Today Bethesda posted a weak defense of its highly controversial (and much discussed) new policy to sell user-made Skyrim mods, which the company then hastily reversed in an update to the same post. Even with the reversal, however, the whole ridiculous imbroglio sets a horrible precedent for user-made content in open world games from major publishers, because this single line from the company is now part of that precedent. It is so misguided, so ignorant, so greedy in the short term at the expense of long-term benefit, it needs to be laid out and shot full of arrows to the knee.
It came out in regard to Bethesda and Valve taking 75% of user-made mod sales to the mod developer's pitiful 25% cut:
The percentage conversation is about assigning value in a business relationship. How do we value an open IP license? The active player base and built in audience? The extra years making the game open and developing tools? The original game that gets modded? Even now, at 25% and early sales data, we’re looking at some modders making more money than the studio members whose content is being edited.
Emphasis mine, because the utter WTF-nesss of this line bears emphasis. Because it suggests that Bethesda looked at its sales data, noticed the runaway financial success of its most talented, dedicated grassroots developer fans... and decided that was a bad thing.
I'm not even finished with how bad this is:
- It suggests that talented independent developers do not deserve great success, despite their countless hours of free work, risked on the great likelihood that they would earn little or no revenue for their pains.
- It suggests that only professional game developers (or at least, Bethesda developers) deserve to be reasonably compensated for game development.
- It suggests that Bethesda thinks it puts more value into Skyrim than the hundreds of thousands of its most passionate fans who make and use Skyrim mods.
With this belief (and subsequent reversal), Bethesda has deeply hurt the long term value of Skyrim, a groundbreaking game that's now four years old, and with the mod community's fairly compensated support, could have easily thrived for a decade more.
As a counter-example, consider Second Life: Profitable for nearly a decade, with a core userbase that shows no signs of going away. What does Linden Lab think of Second Life content creators making more money than company employees?
"[S]everal people/accounts are cashing out US$ amounts in excess of $1M per year (with the highest amount estimated at $1.7M), based on annualizing one quarter of data. Most of the top 10 are in the real estate business, but the group also includes a company that does events and one that designs virtual goods including shoes."
When Cory Ondrejka was the company's CTO, he once gave a public speech which mentioned a successful Second Life entrepreneur. "She makes money more than me," said Cory.
And he was proud of that.
This is how some companies influence and lead their industry -- where others flee from opportunity and desperately cling to old ways of doing things. Sad to say, now many more game companies are likely to follow Bethesda's shirking lead.
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