Throughout the years, one of the key advantages to PC gaming was that you weren't restricted to sticking with the game the manufacturers released. It was easy to acquire and install mods that would change the game in certain ways. There's been a change in the world of PC modding now however as Steam has announced it will be letting modders charge people to download their wares. What does this mean for gamers?
Mods submitted to the Steam Workshop have always been 100 per cent free, so it makes sense that users would be wary about the prospect of having to pay money. Modders often ask for donations, but there's nothing stopping people from downloading it all and not paying a penny.
Modding culture isn't likely to change, mainly because it's so ingrained in the world of PC gaming. Modders generally do their thing for the fun of it, not the possible rewards, and the fact that Steam is letting them charge isn't going to change that fact. At least now they can monetise some of their work and get some sort of compensation for the long hours they put in, if they want to.
I could easily see the Steam Workshop ending up as an app store-like environment were people can browse and download a variety of free and paid-for mods. Of course there are going to be people attempting to sell off atrocious mods to try and make a quick buck or two, but it's not like Steam doesn't have that problem in its store already. Lack of regulation by Valve is going to make that much easier than on the likes of iTunes and Google Play, so it'll be up to the community to self moderate and call out any suspicious content.
That's already started happening as well. A paid-for Skyrim mod has already been removed from Steam because it turned out that the creators were using someone else's assets without permission. In the world of free mods that isn't really a problem (though it's still somewhat unethical), but this was for profit and the appropriate action was taken after people discovered what was happening.
Over at PC Gamer they point out that Team Fortress 2 already has systems in place that allow people to purchase user-created content, and it hasn't caused the world of PC gaming to collapse in on itself. They also argue that monetary compensation could be a great incentive for talented modders to devote more of their time into their work and take on massive projects that they may not have been able to do otherwise.
What about if you've paid for a piece of utter sh*te that doesn't even work? There is a chance to get a refund if you ask for it within the fist 24 hours. That means you've got ample opportunity to load up your game and try the mod for yourself and not lose out. The only downside to this is that the refund is deposited in your Steam Wallet, and for some reason you can't withdraw that money and send it to your bank account. So, it's a bit like getting Steam-branded Disney dollars in return.
It's easy enough to filter between free and paid-for mods too, so if you don't want to pay for mods then nobody's going to make you.
But the lack of oversight is not going to be a good thing. A lot of people have been criticising Valve for being seemingly apathetic about the sheer amount of junk games on Steam, and opening the door for people to sell mods could be disastrous if that trend pops up. Valve is going to be taking a cut from sales (it's not exactly clear how much just yet), so the least they can do is have a team tasked with reviewing paid-for mods before they go live. I have no qualms with modders earning money from genuinely amazing content, but nobody wants people to abuse the system and take advantage of gamers so they can earn a profit.
It's in Valve's best interest as well. If people become disillusioned with the content in the Steam Workshop they're going to go elsewhere, which just chips away at its profit margins. Valve is an incredibly powerful force in the world of PC gaming, but it's hardly the only modding community out there.
Image: My Little Pony Mod via Metaverse Mod Squad