Once upon a time (10 years ago, in my basement), a young boy could only put down his Nintendo 64 controller to pick up a controller for his PlayStation. One day, he told his mom, “I want to be a video game developer.” This mother rolled her incredulous and omnipotent mom-eyes before stating something along the lines of, “Is there even any money in that?”
Video game developers Bethesda and Valve partnered with each other in an attempt to put money into the pockets of do-it-yourself video game developers and dispel the fears of gamers’ incredulous parents.
Valve and Bethesda had good intentions to help financially support grassroots developers — called modders — and publish their work on an online video game store called Steam. However, their effort lasted only four days before a torrential pour of negative emails flooded into Steam’s customer service lines. As of Monday, the
mod store for the game Skyrim no longer exists.
Good intentions aside, Bethesda and Valve failed to execute their plan, demonstrating the complexities involved in the transition from being a DIY hobbyist to launching a full-time startup.
The plan seemed to think that the new “mod” marketplace would regulate itself. Because the amateurs making the modifications don’t have the resources for quality assurance testing, the likelihood that a mod will work perfectly forever is quite low. If a mod broke after a 24-hour full refund window, then Steam relied on the comments section to tell people to stay away.
This self-policing measure almost got lawyers involved when a person uploaded a paid modification of the fantasy game Skyrim that offered a fishing mini-game.
This fishing game, however, was a tweaked version of someone else’s fishing mod, and the proceeds didn’t follow the correct financial pathways laid out by intellectual property law. This kind of plagiarism disturbed the mod community, making it seem as if Bethesda and Valve only cared about revenue from popular channels and not the original creator or the content that they claimed to support.
The online marketplace for new creative content was supposed to be for people to show their creative wares, but the temptation to deliver underperforming and plagiarized content became all too real. Nevertheless, the decision to open video game development to mods was the right one.
It deepened the talent field of the community and demonstrated the accepting nature of the corporate climate to establish relationships with gamers.
The self-policing policy from the gaming companies tried to cater to the open-arm DIY community. Rightfully, Valve’s owner Gabe Newell didn’t want to stifle creativity by telling developers or modders “that they have to do something or they can’t do something” with regard to putting up content.
However, this ambiguity undercuts the ability to support the mod community financially or in their quest to please their incredulous parents.