In the space of four days, a game that is lauded as one of the best games ever made has gone through an intense upheaval. That game, of course, is Skyrim.
As I mentioned in Games Corner on Sunday, Valve introduced a new feature into Skyrim for PC - the ability to sell game mods. This fundamental shift in how the modding community has operated for 3 and a half years brought about quite the reaction.
While the idea of modders making money from their creations is a great idea in an idealistic world, introducing this kind of scheme into an established community was the wrong way to go about implementing the idea. Players were up in arms over the fact, taking to all manner of social web outlets to vent their frustration. The massive upheaval caused the founder of Valve, Gabe Newell himself, to post an AMA on Reddit where people could ask him questions directly about the whole deal.
Gabe's general tone underlies exactly what you would expect - Valve was optimistic that this could be a program that would be beneficial to everyone. Valve makes money providing this outlet to consumers, developers find another potential revenue stream, modders are able to get paid for their hard work (hopefully prompting more professional mods to be created) and players get even more content that is of a higher standard.
What has ended up happening, however, is a whole different story. Mods that were previously free had become paid, some people were ripping mods straight from other modders and uploading them as their own for a fee, the waters between who should get paid for what mods became murkier. Some modders who were opposed to the idea of paid mods were uploading their own new and interesting creations - 3 of which are still the top three suggested mods to try out:
Lets just say, people weren't happy.
Fast forward to early this week and a steady stream of stories are being pumped out by gaming news outlets - comments on the problems surrounding the paid model, the pros and cons of paid mods, prominent figures thoughts on the whole debacle - it was a massive topic up for debate within the gaming community as a whole, not just the modding one.
Then the plot twist. Bang!
Paid mods are no more.
After taking in the massive backlash caused by this initiative, Valve & Bethesda decided to rollback the option to sell mods on Steam. Everyone that spent any money on any mods would be given a refund. Credit where credit is due here - Bethesda and Valve listened to their fan base.
So where does that leave us? Well, back where we started, for one. All mods are now free again and everything is back as it once was. But is it, really?
The very thought of charging for mods of video games has brought a new dynamic into the mix when it comes to mods. This has been a glass shattering moment for modding communities net-wide - what has always been a purely about the passion is now tainted with the background thoughts of commercialism. I very much doubt that every person who has put 100's, if not 1000's of hours of painstaking effort into their creation will think "yeah, all mods should be free forever!" I wouldn't be shocked if we see a new, 3rd party store pop up somewhere on the web peddling premium mods for a premium price.
This might not necessarily be a bad thing - Garry's Mod wouldn't be what it is today without a paid model - but it does need to be implemented in the right context, with the right game, with the right community.
With this debacle now firmly on the right side of the bell curve, the story of "Skyrim paid mods" will surely settle - at least for a while. Enjoy your mods while you can kids - the web as you know it might change sooner than you think.