Thoughts on Valve’s commercialization of modding

Recently, Valve decided to introduce a payment system for game-modifications that are available in their “Steam Workshop”. Here are my thoughts about the situation:

Modding is something based on the spirit of free sharing, labor of love in a way. It is built up by various people, embracing that spirit, but also by Valve with their Steam Workshop – supposedly in the same spirit.

But then suddenly money comes into play, and this creates an incompatibility. Especially since it is an attempt to build the commercial aspect on top of something that wasn’t designed that way.

More generally speaking, money is a great corrupting influence, and the outrage generated by Valve’s move is rooted in material, philosophical and spiritual grievances. Money as motivation in the mind impairs objective reasoning, and especially with growing economic pressures.

The emerging business trends we see in the world are not an improvement, but an attempt at dealing with growing problems without solving the core problem. Progress for humankind means being able to get more stuff done without monetary structures, because money is inherently a tool of distrust, social distance, a scarcity-ruled mindset. The root of all that is fear. What we see here is more of the old paradigm, masking itself as progressive in order to fit a corporate identity.

Compare that to the courage of CDProjekt Red / and their decision to sell their upcoming game “The Witcher 3” DRM-free.
Now I’m not using this as a shining example for all eternity, since this is how great ideas usually start, and there are also factors involved that take away certain fears, but it still a bold move, and whenever such ideas eventually become corrupted, someone new has to step in and build something that fits the current spirit of the time. Trying to change the old fear-built structures is usually a futile endeavor, since people running them have made their choices and lack incentive to change; and even if there is incentive, they will merely adapt, without change of mind.

Thus the conundrum: Trying to create a movement for social progress and then wanting to make it big by involving big money. This is why so many things start pure in spirit, but if successful tend to corrupt.

As for the game “Skyrim”, the prime name involved in this affair: Especially the original interface put me off a lot (typical for-console design) as well as various bugs. Reliance on modding often is not a gesture of appreciation, but a strategy to outsource less-than-critical product features as well as a publicity move for improving product presence. This might eventually result in game dev business becoming almost purely management, with the development done by monetized contributors, which destroys the spirit of an artistic-creative process even more than is already happening especially in non-indie game development. Those who make the decisions have an impact on the product, and if the decision-makers have no emotional connection with the character of that product, then that will show in the product.

Then again … ‘Corrupted minds’ can be found all through society. Some of the outrage is certainly fueled by the very same mentality, people just resenting the idea of having to pay for something that they used to get for free.
Which mindset, which intention is driving someone should be examined for every individual case.

My two cents about Elder Scrolls Online

It is quite apparent to me that the making of Elder Scrolls Online is yet another of the many franchise-milking schemes done these days, borne out of the success of former titles combined with a certain confidence that even an act such as this would not be enough to harm sales of future better titles.

The obvious thing to do when a game series is exceptionally successful is to look at what it is that makes it so successful and then perpetuate and emphasize it. This is why they should have looked at Skyrim and turned it into an MMO, instead of taking a distinctly generic MMO construct and give it an Elder Scrolls paint job.

It seems that people too involved in the business side of things are under the impression that a name and theme are what is exciting, when in fact those are mere labels and shapes, and the actual content, execution and delivery are what fills those with content, with character, with depth and meaning.

When a game is offered for the price of 50 EUR, with a whopping 80 EUR for getting a game that is not reduced in certain features (more on this later) AND an additional significant monthly fee, one should expect top notch, greatness. This contributes to the disappointment. Believing something will be great does nothing if it isn’t actually great.

And believing that adding familiar places, characters, names, themes would do the job is as naive and superficial as believing that stuffing plenty of pop culture references into a game is enough to make it good.

And about the two editions of the game: In the still full-priced-level game version for 50 EUR, you cannot play the Imperial race. That feature is very desirable for many Elder Scrolls fans, and it seems Bethesda knows this. But how they deal with that knowledge draws the picture: True fans would very much want to get the special edition, out of sincere passion. But when Bethesda decides to take this away from the regular edition, they are sending a message of lack of confidence in their own product, as if they knew fans would be relatively disappointed, thus they decided to apply this form of marketing coersion. (The feature, AFAIK, is also available for purchase as an extra, which still increases the price, thus you cannot say you actually get the full product for 50 EUR.)
Fear really makes stupid, and sadly there are various examples where an outstanding success is not honored as a fortunate occurence, but instead treated from an attitude of fear, trying to squeeze every bit of profit out of it.
This much meddling from marketing spoils the experience.
Not too surprising though: When there is no incentive, there is no reason for people to change their attitude away from fear towards love.
This is maybe why indie games are so popular: Only when you don’t have the conventional business structure where accounting has priority over the creative department can true passion be fully reflected in the product and unfold itself.
It would boggle your mind how different products would be in a world where there was no ‘need’ to put business first. Of course these things are to some degree a result of increasingly difficult times economy-wise. But that is no excuse when you see how those businesses that do great in this environment are also very likely to mess things up that way; because of the corrupting effect of the money game.
If someone operates on a mindset of scarcity, lusting for more and ever more, then, without a profound event that changes that, giving them abundance will only feed their fear of scarcity.

Combine the case of ESO with the fact that a good part of the success of games like Skyrim was the fact that the community, unlike the dev in true passion, were willing to develop mods and improvements and sadly out of necessity even bugfixes – for free, spending their time and effort and in turn actually helping Bethesda’s business success. I doubt that the beancounters and deciders can actually appreciate that. They probably just consider the idea to allow mods a smart business move and pat their own shoulders for it, which dehumanizes the people without whom their business would not be a success in the first place.

You see what happens when money rules in politics. … The same effect works in many areas, including game development.
And at least as long as there is no guaranteed basic income for everybody, fear will continue to leave its mark in those areas.