Valve’s (/non) problem with monetizing Mods on Steam

Consider that the problem with Valve charging for Mods on Steam – at least from Valve’s experienced (yet limited) perspective – is that they’re only ever able to endlessly effectively quantify exactly how much of a problem they, or anyone else has with charging for Mods

That is: “To what extent can we as Valve quantify how much of a problem players have with us quantifying their Culture?”

The following Twitter exchange with someone called James Murff possibly illustrates the difficulty with discussing Valve from Valve’s viewpoint (which Alien Fiction tries to assume here):

Twitter exchange with James Murff on charging for mods on Steam
Twitter exchange: monetizing mods on Steam

There’s that odd word ‘healthy’ again. Valve thinks its helping increase the quality of the experience for their users by allowing Content Creators to earn a little side cash for their hard work. It thinks such a decision is a ‘healthy’ one and was probably willing to scientifically (ie. fiscally) back that decision up – indeed, test it thoroughly – by any number of quantitatively verifiable measurements

The problem is that money making corporations like Valve display difficulty with understanding a cultural phenomenon / meta-gaming community activity like Modding – that is, it can only really understand them financially, Capitalistically, from a quantifiable view

Once again, Valve realizes it has little to no say or control over the meta-game of how real people and dynamic communities generate Meaning

From Valve’s perspective – which is difficult to analyze, even from within Valve itself – helping people charge for mods was seen as A good And Healthy Thing (process)

And yet – despite andor because of all the recent (very temporary) internet noise about ‘charging for mods’ (/ allowing users to make money from mods) Valve seems unruffled and unconcerned. This is because it is Valve and is far larger and more complex than James Murff’s simplistic conservative concerns about the rise of online ‘anarchy’, or the apparent need for some special species of holy Curator with perfect taste that can deal with the massive volume of User Generated Content

Paid mods as "Headcrabs"
Paid mods: “Headcrabs”

Non paradoxically, such a failure to understand Valve as a fascinating but inherently limited system is the same failure Valve has to understand its users – fellow gamers – and their often (/in)decidedly non-material culture of digital Play

Having said that, a simple ‘donate’ button for users might be a good idea

Sonder’s problematic new age time rewind mechanic

Consider how the Sonder’s mechanic of rewinding time in order to take or explore alternate choices, represents this sci fi game’s problematic ideology of “No Heroes. No Villains. Only choices”

From the Sonder wiki (paraphrased):

sonder., (a.k.a. The Station) is a Third-Person Action Adventure game that is only a little different: it’s a game where there isn’t really a main protagonist, or (if you wish) every character is the main protagonist. Usually, the characters that are not the main protagonist are merely a backdrop for him, existing only to fulfil a specific role within the narrative arc of the main player. Not so in this game, where you are ‘free’ (and indeed encouraged) to play as any other character, and perceive the single game narrative from their (strictly limited) perspective. You can do this any time during play, as many times as you wish

When you play as a specific character, you make the choices for him – and they have direct consequences on the game world, other characters or even himself. The choices you make determine who, if anyone, survives the adventure that transpires in the game

The goal of the game is to illustrate that judgement is heavily influenced by perspective – acts that seem random, irrational, malicious or even generous or noble, may register differently when you are put in the position where you have to choose to make them. Ultimately, it is a question whether any action, in itself, is intrinsically good or bad or is it simply perceived as one or the other

Tired Game Mechanics that the player has at their disposal:

  • Third-Person character movement control
  • Dialogue interaction with other characters
  • Interaction with objects
  • Interaction with machinery/computers

Events in the game happen in real-time, meaning that they proceed with or without the player’s intervention or cooperation

With great choice (apparently) comes great responsibility. Because each choice the player makes (including which space they occupy at what time) influences the outcome of the game, some people will find choice paralyzing. Was this the best possible thing I could have done? What if I “choose myself into a corner”?

To seemingly address this, the game offers a cheap “rewind-anytime” mechanic that allows the player to pause the game at any point, rewind to any previous point in time (all the way to the beginning, if necessary), resume playing from that point and attempt to choose something (/arbitrarily?) different

But ultimately there are no “right” or “wrong” choices, there isn’t a “best” choice. The game continues under all circumstances, and the player is the only authority that decides whether where he ends up is good or bad

On the term Sonder

The name, “sonder”, is an awful new-agey word coined by John Koenig in “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” tumblr:

Sonder: n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk

*pukes slightly in mouth*

Perhaps the automatic presupposition players should abandon is that the story they tell themselves about themselves is somehow their innermost ‘authentic’ experience. Here’s Zizek discussing The Other:

The lesson as it relates to Sonder: ‘absolute or totalizing subjectivity’ is an inherent contradiction, that what seem mere ‘choices’ always have a social and personal context, and that falsely splitting a narrative into blandly polarized opposites such as “Hero” or “Villain” is cliched game design to begin with

Besides, there’s a distinct problem with players being the only authority of anything – can they decide not to reject that authority and let the game decide?

Augmented hype in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

A scenario: in which players consider Deus Ex: Mankind Divided another predictable continuation of the wrong / dead-end directions to take modern games. Maybe you #CantStopProgress but you can certainly point out its flaws

0. Perhaps the first ideological premise of games like Deus Ex: is that players – in order to have the ‘fun™’ the game demands they enjoy – have to take their laughable narrative premises entirely seriously

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided directly follows the aftermath of the Aug Incident, a day when mechanically augmented citizens all over the world were stripped of control over their bowels, resulting in the embarrassment of millions

The year is now 2029 and the golden piss-filter era of augmentations is over. Mechanically augmented inhumans have been deemed outcasts by other vacuous augs and segregated from the rest of artificial Society. Crime and acts of error by bland hair model Adam Jensen serve as a thin veil to cover up an overarching Games Industry plot aimed at controlling the near future of bad science fiction / CGI bullshots

1. Crimes against digital narrative; it’s all right there in the trailer – good expressions of ripe (unfortunate) cheese – after all:

[..] how many formulaic tales can one wade through in which a self-destructive but sensitive young protagonist with an (implant / prosthesis / telechtronic talent) that makes the evil (megacorporations / police states/criminal underworlds) pursue him through (wasted urban landscapes / elite luxury enclaves / eccentric space stations) full of grotesque (haircuts / clothes / self-mutilations / rock music / sexual hobbies / designer drugs / telechtronic gadgets / nasty new weapons/ identities / politics / exteriorized hallucinations) representing the (mores/fashions) of modern civilization in terminal decline, ultimately hooks up with rebellious and tough-talking (youth / artificial intelligence / rock cults) who offer the alternative, not of (community / socialism / traditional values / transcendental vision), but of supreme, life-affirming hipness, going with the flow which now flows in the machine, against the spectre of a world-subverting (artificial intelligence / multinational corporate web / evil genius)? Yet judging from even the best of writers in Sterling’s anthology, for cyberpunks, ‘hippness is all’
~ Istvan Csiscery_Ronay, Jr., Cyberpunk and Neuromanticism, from “Storming The Reality Studio” Larry McCaffery (ed.), Duke University Press 1991, p182

2. The Dawn Engine: the triumph of needless, immovable detail

Dawn Engine: Deus Ex Mankind Divided screenshot
Confused: Dawn Engine from Deus Ex Mankind Divided

As many savvy players realize, the plain fact that something is “Technically Impressive” is no longer automatically impressive in and of itself; only when it is tied more directly to codified systems of expressive meaning in the game do such needlessly fussy, overly showy, pointlessly expensive and ultimately static Dead Museum Tech Exhibit displays express something more than a passing hallucinatory resemblance to themselves

If only all that hard, probably underpaid and misplaced level design were put into expressing some clear, much needed Human Meaning

3. Adam Jensen: hyper-enhanced idiocy

A bully boy with really neat shades, Adam Jensen understands little about his tiny world, sees nothing, doesn’t really stand for anything other than rich, white (as a state of Western mind) male (“Mankind”) power fantasy and will-to-techno-fascist domination; essentially a serial killer for hire – in short, Adam Jensen is literally a single low-watt cog in a very big pathological wheel that only exists to self-perpetuate itself endlessly at the cost of everyone else

“So much pain” growls Jensen in an act of raw anti-irony; well try not murdering everyone on sight for change, Adam

At least with the first Deus Ex (2000) the no-nonsense, get-the-job-done / go-home-to-polish-the-dog style of box-headed J.C Denton was perfectly acceptable as a standard, perfectly realized living cliche of pure hard-boiled cyberpunk badassery, knocking bullets out of the air with his private eye (dick)

Adam ‘watch me fret about making tough manly decisions’ Jensen however, with his perfectly coiffed ‘excited parrot’ hairstyle, his pointy chin beard and his pseudo moral / faux existential worries is merely a bit of a designer Aiden Pearce brand tosspot – an angel of oh-so-sensitive smart-material death without much of a single clue of what he is; a friendless, murdering thug and snappy dresser combined – and little else, apart from being strictly 2-dimensional and near completely laughable as a character

Eidos's Jonathan Jacques-Belletête / Adam Jensen
A terrifyingly boring future: Eidos’s Jonathan Jacques-Belletête / Adam Jensen

It is hoped that people in/from the near future that look, speak or generally act like Mr. Jensen are unceremoniously punched in the neck, Dennis Leary style. No doubt this cool looking, conceptually stunted game will get entirely solid reviews across the board

What will a future of ‘the chosen’ look like? Credit cards with legs?
~ Henry Rollins