Following a day of travel and another dealing with medical issues, Newell spent a couple of hours today on a laptop in a coffee shop to host a Reddit AMA. “On Thursday I was flying back from LA. When I landed, I had 3,500 new messages. Hmmm. Looks like we did something to piss off the Internet.”
What Valve did was launch a program allowing people in the PC modding scene, beginning with Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, one of the most heavily-modded games going, to charge for creations they would normally make available for free. Valve gets a cut, publisher Bethesda gets a cut and the modder gets cut.
Problems arose as soon as the program went live. Players are upset at the prospect of being forced to pay for mods that have traditionally been freely distributed. Mod communities outside of Steam are concerned the program will result in Steam-dominated mod ecosystem. Then there’s the fact that the modding scene feeds on itself, with one creator’s work depending on another’s, leading to complicated ownership issues that have caused at least one prominent mod artist to consider giving up the scene altogether.
There’s a strong poison-y scent wafting from the well, but Newell isn’t ready to pull the plug on the program yet, as evidenced by his response to one Redditor’s concerns.
Our goal is to make modding better for the authors and gamers. If something doesn’t help with that, it will get dumped. Right now I’m more optimistic that this will be a win for authors and gamers, but we are always going to be data driven.
Reactions to the comment include pleading for Newell to “do the right thing”, concerns over Valve screwing over customers by putting free content behind a paywall and accusations of corporate greed tempered by crystals of unwelcome reason.
Yes! It’s like saying, “Tom used to give me his apples for free. Now he’s selling them at the grocery store for $X.XX. The grocery store is a greedy monster!”
Newell addressed the greed accusations more directly, granting interesting insight into some of the less documented issues with making an entire community angry.
Let’s assume for a second that we are stupidly greedy. So far the paid mods have generated $10K total. That’s like 1% of the cost of the incremental email the program has generated for Valve employees (yes, I mean pissing off the Internet costs you a million bucks in just a couple of days). That’s not stupidly greedy, that’s stupidly stupid.
Other topics remarked upon by Newell during the AMA include...
Unscrupulous folks trying to sell other people’s work:
This is a straight-forward problem. Between ours and the community’s policing, I’m confident that the authors will have control over their creations, not someone trying to rip them off.
Valve’s commitment to the modding community:
About half of Valve came straight out of the MOD world. John Cook and Robin Walker made Team Fortress as a Quake mod. Ice frog made DOTA as a Warcraft 3 mod. Dave Riller and Dario Casali we Doom and Quake mappers. John Guthrie and Steve Bond came to Valve because John Carmack thought they were doing the best Quake C development. All of them were liberated to just do game development once they started getting paid. Working at Waffle House does not help you make a better game.
The goal of the paid mods initiative:
The goal is to increase the total investment the community makes in extending its games. We thought we were missing some plumbing that was hampering that.
On the idea of Valve keeping publishers from making mods Steam exclusive:
In general we are pretty reluctant to tell any developer that they have to do something or they can’t do something. It just goes against our philosophy to be dictatorial. With that caveat, we’d be happy to tell developers that we think they are being dumb, and that will sometimes help them reflect on it a bit.
On Valve’s intentions for the paid mod service:
A lot of comments are about Valve’s motivations and intentions. The only way to credibly demonstrate those are through long-run actions towards the community. There is no shortcut to not being evil. However I didn’t resist pointing out when someone’s theory of Valve being evil is internally inconsistent or easily falsified, when I probably should.
On the possibility of a donate button for mod creators:
We are adding a pay what you want button where the mod author can set the starting amount wherever they want.
From what I’m reading from Newell’s AMA comments it doesn’t look like Valve plans to abandon the paid mod system any time soon. Right now the company’s boss seems content to ride out the ire and see where the program takes the Steam modding community long-term. He wants to see where this goes, and he’s hoping it’s going somewhere good.