Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Co-Creators and Monetized Mods

Posted by Sean Hull on February 8, 2017

Inspired by Thursday’s reading, I would like to share with you a story of near-disaster, when a corporation intervened in a fan community and nearly tore it apart by monetizing their labors. I am talking about the Skyrim “Paid Mods” fiasco.

First, a bit of terminology. Steam is an online game distribution platform owned by Valve, on which the wildly popular role-playing game Skyrim was released in 2011 by Bethesda Softworks. In 2012, Skyrim gained mod support, allowing the fan community to create new characters, quests, and items, sometimes with such quality that their creations were equivalent to officially produced, purchasable content. To smooth mod distribution, Valve implemented a “Steam Workshop” feature, which allowed content creators to upload their mods directly to Steam’s servers, from which other users could download them, free of charge.

This changed in April of 2015, when Valve introduced “Paid Mods” to the Steam Workshop [1], a system through which content creators could receive payment for their work. Though Gabe Newell, president of the Valve corporation, claimed “The option for paid MODs is supposed to increase the investment in quality modding, not hurt it” [2], the results of monetization were initially less than stunning, as shown by a scathing review from an anonymous Reddit user, who demonstrated the gross lack of quality and professionalism shown in many of the paid mods which Valve chose to feature [3].  This carelessness on the part of Valve and most collaborating mod creators resulted in a significant backlash from Skyrim’s fanbase, whose furor was compounded by an inadequate refund policy that failed to appreciate the inherent potential for instability in user-created content, a constant threat of free mods being uploaded without creator consent and illegally sold, and a monetization system which only gave 25% of earnings to the mod creators themselves. Due to this backlash, Valve eventually pulled paid mods from the Steam Workshop [4].

What can be made of this in relation to the assigned reading? First, it is a good example of the complex relationships between co-creator and corporation. Though “Paid Mods” were potentially beneficial to co-creators, they were primarily a means for Valve and Bethesda to make money from a product which people had previously produced and enjoyed for free. Second, it begs comparison to the Spreadable Media segment which likens fan laborers to the “craftsmen of old”: those who were motivated not only by pecuniary desire, but also by intangible wants such as reputation and pride, and who went above what was required of them for the sake of these latter rewards. Though there is no shortage of terrible Skyrim mods available for free, I find it interesting that most of those mods briefly featured for purchase were apparently assembled out of mercenary motivations, with no care for craftsmanship or quality. Would the overall quality have improved if “Paid Mods” had been given a chance, or would monetary motivation have inhibited the collaborative atmosphere in which many of Skyrim’s greatest mods came to be?


[1] https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2015/04/steam-workshop-lets-users-sell-mods-but-only-shares-25-percent-of-revenue/

[2] https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2015/04/gabe-newell-addresses-controversy-over-paid-steam-mods/

[3] http://imgur.com/gallery/bqcla/new

[4] https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2015/04/valve-yanks-new-mod-sales-feature-from-steam-after-only-four-days/


2 Responses to “Co-Creators and Monetized Mods”

  1. nathanpowers22 said

    I think this subject may be one of the most difficult points to discuss from the reading because there seem to be so many examples and couterexamples of whether paying fans for service is a good idea. Many people would argue that putting in years of effort toward something that seeks to expand upon established IPs with no monetary compensation is unjust, especially when rights holders submit takedown notices to the developers of fan-made games (see AM2R, which you mentioned in a previous blog post, and Pokemon Uranium [1]). Despite this, as your case study shows, even attempts to pay content creators–a noble idea, though executed poorly in this scenario–can be met with backlash as well. Yet, some non-profit, fan-based content can succeed via endorsement/approval from rights holders as with the Second Life example mentioned in class and (going back to the Elder Scrolls series) the Skywind and Skyblivion projects [2]. Based on these examples, it’s clear that for now the fate of fan-made projects is ultimately in the hands of corporations that own the copyrights and trademarks tied to the content in question, but I think it’s still possible that we’ll see shifts in this model in the near future.

    [1] – http://www.polygon.com/2016/8/14/12472616/pokemon-uranium-taken-down-nintendo
    [2] – https://tesrenewal.com/

  2. […] https://mitsoaps.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/co-creators-and-monetized-mods/ […]

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