My first forays into modding were probably with the creation kit for The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind. Nothing fancy, just a tweak here and there. I also did some basic stuff with the original Rome: Total War. The most substantial game content I can remember creating was a Capture the Flag map for Unreal Tournament 2003. It was very simplistic in terms of layout and textures, but I was rather proud of it and happy to share it with others.
So I’ve dabbled with creating mods, but I’ve always been far more of a mod user than a mod author. The games I’ve probably spent more time modding than any others are the Elder Scrolls games. With the exception of Morrowind, I doubt I would have sunk any substantial time into either Oblivion or Skyrim without a hefty list of mods to enhance, fix, refine, improve or add to the experience.
Hell, some mods even fix and overhaul games which were released in a poor state – the restored content mod for Knights of the Old Republic 2 springs to mind, or the ‘unofficial’ patch for Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. And, where Skyrim is concerned specifically, I can’t imagine playing it again without first installing the unofficial fan patches which fix so much of what remains broken.
So I have a lot of respect for modders and what they do and I’ve always supported the notion of donation or commission based modding. Why shouldn’t the option be there for people to support a mod author, especially in the case of extensive overhaul mods which may take years and dedicated teams to complete. I certainly have no objection to that. But this - http://steamcommunity.com/workshop/aboutpaidcontent ? This bothers me a lot.
It’s too early to say how this will pan out, but I do find the idea rather unsettling. It raises all sorts of issues which could potentially turn into a complete clusterf**k. I know other games already have a similar model on Steam, such as for weapon skins in CS:GO, but this is a whole new level of crazy.
Quality, compatibility, permission rights, the troubling notion of ‘Early Access’ mods, bugs, save game corruption, potential content theft – how will such things be appropriately handled or dealt with? All these issues are ones which mod authors and users already have to deal with even when mods are free. But now? When money becomes involved? This new ‘mod store’ is essentially turning mods into DLC. That raises all sorts of questions.
The responsibility for modding has always fallen upon the mod user. Does this new system now change that dynamic? What happens when a mod someone pays 5 bucks for breaks their game and corrupts their 100 hour plus save? If you’re now treating mods like a product, like a piece of professional DLC, then doesn’t some responsibility lie with the creator?
Going by the FAQ Steam has released for this, it seems the responsibility still rests entirely with the user – you buy at your own risk. And if the mod is broken down the line, perhaps even by an official patch, which so often causes havoc with mod files – what happens if the mod author can’t or won’t fix it? So many mods get abandoned over time, and I don’t see that changing with a pay model in place. As it stands, you’ll simply lose the mod and your money.
Also, will there be any form of quality control? If not, this could spiral out of control very easily. And what about incomplete mods? Early Access games are one thing, but early access mods? And as any heavy mod user knows, compatibility is another major issue.
I never thought the Steam Workshop was a bad thing. Anything that encourages and tries to make modding easier and more accessible and grow is great. Modding can be great for games, for supporting them long after a developer can by producing fixes and new content. Mods can and do sell games, so it’s good to see a platform encourage developers to support mod communities as much as possible.
But one big issue I have with the Workshop is that it can also encourage laziness and ignorance, as new mod users just expect mods to install and function at the click of a button. And when things f**k up, they don’t always understand why because they’ve never dealt with mod managers or load orders. They’ve never dug into the files and installed things manually. I’ve seen so much ire directed at mod authors on the Workshop by people who can’t figure out that X mod requires Y mod to function. And this is when that content is free.
I guess you can just argue that it’s their fault and they’ve downloaded those mods at their own risk, and perhaps the same should apply to ‘premium’ mods. But does it? Should it? If mods are now a product, shouldn’t the consumer be granted some guarantee that the mod won’t break their game now or in the future? It seems a tricky situation to me. You’re now crossing the line between amateur and professional – and if people are paying for content, they expect a certain quality and level of support in return.
And hell, what about permission rights? There are already mods for sale which incorporate or require the use of other people’s tools or mods. Was permission granted? Was it even sought? How will such money be divided? Modding, when free, is usually a pretty open system, with people willing to share their work in order to support others. It fosters a, on the whole, friendly community and I’d say, better mods, because it allows people to combine their resources and produce content they couldn’t have created alone.
But now? I’m betting people will now think twice, worrying that someone may intend to profit from their work. This could result in fewer mods, and a worsening of quality, as fewer people are willing to share their work either out of fear it will be stolen to be sold, or because they’re tempted to lock it behind a pay wall themselves – perhaps not out of greed, but simply to protect their hard work from being exploited by others. It may create a climate of mistrust within mod communities and a reluctance to pool resources and talent.
What will be the long term implications for modding? Will this encourage and grow modding, attracting more ‘professionals’ to the fold, or will it only weaken and divide mod communities? I’ve never been against people being paid for their hard work, but I’m not sure this is the way to go about it. Perhaps a donation system would have been a better idea.
Like I’ve said, it’s too early to say how this will go, but I do find it rather troubling. This also makes me concerned about how publishers will look at it. Why care about releasing a broken game when you can let the users fix it, and then take a cut of the ‘unofficial’ fix profits? It’s almost like another DLC revenue stream. Maybe that’s a bit cynical, but it doesn’t seem right that publishers may ultimately profit from users fixing their own bloody product. There’s just so many ways this can go wrong or be abused that I can’t see this as a good thing for modding or gaming in general.
Incredibly, it seems we’re on the brink of an age not only of pirated games and DLC, but pirated mods.