Valve caves under pressure on paid mods in the Steam Workshop
Last week Valve made the surprising announcement that they were going to allow for the monetization of mods for the popular game, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Valve is the company behind popular games such as DotA 2 and Counter-Strike, as well as the highly lucrative platform Steam, which is currently the largest digital distribution platform for computer games. Mods are user-generated content which modify game files to add new elements, change existing elements, or in some cases completely overhaul the game itself. In an ill-advised move, Valve decided to allow modders to slap a price tag on their mods in the Steam Workshop, the central hub for mods on Steam. Content that had been free a week ago could now be locked behind a paywall.
Valve’s move to monetize mods was met with massive uproar by the community. Valve was flooded with emails from angry consumers. In a damage control post on Reddit, Valve CEO Gabe Newell claimed that over several days paid mods had raised ten thousand dollars which only accounted for 1% of the cost of the incremental email that the outrage over paid mods had generated for Valve employees. A petition on change.org for Valve to remove paid mods received over 130,000 supporters in four days. A Skyrim mod of a protest sign reading, “No paid mods” became the most popular Skyrim mod on the workshop with nearly 12,000 subscribers and over 140,000 visitors in just a few days.
Gabe Newell, affectionately referred to as “Gaben” in the gaming community is something of a golden boy in gaming culture. Valve is the big company that the gaming community views as doing things right, unlike competitors like EA or Activision. Many don’t even purchase copies of games unless they get the version which will unlock on Steam. This is especially true with Ubisoft’s games. Such a dramatic swing from this to threats of boycotts, dozens of highly critical articles, and Gabe Newell himself being heavily downvoted on Reddit while trying to explain Valve’s reasoning, is shocking.
Valve was apparently caught off-guard by the response of the community to their attempt to monetize a part of gaming which has always been user-generated and always been free. On Monday evening user ErikatValve posted to Reddit that Valve would be discontinuing its foray into paid mods. According to Erik, Valve did not “understand exactly what we were doing.” He stated that their goals had been to better enable modders to work full time on their projects in hopes of creating more products like, “Dota, Counter-Strike, DayZ, and Killing Floor.” This is a little bit rich given that modders would only receive 25% of the sales for their mods. Each of the games mentioned was originally a mod project prior to being developed and published as a full game. While Erik admitted Valve’s mistakes, he didn’t fully close the door on paid mods either, “[We] miss[ed] the mark pretty badly, even though we believe there’s a useful feature somewhere here.”
Valve’s brief foray into adding more revenue from user-generated content has failed spectacularly. They’ve damaged community trust. They’ve threatened a major component of gaming which has always been free. They will have to work to recoup their losses both financial and public relations. Just this once though, loud, angry fans made their voices heard and a big company reversed course.