Skyrim’s Paid Mods Change Repeats a Major Bethesda Mistake
Back for another round.
More than 10 years after its launch, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim still has a devoted community of players, and at least part of that success is due to its vibrant modding scene. But a new update from developer Bethesda now has many of those players and modders in an uproar about how it will change modding.
Announced on December 5, the Bethesda Game Studios Creations program now combines free mods and paid content made under the previous Creation Club system into one in-game interface. As far as monetized mods are concerned, Creations will essentially replace the Creation Club, but with some changes to how mods are accepted and modders are paid.
One point raising the ire of modders and players is the new payment structure Bethesda announced. Under the Creation Club, modders were hired as contract developers by Bethesda and paid directly for the content they made. Creations will instead work on a royalty system, giving modders a cut of sales for their mods. Bethesda did not immediately respond to Inverse’s request for comment.
The very existence of paid mods is a source of contention in the modding community. Several modders have posted on the r/skyrimmods subreddit to say they won’t participate in the paid mods program. Other commenters say that combining Skyrim’s existing databases of free and paid mods makes it harder for users to filter out paid options. A mod that removes the new Creations menu from Skyrim is currently one of the most game’s popular mods on the NexusMods website.
“The reason I would never want to charge for my mods directly is I feel like it turns mods into a product rather than something I like to do as a hobby,” modder BulwarkHD, who’s created HD texture packs for Skyrim and Starfield, tells Inverse. “I like making mods and I like the community behind modding so I don't want that to go away because of corporate interests or greed.”
Posts on Reddit compare Creations to Bethesda’s original experiment with paid mods. In 2015, Bethesda and Valve began allowing some modders to charge for their work in the Steam Workshop. The outrage from the community was immediate. Parody mods like Give Me Money For No Reason, which added a beggar in expensive-looking clothes to Skyrim, lampooned what modders at the time called Bethesda’s greed. Others pointed out that, after Valve and Bethesda took their cut, the profit split didn’t exactly favor modders. There was also concern that low-quality mods from people looking to make a quick buck would clutter the marketplace. The backlash was so harsh that paid mods were scrapped entirely less than a week later.
While free mods aren’t going away, some in the community think the presence of paid mods could discourage modders from giving their content away for free.
“You might see less and less mods go up for free and instead be behind a paywall like so many microtransactions that are currently plaguing a lot of my favorite game franchises,” BulwarkHD says.
This time around, the response has still been negative, but there’s less visible vitriol. In some ways, Creations is an improvement over the original paid mods system, at least in terms of quality control. To actually be paid under Creations, modders have to be approved for Bethesda’s Verified Creator program, which imposes a few requirements, mainly that paid mods cannot require patching the game or using another mod to work. But that’s still a much lower bar than the one imposed by the Creation Club, and players are voicing concerns that it could lead to a glut of poor-quality mods.
While Creations has gotten a largely negative reception, there is one bright spot in the announcement. According to an FAQ published by Bethesda, “Creations cannot contain anything produced through generative AI.”
Much like NFTs were a year ago, AI has become the most hated buzzword in gaming this year. Bethesda barring it from mods on its Creations platform certainly isn’t winning modders over to the publisher’s side, but at the very least, it’s avoiding a potential mishap in disallowing generative AI, which is itself a legal and moral minefield. Just last month, voice actors spoke out about Microsoft’s partnership with InworldAI to create AI-generated NPCs for games. The Finals also faced backlash for including AI-generated voices and games like High on Life have been criticized for using AI art.
Still, it’s not a great sign that the most positive thing anyone seems to be saying about the Creations program is that it could be worse. The relative staying power of the Creation Club (which has been around since 2017) and its integration with free mods mean it’s probably not going to get scrapped the way the paid Workshop mods did. In the end, modders and players will likely have to make their own decisions whether the chance of making royalties for their work is worth the risk.