It only took five days, but in the end, even the mighty Valve relented. Last Thursday, Steam posted an official announcement stating that “we didn’t understand exactly what we were doing” and promising a full refund for everyone who spent money on Skyrim mods, totaling around $10,000. The Steam community celebrated this announcement in its own way:
Though the Steam community rejoiced over another victory for the consumer, the damage has already been done. In just a few hours after the paid mod announcement was made, the entire Skyrim modding community fell apart as everyone was consumed by a peculiar kind of gold fever. Modder friendships broke apart and users suddenly woke up to their beloved mods no longer functioning or being free.
It appears that the hero of the day is once again Gabe Newell, as he held a Reddit interview and answered questions by the users, promising to cancel the paid mod feature if the feedback was negative (which it overwhelmingly was at that point), which eventually did happen. But how much of what Gabe said in that thread was just corporate PR filler meant to calm the masses?
It’s the perfect setup for deflecting criticism, and is almost cornily cinematic. On one side, we have Valve, a faceless company that makes the most greedy moves imaginable. On the other, we have the lone wolf Gabe Newell, who steps in and saves the day single-handedly, presumably by pulling a lever of some sort as the countdown timer reaches 00:01.
The big problem with this scenario is that Gabe Newell is the managing director of Valve. He is not your friend, nor is he that huggable guy from down the street: he is a businessman out to make money and is worth $1.6 billion at the moment. Gabe Newell knows everything that happens in the company, and pretending that the original paid mod announcement was just an accident, an “Oops, the janitor did it” moment is ludicrous.The paid mod decision was in the works for at least two months, as that was when Skyrim modders were first asked to prepare their highest quality material for monetization. This was absolutely preceded by months of corporate meetings where this decision was discussed at length and of which Gabe Newell must have been a part. He okayed the decision or, at the very least, did nothing to stop it.
It is actually quite brilliant that any time Valve makes a truly awful move, Gabe can show up and resolve the matters, causing people to instantly forget what just happened. We direct our anger at the company, where decisions just seem to happen on their own, and pin another badge to Gabe Newell’s collar. But just like a plot twist in a bad TV show, it turns out that the hero and the villain are one and the same.