Monetizing Mods: What we Learned from Valve and 'Skyrim'

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Monetizing Mods: What we Learned from Valve and 'Skyrim'

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There’s an old adage, “the best things in life aren’t free.” However, in the gaming community, this notion is completely upended. Mods are incredibly prevalent in the gaming world, and usually come at no cost. These normally free downloads change the original and unaltered, or vanilla, game in various capacities. Mods can present minor tweaks, like “Half-Life 2: Update,” or major overhauls such as “Half-Life 2: Cinematic Mod.” Whether a mod manifests as simply improved eye candy, or an entirely different experience, there’s usually one constant: it’s free. Well, aside from the cost of the base game.

However, the modding dynamic was poised for upheaval when the always-innovative Valve added a paid mods feature  to its signature Steam Workshop recently. An early paid mod for “Skyrim,” a fishing mod, was removed quickly because it apparently employed assets from another mod. This coupled with an internet outrage prompted Valve to nix the idea entirely. 

Although the concept of paid mods might seem contradictory, think about some of the most popular games on Steam itself. “Counter-Strike” originated as a mod for “Half-Life,” as did “Day of Defeat” and “Team Fortress.” Heck, “Garry’s Mod” has the word “mod” in its title, and gamers still pay for the game. Similarly, “Killing Floor” began as an “Unreal Tournament 2004” mod. So users aren’t necessarily unwilling to pay for a mod, especially if it’s a significant change.

Valve’s intention was clear: to encourage high-quality, standalone mods. Unfortunately, the “Skyrim” modding community might not have been the best first choice. The fifth installment in Bethesda’s epic “Elder Scrolls” series, “Skyrim” debuted in 2011. Modders have been producing a steady stream of content since its release four years ago. These active groups operate for the most part on a open-source model. As this example proved, well-established modder communities might not be the best pool to kickoff a monetized modding venture. Plus copyright became a major issue with the difficulty of monitoring assets, not surprisingly since open-source communities often share resources. 

Had a different game been picked, and one with a new pool of modders rather than an thriving community, maybe this paid-mod model would have succeeded. Great concept, poor execution. Could Valve’s monetized mod system work if initiated properly, or is this a terrible idea regardless of the specific modder community? Let us know in the comments section below!

game dev, valve

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