Skyrim Mods: Why We Gave It a Shot

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Update: After discussion with Valve, and listening to our community, paid mods are being removed from Steam Workshop. Even though we had the best intentions, the feedback has been clear – this is not a feature you want. Your support means everything to us, and we hear you.

Original Post: We believe mod developers are just that: developers. We love that Valve has given new choice to the community in how they reward them, and want to pass that choice along to our players. We are listening and will make changes as necessary.

We have a long history with modding, dating back to 2002 with The Elder Scrolls Construction Set. It’s our belief that our games become something much more with the promise of making it your own. Even if you never try a mod, the idea you could do anything is at the core of our game experiences. Over the years we have met much resistance to the time and attention we put into making our games heavily moddable. The time and costs involved, plus the legal hurdles, haven’t made it easy. Modding is one of the reasons Oblivion was re-rated from T to M, costing us millions of dollars. While others in the industry went away from it, we pushed more toward it.

We are always looking for new ways to expand modding. Our friends at Valve share many of the same beliefs in mods and created the Steam Workshop with us in 2012 for Skyrim, making it easier than ever to search and download mods. Along with Skyrim Nexus and other sites, our players have many great ways to get mods.

Despite all that, it’s still too small in our eyes. Only 8% of the Skyrim audience has ever used a mod. Less than 1% has ever made one.

In our early discussions regarding Workshop with Valve, they presented data showing the effect paid user content has had on their games, their players, and their modders. All of it hugely positive. They showed, quite clearly, that allowing content creators to make money increased the quality and choice that players had. They asked if we would consider doing the same.

This was in 2012 and we had many questions, but only one demand. It had to be open, not curated like the current models. At every step along the way with mods, we have had many opportunities to step in and control things, and decided not to. We wanted to let our players decide what is good, bad, right, and wrong. We will not pass judgment on what they do. We’re even careful about highlighting a modder on this blog for that very reason.

Three years later and Valve has finally solved the technical and legal hurdles to make such a thing possible, and they should be celebrated for it. It wasn’t easy. They are not forcing us, or any other game, to do it. They are opening a powerful new choice for everyone.

We believe most mods should be free. But we also believe our community wants to reward the very best creators, and that they deserve to be rewarded. We believe the best should be paid for their work and treated like the game developers they are. But again, we don’t think it’s right for us to decide who those creators are or what they create.

We also don’t think we should tell the developer what to charge. That is their decision, and it’s up to the players to decide if that is a good value. We’ve been down similar paths with our own work, and much of this gives us déjà vu from when we made the first DLC: Horse Armor. Horse Armor gave us a start into something new, and it led to us giving better and better value to our players with DLC like Shivering Isles, Point Lookout, Dragonborn and more. We hope modders will do the same.

Opening up a market like this is full of problems. They are all the same problems every software developer faces (support, theft, etc.), and the solutions are the same. Valve has done a great job addressing those, but there will be new ones, and we’re confident those will get solved over time also. If the system shows that it needs curation, we’ll consider it, but we believe that should be a last resort.

There are certainly other ways of supporting modders, through donations and other options. We are in favor of all of them. One doesn’t replace another, and we want the choice to be the community’s. Yet, in just one day, a popular mod developer made more on the Skyrim paid workshop than he made in all the years he asked for donations.

Revenue Sharing

Many have questioned the split of the revenue, and we agree this is where it gets debatable. We’re not suggesting it’s perfect, but we can tell you how it was arrived at.

First Valve gets 30%. This is standard across all digital distributions services and we think Valve deserves this. No debate for us there.

The remaining is split 25% to the modder and 45% to us. We ultimately decide this percentage, not Valve.

Is this the right split? There are valid arguments for it being more, less, or the same. It is the current industry standard, having been successful in both paid and free games. After much consultation and research with Valve, we decided it’s the best place to start.

This is not some money grabbing scheme by us. Even this weekend, when Skyrim was free for all, mod sales represented less than 1% of our Steam revenue.

The percentage conversation is about assigning value in a business relationship. How do we value an open IP license? The active player base and built in audience? The extra years making the game open and developing tools? The original game that gets modded? Even now, at 25% and early sales data, we’re looking at some modders making more money than the studio members whose content is being edited.

We also look outside at how open IP licenses work, with things like Amazon’s Kindle Worlds, where you can publish fan fiction and get about 15-25%, but that’s only an IP license, no content or tools.

The 25% cut has been operating on Steam successfully for years, and it’s currently our best data point. More games are coming to Paid Mods on Steam soon, and many will be at 25%, and many won’t. We’ll figure out over time what feels right for us and our community. If it needs to change, we’ll change it.

The Larger Issue of the Gaming Community and Modding

This is where we are listening, and concerned, the most. Despite seeming to sit outside the community, we are part of it. It is who we are. We don’t come to work, leave and then ‘turn off’. We completely understand the potential long-term implications allowing paid mods could mean. We think most of them are good. Some of them are not good. Some of them could hurt what we have spent so long building. We have just as much invested in it as our players.

Some are concerned that this whole thing is leading to a world where mods are tied to one system, DRM’d and not allowed to be freely accessed. That is the exact opposite of what we stand for. Not only do we want more mods, easier to access, we’re anti-DRM as far as we can be. Most people don’t know, but our very own Skyrim DLC has zero DRM. We shipped Oblivion with no DRM because we didn’t like how it affected the game.

There are things we can control, and things we can’t. Our belief still stands that our community knows best, and they will decide how modding should work. We think it’s important to offer choice where there hasn’t been before.

We will do whatever we need to do to keep our community and our games as healthy as possible. We hope you will do the same.

Bethesda Game Studios

Skyrim Voted #1 Game (of All Time) Down Under!

Watch until the end to hear a special thanks from BGS!

During the month of July, Australian TV show Good Game ran a poll to vote for the country’s top 100  games of all time, and we are happy to report that Skyrim was selected as the #1 game, and Fallout 3 also cracked the top 10 at #8 on the list.

Watch the video above to get the countdown experience or if reading is more your speed, see the full list here. Big congrats to the team at Bethesda Game Studios and thanks to all the Aussies that voted!

Around the web: Pre-E3 Edition

Before hopping on a plane to Los Angeles for E3 2014, here’s some videos and articles we thought you’d enjoy this weekend.

While in Munich to receive the LARA of Honor award, Todd Howard chatted with GameStar on a number of topics: career highlights, gaming philosophies, favorite German cuisine, and much more are all covered in the video above.

Elsewhere…

“Turn the pain into something positive. Use the darkness to make good art.” — Those words mean a great deal to Wolfenstein narrative designer Tommy Tordsson Björk. Find out why in a heartfelt column this week on The Huffington Post.

Next… err current-gen gaming is all the rage these days, but IGN recently took time to share their 100 favorite games from the previous generation. Bethesda published games make quite a splash in the list — with five games making the list: Dishonored (#67), Oblivion (#40), Fallout: New Vegas (#26),  Fallout 3 (#5), and Skyrim (#4).

The Skyrim Mash-up for Minecraft on Xbox 360 recently won the “Coming Back for Seconds” award from the Xbox community. Thanks to everyone for voting.

If you’ve ever eaten at Nando’s, you know their chicken is peri peri good! It’s so good that MachineGames developers flew from Sweden to the UK to celebrate their first paycheck. Learn more on this and other tidbits about Wolfenstein: The New Order’s development at Shortlist.

Are The Evil Within and BATTLECRY your most anticipated games of E3? Share your support in a new poll up at FavsList!.

Here’s some scary thinking: A new feature at Games Radar focuses on eight bizarre parallels that can be made between the real world and the world of Wolfenstein. Yikes!

Do you know what time it is? It’s time for a Wolfenstein Penny Arcade cartoon!

Finally, a little love for Dishonored. Below you can watch a jaw-dropping play-through of the Lord Regent assassination mission — courtesy of StealthGamerBR. The video is an awesome reminder that you can always find new and creative ways to play through the game.

Have an awesome weekend!

The Iterative Level Design Process of Bethesda Game Studios

Back in March of this year, BGS senior designer Joel Burgess made the trek out to San Francisco to be apart of the 2014 Game Developers Conference. During the week, Joel presented the following presentation to industry peers focused on level design.

For the prospective game designers out there, Joel was nice enough to bring his presentation, “The Iterative Level Design Process of Bethesda Game Studios”  to Bethesda Blog. Here’s Joel…

A note about author voice in this article: As per the usual disclaimers, the views and opinions expressed within are my own, and may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bethesda or Zenimax.  Those views and opinions are intertwined with the interests, history and objectives of Bethesda Game Studios, however.  While I am reporting on the practices of the studio, some of the particular reasons behind these practices are my own opinions, which only have partial impact on the actual adoption and implementation thereof.  For this reason, I will try to use “I” to express my opinions, where “we” will usually express a fact about the studio.

Iteration, as it’s generally known within game development, is the progressive process of planning, creating and testing content.  This is typically expressed as a cycle, where a process is repeated, with each repetition applying lessons learned from the prior.  This cycle is progressive, with each iteration building upon and refining the last.  This concept is widely embraced: many game developers have espoused iteration when discussing the design process.

There’s good reason for this.  Iteration works.  Studies such as this one from J. Nielsen show that when developing interfaces for software such as a banking application, polling users on the UI experience can provide designers with findings which then inform their next UI iteration.  The result is that early iterations see major gains in usability.  These finding are echoed in other studies, as well as being supported by observing everything from how an artist develops a painting to the scientific process.

Like any broadly-referenced term, there are many interpretations, scopes, and applications of iteration. An annual game franchise such as Madden Football, for example, can be seen as a very long-form iteration, where each game sees entire features added, removed, and improved upon.  Spelunky, which originally came into existence as a fairly low-fidelityGamemaker game would later be released as a commercial title with entirely new art and codebase which largely mimicked and refined that seen in the original release.

Individual assets within a game are frequently iterated upon, too.  The look of the original Team Fortress Spy is a far cry from his modern TF2 incarnation.  The gameplay design of the Spy has also been iterated upon over the years, even though the core class role has remained fairly consistent.  The visual design of the spy also demonstrates that elements, such as his balaclava, can stand the test of time over many iterations, while other aspects change radically.  TF2 is also a game which has seen a great deal of publicly-observable iteration over the years, as Valve has introduced many new gameplay-altering items and game types.

Continue reading full article ›

LARA of Honor to Todd Howard

We’re very excited and proud to share news that at this year’s LARA (also known as The German Games Award), Bethesda Game Studios’ Todd Howard will receive the ‘LARA of Honor’ award.

Widely considred the highlight of the annual award show, the LARA of Honor has been given out since 2007. Previous winners include Ralph H Baer (2007), Allan Alcorn (2007), Jürgen Goeldner (2008), Alexej Pajitnov (2009), Nolan Bushnell (2010), Yves Guillemot (2011), Will Wright (2012) and Richard Garriott (2013).

Everyone at Bethesda is very excited for Todd to receive this award. It’s a testament to the hard work he and the BGS team has done, and to the great games they have produced over the last 20 years.

For more details, read the full press release after the break… Continue reading full article ›

20 Years of Elder Scrolls

The list of entertainment products that thrive over a twenty-year period is a short one. It’s a joy to be part of one. When I look back over the last 20 years I’ve spent at Bethesda, I think how lucky we’ve been to keep a group together that continues to grow, both in talent and number, while being able to create games we love.

One thing that has kept the series vibrant for so long is that as opposed to simply adding to the previous game for a sequel, we always started over. It was our desire that each game be its own thing; had its own tone, its own soul. As the years went by the technologies changed, we changed, you changed. But the goal remained the same – to create a game that transported you to another place. A game that fueled you with the ideal of endless possibilities. A world you could make your own.

This has always been a partnership with you, our fans. The support you gave us each time has been amazing. The feedback, both positive and negative, made us better. When you spend so many hours, over so many years, on something, it becomes part of you. It’s certainly done that for us, and we know it’s done that for many of you.

There are many memories of what this series has meant to us, and to you. But I often think of one. When we were making Skyrim, but before it was announced, we were visited by a teenager through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That day in our area, the foundation had arranged for several kids to spend time with President Obama, another with Spider-Man, and this amazing person with us. That was his wish – to see the new Elder Scrolls game. He was the first person outside the team to ever play Skyrim.

And that’s the thing not just about The Elder Scrolls, but experiences like it. They’re important. Yes, they are just games, or just entertainment. But how we all spend our time is important. The best experiences can fill you with the wonder of discovery, and the pride of accomplishment. The fact that you have spent so much time in these worlds with us, and have supported us each and every game, has meant the world to us.

And now The Elder Scrolls is ready to head in a new direction – online. The great folks at ZeniMax Online have brought the same passion and dedication to that game that we brought to ours. And like the other titles, it will be its own thing. We hope you give them the same support and feedback you’ve given us for so long.

Where does The Elder Scrolls go over the next 20 years? Time will tell. But I know it will continue to be an amazing partnership with you. And we can’t wait to play it.

Until then, all our best,

Todd Howard
Game Director
Bethesda Game Studios

Around the Web: Countdown Collection

As the end of the year draws near, more and more lists and countdowns are starting to sweep the internet. With the advent of new consoles and the opportunity for new titles, we take a look at some of the praise last generation titles received.

Crowning glory comes from Examiner.com who granted Skyrim the coveted title of “Game of the Generation”. This was the first of several “Best of a Generation” mentions we received in 2013. Kotaku included Skyrim as a Game that defined “last gen”, while Hardcore Gamer honored multiple Bethesda titles in their Top 100 Games of the Generation, including: Oblivion, Dishonored, Fallout: New Vegas, Skyrim, and Fallout 3.

And where there are last-gen countdowns, one should expect next-gen (err… current gen?) countdowns. In such a list, Gameranx listed Wolfenstein The New Order as one of the Top 10 games to look forward to in 2014.

Elsewhere in the land of the lists, something about the bitter-cold temperatures in Skyrim gave inspiration for Winter weather countdowns. Shortlist mentions the frigid temperatures found atop the Throat of the World in their list, while IGN celebrates Skyrim for being the perfect seasonal game. As you ready for the holidays, curl up in a blanket, drink some hot chocolate, and give Skyrim a revisit during your winter break.

Skyrim Mash! (Updated)

Update: The Skyrim mash-up now has a release date — Wednesday, November 20th! The content will be available worldwide for $3.99/€3.79/£2.69.

Announced earlier this month at Minecon, watch the new trailer for the Skyrim mash-up coming soon to Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition.

If you missed it, here’s the content breakdown for the pack:

  • Skyrim themed texture set to apply to any existing or newly created Minecraft world.
  • 40 Skyrim characters skins to apply to player’s in-game avatars: Dragonborn (male), Dragonborn (female), Ancano, Elenwen, Argonian Fighter, Argonian Mage, Bosmer Archer, Bosmer Mage, Breton Mage, Forsworn Shaman, Dunmer Mage, Dunmer Assassin, Imperial Soldier, Vex, Khajiit Merchant, Stormcloak Soldier, Lydia, Orc Blacksmith, Orc Warrior female, Nazir, Saadia, Vampire Lord, Isran, Astrid, Aela the Huntress, M’aiq the Liar, Greybeard, Frost Troll, Flame Atronach, Dragon Priest, Hagraven, Draugr Deathlord, Sheogorath, Spriggan, Dwarven Centurion, Wispmother, Dremora Lord, Master Necromancer, Vilkas, Orc Warrior Male
  • Skyrim themed Menu, UI and Inventory including integrated Skyrim logo.
  • Skyrim music score featuring the following original tracks: Watch the Skies, Dragonborn, Awake, From Past To Present, The City Gates, Dragonsreach, Distant Horizons, Dawn, The Jerall Mountains, Secunda, Frostfall, Unbound, Far Horizons, The Streets of Whiterun, The White River, Standing Stones, Tundra, Journey’s End, Aurora, Solitude, Wind Guide You, Tooth and Claw, Into Darkness, Shadows and Echoes, Towers and Shadows, Death in the Darkness
  • Pre-made World recreating the area of WhiterunRiverwood and Bleak falls Barrow (on a smaller scale in order to fit with technical constraints of the games map size limits)

Babyhood of Steel

Recently BGS character artist Dennis Mejilones and his wife Elizabeth welcomed their first child, Adriana Dahlia. To help celebrate the occasion, world artist Josh Jay, whose been known to make some pretty amazing helmets in the past, decided to create a helmet for Adriana.

In the slideshow below, check out various images of the production process, and read our short interview with Jay after the break.

Continue reading full article ›

Happy 5th Birthday, Fallout 3

Five years ago today, Fallout 3 released in North America. To celebrate the occasion, share your favorite #Fallout3Memories with our official Twitter account for Bethesda Game Studios – @BGS_Devs.

Related, Eurogamer recently put up a new feature highlighting the game as one of the best games of this generation. Elsewhere, GamesTM ranked the game #1 in their list of 50 Defining Games of This Console Generation, and Todd Howard commented on the honor here.