“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” has been one of the world’s most popular games since 2011, selling millions of copies across PCs and consoles.
A big reason for its continued success is the “mod” community, where PC gamers concoct creative modifications to the giant open world of Skyrim that others can download and enjoy.
There are some wildly creative “Skyrim” mods out there: Some add entirely new regions to the world, some tweak gameplay mechanics, and there’s even one that transforms all dragons into Thomas the Tank Engine.
But now, producers and consumers of those Skyrim modifications are in an uproar.
Bethesda, the maker of “Skyrim,” announced a jointly run venture with the popular gaming company Valve to create a paid “Skyrim” mods store within the Steam Workshop, Valve’s platform that lets people share and download player-created content to their PCs.
The program lets people list their creations at any price they want, or they can offer it for free as before. This is the first time Valve or Bethesda have no say in the pricing or curation of their own content.
You might think this sounds like good news: People now have an official way to get paid, whereas before they had to ask for donations. It should, in theory, result in more and better mods.
And yet, people are furious, including the modders themselves. And here’s why.
Countless shades of grey
According to the deal, “Skyrim” modders will take only 25% of their sales, while the rest is split between Valve and Bethesda. That’s quite far behind Apple’s deal with its own developers, in which iOS app makers reap 70% of the profits while Apple only takes 30%. This seems rather backwards, considering “Skyrim” has survived for so long simply because of these modders and their creations.
There are legal ramifications, too. As Eurogamer points out, a paid “Skyrim” mod has already been taken down because it used animations from another mod.
The original animator, named “Fore,” was not happy that he wasn’t contacted about his animation being used in another paid mod.
“Making money with mods is totally against my attitude,” he said on the Steam Workshop, though that page has since been taken down. “It’s the end of a working and inventive modding community,” he added.
Modders have reportedly begun removing their creations from the Steam Workshop to prevent others from stealing their work, building upon it, and selling it for profit.
It doesn’t seem to be a good deal for consumers, either. Steam has a 24-hour return policy for all mods, so you can “return” something if you don’t like it. But as one modder points out, 24 hours “isn’t much time to test if a mod will glitch out or not.”
Here’s more from that Skyrim modder:
“Let’s say a consumer buys a mod, then one week later, the modder releases an update. This update has a bug, and the game crashes or glitches out. Then let’s say, for whatever reason — even a good one, like real life got in the way — the modder doesn’t release an update to fix the bug. Before today, bit deal. You could either uninstall the mod or revert to a previous version. Given it was free, most people wouldn’t complain too much. But NOW, a consumer will likely be stuck with a useless piece of software they paid good money for. Software that is now worth zilch. They will be, understandably, really upset, with no way to get their money back.”
In some ways, Bethesda and Valve have created their own system of microtransactions: Why create extra content yourself when you can split up to 75% of the revenue for each modification created and sold by someone else? Whether it’s a new weapon or a new area of the map, it’s easy and profitable to simply rely on the work of modders.
Valve is clearly paying attention to the backlash, as the company is now denying users access to discussion boards about the paid mods. There’s even a petition with 82,000+ signatures requesting Valve and Bethesda change their minds about paid mods.
We’ve reached out to Valve and Bethesda and we’ll update this story when we learn more.