Yesterday, in the midst of the aftermath of the broken Skyrim 1.2 patch, Bethesda made an announcement about both the future of the Creation Kit and upcoming patches. As far as patches go, a patch for the patch is coming next week, followed by "code" fixes followed later by "data" (quest fixes, item balance, etc.) fixes. We'll see.
But the more important news was about the Creation Kit, the Skyrim version of the Construction Set (or G.E.C.K. from Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas). Although Todd Howard claimed that Bethesda wanted to release the Creation Kit with or very close to the release of Skyrim, the Creation Kit will not be available until sometime in January. Anywhere from 2-3 months past-release is "very close" to Todd, apparently, but if the Creation Kit is actually stable and fully functional this time, I'll be fine with the January release date.
At least the announcement also revealed the source(s) of the delay. In addition to a new Creation Kit wiki and some tutorial videos that will take some time, Bethesda announced that the Creation Kit will be integrated into Valve's Steam Workshop. The Steam Workshop is currently only used for Team Fortress 2 items, offering users the chance to submit items for possible inclusion and sale (with profit sharing) in the game.
Bethesda is typically sparse on the details. Read the full extent of Bethesda's provided info below.
"Weâ€™re excited to share news that weâ€™ve been working closely with Valve to integrate Steam Workshop into the Creation Kit. Using the Workshop, youâ€™ll have free user content with the push of a button. The Creation Kit will bundle your mod and upload it to the Workshop, where everyone can browse, rate, and flag mods for download. Youâ€™ll be able to do this from any web device, including your smartphone. Like a live Netflix queue, when you fire up Skyrim, mods you flagged will be automatically downloaded and installed. Everyone here is really excited about the opportunities and possibilities this opens up for our entire community."Prefer to use existing modding sites? Not a problem. Youâ€™ll still be able to upload/share/access Skyrim mods on fan-created mod sites.
There is at least a partial confirmation that mods will be free ("free user content"), but nowhere is the possibility of mods being sold ruled out completely. That ambiguity is further compounded by a poor decision on the part of Bethesda and/or Valve. The only Steam Workshop legal agreement currently available was written for the Team Fortress 2 workshop, and so it repeatedly refers to selling user content, compensation, etc. The passage below seems to be getting the most attention.
"Valve may choose to distribute Your Contribution for free and/or for a fee. If Valve chooses to distribute Your Contribution for a fee, then Valve may set the price for such distribution in its sole discretion, and Valve will pay You as follows, conditioned on Your compliance with the obligations contained in this Agreement."
Obviously, in its current state, that could easily be applied to user-created mods, assuming Bethesda was on-board. But it is unlikely that this agreement will be rewritten or altered once the Skyrim section launches. The current agreement doesn't even mention Bethesda or Skyrim once, referring only to "Valve games." The agreement could certainly end up being the same (or worse), but before all the information is available, everyone is just left to speculate.
I do doubt that Bethesda would try to charge for Skyrim mods. There are too many problems they would have to overcome. A mod good enough to be charged would inevitably gather many downloads and a lot of publicity before that point. So there would already be a mass of users who downloaded the mod for free. How do you then move to charging for the mod? Bethesda would also have to devote resources to testing the mod for problems; perhaps even fixing up and polishing the mod. The instant that Bethesda charged for a mod that turned out to corrupt saved games or ruin quests or anything of that nature would be the instant a mods-for-sale scheme collapsed in failure.
Even if all the initial problems were overcome, there are problems on the user-side too. It would be difficult to determine a mod's worth before purchasing it. Who handles tech support for the mod? How are updates handled? What if a future Bethesda patch or DLC or expansion interferes with the mod?
Then of course there are the more mundane issues. How are profits split? How would ownership disputes be settled? How aggressively would "piracy" of the mods be pursued? What about the potential negative publicity or backlash from modders and mod users?
So while I wouldn't find it hard to believe that Bethesda might be "testing the waters" by taking a more active role in the modding community, I would be shocked if they tried to sell user-created mods for Skyrim. For TES6 or Fallout 5 (maybe even 4) or some other future product? Maybe. But for Skyrim? I really do doubt it. Then again, this is the company that sold and still sells Horse Armor, so who knows?
The problem is that we really have almost no concrete information yet. No one knows how effective the Workshop's downloading and installation will be. Will there be load order management and manipulation? Conflict detection and/or resolution? Mod update detection? Mods for recent Bethesda games can be very simple but also very complex. The workshop may be able to handle a texture replacer, or a small content mod, or a minor set of tweaks, but what happens with mods that go beyond that?
Skyrim will have mods that require other mods or things like the Skyrim Script Extender. Will the Workshop handle these requirements? Mods will be created that require user-input and decisions for customization. What about compatibility patches with other mods, or complex mods such as FCOM or All Natural which will require the use of external programs like Wrye Bash? These types of mods are not going to be downloadable and installable with "the push of a button." Firing up Skyrim and having the "mods you flagged automatically downloaded and installed" could have disastrous consequences.
It's likely that the Workshop will not allow mods with nudity or sexual content, child killing, excessive violence, etc. Will there be a vetting and approval process to rule these out? That would quickly become prohibitively difficult. Valve has no background or experience here, and Bethesda has neither the time nor the resources nor the ability to examine the hundreds (thousands!) of mods that will be uploaded.
We don't even know how well the Workshop will be organized or how mods will be presented. The Team Fortress 2 section has very limited sorting: top rated or most recent in one giant list, or search by tag. Mods will need to display much more information than a new hat or item model. How will multiple files for a single mod be supported? Will there be any comment moderation at all? There is currently no "report comment" option.
In the entirety of Bethesda's communication after the announcement, we've really only had one concrete answer to a question so far. The Creation Kit will require Steam. That decision is annoying, stupid, and pointless, but since Skyrim already requires Steam it doesn't bother me too much. It is a little sad that the information was only provided in a single post in a single thread by a single Bethesda community manager (GStaff), but not surprising.
The announcement did end on a positive; the Steam Workshop will, at least for now, be an option, not a requirement. Mods can still be uploaded to third-party sites. I'll have to wait for more details to decide whether I will be using the Workshop or not. Given Bethesda's tight-lipped PR and history of avoiding answering questions, I'll probably be waiting until the Creation Kit is released and the Workshop is open.
But for the next month, people will continue to speculate, to panic, and to create elaborate conspiracy theories. There have already been nearly 1000 posts on the official Skyrim Mods board in a...heated...discussion about the announcement. The SkyrimNexus post on the subject has over 270 similarly heated comments, and the Bethblog announcement passed 1000 comments (not all about the Creation Kit, though) before being locked. Bethesda could probably answer some of the more common and important questions in a matter of minutes and put a majority of the speculation to rest. But they probably won't; Bethesda has never really communicated with its customers directly.
read more: Skyrim Creation Kit Coming in January With Steam Workshop Integration