If you haven’t heard about this debacle yet, here’s what you need to know: within a day of paid mods being sold on Steam Workshop, the creator of the “Art of the Catch” mod was slammed for reusing free assets from another modder in their paid mods. “Art of the Catch” was pulled from the store.
Salient Points from the Modder’s Post
You can (and should) read the full post here, but here are some of the main points:
- Modders were contacted over a month ago but told not to discuss the paid mod program.
- The modder of “Art of the Catch” asked about the legality of using free assets and was misled.
- They weren’t really clear on the revenue amounts until discussions progressed.
- Modders cannot take down their work on their own. Or, apparently, at all.
- The mod was dependent on another mod, rather than including another mod.
But, we should look a little further into these points.
Modder Alleges that Nexus is Profiting from Paid Mods
The modder of “Art of the Catch” alleges that Nexus is one of the companies that profits off mods. This is true, but not quite in the way depicted. Specifically: it’s not hidden and it’s not a lot, but it’s definitely there.
Th split is 25% to the actual modder, with 75% going to Valve/Bethesda. From Valve’s split, 5% goes to ‘service providers‘. The modder selects a list of service providers they feel contribute to the mod (Nexus is one of them) and that 5% is split up among those providers. So if they only select ‘Nexus,’ Nexus gets 5%.
So yes, Nexus is profiting off sold mods on Steam Workshop.
While they aren’t hiding it, they also aren’t being very upfront about it. In a post on Nexus itself:
I’m not sure there’s been an official announcement about the revenue split, but as there’s no new information at this time, I think it’s safe to assume it’s 25% to the mod author, 75% to Valve/Bethesda, of which I believe 5% can go to “Service Providers” out of Valve and/or Bethesda’s cut. Once again, seems that information is missing from any FAQs or documents at this time. The old axiom goes, however, “it’s better to have 25% of something, than 100% of nothing”.
That post is a little weird — it vaguely refers to service providers but doesn’t specify that Nexus is one. It makes it sound as though Nexus doesn’t really know much about the agreement, even though it was just posted a couple of days ago.
Nexus has also been quite outspoken about being against paid mods, so it’s confusing on that level as well. And obviously, this creates a huge conflict of interest, as Nexus now has a reason to push free mods to pay. But not much of a reason; it’s cents on the dollar.
The Problems Inherent With Paid Modding
This highlights a really important issue: modders are mostly hobbyists. Most of them don’t understand the legalities of their work. Any game developer, indie or otherwise, understands that free assets cannot necessarily be included and distributed within a commercial product. Just because something is “free” doesn’t mean you can do anything you want with it; in fact, it almost never means that. If this is what the modder did, then they did clearly out of naivete rather than malice; if it was malicious, they would have known they would get caught. But this is something very basic that someone producing game content should have known from the start.
But that being said, it doesn’t seem to be what the modder actually did. It seems as though the mod was just dependent on another mod. (I say seems because, since the mod is not viewable now, I can’t say for sure.)
The modder asked about their work, and here was the response from Valve:
“Usual caveat: I am not a lawyer, so this does not constitute legal advice. If you are unsure, you should contact a lawyer. That said, I spoke with our lawyer and having mod A depend on mod B is fine–it doesn’t matter if mod A is for sale and mod B is free, or if mod A is free or mod B is for sale.”
This is an entirely different situation. A mod can depend on another mod and it’s likely fine, but a mod cannot be included within another mod. This is something that, again, anyone in the game development industry would see as a different scenario, but that a hobbyist (especially someone new to the industry) might not. And the problem is that the modding community is sending death threats to this modder about what is possibly a grey situation.
This also explains why Valve/Bethesda hasn’t taken the mod down themselves. They most certainly would if there were actually legal issues.
And About That ‘Not Taking It Down’…
The mods are not available to be purchased or downloaded on Steam Workshop anymore. What Valve has refused to do is take the mods away from people who have already purchased the content. They reserved the right to do this. Which actually only makes sense, because the content now “belongs” to someone else. Though the modder states he refunded individuals through PayPal, it’s impossible to know how those “refunds” are really processed. And you can’t just take a product away from someone and throw their money back at them; it doesn’t work that way.
So is this, as Kotaku says, a “clusterfuck”? That’s a bit extreme but not entirely incorrect. I mean we’re talking dollars and cents here and it’s a single game and they’ve had one or two major problems. But the whole premise of the situation is a mess because it entirely neglects the basis of the community: passionate people doing what they do without ulterior motives. Once money comes into the mix, everything gets more complicated. And who suffers? In this scenario, it looks like everyone.