On Console Mods, Theft, and Bethesda.net

The drama surrounding the recent rash of people uploading other people's mods or portions of those mods to Bethesda.net without permission continues, with Bethesda Softworks themselves releasing an official statement regarding how content creators can file DMCA takedown requests and a lengthy post on the Nexus Mods community addressing the concerns over piracy/theft at length. This is only going to get worse when The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition launches with console mod support, too:

Now mod theft is nothing new. We’ve been dealing with mod theft within the PC modding community for years now. It’s widespread and well documented. We’ve banned hundreds (it could even be thousands) of accounts here for doing it and Bethesda obviously know about it too, as they’ve had to deal with similar issues on their own forums and with the Skyrim Workshop on Steam.

Here’s where things get pants on head stupid. It became clear, early on, that Bethesda had not planned for the eventuality of mods being stolen. They had no clear moderation system in place. No way of quickly dealing with the issue or indeed any sort of decent reporting system so that users could report stolen mods in detail to the (seemingly non-existent) moderation team.

Rumours spread that the only person who could action stolen content reports was Matt Grandstaff, the Bethesda Community Manager. With E3 on the horizon, it seemed like no one at Bethesda was manning the moderation system at all. As a result, mods that had been stolen and reported many, many times were not being actioned and were being left up for many days at a time.

This is soul crushing for mod authors. To see their hard work being taken, without their permission, often times by people actually openly goading, trolling and mocking the mod authors about the theft and that nothing was being done about it. Despite this activity only being done by a small handful of people (who are seemingly just children), it has created some deep rooted resentment towards the console modding community and Bethesda themselves.

Let's address the fact this is supposed to be the official mod hosting platform for Bethesda games. THE place where Bethesda want all mods to be hosted (within their rules). I...wh...my mind simply boggles at how you think it’s OK to release a modding platform without even a second thought as to how you’re going to actually moderate it. It’s fucking insulting to the community.

Back when the Skyrim Workshop was released, and later with the paid modding fiasco, I briefly brought this concept up with Matt Grandstaff and the Valve team. I told them that coding a website is easy. Anyone can do it. Just grab a book about HTML, PHP or Ruby and MySQL, learn how to code and you can do it. You’d be able to go from not knowing any programming languages to being able to make a site like the Nexus in about 6 months. Easily. Indeed, when TESSource went down back in 2007, I recoded the website from the ground up into TESNexus in 2 weeks, working from 9am to 12pm every night. It wasn’t hard. It was monotonous, sure, but it wasn’t hard.

What’s hard is spending the time to form an actual thriving community and trying to do right by that community so that they trust you enough to actually use your site. Doing right by that community requires countless hours responding to emails and messages, support tickets, moderation requests, generally conversing and actively engaging with your community and getting a feel for what the wants and needs of the community are and ultimately legislating if necessary so the community understands where you stand and what you expect of them. There’s seemingly none of that with Bethesda.net.

Naturally those words fell on deaf ears.