Robin Scott started building websites to support the modding community in 2001 when he was 14-years-old. In 2007, he started a company to support his site, TES Nexus, as it became the main source for distributing Oblivion mods, and today Nexus Mods hosts “115,674 files for 173 games” and has almost 9 million registered users. If anyone knows what the modding community cares about, and exactly what mods can do for the good of games and gamers, it’s him.
In the wake of Steam’s inclusion of paid-for mods, and just a few hours before their eventual removal, I spoke to Scott about whether creators should be able to charge for mods, how he would have done things differently, and what any of this means for the future of the Nexus. Even in the wake of Valve pulling the system down (for presumed later return), his thoughts are an interesting look at the issues at hand
RPS: Firstly, what do you feel about paid mods in theory? Ignoring their current implementation, do you think there’s a way to do it that good for both developers, mod creators and mod players? Are mods something which should be free on principle?
Should mods be free on principle? No. Mods aren’t some sort of charitable donation, they’re made by skilled people who put a lot of time and effort in to what they do, and just because modding has remained free, for the most part, from the start doesn’t mean there’s some inalienable right to free mods. That choice should be placed in the hands of mod authors, not mod users. Are there good reasons why all mods should be free? Yes, yes there are. But are there good reasons why some mods could potentially not be free? Yes, yes there are.
It sounds like I’m doing some serious fence sitting but the problem is that a lot of people are trying to look at this from one angle, I’m trying to look at it from the angle of the publishers, the developers, the mod authors who want everything to remain free, the mod authors who want to be able to earn some money for their work and the mod users themselves, because I’ve got to keep all of those people happy. It’s a freaking complicated subject where there aren’t clear cut right or wrong answers to a lot of the questions, despite how black and white some people try and make it out to be.
Even if there was a good way of implementing paid for mods, or a system where all mods remain free of payment but the mod authors are paid (like a YouTube-style ad sharing system, or a voluntary subscription system) there’s still a whole slew of potential issues that get introduced in to modding when significant money enters. We’ve seen some of those issues already; permission issues with mods that use assets from other mods, a reduction of authors releasing “modders resources” (open source resource packages that all modders can make use of), increased resentment, rivalries, drama, bickering and arguing within the mod author community are some of the issues that spring to mind. Irrespective of how paid for modding is introduced, those issues are a serious concern.
I don’t know if there’s a good way of doing it. I do know there’s no way of doing it without fundamentally changing the dynamic of the modding community. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on how much you liked the “old way”. Personally, I quite liked the old way. But then again, I’m biased.
RPS: I personally feel like mod creators ought to be able to be paid for their work, in one way or another. If you agree, how would you do things differently?
One of the main tenants of the Nexus sites has been respecting and supporting a mod author’s right to choose if, how and where they will distribute their mods, so long as it is legal. Up until now Skyrim mod authors have been bound by the EULA to not sell, charge or directly make money from their mods, essentially making charging for mods illegal. Bethesda have now come out and said you can do that provided it’s through them. I cannot now renege on that principle and say “you can do whatever you want with your mod, but a plague on any person who tries to sell it on another site!”. I cannot and will not begrudge any mod author who wants to try and make money off of their mods.
What I can do is stand up and say, “I’m happy for you that you now have the option to earn some money for your hard work, but you still can’t do that on the Nexus, and if you upload your files to Nexus Mods you do it on the understanding that Nexus Mods is a completely free site for everyone”. Even if Bethesda came to me tomorrow and said “Hey, lets talk about setting up some paywalls on your site for any mod authors who want to earn some money” I’d likely, respectfully, refuse. If they came to me and said “What do you think about setting up a YouTube style system, where mod users can still get all the mods on your site for free but mod authors could have a cut of the ad revenue” then I’d still be extremely apprehensive.
It’s clichéd, I know, but money, changes, everything. I would go through extensive consultation with all the mod authors on the Nexus about it. If there was a general consensus that this would be OK within the mod author community then we’d take it to the mod users and get their take on the situation. Then, and only then, would I make a decision one way or the other. Such a system would keep modding free for everyone but provide a stream of revenue for mod authors. And that’s, likely, how I would do it differently, if I wanted to.
Am I considering that? No. I think if I tried to do that without Bethesda’s permission then I’d be running in to some serious legal issues. Even if I could get their permission we still run in to the same issues I mentioned in the previous question of how it would affect the modding community.
RPS: Do you think paid mods will inspire the things its hoped it will: more mod support from more developers, more and better quality mods, etc?
I have absolutely no idea. There’s nothing to compare this situation to because the TF2, DotA 2 and CSGO modding communities just aren’t comparable with the Elder Scrolls modding community.
RPS: In light of that, how do you feel about the current revenue split which – although it’s variable by game – currently gives 25% to the Skyrim mod creators? I’ve heard the “standing on the shoulders of giants” argument and the “users have already paid for those giants” argument. Where do you fall? How would you change it?
Continued on page two.