?? So i can make a mod let people donate money a couple of years and then i stop making it??

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Machine-Reaper
Machine-Reaper

That is called Scamming one way or the other

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nashathedog
nashathedog

We've already had that with a Russian Stalker Call of Pripyat modder here on Moddb asking for donations on the promise we would be provided with an English translation which never happened, Giving mods a money value is just asking for trouble.

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Landmine752
Landmine752

When you buy something you aren't getting the promises the developer made, you're getting the current product and that's how you should look at it. Early access games abuse people who don't realize that.
The problem with paid mods is that a game update can break them, thus you're product is unplayable and worthless, and Valve basically said you were screwed over in that event.

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Zelgan
Zelgan

Even if he was refunded, doesn't it say somewhere that if you get a refund for a paid mod on Steam, the money is instead sent to your Steam wallet?

Gabe, who as the Owner of the private entity known as Valve, is essentially taking your money and holding it hostage.

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PetrenkaPie
PetrenkaPie

Let them try to **** up another games moddingcommunity. We'll show them again!

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Gunship_Mark_II
Gunship_Mark_II

It wouldn't be such a disaster if they've actually made a donation button next to download button, instead pay only system. So people would actually pay for what they want, how much they want and what they want ( steam inventory stuff ). Could've saved them a lot of unwanted attention.

So, give it a chance? Yes, if only they overhaul it completely, either pay mod developer 75% instead 25% or make donation based system like i've mentioned above.

The only thing that bother me now is :

Half-Life 3 : Paid Mods - when?
:c

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Kellerman60
Kellerman60

Donations for good mods that are approved by Steam, maybe?

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Reborn:X
Reborn:X

Still wouldn't mean much to the system that we are discussing.

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INtense! Author
INtense!

I wonder if we setup a social experiment on ModDB and said all donations we receive will be shared amongst all the mods in this community, what would occur?

While in theory the perfect solution, it just leads to the situation where teams dependent on donations get too few and stop working on their game/mod and start working on "donate and we will give you X bonus".

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Carl_Hamilton
Carl_Hamilton

Steam went out of their way to discourage donations to modders via steam. It's not that they support mods, its that they fatten themselves with mass produced mini dlcs. Those aren't mods.

Wasn't there a bunch of people debating and suggesting donations on steam forums that were banned ?

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ℱℓσℊℊℯɾ
ℱℓσℊℊℯɾ

Mods that have proved to be really good by the community deserve a donation, so yeah I am kinda against paid mods unless the devs of that mod say otherwise,Still tho IMO, the devs of the mod should decide whether they want to receive donations or to charge for their mod or to remain free.

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Admiral_Nemo
Admiral_Nemo

I personally am glad to see Valve got rid of this system so quickly. I am hoping they will listen to the majority of the community and implement some form of easy donate function.
However, like you said in the article, it would be very hard to predict how many people would actually go ahead and donate.

The question is, can you really expect a majority to donate money? But then again ... is giving them no choice but to pay really an acceptable way to generate income?

As someone who has several relatively popular mods up on the Steam workshop I'd say that while I think a donate option is great and I wouldn't hesitate to enable it on my mods, I still would NEVER charge money for my mods.

The mod I made is there to add content to a game that someone already paid for and to make the game better or more personalized. This is time and effort I am willing to spend making a mod that I myself can enjoy and that others can enjoy with me. There is no expectation of financial gain involved for me during the creation process.
If I were to charge money for a mod, then it would all of a sudden become a product with a cost.

That is what mods will become if paid mods become a standard in the video game industry. People will undoubtedly tap in to this new source of moneymaking and all of a sudden you have people making mods specifically to make money.
...and like you said, putting a price tag on mods will also put a great deal of pressure on modders. Especially the ones that may not have thought it through what it means to charge money for something.

A new system enabling modders to charge money for their mods will probably be put in place in some form or other in the future. Hopefully that system will be more fair.

One thing I am curious to see in the future is whether paid mods (of any kind) will bring back mod popularity with bigger titles and publishers.

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INtense! Author
INtense!

Firstly Battlefield 2, CoD 4 and countless other games used to have amazing mod communities. I honestly believe something like this would make them contemplate modding again and stop making excuses like "our engine is too complex".

Secondly I think you answered your own question. Even in a world where people can pay for mods you would elect to keep yours free. I believe all of the passion projects would do the same. However for this system to work, Valve cannot just allow anyone to sell a mod, otherwise all of these passion projects will be copied, exploited and destroyed. Careful moderation and some middle ground where both the community and creators agree that paying is right should be instigated, that way the deserving have the opportunity but not expectation that they will be rewarded.

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Death_Masta187
Death_Masta187

This is why I cant see paid mods ever working on steam. Valve's whole hands off approach has netted us wonderful pots of **** like green light and early access. Valve has been making it clear to every one over the last 4 or 5 years that they don't want to be the middle man in the content have access to and what we consume.
with that said I'm not against buying the mods that are worth it. I bought garry's mod, Natural Selection 2, I bought Killing floor and Red Orchestra, I bought Insurgency, I bought Battlefield 2, I bought Team fortress 2, DoD, CS...etc and I plan to buy black mesa when that comes out on steam. if anything its easier and cheaper then ever for the really passionate and talented modders to turn their great ideas into full fleshed out games. mods have always been amateur hobby projects. If publishers and devs what to make money off mods they need to fully back it and give the modders the tools they need to make great content. because the publisher/devs never know, they might end up with the next dayZ or counter strike on their hands and really you get people used to working on your engine and making stuff with it you then have an entire generation of future employees that already know your product and love your games so much they put that work in just for the love of it. I don't know about you but those are the type of people I would want working for me. People who I don't need to train and people who already love the games we make. Company's should view mod tools as an a long term investment and not for short term profits.

With that said. If a company like Bethesda is going to be pushing this in their games I fully expect a working product out of the gate that does not require mods to become a functioning PC version. because all this will do is make me not buy any of their games if there is going to be an added cost just to fix their games.

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savi467
savi467

Here's my thoughs:
If mods are that good, I think that the Devs of a game should instead talk with the mod devs & consider attempting to make an actual DLC - with both Mods' & Devs' efforts.

Charging for individual (and packed/grouped) mods will be a horrible idea for the community itself, as mods can pretty much abuse it with spam/Broken & never fixed/Stolen/Simple content, JUST to make money - disregarding & unwilling to force their ***** into making something unique, functional & amazing - and not just a cosmetic with some edited stats, like a single hat or a sword!

Either mods should be entitled to become part of the official expansions & DLCs, developed with the game makers - with gaining half of the revenue for being bought, OR - make a donate button, which still stimulates mods into making free & good mods, only that they also have a chance to get some money for that - Not to enforce to pay a price tag!

TL;DR:
I think that mods should either become part of official DLC/Expansions, get a donation button - or remain fully free, because paid mods will **** everything up.

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Rus[T]
Rus[T]

AMEN!!

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booman
booman

I fear the modding community will not get credit for their content when its handed over to paid-for services. The publishers will probably take credit for it.

Modders are passionate and intimate with their work. Once its handed over to Developers it probably won't get the same attention and support.

Do you think there will eventually be paid-for alpha/beta/unfinished mods?

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Reborn:X
Reborn:X

We already have the Early Access system since a few years but I don't think it'll work for mods unless we mean extensive TCs.

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booman
booman

There are already too many early access, pre-release, alpha release, beta releases out there. Its already kind of a mess... imagine adding paid-for mods to the mess.

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Gendarme0
Gendarme0

I hope the team Black MESA did not see this news =D

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Reborn:X
Reborn:X

They did but it is kind of behind schedule for them.

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Kalga
Kalga

While I'm not against the overall concept of paid mods, there should be various safeguards for the community at large, and quality control of course, and no pressure to force good mods to opt-in to the paying scheme (i.e. optional, not forced to all mods).

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karasis
karasis

You guys great.This is going to be first website which ı going disable adblock.You guys deserve it.

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INtense! Author
INtense!

Appreciate it, hopefully we don't bombard you with ads now :D

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karasis
karasis

lol :D

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