Yesterday, Steam's new Paid Workshop had its first casualty as Chesko pulled his mods off the site. He made a post on Reddit explaining his decision, and took a pop at the Nexus at the bottom by saying:
I am also considering removing my content from the Nexus. Why? The problem is that Robin et al, for perfectly good political reasons, have positioned themselves as essentially the champions of free mods and that they would never implement a for-pay system. However, The Nexus is a listed Service Provider on the curated Workshop, and they are profiting from Workshop sales. They are saying one thing, while simultaneously taking their cut. I'm not sure I'm comfortable supporting that any longer. I may just host my mods on my own site for anyone who is interested.
This obviously sparked some controversy, not least because it omitted some quite pertinent details. People scrambling to see if it's true, wildly speculative wails of betrayal echoing across the internet. Okay, I'm being melodramatic. Basically, people read it, some people justifiably wanted a reasoned explanation, some people went batshit crazy. The internet. I responded to Chesko's post on Reddit pretty quickly and answered people's questions and even humoured a crazy person for a bit. Things died down considerably once people had the facts. By that point it was getting late, around about 8pm in the evening, and I'd been at my desk all day with a few hours sleep the night before. I figured I'd do a bigger news post tomorrow if it was really necessary, else I'd let my response on Reddit do the talking.
However, when I got to bed I decided that no, I would do a news post about it no matter what. In my previous news I'd categorically said "and I'm also not going to bury my head in the sand and pretend like it isn't happening...I think everyone should know everything there is to know about [paid modding]", so it seemed right to explain the situation properly, here, not on Reddit.
Before I explain the concept of the Service Providers, let me finish off Chesko's story by saying that he has since announced the following in his Frostfall file page comments:
Thank you everyone very much for your outpouring of support. It means so much more than you know.
I have taken every mod I have ever published off the Workshop, and it will stay that way. The Nexus files will remain; in the end, this is the community that has supported me every step of the way. Arissa is currently hidden until we decide what to do.
I have deleted many of my accounts and will be leaving the modding community for a time. I don't know how long.
Thank you again.
And at this time, as far as I'm aware, most, if not all of his mods are still available on the Nexus. Class.
Now, Steam Service Providers. In order to explain them, I'll give you my timeline of events, so they're in context. I will be quoting small, relevant snippets from a couple of emails. Please understand, it would be illegal to simply paste or printscreen an entire email and post it up here without permission.
Around about a month ago I was contacted by a representative at Valve. They explained that they were working on a new feature for Steam Workshop, in conjunction with relevant developers, to "allow mod authors to choose if they wish to charge money for their mod or give it away for free". I'd already cottoned on to that by putting two-and-two together when Valve announced Curated Workshops at the same time Bethesda announced they'd removed the 100mb file size limit on Skyrim Workshop. They went on to explain the reason for emailing me:
We noticed that many of these games also have significant communities on the Nexus sites, which we think is great. We think the communities you support on Nexus offer a ton of value to mod-makers and customers, and we’d like to figure out how to help support the work you do. One way to do this is to add Nexus as a Steam Workshop Service Provider.
With Service Providers, Workshop authors can select from a pre-approved list of toolmakers and online communities to receive a percentage of Valve's revenue from sale of their items. We think this is really valuable because it gives a good path for rewarding and compensating tool-makers, supportive communities, and occasionally really helpful individuals for the value they provide in the process of creating awesome content. And, mod authors don't give up any of your revenue--this comes from Valve's split.
(In the interest of clarity, they said "one way to do this", and this was the only way mentioned. They haven't suggested anything else).
I was, of course, skeptical about it. I went and did my own research. I read and understood their revenue sharing agreement (which is comparatively small and easy to understand), I looked at how they've implemented the system for TF2, I verified that any money came from Valve's cut and not from the mod author's cut and I did some research in to what the cut was (5% of Valve's cut). Most importantly, I ensured that it was the mod author's complete and utter choice as to whether they wanted the Nexus to receive a cut of Valve's cut in all of this.
The system works by presenting the mod author with a list of "Service Providers" when they go to upload their file. They're informed that they can choose to support none, one or more of these Service Providers and that any cut is taken from Valve's cut, and not from their cut. The cut percentage is 5%. Ergo, if a mod author does not select any Service Providers then the cut remains 25% to the mod author, 40% to Bethesda, 35% to Valve. If the mod author picks one or more Service Providers then the cut changes to 25% to the mod author, 40% to Bethesda, 30% to Valve, 5% shared between one or more Service Providers.
So what we have here is Valve coming to me, in a positive and open exchange, with no strings attached, offering to share some of their split of the profit they receive from specific mod authors who have specifically stated when they upload their mods that they would like the Nexus to receive some of Valve's cut of the profit. Wrap your head around it. Mod authors using the paid workshop system say "I like the Nexus, I feel like the Nexus has helped me or the community at some point, I would like to support the Nexus, I'm going to donate some of Valve's cut to the Nexus". So the Nexus gets a trickle of funds, for free, for no extra work and for no promises of allegiance or support of Steam Workshop. I can still express and already have expressed my misgivings and criticisms of the way things have been implemented and how I think the system can be improved. The only string attached to all this is that I cannot share the revenue details publicly. I have signed away my right to that privilege, as I'm reminded on the revenue page where it says "Reminder: Sales data is provided for your personal use, and you've agreed to keep this data confidential (see: Workshop Legal Agreement).". A small price to pay for a few groans of "that's convenient!" from the conspiracy theorists among you. If you want to see what I agreed to then the Workshop Agreement is open for anyone to view. As I'm not actually contributing anything (and I have had this clarified for me by legal counsel), those terms pertaining to contributions do not apply to the Nexus. So, the off-the-rails person on Reddit who claimed I'd sold my soul to Valve and that they could now commandeer all of the Nexus and twist it to its evil will, making us charge for mods as well are mistaken. Because I'm not stupid. Thanks.
I don't know if it needs to be said, I mean, I've been doing this for 14 years, since 2001 when I was 14, these sites were the first sites I ever made and have formed the third company I ever started in 2007. They obviously mean a lot to me. I've mentioned many times in the past the amount of offers I get to cooperate or sell up and this tiny trickle of additional funds, in the grand scheme of things, is not going to make me flip out and change my views or make me align myself with Valve or Bethesda. If I do that, I do that because I think it's right, not because I'm getting paid a small amount by them. That's just silly. In the same vein, I'm not going to cut off my nose to spite my face.
But this is election season in the UK, so let me pledge to you right now, that any funds that this accumulates will go straight back into supporting these sites. That's the spirit in which they were given, both from Valve and the mod authors who select the Nexus as a service provider, and that's the spirit in which it will be accepted and used.
I already mentioned the forum server needs to be replaced, so that's the first place it's going to go. It's no where near enough to fund the replacement, but every little helps. If this some how explodes and becomes more than a tiny trickle then it will go towards hiring on a new programmer for NMM and the sites. Oh, and I also want to fund a complete redesign of the sites (with full mobile support, maybe even an app). That's really not cheap.
Most importantly, I pledge that any funds the Nexus receives from this will not be funds the Nexus relies on in order to survive. The Nexus has always been self-sustaining, relying on its users to help fund the site through adverts and Premium Membership. I would never jeopardize that by using Service Provider money to expand beyond the sustainable financial limits of these sites without that Service Provider money. What this means is, the Nexus can use the money, but it won't rely on that money in order to survive. As I mentioned in my Reddit response, the Nexus now needs to earn $500,000 a year in order to pay for the servers, the CDN, the bandwidth, the database cluster, the firewalls, the legal counsel, the accountants and the programmers. If we can bring in more money to pay for things that aren't needed but are surely wanted (like mobile support), that won't place a burden on the current financial requirements, without doing anything to further annoy users, like more ads, then hell yes! This is free money to support the Nexus, at the expense of Valve. It's almost poetic.
In total, 3 emails were exchanged on the actual topic of how it worked as a concept. During that time they mentioned they'd read my blog post already which they said "seemed totally appropriate and on-mark". The remaining 4 emails were used to give Valve the information they needed to set me up as a service provider.
I'll bullet a few more pertinent points for even more clarity:
- I was not under an NDA, I was simply told "we haven’t announced this information publicly yet, so we appreciate you keeping this under wraps for now.". If you believe I should have outed them right there and then and completely destroyed my relationship with Valve and Bethesda then I think you're being naive.
- They also asked me if I could suggest any other tools within the community that would deserve to be a Service Provider. They said they'd already be in contact with SKSE, NifTools and TES5Edit. I directed them to wrinklyninja and the BOSS/LOOT team. I do not know if they contacted them or what their response was.
- I did not get to see any of their implementation or how any of it would work before any of you did. All I did know was that free and open modding was not being shut down and, "It will be similar to the path that users have now for posting mods to the Steam Workshop, except that they will be able to pick whether their mod is posted free, for a price, or to enable a pay-what-you-want option."
- I did not know any more than any of you about when this would be announced and/or released. The only people who did are Valve, Bethesda, and the mod authors specifically picked by Valve and Bethesda.
After the email exchange had ended a couple of days later I heard nothing more from Valve (or Bethesda). And I still haven't to this day. So I'll consider any communication with them done and dusted.
I had no idea when this was going to be launched. In fact, I only found out when I was up in my room packing my bags for a holiday I'd booked in 4 months ago, way before Valve got in contact with me. I was busy putting some shirts in to my bag when I received a message on my phone from a friend saying "No more steam workshop for me!". That's when I knew it had been released, that's when I knew I had to cancel my holiday, let down my friends, and spend this weekend making my eyes bleed reading and writing a copious amount of text while watching SSH terminals spew out server statistics like I'm reading The Matrix for any signs of server downtime or overloading. Thursday evening was a mess, cancelling my flight, cancelling my taxi and hotel, informing my friends I could no longer go with them, writing up the news, monitoring the servers, watching the forums explode, and reading...so much reading, and very little sleep. If I have one regret in all of this, it's that in all the mess and stress I didn't manage the release of this information about the Service Providers from the start, and instead letting it come out via a third-party, who kind of threw me under the bus a little. Bearing in mind it's there for anyone to see on the Steam Workshop page. It's hardly top secret!
Some people have expressed dismay, that I'm being two-faced or hypocritical by on the one hand being critical of the way Steam have implemented some of their features while on the other taking some of their money. And to those people I'd ask, have you cut off your nose to spite your face? Have you deleted all your Steam games, deactivated your Steam account, uninstalled Steam and made that financial sacrifice before coming here telling me I should make a financial sacrifice? I imagine a very, very, very tiny percentage of you actually have, but an overwhelming majority of you won't have. I've already covered that in this post, that just because the Nexus is a Service Provider doesn't mean I'm under any obligation to say only nice things about Steam Workshop or that I'm in their pocket. As far as I'm concerned, that money is a gracious donation from those mod authors who pick us when they add their mods to Steam Workshop (and by the way, if you're one of those authors, thank you! I have no way of knowing which authors have done it else I would PM you to say the same). Once again, the money was offered as a gesture of thanks, from Valve, and it is being accepted, respected and used in the way in which it was given. Nothing more.
Indeed, people have taken it further than that, saying that I've positioned myself as the "white knight of the free modding community" and that I can't say I'm against paid for modding and then take the money. And you're right, I can't, and it would be bad if I had. But I haven't. I'm looking over my shoulder, wondering if there's some other Dark0ne in this house or someone here that's ghostwriting for me, because I sure as heck haven't come out against paid for modding. In fact, I've been extremely careful not to do exactly that. I know you want me to. But wanting me to come out against it isn't the same as me actually coming out against it. If people are heralding me, specifically, as their champion in the fight against paid modding then they've done that of their own accord, and I certainly haven't agreed to be that champion.
I've been skeptical of it, worried how it would affect things and I've been critical of the way in which certain elements of it have been implemented. I've also categorically said that as long as I'm in charge of these sites all mods on these sites will be free. That is not the same as saying that I am against paid for modding on other sites.
I had to go back through my blog post and subsequent news posts last night just to make sure. And it turns out, I do know what I said. Thank god. You can see these posts here, here and here. Let me quote some snippets for you.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 Nexus is for everyone from every background, colour, creed, and political, religious or sexual persuasion. We strive to make this a community where anyone and everyone can enjoy something here away from hate. And that includes mod authors who want to make money. So if you break that peace and attack mod authors here for what they've chosen to do, you'll be gone. By all means debate, but when your debating becomes abusive, it's no longer debating.
Time will only tell how well Valve and Bethesda are going to handle these issues, and I'd say stolen assets being used in paid mods is one of, if not the biggest issue right now. Some of the rumours going around are not nice to hear, but we've got to let the dust settle and see what comes of all of this. It's too early to tell. I appreciate it's ironic to say that after I just had a little rant, but my god, it's already freaking happened, less than a day in, and I've smashed my head in to my desk on more than one occasion today in disbelief because of it. So not a great start from Valve and Bethesda, but yes, it's still to early to tell.
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.
Does this sound like a champion of modding being free everywhere? No, it does not. Do not use me as the poster-child for that campaign as I never said I was. What will I champion? I will champion and fight for modding being allowed to remain free and open on any platforms that want to remain free and open, like the Nexus, like ModDB, and all the individual modding communities out there for games. I will fight against the DRMification of modding. I will fight, as I always, always have, for an author's right to choose how and where a mod author distributes their work. And I will most definitely fight against anyone who chooses to persecute, attack or seek "revenge" against mod authors who have chosen to sell their mods. Because that is wrong. It's fucking wrong. And I do not swear in these posts lightly.
My position on paid modding remains exactly the same as it has been the past month. It's too early to tell pretty much anything. I will continue to sit back, read, analyse, consult and form my own opinions on the subject. I will not be forced into making knee jerk reactions, and I most definitely will not support the same individuals who are attacking mod authors. The people attacking mod authors are an absolute disgrace.
Irrespective of whether I end up agreeing with or supporting paid for modding or not, this one simple fact remains the same. The Nexus is free.
The finger pointing has begun. Pointing the finger at Valve, at Bethesda, at modders, at the Nexus, at YouTubers. Have you really not seen this coming, at all? Evolve launching with $100 worth of day zero DLC? Buying games knowing the developers have said they won't release SDK's any more because it's "too hard"? Paying money to beta test games in Early Access? Pre-ordering games based on hype despite the developers and publishers enacting review embargoes? Users spending $220 million plus on mods already for TF2, CSGO and DotA 2? Of course this was coming. Anyone who's done any of these things has been complicit in getting us to this stage! I'll put my hand up and admit I bought DayZ stand-alone. I'm sorry, alright, I didn't realise they were going to be this bad and take this long!
Some of you will be furious, asking "But Dark0ne, how can you sit around while Valve and Bethesda destroy the modding community?". I can sit here and remain calm, collected, and continue to analyse things because I'm aware of the full facts from my side. I'm not reading figures that someone is putting on Reddit, or the forums, or Steam without verifying them myself. The sheer amount of made up facts and figures, and the lying, is ridiculous. And what's even more ridiculous is the amount of silly people who'll read these lies, believe them and not do their own research. Jesus wept. It's been less than 48 hours, guys. As soon as Valve announced the paid workshops I took a count of the number of Skyrim files on Skyrim Nexus. We had 40,567 mods on the site. Right now that count sits at 40,492. We've lost 75 mods, of which, almost all of those "lost" mods have been hidden by mod authors who want to see how this all plays out, many of which contacted me to explain what they're doing. Indeed, there's been an amazing outpouring of amazing mod authors who make amazing mods here on the Nexus who have categorically stated that their mods will remain completely free. That's awesome!! The sky is not falling down!!! And frankly, I think you are insulting the mod authors who have decided to remain free by saying free modding is over. If you believe strongly in this, stick by them, show them your support, endorse their files if you like them, donate to them. That's what this community needs, not a swirling cesspit of vitriolic hatred.
And so, I will say, once again, it is too soon (Too soon, too soon, TOO SOON!) to come to any conclusions on any of this. And I will leave you with my main, primary fear in all of this, which I brought up in my original blog piece.
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.
That is what I will fight. That is what I will champion against.