The introduction of mod monetization on Steam’s dedicated platform Steam Workshop has caused quite the discussion, enough to prompt Valve Managing Director Gabe Newell himself to sit in a coffee shop for two hours in order to answer questions and address worries of the fans in a Reddit AMA.
Firts of all, Newell explained that Valve loves mods:
As a baseline, Valve loves MODs (see Team Fortress, Counter-Strike, and DOTA).
The open nature of PC gaming is why Valve exists, and is critical to the current and future success of PC gaming.
To a user asking him if he was “a traitor,” Newell responded;
Not that I’m aware of.
After confirming that modders can indeed continue to release free mods of Steam Workshop (something that some seem to be misinterpreting, for some reason), Newell explained the philosophy behind the decision:
Our view of Steam is that it’s a collection of useful tools for customers and content developers.
With the Steam workshop, we’ve already reached the point where the community is paying their favorite contributors more than they would make if they worked at a traditional game developer. We see this as a really good step.
The option of MOD developers getting paid seemed like a good extension of that.
Newell admitted that the original Counterstrike or DOTA wouldn’t have taken off if people had to pay for them when they were still mods:
No, they wouldn’t. Which is one of the reasons that we didn’t charge for them after they stopped being MODs (at least part of the time).
Free to play is an extension of that and is based on the aggregate incremental value of another player to all the other players.
He then promised that there will be no (more?) censorship of those speaking against the new feature:
Well, if we are censoring people, that’s stupid. I’ll get that to stop. On top of it being stupid, it doesn’t work (see Top Gear forums on Jeremy Clarkson).
Interrogated on content theft and quality issues, which are pretty rampant in mods, Newell mentioned that those are problems worth solving even if they’re not specific just to mods.
I don’t think these issues are specific to MODs, and they are all worth solving.
For example, two areas where people have legitimate beefs against us are support and Greenlight. We have short term hacks and longer term solutions coming, but the longer term good solutions involve writing a bunch of code. In the interim, it’s going to be a sore point. Both these problems boil down to building scalable solutions that are robust in the face of exponential growth.
Still about content theft, Newell addressed the problem of people stealing the mods from sites like Nexus Mods and putting them on Steam Workshop.
This is a straight-forward problem. Between ours and the community’s policing, I’m confident that the authors will have control over their creations, not someone trying to rip them off.
He also explained that the goal is to make modding better for both authors and gamers, promising that changes that don’t work will be scrapped, but the company is going to look at the data to make any decision:
Our goal is to make modding better for the authors and gamers. If something doesn’t help with that, it will get dumped. Right now I’m more optimistic that this will be a win for authors and gamers, but we are always going to be data driven.
Afterwards, he elaborated further on what Valve is aiming to achieve and on what was missing:
The goal is to increase the total investment the community makes in extending its games. We thought we were missing some plumbing that was hampering that.
That said, the system will be continuously reviewed like everything else, and Newell’s Q&A is part of that process:
Sure. We review stuff all the time. I’m here as part of that process.
If you’re wondering how much revenue the feature has generated so far, Newell has been quite open about that, and about the fact that the revenue has been massively overwhelmed by the cost of “pissing off the Internet.”
Let’s assume for a second that we are stupidly greedy. So far the paid mods have generated $10K total. That’s like 1% of the cost of the incremental email the program has generated for Valve employees (yes, I mean pissing off the Internet costs you a million bucks in just a couple of days). That’s not stupidly greedy, that’s stupidly stupid.
You need a more robust Valve-is-evil hypothesis.
Interestingly, he gave a pretty deep response on what kind of “greed” might be associated with Valve’s decision:
If you are going to ascribe everything we do to being greedy, at least give us credit for being greedy long (value creation) and not greedy short (screwing over customers).
He also explained that pay-out percentages are set by the publisher of the game being modded:
The pay-outs are set by the owner of the game that is being modded.
Newell promised that the option of paid mods is supposed to increase the investment in quality mods, not to hurt it, also mentioning Valve’s roots in modding:
Sky rim is a great example of a game that has benefitted enormously from the MODs. The option for paid MODs is supposed to increase the investment in quality modding, not hurt it.
About half of Valve came straight out of the MOD world. John Cook and Robin Walker made Team Fortress as a Quake mod. Ice frog made DOTA as a Warcraft 3 mod. Dave Riller and Dario Casali we Doom and Quake mappers. John Guthrie and Steve Bond came to Valve because John Carmack thought they were doing the best Quake C development. All of them were liberated to just do game development once they started getting paid. Working at Waffle House does not help you make a better game.
Nexus Mods Founder Robin Scott asked Newell if Valve would do anything to prevent publishers from limiting mods to Steam Workshop, or even worse, to the paid workshop. Newell responded that the company is reluctant to tell developers what they can and can’t do, but he pledged to work with Nexus Mods on possible support:
In general we are pretty reluctant to tell any developer that they have to do something or they can’t do something. It just goes against our philosophy to be dictatorial.
With that caveat, we’d be happy to tell developers that we think they are being dumb, and that will sometimes help them reflect on it a bit.
In the case of Nexus, we’d be happy to work with you to figure out how we can do a better job of supporting you. Clearly you are providing a valuable service to the community. Have you been talking to anyone at Valve previously?
He later provided further insight on the same issue:
The one thing I’d ask you to think about is your request to put our foot down. We would be reluctant to force a game developer to do “x” for the same reason we would be reluctant to force a mod developer to do “x.” It’s just not a good idea. For example we get a lot of pressure to police the content on Steam. Shouldn’t there be a rule? How can any decent person approve of naked trees/stabbing defenseless shrubberies? It turns out that everything outrages somebody, and there is no set of possible rules that satisfies everyone. Those conversations always turn into enumerated lists of outrageous things. It’s a lot more tractable, and customer/creator friendly to focus on building systems that connect customers to the right content for them personally (and, unfortunately, a lot more work).
So, yes, we want to provide tools for mod authors and to Nexus while avoiding coercing other creators/gamers as much as possible.
Newell also explained why exclusivity is normally a bad idea:
Exclusivity is a bad idea for everyone. It’s basically a financial leveraging strategy that creates short term market distortion and long term crying.
A rather handy “pay what you want” option is being added.
We are adding a pay what you want button where the mod author can set the starting amount wherever they want.