How Valve Could Have Learned From The Sims Modding War

Published: April 29, 2015 1:00 PM /


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By now everyone knows about Valve’s decision to allow modders to sell their creations on the Steam Workshop. The first game to be initiated into this endeavor was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but to the surprise of no one, except apparently Valve, this has been an incredibly controversial decision. Of course this news is pretty old, as Valve has backpedaled  first by allowing a donate option on said mods and now disabling the option all together.

Frankly, as someone who has been involved in the PC gaming scene for years, I saw this coming. From the perspective of someone who watched the great Simmer wars during the Sims 2 and part of the Sims 3 era, I did not see this lasting very long. For those of you who may know, while the Skyrim modding scene is incredibly large, it is nothing compared to the size and experience of the Sims modding community. And nothing divided the community more than paid mods.

One was either part of the paid community or against; the different websites and forums hated each other and insults freely went flying. The most visible of the two sides were Modsthesims and the Simsresource. Modthesims was the bastion of the free modders while the Simsresource were the paragons of the paid modders. So if one were to compare the two to the former situation Modthesims is The Nexus and the Simsresource is Steam.

The war was a long and brutal one with people joining the Simsresource to download the paid mods (keep mind that this site operated the way that Steam did a few short days ago) and uploading them for free. Any Simmer who charged for their mods was looked at by the other side with both suspicion and derision. It wasn’t until the Simsresource finally released all their mods for free (instead they charge a subscription free for an ads free version of their website) that the war basically ended. Of course, there are still pockets of modders who still charge for their better creations. But for the most part it's over.

That’s the future that I saw for the Skyrim community, especially because unlike the Sims mods, Skyrim mods are pretty incestuous. So many of the most popular resources are used in a multitude of mods today. The most salient example being The Art of The Catch mod that was uploaded to Steam during their pay mods experiment. That mod was based on resources from Fores Idles, which allows for custom animations to be used in-game. This  made many Skyrim fans realize they can't be sure the mods they paid for weren’t based on other free mods. At least with The Nexus, modders need permission from resource owners before they can upload their own work. There is no such protection on Steam.

Of course now this is a non-issue since, again, Valve has changed their minds. But allowing modders to profit from their work wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem was forcing people to pay instead of just allowing them to donate which was Valve’s second idea. Looking back on what happened with the Simsresource, they went from putting the best mods behind a paywall to instead allowing them free for all users.

In the end, the problem in this humble writer’s opinion was two-fold. One, the Skyrim modding community is just too old. It’s been around for so many years and there are so many mods. Like previously stated, so many of the assets are intermingled; the vast majority of animations use Fores Idles to integrate in-game; any custom race requires RaceCompatibilty along with RaceMenu and ECE to function; and of course one can’t forget SkyUI which was rumored to be going under a paywall on Steam. This could have been a potential disaster because so many mods depend on your game having SkyUI.

I approached this from the perspective of someone who watched paysites tear a community apart, and there are still problems in the Sims community. The Skyrim modding community, which already has some minor divisions, was already fragmenting with the arrival of Forever Free on The Nexus, a logo that modders could add to their creations to pledge to never add them to the Steam Workshop Initiative. Please keep in mind the vast majority of Skyrim players believe that modders should be compensated for their work. And if Valve had approached this situation with a donate option first, I truly believe that the issue would not have blown up the way it did. Perhaps the Skyrim community is just too vast and old for this project. Maybe with a different, younger game this would not have become such an issue.

If Valve was to try again, and they should try again, The Elder Scrolls 6 would be a better option since Bethesda was already on board. It would also give Valve time to implement rules about mods that use resources from other mods so that there isn’t another Fores situation. With the ability for people to donate to the modder, which is a fair compromise, Valve could also improve on the amount that they take because of the issue that 75% cut they received caused. But then again this is all wishful, and we’ll just have to wait and see what they do in the future.


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