Angry gamers prompt Valve to stop charging for fan-made tweaks to Skyrim game

Following a backlash, Valve says anyone who paid for a "mod," or modification, to Skyrim over the last few weeks will receive a full refund.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

Skyrim is home to modding -- but not paid modding. Bethesda Softworks

Valve, the company that operates popular game-download service Steam, has reversed course on a move it made last week that prompted all kinds of backlash from the gaming community.

Valve has dismantled a feature for best-selling title The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that charged people for fan-created modifications -- or "mods" -- to the game. Valve announced Monday that all gamers who may have paid for a Skyrim mod will get a full refund. Valve's decision was a response to the rampant backlash unleashed by Steam users who criticized the company for trying to profit off user-generated tweaks.

"We've done this because it's clear we didn't understand exactly what we were doing," Valve wrote in a blog post Monday. "We've been shipping many features over the years aimed at allowing community creators to receive a share of the rewards, and in the past, they've been received well. It's obvious now that this case is different."

Modding is a time-honored tradition in the gaming business. Oftentimes, developers of games, or gamers who have coding knowledge, will take a title and modify it with improved graphics, new levels or other tweaks. Some modders have gone so far as to develop entirely new titles out of existing games, creating a fresh title for gamers to try out.

The issue for Valve is that most mods are available for free. In the vast majority of cases, modifications to games are made by community members for community members, and there isn't a long history of developers trying to squeeze cash out of gamers for their mods. Valve changed that dynamic with last week's announcement.

Skyrim has been a popular destination for modders since 2011, due in large part to its popularity and heavy modder-enthralled gaming community. Valve had thought offering paid mods for Skyrim would be a good test to see if the model would work, since it's such a popular game, but the decision turned out to be a massive mistake.

A petition on Change.org launched last week after Valve made its announcement quickly garnered more than 133,000 signatures. The petition argued that "mods should be a free creation...made by people who wish to add to the game so others can also enjoy" the mod. Similar refrains were everywhere on forums around the Web, including on Reddit, gaming forum NeoGAF, and Steam's own forums.

Despite that, Valve doesn't appear to be giving up on the idea of a paid model for modding just yet. The company said in its blog post that though it made a mistake in the case of Skyrim, "there's a useful feature somewhere here."

Valve did not immediately respond to a request for comment.