Skyrim: Paid Mods on Steam

As you are probably aware – especially if you are a Skyrim player – Valve has dumped a big one on us. Mod authors are now able to menotize their mods for Skyrim, through the Steam Workshop.

At first glance, this might not seem like a big deal. Why shouldn’t a mod author receive some compensation for their time and effort?

That in itself wouldn’t be a problem, but there are so many other problems with this plan that turns what, at best, could perhaps be called a good intention (it’s not, as you will see) into a complete disaster.

  • It’s bait-and-switch: Mods were free, and were expected to be free, and in the case of Skyrim have been free for four years. Changing this now feels wrong, especially for the mods that already in use by people.
  • Future Dangers: Even if it’s voluntary now, there is nothing but a simple statement to the licensing terms missing from making mod payments mandatory. This will happen, sooner or later, have no doubts about it.
  • Copyright infringement and scams: Money is a great incentive for scammers. There are already cases of copyright infringement, and reports of people trying to scam others with useless mods, or uploading other people’s work.
  • It’s divisive: Just check the comments on Steam or Reddit. Did we really need another reason for a flame war? Well, we got one.
  • Important mods can abuse their power: SkyUI, for example, is an essential mod for Skyrim and needed by many other mods. It used to be free. It will require payment in the future. This essentially breaks the social contract that existed between the SkyUI authors and everybody else.
  • It destroys trust and cooperation: Suddenly, mod authors aren’t a community anymore – they are competitors. Already we are seeing people who disallow others to use their resources, because they feel strongly about the money-making scheme now afoot. Authors of commercial mods are incentivized not to help others, even authors of free mods, because doing so lowers their revenue potential.
  • Pricing is way off: The base game used to cost 60 Euro, and is now down to 30 Euro (for the legendary edition). The 17-mod “debut pack” has a list price of circa 37 Euro. This feels out of whack. For my install base, I’d have to estimate 100+ Euro additional cost just for the mods. No, really, this is way too much.
  • Worst of all – IT DOES NOT BENEFIT THE MOD AUTHORS: Valve tries to sell this as “supporting the mod authors”, while in truth the author gets only 25% of the revenue. Valve pockets 30%, and while you could argue they need to pay for infrastructure and administrative overhead, Bethesda grabs 45% of the revenue. Bethesda does nothing for that money. Skyrim is not even supported anymore.

There is some resistance forming – people who claim this will deter them from buying Fallout 4 or the next Elder Scrolls game, some who change their Skyrim review on Steam to negative. Some mod authors actively state that they will provide their mods free, forever. Some even hide their mods on the Steam Workshop in protest.

As for me, there is not much I can do. I can post about it, and raise awareness (to all of my two readers, haha). I will not buy another Bethesda game. I will continue my Skyrim series, but that’s out of respect for the three people who watch it. I will have to rethink my relationship with Valve/Steam – I am a fairly good customer, and I need to reduce this in the future, but there is pretty much no way for me to stop using Steam altogether unless I want to kiss the investment I made in it goodbye. (There is a lesson in DRM here, as well, and about platform lock-in.)

It’s a sad, bleak day.

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