Electronic Arts’ SimCity Mods Policy: Ingrateful Basterds
Lack of Gratitude, Willfully Blind to the Competition
While I doubt EA would characterize the policy thusly, by now it should recognize that these policies utterly spit on modders who, as we’ve already said, almost single handedly kept the SimCity franchise alive during a decade in which Electronic Arts could hardly bring itself to acknowledge it even owned it. The policy would be bad enough even without taking the contributions of modders into account, but it’s even worse when compared to how other major publishers choose to interact with the community.
Yes, it should be noted that Valve’s notoriously dense end user license agreements lead to the conclusion that modders are similarly limited on Steam. (Read them here.) But the language also says that modders retain ownership of their creations. To clarify, we spoke to Valve Vice President of Marketing Doug Lombardi, who confirmed for Game Front that unlike the SimCity modding policy, modders over on Steam retain considerable rights to their creations. Lombardi told us:
- “Valve gives all users a license to Valve games which includes the ability to make noncommercial use of game materials. This includes creating mods that are available for free to game users. Commercializing the mod requires a separate license from Valve – typically a license to create a stand-alone game with Valve’s game engine.”
- “When users create something new for our titles, they own it, subject only to Valve’s underlying IP in the game itself.”
- “When users contribute something to the Workshop, they keep ownership, and just license it to Valve non-exclusively.”
Valve’s policy of letting modders retain ownership of their mods comes in stark contrast to EA’s relative meagerness. One is reminded of Microsoft, who went into the Eighth Generation of consoles acting as though their anticonsumer policies weren’t unique but in fact were universal. Of course, Microsoft was quickly disabused of that notion once Sony unveiled Playstation 4, and soon changed gears. EA lacks similarly effective market pressure, since we’re talking about features that are, essentially, free to anyone willing to put in the time it takes to become a modder.
Of course, Valve’s policies go beyond simply allowing people to retain rights to their mods. Because modders are allowed to sell their creations, a vibrant economy has grown up around games with heavy modding communities. Modders are sometimes even able to earn a healthy living from something as simple as new hats for Team Fortress 2. Such items become in and of themselves reasons to play the game, which means modders can, in fact, end up pushing more money into the hands of the original developer.
That presents Electronic Arts with a great opportunity not only show some appreciation to the people who have, uncompensated, kept one of its most venerable properties viable, but to make some extra money simply by letting these people make some extra money. Even with the absurd prohibition against modification of executable files, the ability to enhance my game by purchasing add-ons directly from their creators would be reason enough to play the offline version of SimCity 2013. That EA would rather remove even that meager incentive to mod smacks of, at minimum, petulant ingratitude.
It’s also foolish. Because there’s something else EA will probably learn very quickly after the new version of SimCity is released…