I think the real heart of the issue is consumer protection. It horrifies me how many supporters of pay-for-mods immediately jumped on the "entitlement" defense. God forbid the end user dislike sudden and unprecedented changes to a major feature of a product he already bought, let alone things like quality assurance
or right to redress
; they're just entitled brats who want everything for free, and probably Democrats, am I right?
Yet the move could only be devastating to the modding community. The influx of people copying or outright stealing mods from the Nexus to make a quick buck on the Workshop, forcing authors to pull their works or put draconian usage restrictions upon them. Several of mods that were monetized were critical dependencies of other, free mods. The most popular workshop mod--an assassin armor which was also used in Valve's banner announcing the new system--was a one-piece (despite screenshots to the contrary), broken model, bizarrely classified as heavy armor, and not actually placed anywhere ingame. And the paid mods, like all workshop mods, were incompatible with the tools the community relies on to make mods actually work.
Interoperability is a huge issue in Elder Scrolls modding. You have to make sure your assets and cell changes don't conflict, you have to make sure your scripts don't interfere with another script and send the game into a save-killing spiral, you have to think about the possibility of your fancy magic effect being treated as hostile, you have to account for all the weird edge cases like what if the player is using a custom race and thus all of your dialogue is invalid. It's a nontrivial problem for both the mod creator and the end user; numerous tools have been created just to make everything play nice together. But none of that is possible with paid mods. Even if they weren't restricted by Steam's own software, how are you supposed to test for compatibility when the other fifty or a hundred mods you need to test with all cost money? The cost becomes exorbitant.
Gabe Newell infamously posted in defense of the move that "actually money is how the community steers work," and was promptly shot down. I could write entire essays on how wrong he is and what his AMA reveals about his personality and thought process, but that's irrelevant to the discussion. The fact that the only thing pay-for-mods could steer work towards is retextures and hats, because the concept of pay-for-mods completely undermines the necessary creative and information freedom needed for anything more.
One of the major forces against pay-for-mods was a group called SureAI
. SureAI, you see, creates total conversions; Arktwend for Morrowind and Nehrim for Oblivion and currently Enderal for Skyrim. And they went on record in an interview saying that they would lose
money from attempting to monetize; they'd need to get licenses and pay employees and so forth. Meanwhile Bethesda and Valve, despite having done absolutely no work and having already taken their cut from the sale of the base game itself
, would be bathing in additional microtransaction cash.
Consider the mods here, for our game. Consider how much a mod like Blue Planet would need to pay for redistribution rights to music and lawyers to defend their assets. We'd be lucky to have anything larger than Grizzly Bearbaiting left.
Speaking of which, pay-for-mods is a legal nightmare. I don't know how the hell anybody at Valve or Bethesda thought it was a good idea. I can only assume that they never bothered to actually look at the Nexus, to see the amount of nude, copyright infringing, and other controversial or legally-dubious content, so much that many companies don't even want to touch the place for advertising or support. If they did, the likelihood of somebody throwing a cheap Avengers costume mod on the workshop and Valve and Bethesda, having nullified their safe harbor protection by taking a cut (and such a large cut, too!), sitting opposite the MPAA in court, would have scared them off the idea.
I think that, at the end of the day, we're all better off with the decision reversed. I pray they aren't just waiting to tack it on to the release of Elder Scrolls VI or something.
EDIT: One thing I've not seen mentioned, now that Valve is giving the money back to those who bought something are the modders who stuck their collective dicks in this hornets nest still getting paid?
They aren't getting paid, and have by-and-large had their reputations within the modding community ruined. Some are angry at Valve for backing out. Some are having tantrums and trying to pull all their work off the web, which certain sites are naturally not about to let happen.
The great irony about all this is that it made a better civil war than the one in Skyrim.