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So it’s no secret that, over the past several years and thanks to Early Access, Greenlight, and a whole bunch of other shite, the profit model for a lot of people who put products on Steam has become: sell dignity and soul, make a couple bucks. While this does happen in the AAA market, and companies actually make a profit doing it, its worst abuses come from the indie market, which is odd because the sales stats tell us that it’s not really worth the time and semblance of effort.

The latest feature ripe for potential abuse Valve has added to its once great distribution network is the ability to charge for mods. Currently it is limited to Skyrim, but the system will be implemented across most if not all Workshops, if Valve continues to not see the obvious issues.

Now, I’m with the crowed against this… calling it an “idea” would be a little generous. And while that in itself is really the most important thing practically, I find it much more interesting to think about why I am against it. My initial reaction to this news is not one I’m proud of. I simply heard that mods would be a for-profit thing, and my little idealistic socialist brain immediately considered the corrupting influence of money. Mods, at least those that aren’t shite, are something of an art form, and the idea of art being for profit just sickened me. Until I realized most art already is.

As it often does, my mind went pretty quickly to Ghost in the Shell, a truly great work of animated art. Also, a product, one I’ve bought with money and have sitting on my shelf right now between other art products Trigun and Revolutionary Girl Utena. These wouldn’t exist unless people expected to make money doing them. Of course it’s naïve to pretend that money doesn’t affect the art and harm its purity… or is it.

Rene Descartes’ Meditations is one of the most important texts in early modern philosophy. It also probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fact that Descartes wasn’t exactly wealthy, and had to publish or starve. There was a profit motive to the book, but it would be a tough claim to say that the book was corrupted by this, or pandered like a focus-group-tested Hollywood film in order to sell copies. I think this is probably because Descartes understood his market. He was writing philosophy books- pandering to the popular wasn’t exactly a good business strategy. He knew the only people who would even look at what he wrote would be people only interested in hard philosophy, so that’s what he gave them.

And thankfully, I think the modding scene is the same way. People looking at mods aren’t going to spend money on crap, they know games better than that, and know what mods they want. It’s not like the AAA market were the scale is so big that the largest market segment is people who know nothing about the industry will buy a polished turd over some somewhat dusty gold.

I think most modders we know and love, if they engage in this practice at all, will continue to produce the same quality content, if not better thanks to the particle monetary compensation for their time and effort. Yes we’ll get people like Digital Homicide peddling unpolished turds for $9.99, and I’m sure EA will use this to get around the bad faith associated with DLC. But the community is small enough and smart enough that that shit won’t fly.

There are still issues with this system, and I’m still against it, but I can’t pretend it’s the same thing as everything else we’ve seen from Steam. I’d prefer this didn’t exist, and it does mean that I, as a consumer, have to put in a bit more work before buying a mod to make sure it’s actually good, I don’t really mind.

Don’t Lose Your Way

Update: Valve has since gone back on all this.