Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Skyrim, Steam Workshop, and the means of mod distribution

Auto-updating Skyrim mods sound amazing to me, but you have to wonder what will happen to the existing infrastructure; this move is extremely disruptive. Will Skyrim Nexus become a ghetto of unlicensed content / adult mods? ModDB will miss out on this entirely too. Sure, they'll say Steam Workshop is "optional" -- but if all the best mods are auto-updated with one-click installation, the player base will move and it won't really be optional anymore.

As Bethesda moves to weaponize mods like no one else before, and assumes an Apple-ish App Store relationship to its games and peoples' mods, you have to wonder what the effect of oversight and censorship will be.

Can your Steam account get banned from the Steam Workshop? If you make works that are critical of Bethesda's practices, can they just ban and silence you forever? Will there be room for LGBTQ-themed content or will it be institutionally repressed, as on the App Store? What if people start harassing your Steam account because you made a mod they didn't like? Is this more than an attempt to make sure they don't have another nudity-mod ESRB scandal that rocked Oblivion?

That isn't to say Skyrim Nexus doesn't police / censor their content too, but they certainly had a lot less to lose.

Game mods, like all games, can be used as political forms of speech. It's always a little spooky when someone decides to change the means of distributing that speech. We might not realize what we've lost, if anything, until it's gone.

Maybe everything will be fine and it'll be a new golden age of mods... or maybe we'll be setting up tents to occupy the Steam Workshop one day. What could be paradise here and now could just as easily become hell itself.