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Dammit Valve, I’m Trying To Write A Column Here

I had a column all set to go for today, but then Valve had to go and respond to customer feedback in an incredibly timely way, and now I’m standing here with my pants around my ankles and my cigarette not even lit yet.

Let me see if I can catch you up and be useful that way, at least.

Valve attempted to add paid modding to Steam last week. Specifically, to Skyrim. The backlash was immediate and volcanic. Communities were split. Questions were abundant. Gabe Newell did an AMA in /r/gaming, and in one of the most telling displays I’ve ever seen, several of his answers were both downvoted to oblivion and gilded—essentially, the people who weren’t using money to express their opinion disagreed with him, but the people who were using money to express their opinion agreed with him.

I’m sure I don’t have to point out how funny that is.

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Nevertheless. In the cacophony, two voices stood out for me—Garry Newman, and Dean Hall.

Garry Newman made Garry’s Mod—the original paid mod, if you will. He suggested that market corrections will solve for overpriced or stolen mods, that mod piracy will not destroy modding, and that both paying and charging for mods is an end-user choice. He notes that paid modding is simply acknowledging reality—mods for GMod are already being sold privately—and he closes by saying, “Opportunity is never a bad thing to give people.”

And then there’s Dean Hall, creator of one of the most successful mods in history, DayZ. In conversation with Erik Kain over at Forbes, Hall said that paid mods should not be compared to albums on the Apple Store, that the owner of the original IP on which the mod is based both need to protect their IP and are entitled to a solid percentage of revenue from work based on their IP, and that he would be the first to create paid mods using Steam’s system as-is for GTA V if Rockstar allowed it.

Strong words from expert voices in favour of what Valve implemented—or, at least, a better version of what Valve had implemented.

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And then there was the online outrage.

Now, I am no expert—this is the first edition of this column and I started it with a dumb sex joke, I am not a role model—but here’s what I can see, at least as far as paid modding is concerned.

Paid modding has been done before. Valve itself exists as a result of modders deciding to get paid for their work.

Markets for user-generated content have existed in various Steam games for some time now. This is already, effectively, paid modding under a different name.

When Valve makes a move like this, they are generally trying to empower consumers. There are times when they have done this successfully (Steam Workshop), and times previously when they have failed (Steam Greenlight), but they have never strayed from openly and explicitly attempting to empower consumers.

Finally, something that’s not a trend: before pulling the plug on paid Skyrim mods, Newell said that Valve will add a button to the mod store interface, allowing users to pay what they want for mods—and giving those modders/users who wish to return to the traditional way of doing things a way to accomplish that.

That’s the most interesting bit to me. Valve doesn’t usually iterate quickly—note that Steam Greenlight still functions essentially as it did at launch in 2012, despite considerable consumer displeasure. But when it comes to paid modding on Steam, the first corrective announcement they made, even before yesterday’s mulligan, was “Don’t worry, we’ll still allow for modders to exist solely as beneficiaries of community goodwill”.

Interesting.

I think paid modding will eventually come home and stay a while. I think there will be problems and issues, and I think paid modding might spend its infancy looking more like Steam Greenlight than Steam Workshop. But the net benefit is a legitimacy and an income stream for one of the best parts of PC gaming—the ability and flexibility to modify programs running on your computer. That’s worth it, in the end.

My original title for this column was “Modding Is Dead, Long Live Modding”. See, in medieval Europe, “The King is dead! Long live the King!” was used to mark the passage of a dead monarch… and to celebrate the ascension of the new one. To say “The King is dead! Long live the King!” meant, “Things are going to be different. We liked the old way of doing things but it’s gone now. Cheers to the new way of doing things!” It’s a phrase that I find people often mistake for a moaning wail, a plaintive cry for days gone by, when it has more in common with the first cup of coffee on a bright morning.

Modding is dead. Long live modding. Now hang on while I buckle up my Levi’s and light this thing.

Jesse Mackenzie is the Managing Editor for aybonline.com. He often listens to the sounds of engine cores from Star Trek as he writes. His opinions are his alone.

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