The Paid Problem

by / Wednesday, 06 May 2015 / Published in Editorials & Reviews, News & Articles

Oh wait Vissari, aren’t you a bit late? Didn’t everyone on the internet give an opinion on the matter of paid mods? Why yes, they did, what a great time that was, where every person on the planet suddenly acted like they were the Americans fighting the British over tea expenses because this is PC Gaming America goddamnit and our tea should be free! That could’ve been it, the topic could’ve faded away, but something happened on May 5th that solidified my feelings on the matter and I realized something. PC Gaming community, we need to talk.

You see, on May 5th, (today, as of typing) Black Mesa got released as a paid standalone-game for $20. For those not in the know, Black Mesa is a complete remake of Half Life 1 in the source engine made by some very dedicated fans and it is goddamn amazing. I know this, because it was released for free 2 years ago. In fact, you can still get it the mod version for free on ModDB, where it will always be free. “So why would I pay for this?” You might ask. Well because the Steam release is standalone and on an ever newer version of Source (2007 vs 2012) which let them do whole new AI, models, animations and balancing, also it comes with a remake of Half Life: Deathmatch. Both versions of the game are going to be updated simultaneously. “Well that’s still bullshit” you might say, and ‘you’ as in several thousand people this morning when it released on Steam. After all either version of the game still doesn’t include the end missions of the single player campaign, as that part is still in development.

After the game went up, hundreds if not thousands flooded the forums of the developer, journalistic sites, and especially the Steam User Forums, which seems to have the patience and sense of entitlement on par with a sweet sixteen party full of trust-fund kids. So before I bring this all back full circle I’m just gonna do some quick ‘answering the most common statements I saw about this thing’

  1. ‘But the devs said the mod will always be free!’

- And you are right, the mod will always be free, hell its still free. After all, what released on Steam today was not a mod (which would require you to own the game the mod is for, in which case, any Source game) instead its a standalone game, which comes with the engine. In fact, the developers posted that they were doing this last year, and no one complained, I will get back to that shortly.

2. ‘It should be free and we should be given a choice to donate’

-Except that Half Life is owned by Valve, and thus the developers cannot accept any form of currency for creating what literally is Half Life 1 since that would be infringement. Instead, Valve  and the devs would have to come to an agreement, and this is what they came up with, where as most companies would’ve just shut them down (screw you SquareEnix).

3. ’Modders shouln’t be paid for their work!’

-Oh hey! Right back on topic, thank you angry community.

Let me tell you the life of every person in every creative field ever. You spend thousands of hours on something, and people will turn around and say ‘I’m not gonna pay you, but it will be great exposure!’ Now granted, hiring modders that did a great job on their work isn’t something to be ignored, but for some reason in our society people like to look at those who spend thousands of hours doing something that isn’t an office desk job are somehow unworthy of a return in their investment. Black Mesa was in the making for 10 years in their spare time, $20 doesn’t even sound close to enough. Exposure is never enough for people in creative fields. It doesn’t pay the bills, and neither does the minimal wage jobs that we often have on the side just to be able to afford rent and maybe some noodles. Of course, what do we get told at the jobs we have on the side? “You need to get a real job, oh and can you take off work next to edit this 90 minute documentary for me? I can’t pay you but I promise I’ll tweet about it and show it to my relatives, it’ll be great exposure. Oh, that would normally cost me $1500 to have someone edit it? But I thought you loved what you did.”

Now sure, if one were to look at the Bethesda/Valve paid Skyrim mods like how we did, there was a concern that the market would be flooded with useless mods that would be priced unreasonably by those who put forth the minimal effort. Then others would say that the community would be responsible for policing itself, and after awhile it would even itself out with quality over quantity. But the negativity was so massive initially, Valve felt it had the responsibility as a company to retract its idea. Whether or not you agreed with paid mods, from a company perspective, its a smart idea to retract an idea after your fanbase acts so negatively against it, that’s the consumerist way. But the main problem with all of the talking we did, is that we were never given the chance to see how it would’ve panned out. All of the talk was speculation, saying what would happen if we went one way or the other, no better than one presidential candidate saying that if you voted for the other guy he was gonna turn the place into communist Russia.

However, today’s incident really reveals the sort of knee-jerk reaction and sense of entitlement the gaming community has, which really hampers any sort of progress that the gaming culture can make as a whole. How much of this reaction to Black Mesa was due to ignorance? The developers were very upfront about what they were doing, and no one had a complaint until release. For a long time, I thought that the key to a better gaming community was more transparency between the gamers and the game developers. That if gamers understood the process of creation, the decision making involved, and why things happen the way they do, than they wouldn’t act so negative when certain incidences happen. There used to be a great show on gametrailers.com called Pach Attack, where the industry’s leading market analyst Michael Pachter would answer questions about the business decisions companies would make, and it was great, it showed a side the game making process most people never get to see. While I do think we need more content like that, what sort of good will it do if the gaming community doesn’t even listen?

I feel bad for Black Mesa, coming out at simply the wrong time when this is fresh on everyone’s mind. But gamers really need to start showing greater respect for the people that put their free time and labor into a piece of work,  especially one that was 10 years in the making. But we should also be including the company devs in there as well. The ideology that we should get everything quickly and for cheap/free needs to go away. There’s a shitty saying those people have “If you love what you do, you’ll do it for free”, but I don’t believe that. Instead, “If you love what you do, you’ll do it for a living.”

2 Responses to “The Paid Problem”

  1. DG| Stevo says : Reply

    “If you love what you do, you’ll do it for a living.” This statement right here…. Very well written article and I agree with everything said. There is an article written on Kotaku about it and they had both sides of the fence, the modder and the developer interviewed. This is a statement that just throws the donation thing back at the people who think donating is what people are doing..

    “I started publishing mods two years ago. Since my first mod was released on the Skyrim Workshop my mods have received over 200,000 individual downloads and two donations. That means 0.001% of users donated.”

    People will simply choose not to donate if they do not have to. Humble Bundle is the perfect example. More people will donate the bare minimum of 1$ just to get more for free and do not think about where the money is actually going.

  2. Vissari says : Reply

    And even with that $1 minimum entry, a humble bundle will make more during its time than a modder will in his entire modding career. I get if there are legal issues with mods preventing certain mods from being pay for though (such as remakes, or disputes over who created what aspect of the mod) but donating should at least be encouraged more, and high profile mods should definitely be paid for. The only problem I saw with Valve’s plan was the pay distribution.

    For example, there is a mod coming out that creates the entirety of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind for Skyrim, that should absolutely be paid for, $10-$20 no doubt. The amount of effort to create that is just monumental.

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