Daniel pointed out to me that Valve have announced paid modding support in Steam, starting with Bethesda’s Skyrim. My thoughts below.
Like Daniel, I have mixed feelings on this. You could say that I’m cautiously optimistic.
On the one hand, as a developer, I like the idea of paid mods. The Unity asset store is one of the best things about the Unity engine; people earn money, some of them very good money, from making things that enhance the experience for everyone. I like that ‘we thrive together’ philosophy.
And supporting modding is a bigger enterprise than some might realize, especially the kind of modding you can do in a game like Skyrim. That translates into development time, which translates into money. It’s not a trivial cost. Being able to earn a cut of mod sales will provide an additional financial incentive to developers to support modding, and to continue to support the modding scene in the future. So that’s a plus.
I also like to see more avenues for hobbiests to transition to paid professionals without having to have a lot of up-front capital. As I said, some people make a good living producing assets for the Unity asset store. I can see the really popular mods making a tidy bundle for their creators, too.
The financial incentive may also result in fewer promising mods being abandoned halfway by their creators, or left to get outdated over time.
That being said, I do understand the fear that all the mods that used to be free will go paid and the rich, mod-supported experience of Bethesda games will dry up into a wasteland of paid, half-assed products and cheap money-grabs.
The fact that Steam still offers users a 24 hour money-back refund might help alleviate the gold-rush aspect a bit. So long as you play the content when you buy it, a few hours is more than enough to get a decent sense of whether the mod is worth a few bucks.
The other thing to keep in mind is what happened on Apple’s app store. The glut of competing products resulted in tremendous downward price pressure, something we’re seeing on Steam now, too. I’m guessing that for all but the best mods, the competition will drive the price down into the $1-$3 region, over time. Which is not exorbitant, especially since you can get your money back if you quickly decide this isn’t a mod you want to play with, long term.
We’ll have to wait and see where prices stabilize to.
We’ll also see if some spirit of communal sharing is maintained. There are still free assets released on the Unity Asset store, developers who choose to give back to the community. I’m hoping that at least some of that same spirit will survive the relentless engine of Capitalism. 😉