Pissing off the Internet is expensive, and not even charging for mods can pay for it.
Earlier this week, Valve — the company that owns and operates the Steam digital-distribution platform for PC gaming — rolled out a controversial new feature that enables the people who make and release mods to charge for their creations. The money then gets split between Valve, the original game publisher, and the mod maker — with the publisher setting the level of that cut. This has driven many players into a rage-filled frenzy. For decades, mods were free — and this is a big change.
First, he wants people to know that Valve isn’t doing this because it wants all of your money.
“Let’s assume for a second that we are stupidly greedy,” he wrote. “So far, the paid mods have generated $10,000 total. That’s like 1 percent 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.”
Newell said that this change led to him receiving 3,500 emails, and other Valve employees are dealing with similar volumes. To deal with that, the company has had to spin up extra email servers, and this is apparently getting expensive.
As for why Newell’s team felt the need to implement paid mods in the first place, he had a very simple explanation.
“Our view of Steam is that it’s a collection of useful tools for customers and content developers,” he wrote.
Newell pointed to the Steam Workshop, which has long empowered community creators to build and sell items for free-to-play titles like Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2.
“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,” wrote Newell. We see this as a really good step. The option of mod developers getting paid seemed like a good extension of that.”
Beyond the obvious chance for people to make money from their work, Valve expects this could lead to better mods for gamers as well.
“Skyrim is a great example of a game that has benefitted enormously from mods,” wrote Newell. “The option for paid mods is supposed to increase the investment in quality modding, not hurt it.”
But the Valve boss says that this change isn’t gospel. It could get rolled back.
“If something doesn’t [help], it will get dumped,” he wrote. “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.”
In the end, Newell makes the point that this is about rewarding talent to foster and encourage it to grow.
“About half of Valve came straight out of the mod world,” wrote Newell. “John Cook and Robin Walker made Team Fortress as a Quake mod. [IceFrog] made [Dota] as a [Warcraft III] mod. Dave Riller and Dario Casali [were] Doom and Quake mappers. John Guthrie and Steve Bond came to Valve because John Carmack thought they were doing the best Quake C development. But 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.”