Of all the announcements that came out of E3 2017, there was no announcement that was more universally hated than Bethesda’s Creation Club unveiling. Shown off near the end of Bethesda’s conference, the Creation Club was advertised as an upcoming feature for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 4 that would introduce a new in-game store, giving players an opportunity to spend credits (in other words, real money) on a wide variety of microtransactions ranging from in-game equipment to cosmetic changes. These microtransactions would, for all intents and purposes, be developed by professionals and pre-screened, proven modders from the games’ audiences, so each weapon, backpack, and set of crab armor that you purchase and download from the Creation Club will have Bethesda’s virtual seal of approval.
Likely envisioned as a long term investment for their flagship open-world RPG series, The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, Creation Club is clearly intended to supply their games’ respective audiences with a steady stream of official content. It would have been a clever way for Bethesda to maintain an audience while making a little bit of money the side, but alas, the Internet was less than pleased at the concept of the Creation Club.
With a swift and terrible rage, people immediately decried the Creation Club as a return to paid mods. On the surface, such statements wouldn’t be entirely incorrect, but as with all things, there are two sides to this story. Superficially, the Creation Club would allow Bethesda to monetize content that would otherwise be considered mods—that much is correct—but it is an incredibly misleading statement akin to saying that computers are made of rocks. As such, it would perhaps be for the best to break down the major points of Creation Club and the criticism against it so that if you are going to hate the Creation Club, at least you will hate it for the right reasons.
Mods, as most people understand them, have traditionally been post-launch content for a game developed by talented members of that game’s audience. As such, mods tend to lack any degree of official support, meaning that if a mod breaks your game or if you are otherwise displeased with a mod’s content, then the game’s official developer will not help you. On the bright side, since mod authors are not part of the game’s development company, they have way more freedom in how they choose to create their mods (hence why you can find Star Wars or Lord of the Rings themed mods for Skyrim). Furthermore, given the unreliable nature of mods, it is more or less an unspoken agreement between everyone involved that mods should be a free service of sorts. Of course, someone could theoretically create a mod for a game and lock it behind a paywall, but you just can’t compete with free, plus you likely don’t want to have lawyers breathing down your neck about a potential breach of the game’s EULA.
Bethesda’s Creation Club content, on the other hand, is intended to be the exact opposite of mods (or at least that’s what Bethesda claims anyways). Anything that is hosted on the Creation Club will effectively be considered content that is officially sanctioned by Bethesda, as you must go through Bethesda’s QA process. Furthermore, while there is technically nothing stopping you, an insane person, or even a baby from applying to be a Creation Club member, you must be able to prove to Bethesda that you can create quality game content. If you take a look at the Creation Club application page, you may notice that for all intents and purposes, you are effectively going through a job application process where you must provide a resume or portfolio.
Even if you are accepted into the Creation Club, there are a number of guidelines that you must follow. In addition to having to go through Bethesda’s QA process, Creation Club content cannot be an existing mod (or for that matter, based on anything that would give Bethesda legal trouble). While this won’t guarantee that there won’t be similarities with existing mods, it does mean that a renowned mod author can’t just apply, reupload their mod to the Creation Club, and basically get paid for doing nothing (in theory). Furthermore, it would be a reasonable expectation that Creation Club content will be updated and patched should the situation require it, as it would just be bad form to sell content that doesn’t work.
Realistically speaking, this means that the only thing that Creation Club content would have in common with mods is the scope of what is being created. By Bethesda’s own admission, you can expect to see in-game items like weapons and armor, new NPCs, cosmetic options, and gameplay tweaks, all of which already exist in some form thanks to mods. Differences in quality aside, Creation Club content will be more of a premium alternative to mods, acting more as a vector for Bethesda to inject microtransactions than anything else, with all the implications that will bring.
As such, the real question isn’t “Is Creation Club content paid mods?”, but whether or not Bethesda will (purposefully or otherwise) create scenarios whereby community members will be effectively discouraged from creating mods for their games. As it stands now, there are no small number of problems with how mods were implemented on consoles (phantom memory space issues with uninstalled mods, mods can be removed from Bethesda.net without warning, no real way to tell if a mod was removed by an author or by Bethesda, and on and on the list goes), and given that Creation Club is clearly meant to target console users, it isn’t entirely inconceivable that Bethesda would like to completely corner the market on consoles mods, especially given console users’ lack of choice in the matter.