Modding has been a large part of PC gaming for many years. For the most part, mods have always been easily accessible and distributed across many different platforms. While this may seem like a great system, it still does leave some things to be desired. For instance, mod developers hardly get paid for all their hard work. In an attempt to remedy this issue, Valve will now allow paid mods on Steam Workshop. Unfortunately, their implementation of this concept was poorly executed.
Earlier today, some workshop content for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was put behind a paywall. This was done with no prior announcement, and the pricing and types of mods seem to be all over the place. Almost immediately, there was backlash against Valve from all over the internet.
The first major issue is the lack of insurance a gamer has when purchasing a mod. There is a “no questions asked” 24-hour return policy, but that is hardly enough to ensure you’ll get your money’s worth. The biggest flaw is that a mod can become broken after an update, and there’s no guarantee the developer of the mod will continue to update their content with the base game. There is also the issue of many mods being incompatible with each other, which could render gamers with unusable mods they paid money for.
An additional caveat with the new policy is the huge cut of the revenue Valve takes. For every piece of content, regardless of how big it is, Valve will be taking 75% of the money made (update: Valve only takes 30% while Bethesda takes 45% in the case of Skyrim). This leaves content creators with a minuscule amount of money, and it makes Steam Workshop an unappetizing option for developers who are serious about turning their passion into a profession. It should also be noted that Valve had nothing to do with the development of Skyrim or any of the mods, yet they are still taking this huge cut from user creations in the workshop.
There are also a lot of smaller issues, such as deciding who deserves to be paid and people claiming the work of others as their own. The only way to really fix these problems would be to report them to Valve and get them to manually investigate. Unfortunately, Valve is infamous for their incompetent support team, so good moderation is doubtful.
The most unfortunate thing about this whole situation is that the idea of paying modders for their work is completely reasonable. In many cases, modders have been behind some of the most successful game series, such as DayZ or Counter-Strike. Developers of similar mods can put in endless hours of work into their content and end up with very little in return.
It’s clear that Steam may not be the best platform to sell and distribute mods. In fact, this may go to show that this type of paywall isn't the best approach to earn money from developing mods. Fortunately, there are other options such as crowd-sourcing or donations. For example, a former Maxis artist is running a successful Patreon campaign to fund mods for Cities: Skylines.
For more information on the new paid content, view the official FAQ here.