When I moved from Newcastle to live with my girlfriend in the sunny south, I made the bold decision not to take my computer. As a PC gamer it should come as no surprise that the one thing I seriously missed was modding.
The modding community has been the backbone of PC gaming from it’s inception. The likes of Doom and Quake gave birth to so many fantastic products that stood on their own, outside of the original scope of the engine’s designers, and many high profile commerical games were released because a few guys and gals sat down and said “we should give the power to the user here”.
More recently, mods have become less about total conversion and more about prolonging the lifespan of some of our favourite games, adding content and features, fixing some issues that went unnoticed. Unsurprisingly, Bethesda seem to be the ones to profit most from this, with the modding community grouping together to create fixes for The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series and creating a wealth of new, additional content for all to enjoy.
AAA development is hard. Publishers are breathing down the necks of developers to push out a product by a date that is set by analysts in order to meet the [special time of year] demand. As a result, games are sometimes released as expensive, buggy messes that leaves the end users jaded. (I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed: Unity.)
As I mentioned earlier, one of the games that really benefited from modding was Fallout 3. Here’s a game that was seemingly built on outdated hardware, reliant on an x86 architecture, which was released at a time when quad core processors were becoming common place. As a result, if you had a brand new gaming computer, good luck playing Bethesda’s latest offering.
In stepped the modding community, creating various bug fixes for the game and it’s DLC, extending the ever popular GNR radio, and even going as far as a complete graphical overhaul. And here lies a problem… Fallout 3 is hardly what we could consider a “stable” game. In fact, for me — even on my ageing computer — to get an hour or so of gameplay out of it without a CTD (crash to desktop) is an achievement unto itself. So when you add some mods to it, problems arise very quickly.
But in stepped the modding community! BOSS, a program that corrected load order with your mods, was adjusted to work with the newer games and suddenly a semblence of stability sweeped over the games (and by ‘stability’, I mean “made it slightly less stable than the original game).
While Fallout 3 had Bethesda and a dedicated team to take care of it, the mods have only the community. Eventually, modders will leave the scene and the mods will often stay up for all to access, use, and enjoy. Even the most popular files will eventually fall by the wayside as game updates slow, and due to some mods needing other mods (dependencies), if your modification requires another fileset that is no longer supported, it’s bad news for you, your team, and those who subscribe to your file.
Real life gets in the way of the teams of people that created and supported them, and unlike game development teams, who are expected to support a game until their next major release, mod teams are part of the gaming community, and often strive to give the quality that they have come to expect, and will support the mods they have made almost indefinately.
This reminds me of something amusing I read (while we’re still tangentially on the topic of Fallout 3). While I was recently looking through Nexus Mods, I came across one in which the creator had left an incredibly apologetic note, announcing their lack of support for a very popular .esm they had created. Why? Their old computer had died and they couldn’t get Fallout 3 to run on their new system. Just in case you thought I was exagerating the poor optimisation of an otherwise fantastic game.
As such, Steam’s recent deal with Bethesda and the modding community to begin charging for mods was less than ideal. Skyrim is absolutely not the buggy mess that Fallout is (read: it works), and can handle the philosophy of “mod it until it crashes” a hell of a lot better, but as details emerged that Bethesda had requested the lions share of the moneys, leaving the owner with only a 25% cut, eyebrows were raised.
Made worse is the issue of dependencies. If my file is now commercial, but relies on a system made available in another mod that is not, issues are raised. The free mod author surely deserves a cut of my measly 25% because they put energy into creating their own product. This is something that happened.
The lack of support I mentioned may very well be an issue that would sort itself out in time. Being paid for modding would surely be more incentive to continue working on it (assuming you’re earning enough to quit your day job), but with Bethesda and Steam cutting into 75% of your profits, is that even possible?
Worse is when a few authors offered both a “free” and “premium” version of their files, and included pop ups and nag screens in a game like fucking Skyrim. Really? One of the reasons so many people love the game is because of it’s immersion, don’t fuck that up! By doing so, that author set a dangerous precedent that Steam, thankfully, squashed out by rescinding the commercial mods scheme.
I am all for compensating mod authors for their time and energy because a lot of these people put their heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, you-fucking-name-it into delivering as quality a product as they can, and to deny them of finance would be morally wrong. Hell, they’ve given me so many hours of fun on so many of some of my favourite games, I want to give them my money… but Steam approached it completely from the wrong angle.
Steam wanted to turn the Workshop into a line of revenue, and they naively thought it would operate the same as their storefront does. As another modder said “this system favours those who throw out quick reskins, and punishes those who spend months and years on developing a mod with huge amounts of content”. That’s precisely my issue. Finding the gold nugget in the sea of shit would be… well, I’ll let your imagination complete that one.
Gladly they listened to the community and realised that the situation was much more complex than they first thought and took action, and they need to be commended on that.
One thing is for sure: Steam has an idea, and they will not let it drop. They will try to push commercial mods again — hopefully in a pay-as-you-like system — and hopefully it will be a success, so the unsung heroes of the modding world will get their well deserved slice of the pie.
Mod authors are developers, and they fully deserve to be receive financial compensation, just like “real” game developers.