Last week Valve unrolled a feature that would allow people to sell Skyrim mods on the Steam workshop. It wasn’t a mandatory requirement all mods be paid or listed on the marketplace, but there was now a legal infrastructure to allow modders to be paid for their work. A few hours ago Valve announced they would be removing this feature and issuing refunds to anyone who had purchased a mod.
This post isn’t specifically about paid mods, as despite the features brief existence it’s been covered extensively by those both for and against it, but about what caused Valve to backpedal and remove the feature entirely. I have little doubt that we’ll see paid mods again in the future on Steam, but again this isn’t about paid mods or what I think about them. It’s about how gamers as a collective voice have become so entitled so as to feel they can command companies to do whatever they feel is best for them, the consumer.
If you haven’t kept up with the unveiling of paid mods, the response has been…unpleasant. Though personally I felt it was a great idea, as did many others in my social media circles (and especially those involved with game development interested in new monetization options), you’d be forgiven to have heard nothing but the cries of rioting commenters who seem to view paid mods as the end of modding, and possibly gaming as a whole.
Wander into a discussion thread about paid mods, or look through the comments on a paid mod itself, and you’ll see people calling Valve, Bethesda, the modder, and anybody that disagrees that paid mods aren’t the literal worst idea ever things like “shills”, “sellouts”, “whores”, “the harbourers of gaming’s destruction”, “nazis”, “Hitler”, urges to commit suicide and get raped, etc etc. This isn’t confined by any means, it’s everywhere and in unbelievable quantity. It’s some of the most disturbingly prolific vitriol I’ve seen in a long time, which is saying something given how online harassment seems to have become the new normal.
And this is the problem. Harassment and hate filled comments, yes, but more directly that this is how gamers have come to collectively demand a change when a company does something they dislike. It doesn’t matter that there are genuine problems with how Valve had implemented paid mods and that people had articulated them without resorting to hate speech. The voice that is the loudest is the only one that’s going to be listened to, and in this and so many cases it’s the one that causes the most uproar, causing others to join in for fear of being the mob’s new target if they say something that runs afoul their narrative.
Roll back a few years and you see this same mentality attacking Bioware after the release of Mass Effect 3, and the outcries that the ending wasn’t up to snuff. There were certainly people writing solid criticisms of the endings and suggestions for how it could be improved, but the people Bioware heard were the ones threatening and harassing them and their families. All this, because a video game ending was unsatisfactory to the mob. And by now the mob knows how to get what they want and how to get others to help them achieve it. Sure enough an extended ending to Mass Effect 3 was released shortly after.
This has to stop. Gamers firstly have to stop turning into rabid hate filled animals when they don’t get exactly what they want. It’s absurd and horrible and quite frankly makes me wish I didn’t like games as much as I do and could just leave all of it behind. Secondly though, companies need to stop giving in to these demands. I’m disappointed that Valve removed paid mods, but if that had been their decision or one brought about by level headed discussion from the community, fine, I’ll live.
The fact of the matter is though that the hate won out. People yelled long enough and at enough people that Valve decided it wasn’t worth it anymore, and thus reinforced the idea that this is how gaming culture operates. That there is no room for civil discourse because the only person who gets a word in is the one who can rally the most people to flame the most forums until they’re satisfied and move onto a new target.
There were a lot of ways Valve could have remedied the issues people had with paid mods, but in removing them entirely they’ve both reinforced a toxic element of gaming and now made it that much harder to start a similar program in the future. Because now it’s shown that all it takes to change a company’s mind is to call them an “asshole” several thousand times; that the most hateful element of gaming is the one that ultimately matters most. This isn’t the first time this has happened, but I want to believe it’ll be one of the last.