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Bethesda’s experiment with paid Skyrim mods has been an epic disaster – is there any way to fix it?

Published Apr 27th, 2015 8:00PM EDT
Bethesda Valve Skyrim Paid Mods Store

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I’ll admit it: When Bethesda and Valve last week announced that they were going to open up a store where people could pay for individual modifications to the iconic game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I thought it was a terrific idea. My reasoning at the time was that modders do such incredible work improving and adding to Skyrim that it’d be great to see them rewarded monetarily so they’d have the time and resources to produce even better mods in the future that could drastically expand the life of the game.

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Looking back on how things have played out so far, I’m ashamed of my pathetic naiveté. Clearly, I underestimated how human greed and dishonesty could ruin what sounded like a solid idea.

Let’s start with this fact: Modders who sell their apps on the store only keep 25% of the revenues their mods generate. Valve gets a 30% cut while Bethesda takes a whopping 45% cut. If this were really about making the Skyrim experience better and rewarding quality modders, then Bethesda wouldn’t get such a ludicrously huge portion of the money from mod sales.

Granted, Skyrim is Bethesda’s game and modders couldn’t make all their wonderful creations if Bethesda hadn’t done all the hard work and made a giant sandbox for them to play with. That said, Bethesda has already made ungodly sums of money from Skyrim. Does it really need to make a killing on Skyrim mods too?

The other issue is quality control. Simply put, a lot of the mods going on sale in Valve’s store are atrocious. Even more disturbingly, there’s already been one mod that had to be removed from the store because it swiped animations from an older mod that had been a free giveaway.

Do Bethesda and Valve really have the time to monitor all mods to make sure they either don’t break the game itself or that they aren’t simply being stolen from other developers?

And finally, the idea of paid Skyrim mods has greatly angered the community of gamers who have invested hundreds of hours into it. Their reasoning is that they don’t want mods to become yet another source of Candy Crush-style microtransactions that have infected the gaming industry in recent years. If they pay $60 for a game, they don’t want to feel like they should have to shell out more for every new third-party feature that someone creates, particularly when Bethesda is keeping a 45% cut of it.

Is there a way to make a store for mods work? Forbes’ Paul Tassi has written a good article with some suggestions for making a paid mod store more acceptable for both gamers and developers. Here are a couple ideas I’ve been batting around as well that could improve the store and make it less toxic than it is right now.

  • Make every mod free to use for a day. The problem with many mods is that they’re just not worth paying for in any fashion. Bethesda right now has a policy where you need to uninstall paid mods within a day of buying them to get a refund. But why not make all mods free to use for a day so people can see whether they’re actually worth paying for in the first place? This way people wouldn’t feel angry that they got charged money for a poorly done mod that breaks aspects of the game.
  • Alternatively, have a Spotify-style subscription service that offers unlimited access to mods. This would be superior to buying each mod individually since it would give you access to all content and ensure that you could quickly uninstall bad mods without worrying about getting charged for them. Such a scheme would be a way to reward quality modders who will have their mods used by more people and will thus get a bigger cut of subscription fees.

On the other hand, there may just be no way to make paid mods work at all. And what’s particularly frustrating about the way Bethesda and Valve have gone about setting up their mod store is that the current modding system wasn’t especially broken in the first place — so why try fixing it this way other than because of pure greed?

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.