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Mods, guns and hats
January 10, 2013 9:14 AM   Subscribe

How profitable has it been for Anthony? He, like many of the other contributors, was coy about the exact amount: “Let me answer this as indirectly as possible. I am sure that Valve has a new Lamborghini in the staff car park.”

Modding allows amateur and semi-professional designers to fiddle around with commercially-produced games - anything from adding monocles to crabs to recreating Westeros, all the way to a zombie survival mod more popular than the orginal game. While mods have traditionally been free, Valve's Steam Workshop is a marketplace to sell hats and other items for a selection of games, including Team Fortress 2 and DOTA 2 - both sequels to mods. PC Gamer talks to the modders who are making six-figures sums.
posted by liquidindian (22 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Like Anthony, Shaylyn Hamm works as an artist for a games company, and she began making TF2 items before the Workshop existed: “Part of my Master’s project involved modelling playable female versions of the Medic and Heavy classes.

Shaylyn Hamm, previously.
posted by zamboni at 9:23 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Modding Half-Life?
Jurassic Life!
with video!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:29 AM on January 10, 2013


It's funny that this showed up today. My ten year old is learning to code by disassembling minecraft so he can make mods for it. (He wants better pistons and other things for the water powered castle he's building.) Anyway, he just asked me yesterday if people who made mods could make money doing it; and I told him that modding was more a work of love than a work of profit.

Now I can tell him I was wrong.
posted by dejah420 at 9:48 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


If he likes coding and likes Minecraft there's a mod that combines the two: ComputerCraft.
posted by liquidindian at 9:52 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


That CK2/Westeros mod is brilliant. The developers think so too, though of course they can't publicly endorse it. Instead, they slipped code into the updates that lets the modders simulate Targaryen marriage practices. And they're skipping over a much-requested paganism expansion in favor of new mechanics for trade republics; when they release it, the mod will be able to add the city states of Essos.
posted by Iridic at 10:07 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


If he likes coding and Minecraft, but finds disassembling a chore, have him try: MineTest. (server seems to be down, but also here.)
posted by DU at 10:13 AM on January 10, 2013


...I ended up listening to Basshunter, and I'm sort of starting to resent MetaFilter.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:25 AM on January 10, 2013


Wait...the mods have Lamborghinis? Lets take this to MetaTalk!
posted by yoink at 10:35 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Valve gives them 25%, how generous.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:51 AM on January 10, 2013


Considering Valve gives them a platform, promotion and distribution? Yeah it's a pretty good deal, especially compared to what other companies would give
posted by Leth at 10:55 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh, Shaylyn Hamm's work on female TF2 models and game silhouettes (that zamboni linked above) is really cool, and I had no idea that she was also responsible for the awesome spy fez!

Mods are one of the best parts of PC gaming, for sure.
posted by jess at 11:53 AM on January 10, 2013


I'm happy that Valve's radical monetization experiment is such a galloping success. And what they're doing with TF2 and Dota2 really is a radical experiment, or at least it was when it started a few short years ago. Give away the games for free and sell hats? Let the community make new hats and cut them in on the sales? That's crazy! But what it's given us are great games, constantly updated, with vibrant community participation. It's pretty wonderful, really.
posted by kprincehouse at 12:08 PM on January 10, 2013


The linked article is coy about providing actual dollar amounts earned for Steam Workshop submissions, but according to comments he made on Reddit, the guy who made the Hibernating Bear set for TF2 (some bear-paw gloves, a raw steak and a Native headdress for the Heavy Weapons guy) made $85,000 last year alone on those items. That's a quarter-cut of the money Valve made on what are, certainly, a collection of items that are of no more than middling popularity vis-a-vis other stuff available in the TF2 item store. Pretty impressive.
posted by killdevil at 12:50 PM on January 10, 2013


it's so weird to me that valve can be so good at culture creation & community relations while being so bad at multiplayer game design. it's not an accident that valve's biggest multiplayer hits have been mods (cs 1.6) or in-house clones of mods (l4d, tf2, dota 2) typically with far worse mechanics than the original mods.
posted by serif at 2:17 PM on January 10, 2013


The linked article is coy about providing actual dollar amounts earned for Steam Workshop submissions, but according to comments he made on Reddit, the guy who made the Hibernating Bear set for TF2 (some bear-paw gloves, a raw steak and a Native headdress for the Heavy Weapons guy) made $85,000 last year alone on those items.

It's the modders who are reticent about specific dollar amounts, not the journalist. That said, you seem to have missed the part of the article about Will Segerman and how much he made from that set.
So last tax year Valve paid me $88000. About half of that was in the initial month. The graph of money over time would probably look like an exponential decay that has levelled off to around a constant $2000 per month.
posted by zamboni at 2:30 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


it's so weird to me that valve can be so good at culture creation & community relations while being so bad at multiplayer game design. it's not an accident that valve's biggest multiplayer hits have been mods (cs 1.6) or in-house clones of mods (l4d, tf2, dota 2) typically with far worse mechanics than the original mods.

Yet without Valve those amazing games would not exist. Why do those franchises belong to Valve, and not EA? The ability to create open platforms that allows other people's creativity to shine, and then the ability to recognize genius and take them on board and refine those ideas - that's the talent that Valve has.

It's like Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. He's not a good warrior, tactician, or engineering genius. But he's crucial to the story because he knows how to recruit those that are.

The genius of it, of course, is how much better the community is at this than people you hire 9-5. Take the passion of millions of players willing to create content for you, and pick the best 5%. Look at the quality of some models that are in the mod store in DOTA2, gorgeous creations and Valve didn't even have to pay a cent for it. Compare this to any other competing game and their in-game models fall short, and DOTA2 isn't even released yet...
posted by xdvesper at 3:08 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Serif, I don't understand why you assert that Valve is bad at multiplayer design; can you elaborate?

I never played much CS (any version), Dota1, or TF1. I've logged a maybe a dozen hours playing L4D multiplayer and many hundreds of hours each on TF2 and Dota2. I've been very impressed with all aspects of the multiplayer design on each (giving Dota2 some slack with respect to some things, like enabling LAN games, seeing as it's still in Beta).

I'm curious where you see them coming up short. I'm usually hypercritical about this sort of thing and would put Valve at the top of my list of studios that do the multiplayer experience right.
posted by kprincehouse at 3:18 PM on January 10, 2013


it's so weird to me that valve can be so good at culture creation & community relations while being so bad at multiplayer game design. it's not an accident that valve's biggest multiplayer hits have been mods (cs 1.6) or in-house clones of mods (l4d, tf2, dota 2) typically with far worse mechanics than the original mods.

Can't agree, in terms of TF2 and L4D2 at least, which I've spent literally thousands of hours playing over the past several years. (Never been a DOTA or CS player.) Although things have gotten.... messy, I guess, with TF2 as it has morfed into a sprawling playground and skunkworks for new Valve ideas, I would say that both games are (or were, before TF2 began metastasizing) shining examples of how to do it almost exactly right in terms of multiplayer game design.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:14 PM on January 10, 2013


1. Movement: the maps, especially earlier ones, are cluttered with stuff that clips the player and kills your movement. Sliding along walls is almost impossible in some maps. Rocketjumping is blocked by decorations (i.e. no need to clip the player) on the map. Even spawn doors, block the player for a second if you move too fast into them. Doorways in general are a nightmare if you're trying to back up, ramps to doors are only approachable from one direction, friendly teleporters clip you if they're placed on a slope. All this is compounded by their inexplicable decision to use rectilinear collision hulls, which makes movement in that game even more like wearing a cardboard box. Fall damage is too high, soldier and heavy are way too slow, etc.

2. Playing with friends: very few class combinations facilitate teamplay. Medic + [heavy solly demo pyro] are the only class combinations that work, but they made medic extremely boring to play. The auto-team balance doesn't take steam friends into account, so you often end up on the wrong team as a friend in a pub. Having played the battlefield series (which does lots of stuff wrong, too) I can say the team support in tf2 is embarrassingly meager.

3. Spies and snipers: Spies and snipers make the game less fun through 1-hit kills and invincibility/damage resistance. Being stabbed/sniped while fighting someone else in a way you couldn't prevent or predict is really frustrating and ruins the momentum of playing with a friend when it happens. I'm happy for a better player to kill me in a fight, but typically you die to spies/snipes only if you aren't fighting them. I've seen new people pick the game up and put it down after a few hours because of instant, inscrutable spy/snipe kills.

Relative to lots of contemporary games, valve's multiplayer products are fantastic. But relative to the ideal, or even games from the late 90s, games like tf2 have some deep flaws that drive me totally nuts. Mostly I get worked up about this because I see so much potential in tf2 -- it can be incredibly fun -- but these moments are punctuated by lots of frustration and disappointment.
posted by serif at 4:48 PM on January 10, 2013


One observation: Steam Workshop, by virtue of the long tail of distributing older titles on Steam, is diverting awareness from the traditional free/collaborative mod sites that brought the mod scene to the point of commercial viability. The first example that leaps to mind is the Nexus family of sites and the modding community around Elder Scrolls/Fallout (i.e. the gamebryo engine and its descendants).
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:41 AM on January 11, 2013


serif, I can't comment on the technical issues you've raised (and they certainly do sound irritating, even if I haven't noticed them myself), but when you talk about the classes it seems as though you're just highlighting the fact that TF2 is (maybe unsurprisingly) a team game rather than an individual game. Medic too boring to play? There are other people out there who enjoy playing medic, so they can be him instead. Spies stabbing everyone? Get a pyro in there to do some spychecking. And the trick for snipers is to get behind them when they're too busy looking at their target; faster-moving classes are great for that. I can't say this for sure, but to me it seems as though every class has been designed to be vulnerable to at least one other class, so you don't end up in a situation where one class totally dominates.

(unless the person playing them happens to be really really good, the fucker...).
posted by Lucien Dark at 6:37 PM on January 11, 2013


lucien, I disagree with that analysis but it's sort of a long disagreement. ranting about tf2 is sort of a hobby of mine, so memail me if you wanna be disagreed with
posted by serif at 10:53 PM on January 13, 2013


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