Bethesda defends paid Skyrim mods: “This is not some money grabbing scheme”

Steam paid mods

The addition of premium mods on the Steam Workshop at the end of last week didn’t go down well with everyone, and while some developers, modders and users believed that it was a step in the right direction, allowing creators to earn something for their hard work, opposition to it was… vocal. 

Gabe Newell took to Reddit to address concerns on the weekend, but it’s not just Valve that has come under fire. Bethesda’s been criticised just as much, since Skyrim is the first game to have paid mods on the Workshop. Today, a long blog post from the folks at Bethesda appeared on the official blog, explaining why the publisher wanted to be involved in the experiment. 

“We believe mod developers are just that: developers,” says Bethesda. “We love that Valve has given new choice to the community in how they reward them, and want to pass that choice along to our players. We are listening and will make changes as necessary.”

This seems to be what the whole thing boils down to for a lot of people. But Bethesda says that it’s also about expanding modding. While that seems counter-intuitive, putting a price tag on something that was free and expecting that to get more people using mods, Valve showed Bethesda data that apparently revealed otherwise.

“In our early discussions regarding Workshop with Valve, they presented data showing the effect paid user content has had on their games, their players, and their modders. All of it hugely positive. They showed, quite clearly, that allowing content creators to make money increased the quality and choice that players had. They asked if we would consider doing the same.”

What, I think, ruffled feathers more than the premium mods themselves was the fact that Bethesda gets the lion’s share of the money these mods earn, a split which they decided upon, not Valve. That sort of makes the whole “We’re doing to expand mods and help modders” argument look a bit flimsy. But Bethesda says that the split is the “current industry standard”.

“Is this the right split? There are valid arguments for it being more, less, or the same. It is the current industry standard, having been successful in both paid and free games. After much consultation and research with Valve, we decided it’s the best place to start.”

On Reddit, Gabe said that the claims that Valve was being greedy held no water because the rather tiny amount of money generated by mods hasn’t even covered the cost of dealing with complaints. Similarly, Bethesda says that it’s not a money making scheme because it’s barely making them anything.

“This is not some money grabbing scheme by us. Even this weekend, when Skyrim was free for all, mod sales represented less than 1% of our Steam revenue.”

I think that really all this boils down to is principles and idealism. Mods are created by players who take games and make them their own. In a game like Skyrim, it’s been a way for the community to enjoy the game long past a normal AAA title’s shelf life, and enjoy a game envisioned not by developers, but by other players. And all the mods were free, flipping the bird to the shitty DLC packs and sleazy monetization that have become so pervasive. When a price tag appears on a mod, it just looks like selling out.

But it’s pretty weird to hold modders to a higher standard than developers when there’s barely any difference between them. While the split, regardless of whether or not it’s the industry standard, is horrible, this is just an experiment, and not really an unreasonable one, even if it does clash with the popular philosophy of modding.