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Gabe Newell to the internet: "You need a more robust Valve-is-evil hypothesis"

Valve's boss assessed the complaints around paid mods on Steam, and found them wanting

Valve's Gabe Newell took to Reddit this weekend to respond to criticisms over the introduction of a system allowing Steam Workshop users to sell their mods.

On Thursday last week, Newell boarded a plane in Los Angeles. By the time he landed in Seattle, Valve's native city, he had 3,500 messages, all of them expressing varying levels of frustration. "Hmmm," Newell thought, "looks like we did something to piss off the Internet."

However, if any disgruntled Steam users were expecting a display of contrition, they would leave disappointed. In two hours of respectful back-and-forth, Newell's message was neatly summed up in a single, concise statement: "You need a more robust Valve-is-evil hypothesis."

Valve, Newell explained, is a company with modding in its very DNA. Some of its most successful games started out as mods (Dota 2, Team Fortress 2), and the changes to Steam Workshop were motivated by a desire to, " increase the investment in quality modding, not hurt it."

"Think of money as information. The community directing money flows works for the same reason that prediction markets crush pundits"

Newell took particular exception to the accusation that Valve was simply being greedy, attempting to profit from an aspect of PC gaming that has traditionally been free.

"Let's assume for a second that we are stupidly greedy," Newell said. "So far the paid mods have generated $10K total. That's like 1 per cent of the cost of the incremental email the program has generated for Valve employees (yes, I mean pissing off the Internet costs you a million bucks in just a couple of days). That's not stupidly greedy, that's stupidly stupid.

"If you are going to ascribe everything we do to being greedy, at least give us credit for being greedy long (value creation) and not greedy short (screwing over customers)."

Newell assured Reddit that, if the changes do not ultimately serve the agenda of improving modding for both creators and gamers, they will be dropped. In the meantime, however, the foundation of the complaints Valve is receiving seem to be grounded in the difference in how money is perceived.

"Think of money as information," Newell said. "The community directing money flows works for the same reason that prediction markets crush pundits.

"Money is how the community steers work."

However, Newell did concede that the community has two "legitimate beefs" with Valve's services at present: customer support and Greenlight. The company, he said, is working on both short and long-term strategies for addressing these problematic areas.

"In the interim, it's going to be a sore point. Both these problems boil down to building scalable solutions that are robust in the face of exponential growth."

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Latest comments (16)

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development2 years ago
Whenever I see a customer complaint with the word "greed" in it, my eyes just glaze over. Then I look around my crummy office and the paypacket that looks like I forgot to fill it, then just delete the complaint. It's become a pointless internet meme where calling a supplier greedy is the stock reponse to them charging for something, in the same way that "that's unprofessional" is a stock reply when a developer says something they don't like.

"One Star. I want this work product for free, but they expect me to pay for it". There is greed there, but it's not on the part of the supplier!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 27th April 2015 3:19pm

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
Mods are not unlike remixes of music tracks, which begs the question, if publishers will allow random people making money off their product with mods. It was all fun and games when no money was involved, but Valve effectively turns mods into user created microtransactions. I wager that is a market most publishers rather not want to leave to somebody else.
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Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design 2 years ago
@Paul
I agree. I think calling Valve greedy isn't really factual. Not to mention, they are a company and companies are there to earn money, not to fiddle their thumbs and pander to every whim of the people who complain.

With that said, I do disagree with his idea that money is information. Money can actually blind you from the real information if you focus to much on it, and not on pleasing your customers. If there was a decent alternative to steam that had better support, I wonder if he thinks people would stay. I imagine people would still use steam for the games they own on it though. They would simply buy from somewhere else. The issue here, is there really isn't anywhere else to buy. Even when you buy from other places, it's pretty often games rely on steam and so you still get a steam key.

I think Valve needs competition in order to get real information. Without that competition, that information they have is faulty. Paying or not playing the game isn't a choice to many gamers. So even when gamers are not happy they tend to still pay. That does mean they are at fault as well though.
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Show all comments (16)
Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 2 years ago
"Valve is evil and greedy" is far better supported by their near monopoly of PC gaming, and their refusal to provide basic amenities like a customer service department whose level one and two is not made up of copy/pasting howler monkeys. Perhaps if their employees weren't so busy answering the phone as desperate customers bash random extensions we'd be on Hl5 by now. I'm sure the idea of using the carrot of a few bucks to bring mods under control of the copyright holder is appealing to many at the corporate level.
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Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments2 years ago
@Klaus - the arrangement seems to be splitting the takings between mod creater, game publisher, and valve - for the initial skyrim stuff it's 25% to mod maker, with valve and bethesda splitting the rest somehow. Assume publishers have to opt in, as well?
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Henry Durrant Programmer, SUMO Digital2 years ago
I found the revenue split between the passive parties of Valve and Publisher at 75% and leaving the content designer(s), coder(s) and artist(s) at 25% to be 'greedy', especially as the mods actively give Valve and Bethesda advertising and extra sales of the main game.
I have lost count of the various blog posts and other free publicity the better Skyrim mods ( and other games' mods ) have given Valve/Publishers.
I understand Valve need a small cut to pay for bandwidth but apart from that, the modders should get much more of the revenue. That would then allow mods to be cheaper overall while giving the modders a meaningful source of revenue, if the modders get almost nothing then they may as well post them as free and no-one gets any money, and Valve still need to pay for bandwidth.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 2 years ago
If the modders get almost nothing then they may as well post them as free and no-one gets any money, and Valve still need to pay for bandwidth.
I've seen this argument quite a bit over the past few days. It seems very contrarian. 25% of not much is - financially - better than 100% of nothing, especially if you're poor/unemployed. It's all emotion: "Yeah, fight The Man, man! We'll show em! They won't get a penny from my mod!"

Great. What you're suggesting is wilful devaluation of man-hours, because of an ethical stance. Great if you can afford it, but what if you can't?
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Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design 2 years ago
@Morville
I agree, 25% is most certainly better than earning absolutely nothing. I personally also didn't think it was that bad of a deal, but I do suppose they could be a little more generous. I realize it's the industry standard but it doesn't mean they have to use it.

When you are putting something as controversial like this into effect, you really should try making it as appealing to the mod author and your customers as possible.

I think the biggest reason people see it as greedy is because many developers already nickel and dime their customers. So many people just saw this as another attempt to cash in.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Brook Davidson on 28th April 2015 2:20pm

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 2 years ago
Yeah, I agree... Regardless of if this was going to be the best thing since sliced bread, the perception of it was truly dire. :/
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Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design 2 years ago
When you think about it, this might actually have show a bigger problem in the industry. Maybe just because gamers happen to buy things, doesn't necessarily mean they are happy about being nickel and dimed. If they automatically view this as a company being greedy, it might have revealed there is a bigger problem brewing beneath the surface saying customers are not truly happy.

Well .. that is just my perspective of it. I assume if players didn't feel like they where being nickel and dimed by companies all the time, this may have worked a lot better.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 2 years ago
Mmm... cynicism about motives. The number of slippery slope arguments I've read would lend a lot of credence to what you say.
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Matthew Markey Gameplay Programmer, Ubisoft Reflections2 years ago
I don't find it greedy, your mod is using a game engine you've not contributed to at all and your work only gets the publicity it does due to the established game behind that engine and the fact it's on Steam. You have literally no costs when making the mod other than your own time, you'll never get that sort of a deal elsewhere.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany2 years ago
"Greedy" is the standard accusation on the internet.

You charge for DLC? You are greedy
Your mobile game costs more than 10€? You are greedy.
You release a franchise game every year? You are greedy! (and milking the cow)
Your game is only available in one platform? You are greedy (seriously; saw this regarding Bayonetta 2)

And still: the only thing that remains of all this is that some of those "pissed off" people is that some of them are modders who have pulled their work from both the Workshop AND The Nexus. So yes... he can talk about the money he lost and how he is not greedy, I'm more concerned about the modders we may have lost because of this.
Glad they listened to the people's reaction, though.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany2 years ago
@Paul
In mobile gaming there is quite a bunch of users that don't believe they should pay $3 for an app for their $600 smartphones, not because of them being self-entitled; but because you are an evil greedy developer that has some nerve for thinking that your hard work is worth more than $3.
Yeah, that user mentality is around, and it's disgusting.
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Mathias Bäckström Technical Artist, Rockstar Leeds2 years ago
I wonder there Bethesda would be today without their community, especially their mod community, who has even gone as far as to fix bugs in their games with unoffical patches. From game-breaking to trivial ("Fixed bobbleheads not bobbing"). For all the sales generated by their mod community they really could show some charity.

I think the least thing they could do is give their content creators some reasonable terms. No one is expecting the 5% found in Unreal Engine 4, but at least give the modders a decent cut. The mods may get a bit of publicity from the parent game, but they still compete with the thousands of other mods. Not to forget, all the publicity the mods give back. Just take a look at the hundreds of Skyrim mod showcase videos to see an example of just how huge the impact made mods is.

Oh, and UE4 and Unity along with tons of assets are (almost) free. How's that for a deal? ^_^;
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Fabien Roussot Developer, Gunjin Games Ltd2 years ago
Gabe repeated time and again in the AMA that the 75%-25% was decided by Bathesda and the split would have been decided on a per game basis so some dev could have decided to give 99% to the creator, and only 1% to split between valve/dev.
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