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BLOG PIECE: Modding as a hobby versus modding as a career, and the position of the Nexus


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#1
Dark0ne

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Ever since Valve announced their curated Workshops update for Steam Workshop back at the end of January and Bethesda announced an update to their Skyrim Workshop to remove the 100MB file size limit I've been meaning to write one of my long-winded, often nonsensical blog pieces that goes off on extreme tangents rife with radical speculation. It's been quite a while since I've done one of these, so excuse me if I'm rusty.

I'm going to begin by clarifying that I still stand by the fact I think Steam Workshop has been great for modding, great for bringing modding to the forefront of showcasing the qualities of PC gaming and great for introducing otherwise sceptical people to the merits of modding your game. My one and only gripe remains the same; that because you need to own the game on Steam in order to use Steam Workshop it essentially DRMifies modding, limiting it to just Steam's platform. Saying you can only get mods from a platform if you've bought the game from their platform is a bit like saying you can only get mods from the Nexus if you've become a Premium Member and use NMM. It makes more sense if the game is a Steamworks game; the user has already had to buy the game through Steam, or at least verify it through Steam so limiting mods to Steam makes more sense. But doing the same to games that aren't Steam exclusive? No, I'm not a fan of that.

With that said, I raised an eyebrow when Valve announced that they were expanding the remit of Steam Workshop to allow what they call "Curated Workshops". Up until that point the only games where mod authors could upload their mods and, if accepted by the developers, sell their mods were Valve games; TF2, DotA 2 and CS:GO. As far as I know, the system works by allowing mod authors to upload their mods to the site. The mod is then placed into a queue of unaccepted mods that users can vote on to be accepted. If the file gets enough votes, and the developer agrees that the mod is good, then the mod is added to the game and the catalogue of others mods available to purchase. The mod may or may not be accepted, but if it is, the mod author will receive a 25% cut (Valve take 75%) of any revenue generated from the sale of the mod. Curated Workshops follow on from this concept coined with Valve's games, but opened up for other developers and publishers on Steam to make use of.

The first two games announced to be making use of these Curated Workshops were Dungeon Defenders: Eternity and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare with the promise of more to come. Valve were also happy to announce at the same time that mod authors for TF2, DotA 2 and CS:GO had been paid over $57 million between them thus far, an impressive number, and with a bit of maths voodoo on a napkin based on the 25/75 revenue share deal you can work out that roughly $228m has been spent on mods for these three games alone over the past few years, of which Valve took a $171m cut (note: these are not official figures and I'm just simply going off estimations based on the figures provided by Valve of a 25% revenue share and $57m paid out to modders).

What these figures show is that modding, or user generated content (UGC) as it seems to be called now, can make some serious bucks. So serious that I think most developers and publishers would be crazy not to be considering it. What UGC does is open up an entirely "new" previously untapped revenue stream for developers and publishers with crazy potential. UGC can not only make a ridiculous amount of money, as Valve's figures show, but also radically increase user engagement and user satisfaction in their game and community while expanding the longevity of those games way beyond their original scope. And all this comes from something the users put most of the work in to (sure, the developers still need to create the tools, but still). Of course, this is something we've all known for a long, long time, and I'm sure a lot of you are sat there wondering why it took so long for developers and publishers to work it out. But they have! And once again Valve are at the forefront of this spearhead in to UGC, pioneering and shaping the direction of modding like they did game sales platforms before this.

Now this is where the community gets divided. I'm sure a lot of you are sat there feeling slightly uncomfortable with the direction modding is being taken by Valve, while I'm sure others among you are chomping at the bit, desperate for this to come out for more games. I think it's safe to say that, no matter which side of the fence you sit on this issue, change is coming to modding.

My eyebrow raised a little higher at the start of this month, just a little over a month after Steam announced their Curated Steam Workshops, when Bethesda announced they were updating the Creation Kit for Skyrim and removing the 100MB file size limit on mods uploaded to the Skyrim Workshop. The timing, to me, seems curious considering they haven't touched Skyrim in years, and I'm looking for a motive. Are they simply doing it because they've found the time to do it? Considering they haven't announced the new game they've no doubt been working on for over 3 years now and will still be working away at that, I find it hard to believe they found the time out of the goodness of their hearts. But they might have! Which would be awesome. Is there a link between Skyrim Workshop and the new Curated Workshops announced by Valve? As in, would Bethesda be interested in releasing a Curated Workshop for Skyrim and removing the file size limit is a precursor to that? It seems a little late now, but I think it could still work. And based on the earning figures Valve released I think Bethesda would be crazy not to consider it. Or could this be Bethesda doing some preemptive testing ready for the announcement of their next game, which everyone is strongly speculating will be during their first ever E3 conference on June 14th? Announcing a game followed by Curated Steam Workshop support where you can sell mods straight from the get go? I honestly don't know, but I'd be remiss if I didn't say all those possibilities seem plausible to me.

I don't want to be sceptical. I don't want to instantly fight this change without good reason to. I don't want to be one of those people because lets face it, change definitely isn't always bad. What I do want to do is sit down and try to rationalise things, probably in futility considering this is all based on conjecture right now, and point out some of the potential issues that money could bring, the issues that Valve or anyone else seriously contemplating this has to take in to account. We know change is coming, but the worrying thing for me isn't the change itself, it's that we won't know how this change will affect and has affected our communities until the change has happened, by which point we can't go back.

Up until this point modding has been a hobby. As a modder, starting on your first mod, you know you're doing it because you have some spare time and you want to give it a go. You enjoy doing it. You want to do it more. You're not doing it for money, you're doing it for the fun of it. You join communities and share your thoughts and ideas with others, you contact and converse with other mod authors on forums to see how they've done things, ask them for permission to use their work in your work, you begin to become part of a like-minded community of people who are all enjoying the things you're doing or enjoy doing the same things you're doing. That's how I've seen modding for the past 20 years.

While the introduction of money doesn't change this entirely; you could still happily mod for the fun of it with the added bonus of actually earning money from it, I think we'd all be lying to ourselves if we said paying for mods, and earning money from mods, wouldn't change things. And I mean fundamentally change things at the core of the modding communities out there.

Even right now, in the world of open and free modding, things are competitive. Lots of mod authors like to fight for that hot file, for that file of the month vote, they want more views, more downloads, more endorsements. I wouldn't say it's an unhealthy obsession, not yet anyway, but it's always been there, that stark contrast between those mod authors who don't care about such "trivial" things, and those mod authors who really do, who really want their mods out there as much as possible. And sure, we have to sort out some squabbles every now and again, but such rivalries and competitions don't turn sour often because the thing being sought after is not some sort of finite resource with only so much to go around. A download, an endorsement; users can download and endorse more than one mod. They can do that for a lot of mods. Money, however, is finite. When you're competing to make your mod the top mod, the most bought mod, when you're trying to earn more money than your peers are you telling me that things don't change? You're now competing over a finite resource. Users only have so much money, after all. How does this change and affect other areas of the community?

How many mods on the Nexus use assets made by other mod authors? How many are made better by this? Such assets are used with the express permission of the creators of those assets. If a mod author came to you and asked if he could use some of your work in their mod that they were planning to sell for $5, would you feel more or less inclined to give him that permission? Would you, perhaps rightly, ask for a cut of the proceeds, a revenue share of your own? If you're one of those great authors who releases your mods freely for others to make use of in their mods, or a modder's resource developer, are you going to think about revisiting all your permissions in light of money entering the modding community? Are you still thinking about being so generous with your work?

How many mods have been developed by a team of mod authors? Lots of people working together to develop something amazing. Look at Nehrim or Falskaar, two epic, highly rated mods made by extensive groups of modders. I think a lot of us will have said at one point or another, either about those mods or about others, "I'd definitely pay for this". And my god, there are so many mods out there that are so good, so professional, so well done that yes, I'd pay for them in an instant! I mean, once you get SkyUI you don't ever want to think about going back to the way it was before again, right? But how are you going to sort out who gets what from selling such mods? We get lots of drama now, without any money changing hands, over permissions and credits, I don't even want to think how horrible it would be to try and sort out such issues when money is involved. That's a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Curated Workshops have worked great for TF2, DotA 2 and CS:GO not just because they're extremely popular games, but also because the type of mods sold are "simple" in the grand scheme of things. Skins and hats. Things that typically only one person works on, which means the issues mentioned above aren't as relevant. Will it work as great for RPGs like Skyrim and Fallout? Well, it could, but there's a hell of a lot of hurdles to overcome. A hell of a lot of complications. And I hope Valve (and Bethesda, if they do pursue this) know what they're getting themselves in to.

I try hard not to say that many mod authors "deserve" money for their work. Modding is tough. Modding is a skill, a talent, and one that is getting more difficult as the technology in games becomes more complicated. And many modders are paying money out of their own pocket so they can buy and use more sophisticated and powerful software just so they can make better mods. Some of the mods people make are astonishing, some can even be better than what the original game developers could do. But modding is, and has been up to now, a hobby. Something done for the fun of it, and mod authors have entered in to this tradition knowing full well that they won't make money from it. So I think the word "deserve" isn't right, as being paid for mods shouldn't be and isn't expected.

And so, up to now, I've likened modding to Sunday League football. I don't know if you have the same traditions over the pond or with your national sports in other countries, but here in the UK Sunday League football is when a group of friends get together, form a football team, and play against other teams in the region in amateur leagues, sharing their love (and hate) of the game. Some take it more seriously than others. They do this for the fun of it, not because they think they'll become the new Messi or Ronaldo (or Brady, for our American fans), but because they're big fans of the sport and they want to play and be a part of it. They do this at their own expense, buying their own kit, their own boots, paying a fee to play in the league and sorting out travelling expenses to and from games. They don't get that money back. And modding, to me, is very similar, you mod and improve your games because you love what the game developers, your Messis, Ronaldos and Bradys, have already done and we want to be a part of it. You pay money to buy software that can make you mod better like you buy new and expensive boots to help you kick footballs better. And you do it knowing full well you won't get paid for it.

Just like how amateur football changed and "progressed" back in the late 1800s, we're now seeing the formation of the Premier League/NFL of modding, where the pros go to make their money, in Curated Steam Workshops. And that's really how I see it. Grass roots football has suffered from it, but it has also grown, the Premier League and NFL bring more people into the game that would otherwise never have bothered to play a game of football. In the same way, Curated Steam Workshops can, if done right, bring more people into modding that would otherwise not have given it a second look.

The worry is with the introduction of Curated Workshops that free and open modding will be removed entirely, as in, it just won't be possible to do. You've seen the arguments before with developers like BioWare and DICE no longer supporting modding with their games, they say it's because it's too complicated for modders or because they don't have time to work on the tools, many users argue it's because they don't want mods to cut in to DLC sales. I don't know any more about it than you in that regard, but if you're running a curated modding marketplace and there's a site out there with lots of mods available for free (note: probably not the same mods, as that wouldn't make sense!) will you willingly let that continue or would you try to ensure all your mods were going through your curated marketplace? I guess it would entirely depend on the developer and publisher in question, but if you ask me, my main concern now is the DRMification and closing down of free and open modding, the concept that modding can only take place if it's done through one official platform to the detriment of all others. Because up until now that's definitely not what modding has been about at all.

And so, if you're wondering where the Nexus sits in between all of this, then you'll find us sitting where we've always been sitting, right here, without fundamentally changing. We're still going to be about the free and open distribution of mods for everyone and I don't see that changing any time soon. Sure, I've had offers. Lots of offers. And I don't discount anything at all, but right now, for the foreseeable future, there are no plans to shake things up at all. I have absolutely no idea how these changes within the modding community are going to affect the community here at the Nexus, but I think that there's still going to be a market for a site that continues to offer a free and open sharing platform, away from money, where people who want to continue modding as a hobby, not a career, can shine.

#2
lordburnch

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I for one don't like this idea of paying for mods. I do think that some mod authors should have a donation option on their mod page, but I have always considered modding as a hobby and not a career. I myself am a small time modder who simple does it because it's fun and an enjoyable hobby. (Just like taking screenshots! )

I will back the Nexus's decision to keep modding a hobby and nothing else.

Edited by lordburnch, 19 March 2015 - 07:04 PM.


#3
lazyskeever

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My perception of the Steam Workshop for Skyrim is that they are generally a lot more lax about letting ripped content from other games or authors without permission slip through, or other stuff that clearly violates the terms of service. Unless something seriously changes about that, it makes me wonder how many shady people would end up there trying to make a quick buck on others' work.

#4
TRIPLEXH18

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let us donate with bitcoin

#5
Arthmoor

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Might be a bit simpler than all that. :P

Valve updated the Workshop APIs some time ago, which included the removal of file size limits from most games. They planned to shut down the old APIs at some point, and it looks like "some point" is right about now.

Word has it Skyrim was the only game left using the ancient APIs and Valve basically said "update or else" so Bethesda updated. Those changes are still undergoing beta testing and we haven't been told when it'll go live yet.

It's already caused some minor problems with opting in to the beta test. New mods uploaded using it, and existing mods updated using it all require that the users opt in to the beta as well or they get errors trying to subscribe and download.

... Well ok. Scratch the beta thing. Apparently they've gone live with the launcher + CK update now. So I guess we'll see how much of a shake out things need to get settled. Oh, this ought to be fun!

#6
VasMere

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In response to post #23594079.

agreed

#7
lyravega

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In response to post #23593334. #23594569, #23595764, #23596054 are all replies on the same post.

I think Curated Workshops on a wider scale may introduce more problems than they realize.

I've been modding for several years now, some small, some big stuff, it doesn't matter. Sometimes I enjoy modding the game more than playing it, so you can easily say that modding is my hobby. But making money out of it? I don't know. I have a "philosophy" where my work (work as in, income source) cannot be my hobby, because if some bad s*** happens, it'll also affect the fun I get from my hobby in return.

Anyway, aside from what I feel about modding, I'm one of those guys who also think that the reason some developers don't support modding is that it may cut to their DLC sales. However, when the publishers smell the (potential) money, they'll be first to endorse the idea further I bet (if they haven't already done so). If they'll also allow free mods to be released on Steam Workshop or Nexus / etc... then I'm kinda OK with it. But if they enforce you to sell your work, so that they can get a cut... Then I'm not OK with it.

Here is my two cents about Curated Workshops + Donations: They should also allow people to put Donation links (not just HTML links in description; links like here in Nexus, a built-in feature so to speak), if people want to support the modder, fine, but the mod stays free unless the modder opens a "curated shop". And all donations should go to the modder, not to the publisher or Steam.

About your concern; " DRMification and closing down of free and open modding", I feel the same concerns, but a bit more extreme. If you think about this even further, a time may come where we will have to pay in order to get the modding tools, so that we can create mods, and put them to Curated Workshops. Even more money for the greedy (publishers).

Apologizes if whatever I said is already known/happened/etc...

Edited by lyravega, 19 March 2015 - 08:32 PM.


#8
konstrukter

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Are the unofficial patches in the Workshop? Because they are the first i would nominate to get some cash out of this.

#9
tristan1974

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I share the same concerns as you do. The way I see it adding curated Workshops to games which support complex mods like Skyrim, Fallout etc. would in the end kill the modding community as it is now, because like you said the only way for this system to work and generate profit is by adding some sort of DRM.

The positive side of this would be mod support for consoles. I highly doubt that developers would not take the chance to make this kind of cash, but this would also split the community even further, seing the console gamers as consumers and the pc gamers (or then potential DLC developers) as content contributors. It's hard to tell if this would have a positive impact on pc gaming.

I truly hope that developers keep curated workshops to games like CS:GO battlefield and the like. Those games in my opinion do profit from this kind of mod distribution and it gives modders a chance to make some extra cash. For games like Skyrim, please don't it. It certanly will cripple the community as it is now.

Edited by tristan1974, 19 March 2015 - 07:17 PM.


#10
Dark0ne

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In response to post #23594244.

Good to know, thanks for the heads up, Arthmoor. That at least covers the timing!




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