We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games. This week, I’m tipping things off with some blunt truths about paid mods, and modders that insist that they deserve payment for their work.
Way back in September 2016, I wrote an article explaining why we don’t allow paid mods in our community. I intended it to be an article that I’d link to whenever the subject came up, and over the years, it’s proven to be handy to have at the ready. The short version is that from a legal standpoint, charging for mods could land us in a lot of hot water, and we’d rather avoid that. It’s also never been the done thing in our community, and we’ve been committed to that stance for almost 25 years now. The fact of the matter is that it could cause a lot of headaches, and we don’t want that.
There’s another reason that we’re against the practice of paid mods, however; one that hasn’t really been discussed. The simple fact of the matter is that you don’t deserve to get paid for your mods. I don’t deserve to get paid for the mods I’ve made over the years, either. No one deserves to get paid for creating mods for a basketball video game, or any game for that matter. The key word here is “deserve”, which implies that one is entitled to be paid, and that simply isn’t the case. Please don’t get me wrong here. I don’t say this to diminish the efforts of modders in our community and beyond. It’s important to understand and accept this blunt truth though, so let me explain.
Because everyone loves analogies, I’ll begin by referring to an episode of M*A*S*H called “Stars and Stripes“. After performing a life-saving procedure on a soldier, B.J. and Winchester are invited to write a paper for the American College of Surgeons. Initially delighted, they naturally start bickering over how the paper should be written and who deserves the most credit, including whose name should be listed first. They eventually resolve to each write their own paper to submit to Colonel Potter, so that he may judge which is the most worthy of publication. It’s at this point that Potter decides he’s had enough, and hits B.J. and Winchester with a few humbling truths.
He points out the contributions that others made to saving the soldier’s life, starting with the combat medics who treated him in the field and ensured he made it to the 4077th alive. Potter also notes that Margaret “set a camp record” prepping him for surgery, and that Hawkeye took on extra patients to allow B.J. and Winchester the time to perform the procedure. Hawkeye interjects that Potter himself played a role in triage, as did everyone else who cared for the soldier, at the 4077th and stateside. B.J. and Winchester admit that it was far from an individual accomplishment. Humbled, they re-write the paper, deciding to attribute it to the entire M*A*S*H 4077th.
This is basically how it goes with large modding projects. Very few of them are made by only one person, and while work on the roster itself may be a solo effort, it usually still benefits from the contributions of modders who make faces, courts, jerseys, and other art updates. We also make use of various tools, many of which are provided free of charge. In short, there are generally a lot of people who deserve credit for their work on big projects. As such, if we’re talking about who deserves to get paid or share in any profits that the project yields, that would be everyone who made contributions to it. After all, it wouldn’t be nearly as good without all of those assets and assistance.
Here’s the thing, though. How many people who claim they deserve to be paid for their modding work are sharing the profits with people who contributed? I won’t say that no one does or is willing to, but more often than not, it seems to be the person who makes the roster or heads up the project that keeps the money. I’m not about to diminish the amount of work that goes into a roster mod. I’ve been making them since 1997, so I know first-hand that it can be a lengthy and arduous process. At the same time, I also know how much better roster projects are when others pitch in with art updates, and how I’ve greatly benefitted from other’s knowledge, skill and generosity.
Of course, even if you did happen to do all the work, there’s an issue with claiming that you deserve to be paid. As noted, the laws about profiting off of intellectual property that isn’t yours are quite clear, but even putting that aside and focusing on the morality of the situation, at the end of the day, we’re editing the work of developers and artists at Visual Concepts and EA Sports. We’re not making something new from scratch: we’re modifying an existing product’s assets. Consider the controversy when someone edits and re-releases another person’s mods, even when they give full credit. That’s basically what we’re doing to the NBA Live and NBA 2K devs when we mod!
I also want to point out that modding is something that we do voluntarily. I realise that the classification of “real job” is murky (and snobby) now that so many people have made careers out of online content creation, but modding walks a lot of lines as far as fair use is concerned. To that point, modding freely makes use of assets and facilities that, if it were a legitimate business, would probably require payment and partnerships. Charging for your work while avoiding incurring any expenses of your own is like running a shop without paying wholesalers, employees, rent, rates, or taxes. If you don’t work for free, then you shouldn’t expect anyone else to, either.
If you still think you deserve to be paid for your mods, indulge me by answering a few questions. Will you be passing any of the money along to other people that contributed to your project? Will you be paying for the rights for any images that you used? Are you going to share any profits with Basketball Reference, SportsLogos.net, and other resources that are invaluable to modding projects? Will the people who help test your work get paid, or are they free QA? If anyone in the community regularly pitches in to help troubleshoot your mod after release, or provides feedback that helps you improve it, are they compensated? Or are you the only one that deserves to profit?
And hey, let’s talk about hosting and promotion. Are you going to pay for premium hosting, or use a free host? Obviously free hosting is convenient and I encourage it whenever possible, but if you’re making the point that you should get paid while refusing to pay anyone else, that’s hypocritical. If you’re posting about it here on the NLSC, are you going to donate a few bucks to our hosting fund? Not that I’m saying everyone who uses our facilities must do this, mind you – my aim is provide a free service – but again, it’s hypocritical to want everything free while you get paid. The same goes for using Discord or Facebook. It’s using a free platform to earn money.
That’s the bottom line if we’re talking about fairness in finance and dealing with one another. If you think you deserve to get paid for your mods, then you should also be willing to pay for the services that make it possible. Here’s the really tough pill to swallow, though. No matter how good someone’s work is, it’s not worth paying for. That’s not an insult to anyone’s work. Talented people have made some fantastic mods over the years, and as a community, we admire their work and are grateful for it. Mods can enhance the gaming experience, but they’re not essential. If they were, the PC version would outsell consoles, and it doesn’t. Modding is not an essential service.
More to the point, the person charging for mods isn’t necessarily doing a better job, or a job more worthy of payment, than the person who is releasing their work free of charge. Modding isn’t, and should never be, an exclusive club. We’ve had a lot of great modders come and go throughout the years, and new folks have always stepped up to create great works. None of us are so unique, so irreplaceable, that we deserve to be paid for our mods. If you want to throw a tip jar or donation link out there with your releases, go for it! People can be quite generous when content, products, and services are provided for free with no obligation, as it’s reciprocating that generosity.
Think of all the apps and browser plugins that are free, including free ad blockers that a lot of people use. Think of the people whose time and efforts helped you to create your modding projects. Think about everything that facilitates both the creation and distribution of mods that doesn’t cost you a cent. Think about all of the people who have created mods over the years, as well as those who have created tools and shared their knowledge so that others can get into the hobby. If you think that you deserve to be paid more than any of them while paying for nothing yourself, then the blunt truth is that your ego and hypocrisy knows no bounds…and you don’t deserve to get paid.