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Bethesda responds to blowback over Skyrim paid mods on Steam, says it's listening

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When Valve announced last week that Steam was now selling paid mods through the Workshop, starting with The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, reaction from Steam users was overwhelmingly negative. Mods, many Steam users believe, should be free, and the introduction of paid mods on Steam sets a potentially damaging precedent.

After the announcement, Steam was flooded with negative reviews of paid mod bundles and even Skyrim itself.

Today, Skyrim developer Bethesda Game Studios responded to that outcry, further explaining its position on paid mods, saying it's listening to players "and will make changes as necessary."

"We have a long history with modding, dating back to 2002 with The Elder Scrolls Construction Set," the company said. "It's our belief that our games become something much more with the promise of making it your own. Even if you never try a mod, the idea you could do anything is at the core of our game experiences."

Bethesda goes on to explain that it wants more players to experience — and develop — mods for its games. It began talking to Valve about paid mods through Steam Workshop back in 2012.

"In our early discussions regarding Workshop with Valve, they presented data showing the effect paid user content has had on their games, their players, and their modders," the company said. "All of it hugely positive. They showed, quite clearly, that allowing content creators to make money increased the quality and choice that players had. They asked if we would consider doing the same."

"We believe the best should be paid for their work and treated like the game developers they are."

Bethesda said it had one demand of Valve: The Skyrim Steam Workshop had to be open, not curated like some other games on Steam.

"We believe most mods should be free," Bethesda said. "But we also believe our community wants to reward the very best creators, and that they deserve to be rewarded. We believe the best should be paid for their work and treated like the game developers they are. But again, we don't think it's right for us to decide who those creators are or what they create."

Bethesda goes on to talk about the revenue split between modders, Valve and publishers, saying the 30 percent cut that Valve gets is based on standard percentages. Bethesda said it determined how the rest was split, with 25 percent going to the modder and the remaining 45 percent going to Bethesda. The company admits the revenue split is "debatable."

"Is this the right split?" the company said. "There are valid arguments for it being more, less, or the same. It is the current industry standard, having been successful in both paid and free games. After much consultation and research with Valve, we decided it's the best place to start."

"If it needs to change, we'll change it."

But that could change, the company said.

"The 25 percent cut has been operating on Steam successfully for years, and it's currently our best data point. More games are coming to Paid Mods on Steam soon, and many will be at 25 percent, and many won't. We'll figure out over time what feels right for us and our community. If it needs to change, we'll change it."

Finally, Bethesda addressed concerns over digital rights management related to mods through Steam.

"Some are concerned that this whole thing is leading to a world where mods are tied to one system, DRM'd and not allowed to be freely accessed," the company said. "That is the exact opposite of what we stand for. Not only do we want more mods, easier to access, we're anti-DRM as far as we can be. Most people don't know, but our very own Skyrim DLC has zero DRM. We shipped Oblivion with no DRM because we didn't like how it affected the game.

"There are things we can control, and things we can't. Our belief still stands that our community knows best, and they will decide how modding should work. We think it's important to offer choice where there hasn't been before.

"We will do whatever we need to do to keep our community and our games as healthy as possible. We hope you will do the same."

Update: Shortly after Bethesda posted its thought on paid mods coming to Skyrim, Valve removed the payment option from the game's Steam Workshop, saying "Skyrim was probably not the right place to start iterating."