Hacker Ethics and Steam: a question of Communal or Commodity

In Christopher M Kelty’s Inventing Copyleft the issue of copyright is disputed through Stallman and Gosling over their respective programs. This discussion challenges the nature of the web and its ability or lack of to properly commodify code. The “hacker ethic” implies a mentality of cooperation and sharing to develop code and software. To what extent can something be monetized if it was built via community effort, either in the actual code or the base of it.

Perhaps a more modern example of a similar issue was Valve’s decision to monetize of mods on Steam. Mods have long existed in the computer gaming industry often being developed by enthusiasts or hobbyists. Mods can often be retextures or bug fixes or sometimes large-scale overhauls of the original base game. Mod creation and building have often been a community effort often being made in teams or response to other mods. Many mods are even co-dependent, not being able to be run without one another.

In 2005 the popular PC game distributor Valve proposed to monetize mods to support modders and generate overall better content. The system to monetize mods, however, came into disputes similarly with Kelty’s reading. Mods were being over-priced and sold by people other than the original developers of the content which therefore led to a multitude of copyright issues that would ultimately lead to the inevitable destruction of Valve’s mod paying system. Valve’s attempt to make a more organized and curated system in which mods could be created and purchased came to an end following these problems.

Valve’s issue in trying monetizing mods similarly relate to Kelty’s article on the difficulty of trying to monetize community developed products. The issue of what belongs to who and who decides what plagued both attempts to monetize code. The question of ownership becomes prevalent in both cases as the interconnectedness of coding blurs the notion of ownership. In the Kelty article Stallman’s use of code contributed by Gosling and Gosling’s use of Stallman’s base code. The idea of ownership is therefore complicated with the intertextuality of the internet. The Stallman and Gosling dispute in comparison to Valve’s attempt to monetize mods show that the questions of ownership on the internet are still highly relevant in this day and age.

One Response to “Hacker Ethics and Steam: a question of Communal or Commodity”

  1. Regarding Valve’s case with paid Skyrim mods, I’d like to add that Valve and Bethesda took 75% of the profit, while mod developers — who were the ones giving out time, passion, and effort — received merely 25%. Yet should mod developers be paid, even if it’s as little as 25%? Yes, of course, as it can be argued that their work is similar to Youtubers who are paid to make content. Creating Youtube content may not be “work” in the traditional sense, but it is nonetheless work in this day and age. An argument against this is that since mod developers are creating work based on someone else’s work, then they shouldn’t be paid. However, we have seen the rise and fall of some of our favourite mods simply because the mod developers have no time/funds to either update or fix them, and we have seen companies that allow and even encourage the creation of mods as a form of income. A game like Dota, for example, was a finished mod of Warcraft 3. Another game, Cities: Skylines, has Patreon-funded mods, which allow for quality content and a paid mod developer. Perhaps what we have here is a move towards favouring crowdfunding, as it leads to finished mods and curates potential and talent.


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