I sit here a humble man, sipping my lukewarm tea after yet another (Only vaguely ironic) argument with a stranger in a Fallout shitposting group. Mods. In my mind, one of the most fascinating parts of gaming, and perhaps the industry’s greatest strength when it comes to pushing the medium forwards. They’ve always held a somewhat strange place in the market, being exceedingly popular with a very small part of the gaming community. And boy, is that small niche opinionated.
One of the first articles I wrote for Respawning was an Op-Ed on why Bethesda’s ‘creation club’ had spoiled an amazing opportunity. For those who missed it, here are the revised cliff notes.
Next month will see the first anniversary of the Creation Club, a system in Fallout 4 and Skyrim that lets users buy small mods with a special currency- these mods range from retextures to small additions to the weapon and armour pools. In other words, tiny microtransactions, and they each cost everything from $0.50 to $5 USD. Microtransactions that offer to add only tiny, trivial amounts of content, whilst larger mods receive no support and thus are no better off.
The creation club was sort of dropped on users, who were at first angry that they would now be expected to pay for content that was previously free (This was the 2nd attempt, after all). Nowadays, they are simply disappointed. Looking at the storefront reveals not all the content I could ever want hiding behind an extortionate price tag, but rather content that, while extortionately overpriced (£1 for a single texture in a game with several thousand I bought for £45?), is so lacklustre and dull that I literally wouldn’t bother downloading most of it for free.
It didn’t have to be this way. Modders will always find a way to create brilliant new additions to the game- be it the unofficial patches that fix the game’s many, many bugs, to projects that update every static model in Skyrim, to new Lighting engines, to hundred-hour content additions. This is the type of content that makes modding worthwhile. And it takes a hell of a lot of work. Enderal, a total conversion mod for ‘Skyrim’ took a German 14-man team five years to complete, with an expansion in development for 2 more years afterwards.
When an artist spends 100 hours painting a picture, he is within his rights to charge someone for a print of it. When a band records an album over the course of two years, they charge money to listen to it. And when a film studio spends years making a movie, we’re expected to pay to see the movie.
Why is it any different for people who make mods? Are they not, indeed, skilled artists making content for us to enjoy? Do they not deserve compensation for what they make? Would it not be better if these people could, if they wish, quit their day jobs and make even more content?
This is my problem with the creation club, it’s a half measure. In an industry that otherwise makes zero formal attempts to elevate the status of modders into the pseudo-developers they ostensibly are.
See, here’s my pitch.
People are absolutely willing to pay for content. That’s a given. DLC has been a thing for as long as we could download things, and even before that was feasible we installed expansions manually. There is only one thing that makes people mad about paying for mods- the irrational entitlement that comes from the fact that someone else other than the developer made it. The fact that we call it a ‘mod’.
So, my system is as follows- projects like the creation club should NOT be used to make tiny microtransactions which add single items. Nope. Instead, game creators should be focusing on the big, high-quality mods that add genuine personality and flair to the game. A new helmet? No, not worth $3. A new player home? A new settlement with a few quests? Perhaps.
If fact, I propose that we don’t charge for ‘mods’ at all. Instead, we use our pseudo-developer platforms to essentially subcontract smaller pieces of DLC. Modders with experience- people who work on projects like ‘Skywind’ and ‘Fallout: Miami’, and people with a history of making many smaller, high-quality mods, are invited to pitch projects to the publisher. Once done, they accept a contract to develop a piece of DLC along with other modders.
In essence, we will have four tiers of content:
- The base game, sold for full-price at a store or online
- DLC, sold through storefronts which add onto the base game
- Third-party content made by experienced modders or groups of modders, developed under the publisher’s supervision, sold through an official modding store. These modders are given a salary while they produce the mod or a large cut of the final product’s profit.
- Mods, made by everyday people like us. Distributed for free as they always have.
Why do I seperate the content like this? Well, my thinking is as follows: mods take many different forms. Some add new content (new quests, items, characters), some tinker with pre-existing content (bug fixes, APIs, or even just redecorating pre-existing locations). Right now, the two core ideas for how a mod storefront should work, simply don’t work with this variety of content.
Either we simply allow content creators to upload and charge for anything (the ‘steam workshop’ model). This mean that, essentially, game developers would be charging money for fixes made by third parties to the game they made. Pay $50 for the game, and then fix the game-breaking bugs with an unofficial patch that costs another $20. Not going to happen with a game that works properly, but imagine if EA or WB was allowed to use such a system.
‘Batman: Arkham Knight’ still runs like ass on PC, meaning many people have no way to play the game they paid for. Imagine how much worse the situation would be if Ubisoft were allowing an essential user-made fix to be sold for money, or even taking a cut. Too many industry fatcats would be willing to waive their responsibility to make functional software when they can charge money to fix it down the line. In a time where too many games release in an inplayable state, we simply cannot risk giving cultural permission to let people charge for bug-fixes. Or, for that matter, any other mod which simply improves the shoddy work of developers. Think the character design is ugly? Well, why not pay $10 for a graphics overhaul?
Or, the Creation Club method. Sell tiny mods that are specially selected, but not engaging with the larger mods that are made for free, offer massive additions to the game, and which absolutely could be sold for $25 if they were made by the developer. The creation club system, simply put, ignores the golden goose.
So, back to my idea. We essentially subcontract modders to creat additional DLC for our games, which are sold at the same price they’d be sold at if it was an in-house production. This way, more people are able to engage in these projects, meaning that there is more high-quality content available for us all. How would you feel if your favourite game suddenly had 100 hours of new content added at the normal price? Personally, I’d be ecstatic.
All we have to do is pay a fair price for it, just like we would with any other content out there. Fair payment for talented work.