Steam Introduces, Defends, and Removes Paid Mods

Since Valve introduced the Steam Workshop feature, players all over the world have been modifying and tweaking their games in endless ways. When Valve added a new – and potentially game-changing – way for modders to provide their works through paid content, things began to get messy.

On the Workshop page, Valve detailed the precise ways that paid user-created content will work.

 The Steam Workshop has always been a great place for sharing mods, maps, and all kinds of items that you’ve created. Now it’s also a great place for selling those creations.

With a new, streamlined process for listing and selling your creations, the Steam Workshop now supports buying mods directly from the Workshop, to be immediately usable in game.

Discover the best new mods for your game and enable the creators to continue making new items and experiences.

Due to the popularity of and the extensive existing database of modifications, Valve chose to launch their paid content initiative with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda has been known to support user-created content in the past, so the move seems like a logical step, especially with Skyrim’s already existing Workshop support.

Valve went on to detail a trial period and return policy, put in place to protect users from broken mods or misleading details. In addition to paid mods, free mods would remain a part of the workshop and creators were also able to select a Humble Bundle-style “pay what you want” system. That style of remuneration has proven to engender far more positive feelings from a fan-base and elicit much more generous donations than through mandatory payments.


When content creators put their item up for sale, they had the option to specify if that particular mod requires a particular DLC component from a game, or whether it expands upon another mod already available for that particular game. You’d also be able to add multiple project members to a mod, so each creator that contributed to a project got a cut of the profit. Valve followed up the announcement with an extensive FAQ section.


While it may have seemed like a dream come true to many hobbyists who spend their free time working on mods, fan response was extremely negative, at best. The Steam Reddit consisted of dozens of negative threads responding to the development, and scattered reports were everywhere that Valve was cracking down on mods outside of the Workshop that accept donations or payment. Many users called for boycotts or write-in campaigns, and several modders publicly called it quits due to the addition. Most of the mods that rose to the top ranks of the Workshop were protests or parodies of the situation.


Valve co-founder Gabe Newell posted on Reddit himself, letting users know he was going to clarify anything that needed further explanation and trying hard to assuage their fears and anger – though it seemed he did little to that effect. A lot of his less-popular responses were downvoted far into negative territory, a move that would seem unthinkable before this debacle. Here are a few choice quotes from his extensive Reddit posting:

On Valve’s intentions:

A lot of comments are about Valve’s motivations and intentions. The only way to credibly demonstrate those are through long-run actions towards the community. There is no shortcut to not being evil. However I didn’t resist pointing out when someone’s theory of Valve being evil is internally inconsistent or easily falsified, when I probably should.

On moderating Steam content:

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.

On Steam Workshop’s impact:

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.

If you’d like to dig through the entire thread, you can find it on the /r/gaming forum.

Less than a week after the whole mess started, Valve announced they were pulling the plug. While not apologizing for the move, they stated they genuinely believed the move to be for the best, and that it was clear they didn’t know what they were doing:

We’ve done this because it’s clear we didn’t understand exactly what we were doing. We’ve been shipping many features over the years aimed at allowing community creators to receive a share of the rewards, and in the past, they’ve been received well. It’s obvious now that this case is different.

To help you understand why we thought this was a good idea, our main goals were to allow mod makers the opportunity to work on their mods full time if they wanted to, and to encourage developers to provide better support to their mod communities. We thought this would result in better mods for everyone, both free & paid. We wanted more great mods becoming great products, like Dota, Counter-strike, DayZ, and Killing Floor, and we wanted that to happen organically for any mod maker who wanted to take a shot at it.

The decision to pull the system was met with widespread praise though it was clear to see that more than a little goodwill towards Valve and Newell was burned up in the process. While a good takeaway from the situation is that Valve still listens to the community’s feedback – overwhelming as it was – it’s put some doubt in users’ minds at what might be introduced in the future without warning.

What’s your opinion on this saga? Were you affected by the program? Let us know! Leave a comment, or find us on Twitter at @APGNation.

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