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