Paid Steam Mod Fiasco Demonstrates Valve’s Need To Grow Up

Anarchy never works.

PC gaming has been defined by a lot of things over the years. A rich and healthy library of indie games. An elitist air of snobbery and entitlement. Accessible content-creation tools. A desire to compare frame rates like so much cock-measuring. Backwards compatibility. Rampant, uncontrollable piracy. I play games on PC, and I hate and love it, much as I hate and love myself.

But nothing defines PC gaming quite like modding - fans or amateur coders altering aspects of games or creating new content for them. Modding culture has been there since the original Doom and beyond, and it’s always been a matter of unbridled creativity and murky legality. For that reason, mods have traditionally always been free. Until this week, when Valve started letting mod authors charge for their work, beginning with Skyrim mods and theoretically expanding to other games later.

Now, many mod authors put crazy effort into their work, and it’s great to enable them to see some financial reward from it. Meanwhile, Valve and the mods’ base games’ publishers take a cut of sales, so everything stays legal. I see nothing inherently wrong with the system. But boy, the reaction has been ice cold. Some of the negativity stems from not wanting to pay for shit, which is to be expected from a class of gamers entitled and disconnected enough to self-identify as the “PC Gaming Master Race”. But you get that whenever you put a price tag on once-free things. Other reactions refer to Valve’s massive cut of profits, which is a similar complaint, though a more understandable one. But while gamers are right to be wary of Valve’s implementation, they’re missing the larger problem, of which this fiasco is symptomatic: Valve is completely unable - and unwilling - to police its store anymore.

Steam has, over the past year or two, slowly transitioned from a store curated by Valve (admittedly, not the most egalitarian solution) to one curated by gamers. In theory, that’s a great idea - it takes some of the grunt work off Valve’s hands and lets the community recommend games to each other. But like every community-run system, it’s subject to abuse - and if there’s any group on the internet that likes to abuse shit, it’s gamers. With paid mods, there are already modders ripping each other off and profiting from it - or putting inflated price tags on mods that don’t deserve it.

But this is only the latest example of abuse of Valve’s well-meaning systems. The Steam forums have been toxic for a while, thanks to operating as internet forums. The introduction of user-defined tags on games has been an unmitigated disaster, particularly for indies making non-traditional or non-action games, or for anyone remotely connected to Zoe Quinn. And Steam Greenlight, another worthwhile endeavour designed to let smaller developers publish on Steam, has become subject to system-breaking vote brigading and even intellectual property theft. All this makes for a hostile environment that doesn't encourage participation - it's why many indies are flocking to alternative platforms like

Valve CEO Gabe Newell says he’s “confident” in the community’s policing of the paid-mod situation, but this smacks of “letting the market sort itself out”. The market never sorts itself out; it only self-destructs. If Valve wants its utopian community-driven storefront, it’s going to have to regulate it. That might be against their ideals, but if they want their store to be accessible to everybody, they’ll just have to suck it up. Otherwise, I mean, we all know what happened to the underwater paradise of Rapture.