In case anyone has managed to avoid the most recent internet kerfuffle, Valve and Bethesda have offered independent mod makers a way to sell and profit from their work on the Steam Workshop. The decision has been met with a seemingly hostile reaction from fans, and little to no damage control from Valve or Bethesda. Since this is a long running forum for a fairly large mod, I thought the discussion could be pretty interesting.
For me personally, the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It seems to have taken what has traditionally been a huge strength of PC gaming and sloppily monetized it. Where once we had people coming together to change and improve games simply for their love of the hobby, now I expect little more than quick cash ins and shovelware, just like we see on the mobile app stores. We probably won't see as many fun, goofy, or experimental mods because developers will instead be coding for mass appeal. It'll be the mod equivalent of the endless, annual game squeals we see currently. Furthermore, it frightens me that the very future of free and open modding may be coming to an end. If once person is getting paid for their work, won't everyone else also feel entitled to similar compensation? Isn't this exactly what happened as paid DLC was slowly introduced into gaming in lieu of free patches and content updates?
A lot of the counter argument seems to be that these modders have invested their time and effort into a product and thus deserve compensation. While I don't believe that compensation is necessarily deserved, I am not against it. These are essentially passion projects and profit shouldn't be the goal. Many have proposed that perhaps a "Donate" button would be better, and I don't disagree. The mods could remain open and free whilst allowing their creators to see some form or reimbursement from those are true fans of their work. If nothing else, it couldn't be worse for the developer's than the 25% cut Valve and Bethesda seem to be offering for doing almost 100% of the leg work.
I haven't seen it offered up much as a concern, but it also strikes me that something like Skyrim presents a lot of compatibility problems as well. Unless you're careful in your selection of mods, installation order, load order, etc, you can quite quickly crash your game. Bethesda games easily become (even more) unstable as you load them up with mods. So is Bethesda, once profiting off of said mods, going to offer any sort of quality control? Are they going to vet each upload, cross check it against other mods for compatibility issues, offer patches to maintain compatibility after each game update, etc? I doubt it, because then this wouldn't be easy money.
The most direct comparison I can think of to this is the original Sims game. It had an absolutely huge modding community. It was admittedly almost all recolors of existing items, but custom skins and models weren't fully absent. I recall that after a few successful expansion packs, some of the bigger modders decided to put their websites behind pay walls. I don't know how well it worked out for them, but I never downloaded anything from them afterward, not even the promotional freebies they'd occasionally throw out. The very idea of violating such an open and community driven space was absolutely distasteful to me. In the following years, I watched as EA essentially integrated the modding community right into the sequel's store front. It didn't take long before they bullied and buried the old school modders out of the space and started selling little trinkets and virtual house items ala carte. It turned the entire game into one big store front for micro transactions. It was one of the larger nails in the franchise's coffin for me. It's absolutely not something I want to see happen elsewhere, especially when it already seems as though modding is far less prevalent than it once was, largely in part because developers deliberately withhold the tools which would compete with their Day One DLC and Paid Bug Fixes.
TLDNR: I am personally opposed to profiteering from mods in this way. It feels as if it goes against the unspoken spirit of the various communities that spring up around these games. I'm not opposed to people freely showing support for modders' efforts. Even if I thought all mods should be paid for, it still seems as if modders are getting an awfully raw deal from Valve and Bethesda.
Edit: It looks like Valve has removed the "feature" and issued refunds to anyone who actually purchased a mod. I'm still interested in others thoughts on the matter, though. I figure there just so happen to be some modders here that harken from an older era of community involvement.