The makers of dinosaur-y sandbox survival game Ark: Survival Evolved [official site] have launched a scheme sponsoring mod development with actual real cash money. Every month they'll pay fifteen modders (and teams) $4,000 (£3.2k), with a view to potentially including their finished mods in the full game - as they have with others before. The first round includes everything from moonbases to islands inspired by albums. Mods can be huge for the long-term health of games, benefitting players and developers, so slinging them a big bag of bucks is a pretty great move.
"ARK Mods have contributed mightily to the game's longevity & variety, and we're very grateful to the talented content creators who make them," Wildcard co-founder Jeremy Stieglitz said in the announcement. "With the new 'ARK Sponsored Mods' program, we aim to be able to support some of the most promising authors directly, and continue to attract the world's most talented Modders to build amazing new content for ARK."
Here, check out the starting lineup in this video:
That's a lot of new lands, several new themes and theme-y bits, some roleplaying server-oriented stuff, and surprisingly few features that I'd think Ark's creators should have put in the base game anyway. The improved building of Structures and Platforms Plus, along with that Command Menu, do seem like stuff Wildcard should've done themselves rather than rely on mods for but hey, this is a pretty good lineup. I can't say I would have guessed they'd sponsor a series of new islands inspired by bands on a small record label (that's Thieves Island and Skies of Nazca).
This is a pretty great move for modding. Some games sponsor one-off mod contests, a fair few mods are supported by player donations, and a few games have sold official collections of mod (Quake 2's Extremities CD comes to mind), but ongoing monthly payments from developers is quite special. Obviously Wildcard do intend for modders to take this seriously rather than as a gift. They explain:
"Over the course of sponsorship, the modders will be working with us, and in particular, Cedric Burkes (Creator of Primitive+ and Studio Wildcard Mod Liason) to see how they progress over the month. They will go through reviews to make sure that bug reports players have made are being resolved, and that their projects are progressing and developing. Sponsorship can end for a mod if progress isn't being made, and we are keeping our eyes open for other modders who we can potentially work with!"
It is a shame that Steam botched its launch of paid mods. I'm not fundamentally opposed to paying for mods, recognising the effort they take and hoping that some modders would be able to focus full-time if their work was popular enough - or at least support themselves a little. Given how many wonderful small games are released free or pay-what-you-want on sites like Game Jolt and Itch, I don't foresee a grim future where mercenary modders try to fleece players.
Steam's paid mod problems were numerous. It had fixed prices. The revenue share was awful (25% for modders; 75% between Valve and the base game's creators). It didn't verify people had created what they sold. It didn't understand that mods are often created by teams. It was awkwardly wedged into Steam, a system not really set up with paid mods in mind. It launched with Skyrim, a game which has an established scene of free mods and a game which, really, is a bit bum without mods. Or, for an alternate take, read what the founder of Nexus Mods made of it all.
When someone next tries paid mods -- and Valve are still thinking about it -- if they can overcome a lot of the problems and include loose options like 'pay what you want' or 'pay at least...', yeah, I might be up for that. It could lead to some cracking mods by people working full-time, and the thriving and wonderful part-time development scene proves the hobbyist side needn't be mercenary. Devs want people to play their stuff.
Devs with smash-hit games paying modders to mod is also a great idea, of course.