Monday Tip-Off: Mods For Free? No, Money Down!

Monday Tip-Off: Mods For Free? No, Money Down!

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Join me as I begin the week here at the NLSC with my opinions and commentary on basketball gaming topics, as well as tales of the fun I’ve been having on the virtual hardwood. This week, I’m tipping things off with some frank thoughts on how we’ve gone from a community that champions free mods to too many people charging money for them.

This is an extremely ticklish subject to put it mildly. It’s not my intention to step on any toes, yet that seems inevitable by broaching this matter. However, it’s an issue that has been building within the community for years. From the time that the NLSC was founded, we were dedicated to providing mods – or patches, as they used to be called – 100% free of charge. As we expanded into other content, none of that was put behind a paywall either. The general philosophy is that we were a site for basketball gamers, by basketball gamers, and non-profit.

Of course, times have changed as far as online content creation is concerned. What was once a hobby or creative outlet can now be monetised, and even turned into a career. Although more traditional media still looks down on YouTube, Twitch, and other online platforms – as evidenced by the Saturday Night Live sketch that was a swing-and-a-miss swipe at the Try Guys – hardworking and creative people have been very successful with online content. With that in mind, it’s understandable that video game modders would also look to cash in. It’s anti-community at best and dangerous at worst though, with some highly undesirable possibilities looming on the horizon.

So, in the interest of transparency, allow me to address the elephant in the room. The NLSC does have a Patreon, a tip jar, and advertising. These are obviously all ways of generating revenue. However, they are for the purposes of paying the bills to keep the site up and running, while providing all of our content, hosting for mods, and other facilities free of charge. Nothing is behind a paywall, and donations/financial support are completely optional. When we had to change hosts back in 2016 and were facing the need to pay for a dedicated server, I was very reluctant to ask the community for that support. Fortunately, people have been understanding and generous over time.

Dennis Rodman in NBA Live 2001

Providing our facilities and content free of charge – from mods we make and hosting the community’s work, to the Forum and weekly features – is an important goal. It’s an approach I want to preserve, because those are the principles that we were founded upon. I want us to be a welcoming and useful resource for everyone, no matter their financial situation. With over twenty five years of serving the basketball gaming community, we also aren’t keen to be shut down. Modding has always been a grey area at best, and something that publishers have looked the other way on. The decision to charge for mods rather than release them for free carries a major risk.

It’s important to put that front and centre, because when it comes to whether or not people should be compensated for their time and effort – the morality of the situation, if you will – there’s admittedly some room for debate. The legality is another matter entirely, and that’s the major concern. In short, it all comes down to licensing and trademarks. We don’t own software; we license the use of it. We don’t own the rights to the likenesses of missing players that we create faces for, and add to the game. We’re tinkering with the game in a way that hasn’t been approved, while also using trademarks and likenesses without permission from the people/entities that own them.

None of that falls under Fair Use. Again, it’s more a case of publishers turning a blind eye to mods, rather than everything being on the level. Being litigious about it would likely be more trouble than it’s worth, especially if the mods are free. It’s not going to be very profitable, and would undoubtedly burn goodwill (not that 2K is above doing that!). When you start charging for mods however, you’re inviting them to care a lot more about the hobby, as well as anyone else who may be unhappy that you’re now profiting off of their intellectual property. We’ve been quite lucky so far, but there have been a couple of incidents in the past twelve months that are cause for concern.

Mods Should Always Be Free

A couple of people have been hit by DMCA takedowns, which is a first for our modding community. While that’s as far as it’s gone to date, it does suggest that anything that dances the line could land people in more trouble beyond simply having their work removed. That’s not something we want to see, and it’s why we haven’t changed our policy regarding paid mods, aside from allowances for Patreon (more on that a bit later). There’s too much risk for us to allow it on our platform, and we’re not going to jeopardise our content and future by playing with fire. If nothing else, I need to impress upon everyone the legal risks and ramifications if mods aren’t free.

With that out of the way, it brings us back to the eternal debate of the morality of charging for mods; the whole “it’s not the done thing” vs “I should get paid for my time and effort” conversation. As I noted, there are avenues to monetise content quite easily nowadays, and that wasn’t the case when the NLSC was founded. It’s possible to turn online content creation into a business; a career. Of course, if you’re running a legitimate enterprise, everything needs to be above board. That’s already out the window given the whole “using intellectual property that you don’t own” aspect of modding, but there’s also the matter of fair compensation for other people in general.

Putting aside the fact that the agreement needs to be between Take-Two and a player themselves to appear in NBA 2K, are you going to send them a cut for the use of their likeness? Does 2K get a percentage, since their intellectual property is providing the platform? Will you be compensating the platform you use to host and distribute your work, whether it’s us, Facebook, Discord, Google Drive, or wherever? Will you be paying people who provided tools, tutorials, and their guidance – all of which involves their time and expertise – for facilitating your work? If you’re working on a major project, will all of the contributors get to share in the revenue that it generates?

Reggie Miller in NBA 2K14

See, that’s the thing. The tendency is to want to get everything for free while being paid for your work, essentially making a 100% profit. Business simply doesn’t work that way, because others need to turn a profit and cover their expenses as well. That’s why eBay, Patreon, YouTube and so on all have fees, or take a portion of the revenue. A legitimate business is not entitled to get everything for free, while demanding that they alone should make money. You wouldn’t want to support any business that took that position, so why adopt that stance yourself? It’s rich to want everything for free, and use intellectual property you don’t own, and still insist that you deserve to profit!

Disappointingly, we are seeing more people put their work behind paywalls, and start taking commissions. More modders are making their creations exclusive in some way, rather than openly sharing their work with the community. I hate to see it, though I’ll be the first to admit that we could’ve taken firmer action in the beginning. As I said though, it’s a ticklish situation. We can take a hard line stance, but people will just go offsite and do their thing anyway. It’s why we’ve – somewhat reluctantly – allowed Patreon releases to be posted here, as long as they’re made freely available within a week. In that sense, it’s like a YouTuber offering early access before a public upload.

Another issue with paid mods and commissions is that disputes arise over payment. When a modder isn’t compensated as agreed upon, or the end result doesn’t justify the fee, these disputes can get very ugly. Not long back, we were drawn into one when a modder began chasing someone for further payment through our Forum, because of an arrangement that had been made privately. We were expected to tolerate this, or even step in and resolve the matter despite it clearly being against our policy, not to mention our complete lack of involvement in the transaction. Again, this is why sites like eBay have fees. We’re not going to be your unpaid mediators and debt collectors!

Damian Lillard in the NLSC Roster Update for NBA Live 2005

In fact, even if you offer to pay us for that service, we’re still not interested. We’re a hobbyist site and fan community, not a business. We don’t have a system or big staff of employees in place to handle disputes and provide around the clock support. We have no interest in being an online marketplace. I don’t have the time or desire to mediate squabbles over payment for services that really don’t have the legal grounds to be paid services in the first place. As I said, I’m not about to jeopardise our ability to keep doing what we’re doing by running afoul of trademark law. I’ve also seen too many fantastic modders provide free mods to think that charging for them is justified.

Unfortunately, many of the veteran modders that shared our philosophy regarding free mods have moved on from the hobby (or in some cases, changed their stance). This means we haven’t had those strong and respected voices to set an example with how they handle their work. In hindsight, we also made the mistake of allowing ad links around a decade ago, which set a dangerous precedent. At the time, they weren’t as dangerous as far as adware and spyware, and they weren’t being used too often. Since then, they’ve become much riskier to use, and some modders have tried to run people through multiple ad links before finally being able to download mods, which isn’t fair.

The irony here is that those ad links often don’t have great payouts, so it’s making people jump through hoops (and put their PC at risk) for very little profits. If you do want to explore a way of getting some loose change for your freely-available mods, tip jars are the way to go. Obviously, not everyone will leave a tip; how many of us dismiss that donation popup over on Wikipedia, no matter how often we use it? At the same time, you’ll find that people can be quite generous if there’s no pressure to pay, and they appreciate your work and willingness to provide it for free. This approach has worked quite well for other content creators, such as browser plugin developers.

NLSC Roster Mods Will Always Be Free

I do want to give a general shout out to all the modders who are making their mods available free of charge, and also readily share their knowledge and resources with the community. I’d like to express my appreciation for Looyh, whose tools are free for everyone with donations being completely voluntary. I’m thankful for everyone who champions cooperation, sharing work, and where possible, open source releases. It’s keeping the spirit that this community was founded upon alive, and showing care and consideration for your fellow basketball gamers. If you do have a voluntary tip jar, I hope that anyone with the means considers sending you a few bucks here and there.

I’ll leave you with this thought. We’re in an era where video game publishers often eschew goodwill for anti-consumer practices that attempt to squeeze every last cent out of us. We criticise 2K for the cost of upgrades in MyCAREER and packs in MyTEAM, and pushing us towards those recurrent revenue mechanics by limiting the fun if we go No Money Spent. We’re justified in our outrage over the expensive special editions being necessary to maximise our enjoyment out of the gate. We should absolutely be mad that 2K fixes VC exploits and anything else that affects their bottom line right away, while dragging their feet on issues that impact us.

To that end, we should be better than the suits who are trying to monetise everything about the game. We shouldn’t be charging for the face of a player who isn’t included because 2K refuses to adequately compensate them, and other historical players that they make bank off of thanks to MyTEAM. If we’re going to waggle a scolding finger at a video game publisher for treating gamers like an ATM, then we shouldn’t do the same. Just food for thought! If that’s not a compelling argument, consider the legal trouble you could find yourself in. At best, you’ll be shut down and forced to remove your work. At worst, you’ll find that 2K can afford better lawyers than Lionel Hutz.

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January 31, 2023 11:54 pm

Excellent article, I’m gonna say every modder no matter which game modding should read that.

What about ad-links, I don’t mind single one but those freaking loops are pissed me off not only because very often they lost clue and not redirect to a main link but also when one site is down then whole link can be thrown into garbage.

Also second thing, if you want to put something behind ad-link or even paywall make sure that you have a lil bit of reputation and most of all your works are high quality because when I see youngsters who newly enter into game and put their not good works (which is absoulutely normal when you start you journey) behind paywall I could only shaking my head. Same with guys with crappy quality.

Last but not least It’s not actually harmful but I always laugh when I see those “200 likes for release!” posts on facebook. I understand it might have something with positioning, increasing self-esteem or whatever but beggins for likes always looks funny to me, I don’t know maybe I’m too old.

February 4, 2023 10:52 am
Reply to  Andrew

Thanks Andrew for kind words, I’m an old school so as long as I will be a part of that game my works gonna be for free.:)