For one exciting week last year, Steam, the mega-PC game platform, experimented with paid mods. Users who added fishing or new weapons or quests into Skyrim could start selling them, giving them a chance to legally make money off their work, while Steam and Skyrim publisher Bethesda could also make some revenue.
It failed. Within days, the modding community had torn itself apart, and “fans” had started harassing anyone trying to sell traditionally free modifications.
Yet as misguided as both the attempt to sell mods and the fan reactions were, the implementation of any kind of paid mods was a huge step forward for the respectability of user modifications in general. For decades, modders have added and restored content to games, rebalanced broken systems, and created new ways to play.
And game creators have noticed. Skyrim has remained one of the most popular games on Steam and the natural first pick for paid mods. Bethesda has also promised to add mod support to the Xbox One version of Fallout 4, which would be a first. Knights of the Old Republic 2 recently received a decade-later patch which helped integrate its “Restored Content Mod” that basically gave the game an ending that its rushed publication never allowed. And Paradox benefits from modders having created a Game of Thrones mod for their Crusader Kings 2 strategy game.
But the question of fair compensation for modders’ labor has remained an issue. Often, people who do effective mods for games get hired, but then the mods are treated as a portfolio, not valuable on their own.
Another major step happened today, as Firaxis announced that it’s hiring the modders behind XCOM mod “The Long War” to create mods for the impending XCOM 2. The original XCOM was unfortunately difficult to edit, but Long War Studios managed to take everything about it and make it bigger and harder (mostly to good effect, but it also accented many of the late-game flaws). They even got amateur voice actors to add accents to the game!
In other words, these modders added value to the game, both for players and developers. And now they’re getting the opportunity to do the same, while actually being paid for their labor. It’s a victory for everyone.