Charging for Skyrim Mods Was a Horrendous Idea

By Shamus
on Apr 28, 2015
Filed under:
Column

I write the story on Sunday, the story changes on Monday, and it’s all moot by the time the story runs on Tuesday.

Ah well.

I still say letting us link a PayPal button to a mod and put it near the “subscribe” button would be a classy thing for Valve to do. Nobody takes a cut except PayPal. Yeah, the vast majority of modders will make nothing, but I think a few of the big ones might see a meaningful return.

But it doesn’t matter. Looks like we’re doing a return to the status quo.

So let’s talk about modding:

In my mind modding falls into two broad categories: Passive and encouraged.

Passive is when the developer doesn’t make any special effort to discourage modding. They just leave the image data, scripts, and audio files exposed in the game directories instead of obscuring them.

Encouraged is when the developer gives their developer tools away to the community specifically so they can mod the game. This is assuming that game-specific tools even exist. In a lot of games – particularly in the bad old days before Unreal Engine, Unity, etc. – artists just had to edit text files and run obscure command-line scripts to put their assets into the game, and the process was too involved, buggy, and technical that offering the tools to the public would just create a ton of additional work for the devs.

Good Robot will probablyCan’t make any promises. Anything can happen during development and I don’t want someone come back saying I LIED to you if we change our minds. allow modding (nobody on the team wants to discourage it) but it will very much be a case of passive modding. Every change will be either trivial or impossible. The game rules (robots, movement speeds, damage, colors, level ordering) are stored in dead-simple text files, and the game textures are regular PNG files. You can add a new robot to the game. You can add new textures to the sprite sheet. But there’s no way to change the game logic. You can’t add a companion robot, or a new AI behavior, or a timed game mode.

Exposing game logic to non-coders is powerful, but also a ton of work. You need to make an interpreter for some sort of sandboxed scripting language. I’ve been reading Game Programming Design Patterns lately and it has a chapter dedicated to the topic. It looks like fun, but it also looks like something I don’t want to mess with on something designed to be a low-risk, straightforward design.

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Footnotes:

[1] Can’t make any promises. Anything can happen during development and I don’t want someone come back saying I LIED to you if we change our minds.


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  1. Bropocalypse says:

    On the bright side, it’s good that Valve… you know… listened at the end of the day. It’s one thing to put forward a bad idea, it’s another to go ahead with it when everyone is telling you that it’s a bad idea. If it were EA, they would have ignored the community and gone ahead.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Not necessarily. I’m always very wary of giving too much credit when extraordinary public outcry is the overwhelming determinant of a company’s backing away from an idea. We have a games industry that has made this sort of basic common sense seem visionary, but no one should be fooled into thinking of it as good-willed.

      Even Microsoft backed away from sabotaging the Xbox 1 the way they had planned prior to launch. But it doesn’t mean they ‘learned their lesson.’ It doesn’t mean they’ve changed their ideas or priorities concerning the consumers and fans. It only means that they realized they couldn’t get away with it at that moment.

      They have to prove they aren’t just holding the card up their sleeve, and we have to watch them even harder now that we know the idea is in their heads. We can’t know that they relented for any reason other than momentary bad publicity; likewise, we’ve been given every reason to believe that that was the only reason, and that their reticence will vanish if conditions change.

      When a company gets shouted back from a ledge like this, they can’t get the benefit of the doubt. Even Valve. Especially Valve. They have the power to set nigh-incontrovertible precedent for how games are distributed in the digital era, and that means they can fuck it up worse than anyone else can.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        Figures. Even when they do everything the protesters could have hoped for, still the complaining, still the insinuations about them being evil. And its not just here. Even after all this settled, fans are still tearing Valve a new one for, I dunno, not hating itself enough?

        • The Rocketeer says:

          You’re one to talk about insinuations.

          I’m not saying Valve is evil. I’m saying Valve is fallible. All I insinuate is that the spurious belief that Valve is “one of the good guys” does nothing but create unearned trust and hollow expectations. I’m not inclined to leniency when Valve messes up, because I don’t care about Valve’s feeling; it doesn’t have feelings. But if you think Valve is a good guy and give them a pass for bad behavior- regardless of their intentions- all they receive is that they were right, not that they’re forgiven.

          But on the other hand, I don’t harbor any anger towards or resentment of Valve when they act like a corporation, because I know that they are a corporation, and a much better one than their competition at that. But you know who gets really angry and resentful? People who expect a company to act like a heroic champion, when they witness that champion act like a company. No one will act more scornful over this than people who didn’t realize Valve wasn’t perfect until this very moment.

          Regardless of the tenor of our relationship, Valve’s unparalleled authority to shape the market makes them dangerous. Disbelieve this at your peril. If I can’t convince you not to instinctively trust Valve, do you trust EA? Do you trust Ubisoft? If Valve sets a precedent for an exploitative system with a high degree of freedom for abuse, and zero accountability, how much worse will the UPlay version of this system be? We might not be able to stop Ubisoft being shit, but I draw the line at giving them ideas. Maybe you don’t think that paid mods would have served as this particular watershed. I don’t know that it would have, either. I do know that the day will come.

          Good dogs aren’t born. They are trained. Corporations are trained by whoever feeds them. Valve is the biggest dog right now. It leads the pack, it has the loudest bark, and it has the biggest teeth. We, their customers, feed them, but so do publishers. They will eventually warm up to whatever behaviors publishers encourage in them, unless they are constantly, vigilantly counteracted by our own efforts. Publishers are a lot better at this than we are. Again, even if you trust Valve, do you trust Square-Enix? Do you trust Activision? Do you trust Zenimax? Do you trust Valve’s conscience to resist these publishers’ constant, concerted efforts to act in their interests and against ours, as they have always done, are doing this moment, and will never stop doing? For how long do you trust them to resist this influence?

          I don’t encourage a petty and pointless resentment of Valve. They certainly don’t warrant it. Of all the monolithic, faceless, unaccountable, billionaire organizations in the industry, they’ve mistreated us the least. And they don’t have feelings to hurt, so there’s no schadenfreude to roll in, if you’re into that. But I don’t assume good faith in their intentions or brook tolerance of Valve’s errors because again, they don’t have feelings to hurt, and because these things don’t reward or punish them instructively. You want Valve to be honest? You have to make them that way. They won’t stick to that because they wrote “Good” at the top of their character sheet when they rolled up their company. If you want Valve to care about you, you are the opponent of every publisher who has proven they don’t. You play to win, and you might not look back in regret.

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            Its less specifically you and more a group of people. And let me remove you from that group now that you’ve made your position clear (I don’t agree with you about all of it but I find it far more defensible than whats bugging me)

            It seems like Valve or whoever does something wrong, this group complains. They listen to the complaint and stop, this group complains. Either the response wasn’t exactly what they wanted, or didn’t come quite soon enough, or they just plain don’t want anyone to forget that this happened in the first place. Like even trying this system betrays the vile and insidious nature of Valve. And I’m not overdramatizing this. Someone on the announcement post kept posting in caps to make sure we don’t forget that they tried this. Posting over and over again so that this all important message didn’t get buried.

            In Gabe Newell’s AMA, the comments were quite frequently abusive. He’d say something like “you’re right, thats a problem. We have to look at this and fix it.” They’d be like “why did you even start” or “look at the petition, you’re wrong, you don’t get to think.” or “he’s just placating us with corporate double speak” which, I’ve seen plenty of corporate double speak and Gabe was speaking plainly but a bit carefully. He wanted to be as specific as he could be while avoiding the appearance of committing Valve to a course of action right then on the spot. Which is responsible because he wasn’t even at the office to confer with them. But he was surprisingly specific and agreeable even in spite of that. And they just wouldn’t let up. Lots of fat jokes too.

            Whats worse is, because I saw the positive potential in this, I thought they were trying to do a good thing. Sure they wanted a cut but I don’t begrudge them that. They’re using their position of leadership for good, I want them to have more resources to implement more good ideas. There’s no reason that we can’t all win. Granted, the execution was horrible, but I can’t ascribe any malevolence to that. I don’t think if Valve had had a clue that they would have done it this way. They would have done it better. They’re engineers. Engineers are as motivated by an act of creation as they are money. The way a lot of people deify scientists, I’m more inclined to these designers and makers.

            Its like Rutskarn said about the bile leaving a bad taste in his mouth. You’re more thoughtful than that but I have left over irritation. So I’m sorry for transferring that to you.

      • Bropocalypse says:

        I don’t think it’s fair to assume that a company will fully understand how the public will react to their moves before they’ve even announced them. I certainly think that correcting one’s own mistakes has merit. In philosophy there’s a notion pertaining called ‘charitability,’ the basic idea being that all things being equal it’s okay to assume that someone meant the best thing in their actions. While undeniably this would have been a source of income for Valve, I don’t think they did it with the intention of fucking up the modding community or depriving players of mods.

        • Alex says:

          “I don’t think it’s fair to assume that a company will fully understand how the public will react to their moves before they’ve even announced them.”

          How about understanding any part of how the public will respond? Valve’s plan wasn’t brought low by a single flaw they overlooked, it was toxic, top to bottom.

          • Kian says:

            I wouldn’t say it was toxic “top to bottom”. It was grounded on something that almost everyone agrees with: it would be cool if modders could be paid for their hard work. After all, the modder’s “business model” isn’t too different from a company that licenses an engine. They just work at a much smaller scale.

            Seen from that perspective, Valve’s initial approach makes sense. If you license an engine and sell a game on Steam, Valve gets 30%, the people you licensed the engine from take a cut determined by the licensing terms, and you get what’s left over.

            What they didn’t account for was that there are serious differences. For starters, mod’s break all kinds of copyrights all the time. The fact that they are free is the only thing keeping many mods on “fair use” grounds. And they borrow and depend on each other freely, because modders don’t know what a license is. In the Open Source world, every project chooses a license and that license determines what you can do with that software. A lot of Open Source software (everything licensed with the GPL, for starters) can’t be used in closed source software. Some can’t be used in commercial software. Some licenses let you do anything you want so long as you display the license.

            Chesko’s mod was an example of what happens when you don’t license things: The rules aren’t clear. If someone is giving something away for free, and they don’t say you can’t use it commercially, why shouldn’t you? What if instead of the whole mod using the animations, Chesko had split his paid mod into two: one part makes the animations available for the game, and the other actually has the gameplay that makes use of those animations. Would that have been sufficient isolation? It’s impossible to say, because it depends on how Fores was feeling at the time, because he didn’t set rules.

            Dropping a paywall into that environment was foolish because the environment was not prepared for it. But I don’t think it was toxic top to bottom. Perhaps a donate button, and taking much smaller cuts (or none at all) from donations, would have been a smarter choice.

        • The Rocketeer says:

          “All things being equal” is the philosophical equivalent of “assume a frictionless vacuum.” I know what ‘good faith’ is, and the games industry has utterly depleted it. I give friends the benefit of the doubt. None of my friends answer to ‘Mister Corporation’ or ‘Ms. International Holdings, Ltd.’ Those entities have to earn trust, and in gaming’s case, have to earn it back.

          I don’t think Valve wanted to “destroy the modding community,” or ever believed that it would. That’s asinine. I also don’t think they did it to benefit modders financially. Their methods absolutely contradict that idea. Rather, I don’t think they thought about the modding community at all. I think they wanted to monetize something, and whatever industrial boilerplate their press release includes regarding “support” and “community” is acutely subordinate.

          I’m not alleging that they acted in bad faith initially. I don’t believe they did. I don’t think wanting to make money is immoral. But when the deciding factor in backing away from their plans was sudden, massive negative publicity, no evidence exists that the reasoning behind that outcry- namely, the many legitimate concerns regarding propriety, compatibility, and dependency- have become their concerns, as well. At least, not to any degree deeper than that addressing those concerns will lessen the negative publicity if and when they next attempt it.

          I don’t think Valve Co. was evil for trying what they did. I do think they were stupid to have tried it the way that they did. It’s what they do from here that will prove their character, but you’re damned right I’m not assuming good intentions sight unseen.

        • MrGuy says:

          Valve has had a LOT of good ideas. They do a lot of things right. There’s a lot to like about the way they approach making and distributing games. In general, the gaming world would be better if more companies tried to be like Valve.

          But that doesn’t mean I have to give them a free pass when they do something so obviously wrong that no sane company (let alone one famous for being gamer-driven) would look at it and say “yeah, that looks right.” The did wrong. And they did it for bad reasons. At least somewhat for selfish reasons.

          I’m still very much a fan of Valve in general – they’re not knocking off EA for “most hated company” any time soon. But I’m not OK for making excuses for them, or reducing the question of “did they do a bad thing?” to an “angels dancing on a pin” philosophy debate.

          • Humanoid says:

            It’s rather telling that when Valve screwed up, the first comment here is “well, EA would have screwed it up worse”, even when there is no indication EA planned to do anything remotely like this.

            • The Rocketeer says:

              It’s because people understand Valve’s ability to pull the market in its wake, and that the market has all but invariably underperformed in its attempt to copy. When Valve does something good and succeeds, people think, “Hopefully Origin and UPlay will learn from this.” When Valve does something like this, people cringe and think, “If this is Valve’s best, how much worse will the Origin and UPlay follow-on be?”

              Just imagine: if Ubisoft was interested in providing bandwidth for 100+ Unity store DayZ clones, we’d have seen the UPlay incarnation of Greenlight. Amazingly, even Ubi isn’t that dense.

    • Tizzy says:

      Since I don’t see this link anywhere on this page so far, I invite anyone who hasn’t read it yet to read the announcement.

      http://steamcommunity.com/games/SteamWorkshop/announcements/detail/208632365253244218

      Concluding that Valve listened depends on your definition of listening, though in their defense they must have heard such a confused mess that making sense of it can’t have been easy.

      But what do I read?

      1. Oops, we shouldn’t have touched Skyrim because it was too established.
      2. We have not given up on the idea.
      3. We’re thinking it over.

      What don’t I read?

      1. We think we understand some of the players’ concerns.
      2. We think we understand some of the modders’ concerns.

      I say, give them time to mull all of this over, but given how they appear completely taken aback by concerns that were obvious to many within minutes of hearing the news, I am not overly optimistic that they will draw the right conclusions.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        “To help you understand why we thought this was a good idea, our main goals were to allow mod makers the opportunity to work on their mods full time if they wanted to, and to encourage developers to provide better support to their mod communities.”

        A good way to achieve both? Hire the guys who make good mods and pay them to continue to do so. Oh wait, I forgot we were talking about the video game industry.

      • Mephane says:

        But what do I read?

        1. Oops, we shouldn’t have touched Skyrim because it was too established.
        2. We have not given up on the idea.
        3. We’re thinking it over.

        What don’t I read?

        1. We think we understand some of the players’ concerns.
        2. We think we understand some of the modders’ concerns.

        I say, give them time to mull all of this over, but given how they appear completely taken aback by concerns that were obvious to many within minutes of hearing the news, I am not overly optimistic that they will draw the right conclusions.

        This is exactly my concern, too. While it is nice that they do listen, it seems they do not understand. And the worst part is that this isn’t rocket science, it’s not something that should have been unexpected. It basically took reading little more than the headline “add paid mods” to know it a) can’t end well, and b) the community will immediately realize it can’t end well and will call you out for it, and c) the not-ending-well will begin already within the very first days after implementing the system.

        And I don’t even know what would be worse – that they might have done it out of regular greed, just coating it in nice words about doing something for the community, or that they might have genuinely believed they were doing everyone a favour, and were absolutely clueness of the disastrous ramifications of the very idea.
        I cannot say which of these two possibilities is the case, and probably it is something in the middle between the two extremes. I tend not to consider Gabe Newell a liar, though, and prefer to assume sheer incompetence instead of malice.

        • RTBones says:

          See, I dont know that they actually DID listen – I liken this to Microsoft and the XBone. The only reason Microsoft backed off was they realized they werent going to be able to get away with their strategy because Sony was easier/friendlier to gamers and were going to eat their lunch. They listened to silent cash tills, which made bean counters uneasy. I think Valve thought they had a way to monetize mods, and it backfired. This is supported at least in part by the egregious marketing fiasco that is now the Steam store. There was a long-standing thread about things people didnt like about the steam store (namely, the aforementioned egregious marketing aspect of the Store) – it got locked as soon as the mod ‘catastrophe’ hit. Valve doesnt care about what the customer doesnt like but is making them money. In this case, the customer didnt like something, and it may have COST them money. The Almighty Dollar/Pound/Drachma/Ringit/Ruble/Rupee/Shilling/Euro/Dinar/Dirham/Peso…that, they’ll listen to.

      • Arstan says:

        So, maybe they will take some new game, ask the publisher to give away some tools to make mods easily, and then announce that all mods will be basically distributed in some kind of “appstore games model” (for the game), but with a big share of profit coming their and the publisher’s way? For a fresh game with no existing mods – that may work well. But it has to be Skyrim-, or better, WoW-big, to make that type of modding flourish.

  2. The Rocketeer says:

    I think there’s necessarily a third category, in which modding the game is expressly discouraged, although this is rare except for the multiplayer components of competitive games like shooters, or MOBA’s, or RTS’s, and so on, to protect competitive balance, or for MMO’s or games like Diablo III and (certain entries of?) AssCreed, which keep their code locked away to preserve a business model.

    Although, if you’re talking about where the mod scene generally acts, then of course a ‘discouraged’ category is sort of out- even though modders will nearly always find a way, that can tend to blur the line between modding and hacking.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      Dead Or Alive has been doing DMCAs supposedly.

      • Orillion says:

        It’s incredible how ignorant many people are regarding mods, actually. Also on the subject of Koei, check out the Dynasty Warriors 8 forum’s PC modding topic. Some people don’t understand the difference between modding a game and pirating it.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          I honestly don’t know what you’re referring to or what you think I’m referring to. I heard they were going to take action against anyone posting nude mods.

    • Yeah “discouraged” is a weird one.
      Let’s ignore multiplayer for now and just focus on single player.

      Even in single player I’ve seen games have encrypted or measures to prevent modding.
      Possibly due to achievements, maybe?

      But I’ve seen games that did not have achievements, and they sometimes was encrypted.

      Also note that I’ve seen encrypted single player games without achievements, and without the whole steam preload thing as well.
      Which makes no sense, what purpose is there to prevent easy access to the files?
      Is it to prevent other developers from stealing and reusing their assets? I hardly doubt that as they would have easy grounds to sue their ass off in that case.

      It’s purely about control.

      I’ve seen mods requiring the use of a crack to work, which should never be needed IMO.

  3. AR+ says:

    What about exposing game logic to coders? I wonder if there’s any Steam products that have a downloadable “SDK,” but when you download it, it’s just the source code.

    Speaking of, will you be releasing the Good Robot source like with your other projects? That’s as modable as a game can get.

    • mhoff12358 says:

      There’s a lot of weird complications with this, which is why to my knowledge its not really been done.

      First of all, compiling the game is likely a complicated process, possibly using licensed or proprietary tools. Few people would be able to work with the SDK, and distributing mods would be a nightmare.

      Secondly, ip for code is complicated and dumb. It’s entirely possible you’ll put your game’s code out and some patent troll will sue you for use of an algorithm you developed independently. Even if you win, that’s a costly risk, and the next guy in line can just come after you.

      If a developer is willing to go to the risk of putting out source code for modders, they’re better off just working to include good hooks in the code or use scripting.

    • AileTheAlien says:

      I too, was wondering if you’d be releasing the source. It’s probably been too many years since I last worked with C and OpenGL for me to make any meaningful mods, but I’m sure somebody else could do something amazing. :)

    • guy says:

      I seriously doubt any game company will give the source code away until they think the game has stopped selling and they’ve switched engines. It would let you buy a copy of Fallout 3 and use it to make Skyrim.

      Shamus could do it, but everything to do with other people’s source code is a nightmare. There’s also the issue that a mod based on changing source code could be used as a Trojan Horse.

      • The Rocketeer says:

        It would also let you fix the hideously broken pickpocket system in Fallout 3/New Vegas, which can never work correctly due to the lack of the fPickPocketWeightBase and fPickPocketWeightMult global settings.

        As it stands, the difficulty of pickpocketing an item is based almost entirely on the item’s cap value, which is so weighted that for a player character with 100 Sneak, and a target of the theoretical minimum 5 Sneak, any item worth at least 187 caps will reduce the chance to successfully steal to the pre-set minimum 5% success chance- meaning that a novice and a master of Sneak will always share the same skill at stealing anything worth ~160 caps, perhaps less.

        Regardless of item weight, meaning a 45-pound, 0-cap value broken suit of T-45d power armor is very easy to steal, while a half-pound 300-cap frag grenade invariably nullifieses the player’s sneak skill.

        Not that this is relevant. It just makes me extraordinarily pissed off.

      • Do note that iD have release their games source code over the years.

        And Raven did release the source for Jedi Knight: Outcast and Jedi Knight: Academy
        (but it pulled it shortly after to remove some Bink stuff before it was available again).
        One of the first things the community did was make sure modern resolutions (like Widescreen) worked/looked right.

        Also I highly doubt you could make Skyrim using the Fallout 3 engine easily (the engine was modified in-between).

        Also note that these source codes when they are released are usually under a license that is very Copyleft (like GPL) or a custom license or CC-BY-NC-SA or similar.
        So nobody can take the sourcecode and make a new game and sell it without releasing their modifications to it.
        But they might be able to buy a license from the company to do so.

        • guy says:

          People do release their source code, yes, but not very often and not in close proximity to the game coming out. And yes, you could use the Fallout 3 source to make Skyrim, because that’s what Bethesda did. The engine was modified, meaning they changed the source code.

          They could use copyleft licenses, but I rather suspect that there’s stuff in their source code that isn’t copyrightable but is still stuff they’d like to keep secret. For instance, we’ve been talking about how cool the crowds in Absolution are and speculating on how they manage it under the hood. It’s very likely that they wouldn’t be able to copyright their algorithms.

    • Abnaxis says:

      That would be inferior to creating a sandbox, and it has nothing to do with business or ip laws.

      I don’t think I would trust any executable compiled by someone other than Shamus without significant vetting from multiple sources I trust. If you want a modding scene where there are thousands upon thousands of mods adding hats and skins and races, it would become untenable if I need to establish the trust I need before I’m going to let a foreign exe run on my computer. It works for a few large, popular, quintessential mods but not for the level of customization like you see in Skyrim.

    • Draklaw says:

      I might be wrong, but as far as I remember Half-Life (and probably the firsts Quake) SDKs provided the code of the game logic in C/C++. It was compiled as a dll and used a a kind of plugin by the game engine. I guess this approach does not conflict with the use of third-party middlewares as you don’t have to link against them (they are encapsulated in the game engine and you don’t work with them directly). It does not expose internal code of the engine either, which helps with IP issues. It is still a security issue though, but no more than the dll injection mechanism used by SKSE I guess.

      Not mentioning Unreal Engine 4…

  4. mhoff12358 says:

    The reason I think mods should generally remain unpaid, (or more accurately donation driven), is because of the parallels I see to open source programming.

    Like open source code, mods depend on a lot of interplay between creators and users piggybacking off each other to achieve more than one of them could independently. This advantage goes away when you start introducing paywalls and financial competition.

    I’m not against paying creators, but if you want to make a product make a game. If you want to make a hobby project with a bunch of free help from strangers on the internet, make a mod.

    • Don’t forget that Counter Strike was a mod.
      And didn’t Portal start out as a mod as well?

      You also sweep all mods under the same blanket.

      Also Valve is already selling mods for some other games).
      Also note that EA are selling user content for The Sims via their own Sims store (IIRC).
      And there is a dev making good money making Cities: Skylines mods.

      But you are right that a lot of mods are collaborative/crowd sourced.
      And some of these groups did state that they had no intention of paywalling their mods.
      I think the Skywind folks said they had no intention of doing so (and that mod is a beast of a project).

      The mod community itself will balance out so you’ll end up with free/donation/paid mods.

      But there needs to be curation. Modders stealing other modders work is just one issue. A replica Luke Skywalker lightsaber is another issue as that is a Lucasarts design and there may be trademark or copyright issues. Using the names and likeness of other characters (iron man in Skyrim etc.) could also be an issue if money is taken for it.

      So curation is needed to mitigate such issues, especially if Bethesda wants a whooping 45% cut.

      • The Rocketeer says:

        Skywind brings a tear to my eye. Talos bless that team.

      • Tizzy says:

        I am stunned that, in the can of worms that they were opening with this, Valve did not worry more about the legal issues this woukd cause, especially with other peopele’s IP…

        On another note: yes, Counter Strike started out as a mod, but didn’t things work out in the end? Not so sure about Portal, btw. It is based off a completely different game using portals that was a graduation project. The original creators were involved. But I don’t know that Portal ever existed as an actual mod.

        The tangled ecosystem that mhoff mentions with inter-mod dependencies emerged more recently, too. Decentralized development is good for the mods, good for the players, but bad for monetization. Mods like Skywind and Counter Strike are a different breed, and I think we should be open to the idea of a different model for rewarding those particular creators.

    • MrGuy says:

      Actually, the parallel argues a bit for there being room for paid model.

      The unpaid, “doin’ it for the love of it!” Open Source Programmer still exists, but is an increasingly smaller percentage of everyone who does open source. Quite a lot of the contributions to major OSS projects come from paid developers who work on salary for a company, and are paid to improve the open source tools.

      Which sort of makes sense. If you’re Oracle, and you want Oracle to run in a rock-solid way on Linux, you don’t wait for some nebulous community of volunteers to make it happen for you – you’re fixing kernel bugs that affect your product, contributing to network drivers, building debugging tools, etc., because it’s in your (commercial) interest to do so.

      In the same source file, you can find code contributed by volunteer code hackers and paid commercial interests.

      Where I think the parallel is instructive is that the “paid” model that exists in parallel with the “volunteer working for voluntary donations” model is NOT “volunteers working for mandatory donations.” (and especially not “mandatory donations where Linux/FSF/GNU take a huge cut”). The model that works is “third parties with a for-profit approach elect to develop something in their commercial interest.” The analogy here would be third-party “for profit” mod shops hiring developers to make high-quality sponsored mods, which could then potentially be offered for sale.

      • harborpirate says:

        OSS has definitely started to take off, and has already created a very large number of highly useful tools. As you note, participation, especially by subject matter experts, has increased drastically. It feels at this point like a cascade event; a snowball rolling downhill that produces effective, useful software at a faster and faster rate as more developers are able to pile on.

        But the root cause of this cascade, I believe, is actually that clear, readable, unobtrusive licenses have appeared and come into common use, and so far have proved legally binding (though many have not been challenged).

        Chief among these, the MIT and Apache licenses have achieved what various iterations of the GPL largely failed to do: gain the general acceptance of legal departments across the software development industry. (Many corporations fear the GPL, perhaps to an irrational degree, though this is getting better). I know that in many places, software libraries with MIT or Apache as the license are nearly automatically accepted.

        The important thing is that a good licensing model allows for commercial use of openly developed software; so that both free and paid software can coexist, and that free software can be incorporated into paid software and not “poison the well”. (The last thing you need is to build something on top of an existing free product, only to find yourself hamstrung by lawsuits when the developers of that original product come calling for their cut – a good licensing model largely prevents that.)

        There are many other challenges to be sure, but widespread adoption of a working license model (of both code and assets) within mod community is a critical first step that modding will need in order for monetization to work. Handshake deals just aren’t going to cut it when there is cash on the line.

  5. Tektotherriggen says:

    I wish more games would leave images, sounds etc. as plain files in the game directory (what you call passive mod support), rather than packing them up in huge data files. Not so much because I make mods*, but because I can look through the game images and make screensaver slide-shows out of them (personal use only, obviously). It’s also a pretty convenient way to get the soundtrack, if it isn’t available elsewhere.

    * Although I have had a weird amount of fun hacking the plain-text save files of Cube and Star: An Arbitrary Love.

    • Jack Kucan says:

      I’m fine with games using data bundles as long as it uses normal file formats within them and also supports loose files outside the bundles overriding the ones in the bundles (Command and Conquer does the later).

      • John says:

        Please, elaborate! You sound like you might know where and how the soundtrack is hidden.

        • The Rocketeer says:

          Man, the first Command & Conquer had an awesome soundtrack, didn’t it?

          • John says:

            It did. And Red Alert is none too shabby, either. In the ’90s, I ran my computer’s audio output through my stereo and recorded the C&C soundtrack on an audio cassette. Alas, that tape is long gone, as is my tape deck.

            More recently, I’ve experimented with Audacity, trying to capture my sound-card output that way. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get the volume levels right. The tracks I capture are always too quiet or too loud relative to my other MP3s.

        • ehlijen says:

          What quite a few CD-rom games at the time did (X-Wing vs Tie Fighter is another example) was save the data as the first music track and keep the soundtrack as additional tracks (2 and onwards).

          That means you can’t find the soundtrack just by putting it into a disk drive, but simply playing it in a CD player does the trick (don’t play track one on high volume, though, it can theoretically make your speakers do damaging things).

          An even simpler approach was the late 90s Alien vs Predator: it just shipped with one data disk and one music disk. Bonus: no disk-in-drive DRM, and you could put any music disk in there and it would play during the game.

          • The Rocketeer says:

            Would Alien Vs. Predator choose whichever track number on the inserted disc that corresponded to the track number called for by the code? Could one theoretically burn a customized soundtrack for the game?

          • What you are talking about is this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_Mode_CD

            But the data track might also be last and the audio tracks first.
            That way you would not get static when playing it ina CD player.
            Only PCs would see the last data track (it would be hidden/Ignored by CD players).
            More info here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Book_(CD_standard)

            You can create these yourself if you got a CD burner today.
            Just make a two session CD with the first session being audio and the second the data, provided your burning software supports this obviously.

          • John says:

            Huh. X-Wing vs Tie Fighter had a soundtrack? Who knew?

            What I remember is that you could put an audio CD in the optical drive, and the game would run songs from that while you played. Which, apparently, is what it would have been doing had you just left the game CD in there, too. Hooray!

            • ehlijen says:

              Well, it had the star wars movie soundtrack tracks on both its discs, and randomly played them during missions.

              Music was higher quality than Tie Fighter, of course, but sadly they removed how the music would react on the fly to events in game, which the previous games did and which really helped set the mood much better.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      Far as I know the primary reason for doing this is the overhead involved in opening fifty hogillion files.

      • Richard says:

        Absolutely!

        For spinning media, using a single package file also makes it very likely that it will all be in the same place on disk – if it didn’t fit to begin with, then the defragmenting tool will sort that out soon enough.

        However, under modern operating systems that’s not the main speedup.

        When you open a big file, the operating system will try to copy large parts of the file (often the whole thing) into actual RAM, so your application has near-immediate access to all of it.
        Disk speed is only an issue if you can process it faster than the disk can actually provide the data.

        This means you can also multi-thread this very effectively, as all threads have fast read-only access to any part of the file that the OS has already copied to RAM.

        However, the OS only has a limited number of file handles that it can use to memory map.
        If you try to use too many, it will unmap older files out of RAM, or refuse the file handle and make you close them first.

        For a concrete example, I maintain software that processes 30-40 thousand small files.
        (Dangerously close to needing zip64…)
        When I have them all in one giant ZIP file, it takes around 5 minutes to process them all.
        If I unzip them and do the same job with the same code, it takes over 10 minutes to process them. It’s also a lot larger on disk.

        Then you get to installers.
        It takes Windows at least 20 minutes to decompress the above mega-ZIP. (The Windows ZIP handling is a bit rubbish, but still.)

        An installer that copies a few thousand files to your hard disk takes a lot longer than an installer that copies a single ‘blob’ containing all the above data.

        So it is in fact faster and cheaper to put everything in a big ZIP file (or other compressed format)!

  6. psivamp says:

    That book is so good. ( Game Programming Design Patterns )

    The chapter on interpreters/bytecodes/etc made me want to write one. Naturally, I have not. The day job probably wouldn’t like me writing something like that on their (d|t)ime and there’s really no way I could swing it as part of our project. And then the time outside of work disappears mysteriously into the past.

    Still. That chapter is so compelling. I want to find a reason to make a sandboxed little interpreter and compile my own bytecodes for something.

    • Kian says:

      I used it to write a tiny vm (or what I figure must be registry based) that could do arithmetic operations and print numbers to the console. It doesn’t really take too much time. I didn’t get around to researching how to implement loops and function calls though I imagine it shouldn’t be insanely hard.

      Of course, there’s a reason why most people don’t write in assembly. You would also have to come up with a programming language and a compiler to spit out the assembly if you want to be productive with it.

    • Lua might be worth a look. A lot of games also use Lua use their scripting engine.

    • HeroOfHyla says:

      I made a byte code interpreter interpreter last year when I was trying to develop a text adventure engine. Simple stuff (if-then, setting an entity’s “state”, displaying text) worked but I ran into a wall trying to decide how to reference other entities from one entity’s script (my main idea was using a string identifier for each entity, but I lost interest in the project before I got very far).

  7. Phrozenflame500 says:

    Regarding the donation idea, I think I should cite Durante (the guy who fixed the Dark Souls and Deadly Premonition PC ports) that only about 0.17% of all users donate (through either the link on Nexus or his personal webpage).

    I don’t know how scale-able this figure is, but I think it’s fair to assume that for the majority of cases (at least with single-release, inconsistent content that wouldn’t be suitable for patreon) that donations aren’t a golden solution to modder’s problem.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      I think the problem is that, for the end-user, there is exposure to the mod, but no real exposure to the modder. People donate to Patreon because they specifically want to support the person behind the content that the donations help bring.

      For every Patreon I support, and for every Patreon I hear of others supporting, the creator is always highly visible within and around their work. Just around here, Spoiler Warning (which goes to Josh), Shamus, Ruts, and Chris all have Patreons. You can’t take these folks’ work in without taking them in, and in a lot of the cases, that’s something people like about it in the first place. Elsewhere, you have folks like Jim Sterling, who is nothing if not a visible personality, inextricable from his work itself.

      For a mod, though? The only exposure most people will get to the modder is reading the installation instructions after they try and fail to get it working the first time. I think many, many people would give to modders, but no one knows any modders; the system isn’t built to make them or their actual work visible- only the product. All the end user knows is the mod itself, and though we may know it, and love it, and recommend it, few will donate to it.

      Even at that, though, think of how people consume media like blogs and articles and videos. Generally, people do it in their leisure while browsing, or at work if they can. They’re already on the website, consuming the media, when they see a link to or a plug for their PayPal or their Patreon or whatever.

      Now think of how people generally browse for and use mods. Generally, you’re either looking for something specific, a few new things to spice up a game, or a whole bucketload at once for a grand, glorious modsplosion. Either of these things is done to serve leisure, but ill resembles it. Generally, it resembles utter tedium: searching, revising searches, revising it again because I don’t want anime bullshit in Skyrim, goddamnit, corralling thirty seven tabs, clicking through layers of links, closing popover adds every time I dive through these layers (ironically, most of them urging donations (I’ll do it when I’m finished! (I won’t remember))), micro-managing Nexus Mod Manager, restarting downloads that don’t work, restarting them again because I don’t understand why it’s not working but assume this will fix it, installing, managing load order as though it will work (it won’t), starting the game, crash to desktop, repeat the last three or four steps thirty seven time, yelling “Shit!” a little louder every time…

      And when you’re out of that morass, and you finally have it in a *knock on wood* working state? What are you gonna do? You’re gonna play Skyrim and enjoy all the dang mods you just downloaded! And Skyrim being what it is, you’re probably gonna be there a while. Once you finish, it will probably be because you have other things to do or because you’ve just gotten your itch to play the game out of your system for a while.

      Now, this will sound extraordinarily petty and lazy, because it is, but… there’s not really a convenient moment in those steps when you’re really thinking of donating or ready to do so. If you’re looking at mods, you probably haven’t used them yet, or you’re having trouble getting them functioning and you need help. If you’ve gotten it working, when you finish playing the game, regardless of how much you enjoy it, you probably don’t have the mod (or its anonymous, invisible creator) on your mind, and you’re not likely to navigate back to the page where you’ll theoretically be presented with the donation button. Maybe the goodness of your heart compels you to do so. If that’s the case, you inspire me. If you’re, well, like me, the convenience of the first system clearly inveigles you to donate a lot more effectively than the latter.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        This seems the best place to put a thought I had the other day. It was a suggestion I keep meaning to send to Nexusmods who have a similar mechanism for a different purpose that inspired this idea.

        Nexusmods has endorse buttons on their mods. The thing is, you don’t usually go back to a mod page after you’ve got the mod working (unless they have optional components you download separately) and when you’re first downloading a mod, you don’t really know if you should endorse it or not a lot of times. Sometimes, like with an armor mod, you can see a picture and know or maybe you just really like the idea of a mod but you have no way of knowing if it was executed properly.

        So whenever you launch the Nexusmods client, there’s a window listing 5 or so of the mods you have installed with an option to endorse each one.

        Basically, any of these sites that have mods and donate buttons and client mod managers should do the same for donations. You don’t know if a mod is worth donating to until you’ve tried it in most cases. The client should show you a few mods that you’ve had for, say, at least a week and by then you’ll know if they worth it. Maybe even give the would be donor an option to queue them for donation later (when you get paid or maybe next time you’re ready to buy a game in steam’s case) so that the donation system isn’t disruptive to the play experience.

        I think this sort of thing would pump things up. Maybe combined with a badge system for donors. I know some people have expressed concern about donor badges. The thinking there is kind of twisted around IMO but its too subjective for me to debated.

        EDIT: Side consideration I just heard. Lets say that the game maker never charges in one of these systems. I have the opportunity to make a mod. I could make it for Skyrim, or I could make it for Divinity Original Sin. If both games take no cut, and my concern is making my modding time valuable, I’m going to make mods for Skyrim first. Now maybe eventually Skyrim’s market gets saturated and there are no niches I can fill and I turn my attention to the neglected Divinity community.

        But if Bethesda charges 45%, Larian can say “we’ll let you keep it.” THEN D:OS becomes more competitive. You can keep 70% of what you make for a DOS mod or 25% for a Skyrim mod which is likely to get you more sales. So letting devs take a cut could have a beneficial market effect getting modders to spread their work around.

        Smaller Devs could further entice a modder by making sure their game implements a system that other games use such that your work on a 3D model could be relatively easily published as a mod for multiple games.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Hey,its better for modders to earn a buck from 0.17% of people using their mods than 25 cents from 100% of people using their mods.Why?Because with the first method,bethesda and valve get nothing!And we sure dont want them to get money for doing nothing but sit around.And take care of the bandwidth.And transactions.And advertising.And laying all the groundwork.And making a modable game in the first place.And not actively discouraging modding like so many other companies.But basically they are doing nothing,so they dont deserve that money!

    • Disc says:

      Personally I’d find the idea of making donations a lot more tolerable if you could just cut out the middleman and hand out the dosh straight to the person. Call me old-fashioned, but when it comes to money, I’m a lot more comfortable dealing with person-to-person or person-to-store than having to rely on a third party to handle and observe the transaction. It’s like going to a store to a buy a product and instead of paying for it at the register, you have to give your money/card to a stranger who the store hired to handle all their business transactions in his own privacy. You have no idea if you can really trust him, but you only assume so since it’s what everybody else, including the store, is doing anyway.

      Whether that could ever be accomplished in a reasonable manner over the internet, I’ve no fucking clue, but until something better comes along, I won’t be making donations. Buying merchandise (where available and with a reasonable store) is the only way I’ve ever really felt comfortable supporting any creative effort over the internet.

  8. Sean Conner says:

    If you wanted to experiment with a scripting language, there’s always Lua. It’s small, it’s fast, easy to use, easy to sandbox, easy to compile (it’s just straight ANSI C) and there are plenty of games using it already (most famously, World of Warcraft).

  9. Abnaxis says:

    For what it’s worth, there’s a lot of stuff in the guts of Skyrim you can’t get to either. I messed around with reintroducing attributes back into the system, but gave up after about the eighth ugly hack I would have needed to make it work…

  10. BTW if a game uses a custom dataformat for something, a good thing to do is to provide a compressor and decompressor.

    Some game devs in the past have done this, thus allowing the community to modify the game’s file archives. I can’t recall a game from the top of my head right now. But I do remember thinking it was awesome of the devs to do that.
    While they did not provide any modding tools, they did enable easy modding this way.

  11. Kyte says:

    FYI Shamus IIRC the threshold was supposed to be $400 sales, which translated into $100 net profit.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      I think Shamus muffed it due to how Ruts described it to him on the Diecast, which was… not exactly clear in the thick of the things. I understood it, eventually, but I got the impressions it didn’t land quite right on Shamus.

      • Da Mage says:

        To be fair though, they way it’s set out wasn’t that clear to start with. People just eventually figured it out that you had to sell $400 dollars of mods in order to get your first $100.

        • The Rocketeer says:

          Really, I think the only place I’ve heard about that particular system is from Ruts, and Shamus. And Shamus got it from Ruts. But I figure anyone as good at Euro Truck Simulator 2 as Ruts can be trusted about this stuff.

  12. Primogenitor says:

    I cut my programming teeth on Nevewinter Nights modding, and was part of a large collaborative team effort (Prestige Class Consortium, PRC). How on Earth would paid mods (or even donations) work with a nebulous team of people with different skills and time when many drop in and out over time? In Skyrim there are similar large mod teams – I’m thinking in particular of the one that’s putting large chunks of the rest of the Elder Scrolls work in.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      There are ways to make that work well.Of course,all of them require much more substantial groundwork and involvement from the developer.

      For example,one way would be to register all the modders that wish to monetize their stuff with the developer.Then the developer could incorporate those mod more thoroughly,which would solve the issue of further compatibility with updates.

      • Tizzy says:

        This is a good idea, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of more developer involvement. Starting, of course, with “what if they can’t be arsed?”, but also, I think part of what makes mods exciting is the notion of the community taking the games in directions that were not necessarily intended by the devs. If they have to approve everything that comes out, it’s not quite as liberating.

        Not to mention it’ll be harder to find people willing to put lots of hours into mods if they risk seeing their work unable to be released due to an indifferent or hostile dev.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          but I am uncomfortable with the idea of more developer involvement.

          Why not?Firaxis is very involved with their mod scene,and civilization games are a proof that it can be a very good thing.

          If they have to approve everything that comes out, it’s not quite as liberating.

          Not everything,only the stuff you want to be paid for.The free mods would still be completely free,in all the respects.

          But again,very few developers would commit to doing all the extra work needed for that.So its unlikely to happen any time soon,or ever.

  13. Pyradox says:

    I’m all for the idea of paid mods. It’s just that this particular method of achieving that goal was a logistical nightmare for the reasons you outlined.

    Unfortunately, the impression I get is that the feedback was largely the community telling Valve and Bethesda that mod makers don’t deserve to be compensated for their hard work.

    With that in mind, I don’t think a donate button will do anything. If the culture is prevailingly “you owe me your hard work for free because you’re just a modder” it won’t be sustainable.

    And that’s a real shame because people like the SkyUI devs should absolutely have been paid for their fantastic work.

    I hate that people are lauding Valve for listening to the community, when this was absolutely a situation in which they should’ve instead worked to fix the system. Retracting it and declaring “nobody wants this feature” sets a precedent that nobody will or should ever compensate modders for their hard work.

  14. Ingvar M says:

    And once you provide a scripting interface, the delightful (did I just write that? yep, read “horrific” instead) spectre of Turing completeness rears its ugly head. Unless you ensure that the script execution is suitably threaded throughout the game execution. But that has other problems.

    It’s very delightful, I mean horrific. And interesting.

  15. Steve C says:

    > That’s like starting a fire and then demanding a payment from anyone who tries to put it out.

    That reminds me of Marcus Crassus, one of the wealthiest people to have ever lived, (even by today’s standards.) Fires would break out in Rome and he would buy up the property and the surrounding properties. Then fight the fire and sell the property for a huge profit. And of course that meant a lot of fires broke out in strategic and profitable locations.

    Breaking things and charging to fix it is classic way of getting rich.

  16. Steve C says:

    You know who else who agrees with you that charging for Skyrim Mods was a horrendous idea? – Gabe Newell

    Gabe said:

    > Let’s assume for a second that we are stupidly greedy. So far the paid mods have generated $10K total. That’s like 1% of the cost of the incremental email the program has generated for Valve employees (yes, I mean pissing off the Internet costs you a million bucks in just a couple of days). That’s not stupidly greedy, that’s stupidly stupid.

    > You need a more robust Valve-is-evil hypothesis.

    So he confirms yes it was plain ordinary stupid kind of stupid.There’s also a real number confirmed from the horse’s mouth- $10,000 as of 3 days ago. (Which is 10k in how many hours total?)

  17. MrGuy says:

    Another quite-possibly-poorly-thought-out piece of this whole “paid mod” concept (though admittedly I don’t feel sorry for either party) is potential the legal exposure for both Bethesda and Valve.

    When mods are made by a community and given away for free, and a modder does something problematic (appropriates someone else’s content without a license, does something that violates someone else’s IP like taking a character from another game, writes terrible code that trashes the user’s hard drive, etc.), Valve can in theory argue it’s the modder’s exclusive responsibility, just as a forum owner doesn’t necessarily bear responsibility for the contents of what users post on their forums. Take it down if you get a DCMA, and that’s the end of it.

    But once you’re taking money, you’re in business with the mod maker – you and the mod maker are jointly profiting off the mod. IANAL, but this seems like someone with a dispute with the mod maker (for any of the reasons above) would have a totally reasonable claim against both Valve and Bethesda for damages. It would be hard to argue they don’t bear any responsibility for the actions of their business partners.

    And, under the doctrine of joint and several liability (which at least in the US is the “way things work” for claims like this), wither Valve or Bethesda can be forced to pay ALL the claimed damages as long as the bear ANY responsibility (which could potentially include a failure to exercise due care and diligence).

    Imagine if someone built a mod to incorporate Jedi and lightsabers into Skyrim as a paid mod, and 1000 people buy it. Does Lucasarts demand a DCMA takedown, or do they sue Bethesda for statutory damages?

    • Arstan says:

      Nah, that kind of “starrim” mod would never wind up as a paid one, that’s all.

    • guy says:

      The DMCA would actually somewhat protect Valve profiting off mods that infringe on IP, though if they actually did run a vetting system and still let infringing content through they’d be in trouble. They’re only liable if they profit from content they could reasonably control. LucasArts could attempt to sue Bethesda but it would almost certainly be thrown out of court.

  18. evenest says:

    Funniest sentence I’ve read this week: “But even if Valve was taking a modest 5% cut and Bethesda was taking nothing more than night courses in debugging their software before release, this system is still bad and twisted.” Thank you for the chuckle, Shamus. I’m both sorry and glad that Valve pulled the rug out from underneath your article.

  19. Tizzy says:

    There is also an isue of consmer rights and getting what you pay for with these paying mods, especially with kickbacks to the original devs.

    It is already a problem to see games being released that offer a good experience only after modding. This is already giving devs the wrong incentive.

    But to think that the would actually make more money out of releasing broken games? That this could be a sneaky way of raising what they charge without altering the nominal price tag?

    From the indvidual consumer POV, I guess the biggest question would become: how much do I need to pay before my gaming experience is the same as the one of other gamers who say they are really enoying the game?

    Game reviews would have to list must-have mods and good mods with their cost. Shopping for games would get really tricky.

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Could it be?Has the moderation filter been fixed?Because its flagging me again.What about the rest of you with non spammy names?

    EDIT:Guess not.

  21. Phantos says:

    I wouldn’t mind paying for Skyrim mods on the console version, in the same sense that I can buy texture packs for Minecraft.

    Granted, I know I wouldn’t be able to expect Thomas the Tank Engine or Macho Man Dragons, but something that simplified the visuals or brought in some more colour or something? Or changed the armour to Marvel superhero costumes? I’d pay for that. And things like Minecraft and Little Big Planet have shown there’s a precedent for that stuff.

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