If you haven’t already heard, Valve has opened up a new mod store on Steam that has already produced an enormous backlash. From the insulting split of the gross receipts (25% to the modder), to the danger of people stealing content from free mods and making minor changes to it In order to resell it, the system has an enormous potential for abuse.
Valve has seriously miscalculated here, and it is because they do not understand the business of modding. Modders can make money off their work, but the paid copyright model has far too many legal pitfalls and overhead costs for small-time operators to handle. This is why modders have adopted the busking model of business to serve their need for an income.
Modding As Busking
Just to make sure everyone is on the same page, I will provide the definition of the word Busker from Merriam-Webster:
a person who entertains in a public place for donation
Busking has been a Western institution for over 250 years, and may be much older than that. It is regulated by law in many jurisdictions, and these regulations are generally designed to protect the livelihood of the street performers, especially against claims of copyright. I argue that the modding business model is a form of busking, since a modder (a performer) is exhibiting a work of art in a public space (the Steam Workshop) and asking for donations in return (via Patreon or a similar service).
Somehow, Valve has missed the last three centuries of business history on this subject, and has been completely blind to the way the people who use their service for their business operate. By setting up the new mod store as a straight pay-for-play setup, Valve has threatened this business practice. It has too many problems, from the content theft issue to the fact that establishing this store means that Valve now has an enormous interest in disallowing third party donations via EULA to protect this new revenue stream.
Additionally, Valve has placed an additional legal burden on the modders, since customers who pay for a software product up front may have a legal entitlement to an expectation that the software will be maintained in many jurisdictions. This legal burden does not exist in the busking arrangement, since donations are by definition freely given with no additional expectation of return.
To top off this shit sandwich, Valve has been caught covering up the negative feedback, eliminating the star ratings with the review count and the dislike button while adding a count for the (very small) amount of likes. Seriously, the industry should know better to pull crap like this. Most people know how to use the print screen button these days as well as they know how to use the video record button on their smartphones. Here is a good rule of thumb: hiding things after the fact never ends in good PR. Always acknowledge your customers and don’t insult their intelligence.
That being said, Valve has recently scored huge points with me as a Linux gamer for their work bringing over 1100 AAA and Indie games to my favored desktop over the last year. They have a lot of social capital to spend right now, but by God are they burning through it quickly with this debacle.
Valve, get your heads out of your asses, take this thing down, and seriously study how the mod business works before proposing anything new. Seriously, you could easily host an in-house donation service, collect 20 percent of all transactions to split with the first party creator, and your customer base would be perfectly happy. It will be a lot less troublesome legally over the long term as well.
I and many other Steam fans are willing to let you make right, to forgive and forget, but only if you act promptly and with the appropriate respect for your 3rd party content creators. Take down the store, refund any sales, acknowledge and apologize for the coverup, and give us the donation service we actually want. We await your hopefully swift response.
Addendum: It appears Valve has backtracked on the new feature, removing it from the store and issuing refunds. No word on the coverup, but that’s corporate PR for you. Regardless, thank you Valve for listening to your customer base and taking care of this issue in a timely manner.
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