Bethesda Is Never Going to Stop Milking Skyrim. Never.

Bethesda found a cash cow in Skyrim, and they’re capitalizing on the insanely large modding scene so they never have to give Skyrim up.

Skyrim – for better or for worse – has been the standard set for RPGs since its release in 2011. In the past 6 years, Skyrim has sold a staggering 23 million units, which doesn’t quite break the top 10 best-selling games of all time list, but has earned Bethesda well over a billion dollars in revenue.

With the announcement of Skyrim for the Nintendo Switch and VR platforms, it appears that Bethesda won’t stop milking their prize cow anytime soon. Skyrim for the Nintendo Switch appears to be a straight port, with the exception of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild themed gear -- which has been available in some form or fashion via modding for a long time on PC -- and Skyrim VR is... exactly what it sounds like, complete with disjointed, floating hands. While making a decent port of a game isn't exactly easy, Bethesda seems to be devoting all of their considerable time and energy to recreating Skyrim's success on different platforms, and not, say, Elder Scrolls VI.

However, new variations on the same title aren’t the only way that Bethesda hopes to continue capitalizing on their success. Their second attempt at paid mods seemingly seeks to profit off of Skyrim for years to come.

Bethesda’s new Creation Club is Paid Mods 2.0, but the difference is how they’re going about doing it. Bethesda is giving mod authors who use Creation Club status as game developers, instead of modders. Bethesda is continuing to support a 6-year-old game in a business where franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed see releases almost every year. This means that much like other games have a Live Team, Bethesda will have a dedicated Skyrim team that's set to assist modders in continuing to pump out new content for the game.

However, even without a reimbursed modding community or an active Live Team, Skyrim has a truly dumbfounding amount of extra, free content available in the form of mods. Any fan of the title who has even thought about modding Skyrim can attest to this. Nexusmods, one of the larger repositories of free content for games, boasts over 53,000 mods for Skyrim -- which is the most of any game on the site. This includes everything from minor changes in experience gain to major overhauls of the perk system.

While players are often encouraged to donate to mod authors, it is only ever voluntary. Even the most ambitious mods for Skyrim – full-on expansions like Moonpath to Elsweyr and Falskaar – are free, with the hope that some players will donate to the authors.

What Bethesda appears to be expecting, however, are smaller, more polished mods. Pictures from Bethesda’s announcement include a fancy bow, a crab with a Dwemer skin, a “survival mode” and something called “The Grey Cowl Returns!” Nothing displayed so far even approaches the length or complexity of the mods available for free from Nexusmods, Steam Workshop, or even the mods available through Xbox One. And a quick perusal through Nexusmods shows that while there are no exact replicas of the mods from Bethesda’s announcement – “survival mode” aside, as there are at least a dozen mods for that – there are quite a few mods that are similar.

So if originality and complexity are out the window, why should gamers pay for Creation Club mods? Bethesda appears to be banking on quality and stability, which Skyrim and Fallout 4 are definitely known for (That's sarcasm, by the way; Bethesda RPGs are historically janky.). For sake of argument, however, let’s say that Bethesda achieves that goal of stability and that all the Creation Club mods play nice with each other. Maybe the mods are a higher quality than teased in the announcement, as well! If the mods have everything going for them -- we're talking about best case scenario here -- they still cost players money.

While modders might not care to line Bethesda's pockets any more than they already have, the potential for a paycheck will be hard to refuse. Others, still, might be drawn to the promise of support from a team of Bethesda coders and artists. In turn, what Bethesda wants from these Creation Club members – who are most often modders or junior game developers by any other name – are mods that will sell. Make no mistake: Creation Club is designed to make Bethesda money first and foremost; modders are merely being allowed to have a cut.

One of the potentially more worrying moves made by Bethesda thus far leads credence to this idea. Much like many other AAA titles and developers, Bethesda has decided that you need to first purchase their own currency which you will then use to buy the Creation Club mods. But hiding prices behind their own currency only comes across an obvious ploy to obfuscate the costs of digital products.

Let's say that Creation Club currency is a 1-to-1 transfer between U.S. Dollars and energy symbols. That means that the fancy bow from the announcement is $3.00, the Dwarven Crab reskin is $1.50, survival mode is $5.00, and The Gray Cowl Returns! is $2.00. Are any of those individual skins really worth that price? Even if these prices were halved I'd probably not be interested in any of that content.

In fact, I'd argue that starting a new paid mods program for a game with so many existing free mods of such variety and quality actually only hurts Bethesda's cause. For these reasons, Bethesda needs to have a very compelling reason for players to shell out cash for digital content that is extremely similar to what’s available to them already for free

Wyrmstooth, a DLC-sized mod for Skyrim

Maybe Creation Club is a way for former mod authors and would-be game designers to create high-quality add-ons and content for beloved games while gaining experience with real developers. Maybe players will be able to purchase things akin to full-on DLC expansions through the service, and the outcries from players will be ignored as Skyrim is revitalized through new, high-quality content.

But Bethesda has to step up their game, especially since Paid Mods 1.0 went so poorly. Because from where we are standing, this is merely the latest step in Bethesda's campaign to milk their most successful product dry in absence of making Elder Scrolls VI. In the end, maybe all we’ll get from this is Crab Armor. (Thanks to reddit user MrMoldovan)

[images courtesy of Bethesda Softworks LLC and YouTube]

Published Jun. 27th 2017

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