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Nexus Mods On Paid Mods: "This would have caused a rift in Skyrim modding no matter how it was done."

Mod Is Dead

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.

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?

I understand Bethesda's and Valve's reasoning or, should I say, I think I understand what they would say if they were to actually come out and try and reason the 25/75 split. And I do think they should. [A couple of hours after this interview was conducted, and shortly before paid mods were pulled, Bethesda did explain their reasoning behind the system.]

From a completely personal stand-point, I do think that having the same 25/75 split for Skyrim that there is with TF2, DotA 2 and CSGO is daft. Skyrim was sold at an AAA price-point. DotA 2 has been free from the start, TF2 wasn't free but is now, and I don't know much about CSGO but I'm pretty sure it was never sold at an AAA price point. It makes sense that the revenue split for DotA 2 and TF2 is skewed so much because that's one of the only ways the game generates money. You can play both games for free and the developers make their money through in-app purchases which, much to Valve's credit, aren't necessary to get the full experience.

Makes sense then that the revenue split is skewed that way. But Skyrim was sold as an AAA game. It was £34.99 for me to buy off Steam at launch. I bought it because they'd already announced the game would be moddable and the price of the Creation Kit (the SDK) was included in that. On top of that, I don't think anyone could argue that Skyrim's modding scene hasn't contributed in some part to the continued success and popularity of Skyrim even now. I would say, from no position of authority on the topic what-so-ever, that Bethesda have already reaped the rewards of the time, effort and money they invested in to creating and releasing the Creation Kit. And lets not forget that they don't need to go to the effort of doing that, but they do, and we're all really, really grateful that they do, but as much as they talk about it taking considerable effort I don't think they could argue that it wasn't worth their time. So to come out and say that Bethesda should be taking the same revenue split as free games that rely on their in-app purchases in order to survive is, to me, just a little bit silly.

And lets not forget that Skyrim is the first game they've done this on. Instead of taking it easy, not pushing things too far and easing people in to it they've gone in to it full steam ahead (ahem, pun intended). If they'd been a bit more reasonable, 50% to the mod author, 25% to Valve, 25% to Bethesda, I think it would have done a hell of a lot to not only show that this is actually about mod authors getting paid for their hard work and not just about lining their pockets further.

Having said that, I understand the arguments that Bethesda would potentially put forward, that this is their intellectual property, and that game developers or people looking to profit off of it would typically have to pay to license out that IP, and that 25% of something is better than 100% of nothing. But still, you can't help but think if they'd thought this one through a little bit more then a lot of the vitriol being thrown their way right now could have been avoided. I'm told that the mod developers who were privately invited to consult Bethesda on this topic had told Valve and Bethesda words to similar effect. But at the end of the day, in a couple of years time, when paying for mods is more mainstream (but hopefully free modding isn't killed off completely), it will be water under the bridge for Bethesda and profit they can actually see on their bottom line.

RPS: Is there any way paid mods could have been introduced to an existing community without it causing a rift between the paids and the paid-nots? It feels like this would have been a more useful experiment if introduced with a new game that didn't previously have modding support.

Absolutely not. This would have caused a rift in the Skyrim modding community no matter where or how it was done.

I imagine, and once again I say this from a position of absolutely no authority on the subject, they wanted to do it now with Skyrim, a 3 and a half year old community, to get all of this drama out of the way and get people used to the idea so that it doesn't sour their next game release, likely to be announced during their E3 show.

RPS: Where do you think Valve's motivations lie?

Mr. Newell, and Valve in general, have been talking very publicly about the value of user generated content for years now. I don't think this should come as any surprise to anyone. They know how valuable it is because they have first-hand experience and monetary data coming from their games. Unfortunately, there's not much (direct) money to be made from mods unless you're selling them, and Valve is in the business of selling things.

I believe they're relatively well intentioned, I just think they've jumped this idea from games that have been designed from the ground up to be supported by paid-for modding to games that have not been designed to be supported in that way, and they've been a bit naive and gung-ho about it.

RPS: Does this change anything for the Nexus Mods sites? It seems like Nexus has maintained relevance alongside the Steam Workshop and there'll still always be a place for free mods. Do you anticipate changing anything or any negative consequences for you from the paid mods?

In the short term I don't anticipate any particularly major negative consequences for me or the Nexus personally, but I do anticipate the potentially negative consequences that I've already mentioned early on in this interview for the Elder Scrolls modding community at large, of which the Nexus is a part. I'll continue to listen to the feedback of the mod authors and mod users to see if there's anything the Nexus can do to help alleviate these issues as much as possible.

I will say that it is hurtful to me, personally, as we'd managed to get the Nexus community to a point where it was extremely stable, both server-wise and community-wise, and I feel like things were as close to perfect as they could have been when you've got very close to nine million members forming a community. Drama in the community has been at an all-time low, mods were still being released and downloaded at a very steady pace and generally I'd say community spirits were quite high with what's likely to be a big Bethesda announcement just around the corner.

It now feels like someone's dropped a bomb on all of that and we're being left to pick up the pieces and try and mend things back to the way they were, knowing things won't ever be quite the same again. It's upsetting to see mod authors, who were previously quite close and friendly with each other, turning on each other or becoming suspicious of what others might do. I've worked hard to create a community that's quite different to a lot of others out there, whether I succeeded or not depends on who you ask. While I don't think that's in jeopardy because what we've had has been strong for so long, it's hard for me to see the community distressed in this way. It's a real spanner in the works for community spirits and cooperation within the community and that's upsetting to see.

Is this the end of free modding? Not right now. Not with any of the already established modding communities. Doom sayers have been exclaiming, falsely, that all the mod authors will now leave the Nexus and migrate to the paid Steam Workshop system. It hasn't happened and it won't happen. Indeed, there's been a rally of support from a myriad of mod authors, and not just the smaller ones, pledging that they will continue to release all their mods for free. That's awesome, they're awesome, and they deserve all the support they are getting from the user base.

I'm not worried about the current short term situation at all. I think, and I am positive, that we'll all be absolutely fine once the dust settles on this situation. But what does this mean for the future of modding? I don't know, and that's what worries me. My extreme fear, that has no merit right now other than a niggling worry in the back of my mind, is that this is the beginning of the end of free modding support being possible in the not too distant future. I picture the next Bethesda release, whether it's Fallout 4 or The Elder Scrolls 6, being Workshop exclusive. It may be written in to the EULA, hard-coded in to their SDK, or both, that if you want to release a mod, it has to be released on the Workshop. That's what worries me. Some people might think that's an unfounded and petty worry. It's definitely unfounded right now, but I don't think it's petty.

However you might feel about Bethesda right now, they have always provided us with the tools to support the free and open modding of their games. They should be commended for providing us with that privilege. But I now have a doubt in my head, as I know others do, and a public statement on that, from Bethesda, would go a very, very long way to making me feel more comfortable with all of this. [Again.]

If the worst case happens then the Nexus will simply become a repository of old mods for old games, a relic of a bygone era when modding used to be free and open. I'd keep it running as a symbol of that for a long as I possibly could.

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