In the early day of modding all mods were free and this meant hours upon hours of additional fun from games you've already purchased. Now it's important to understand that there are many different "types" of mods, and by no means can you consider all mods as equal. Some mods create such a drastic change in gameplay that they are nothing like the original game (see Half-Life or Half-Life 2 mods for example.) Other mods are much smaller and imply add additional features, quests, items, or even UI. These sorts of mods are much more common and are usually the ones found on the Steam Workshop.
Why are paid mods a concern for so many gamers?
Aren't DLC's exactly that though? Does the problem however, lie in the fact that the content was developed by a modder instead of the original game developer? Why would this be a problem though? Players constantly want more from their games, and mods give that to players free of charge. If you're the kind of person who doesn't want to spend any more money on a game beyond the initial investment then you already won't purchase any DLC's and purchasing paid mods obviously wouldn't be something you do either since nobody is forcing you to. This however leads us to the next concern.
"What happens when all of the currently free of charge mods become paid mods?"
This is a very real concern when it comes to the introduction of paid mods on the Steam Workshop. Without a doubt there will always be free mods, the real question is, are the best mods going to be free? Garry Newman, the creator of Garry's Mod which started out as a free mod before becoming a paid game, brings up an important point in his blog. Some mods just aren't worth charging for. If I create a simple mod that takes 10 minutes to make there is no logical reason for me to charge any money for it. There might be a few people who are willing to shell over a dollar or two for it except someone has probably already created the exact same thing as I, without a price tag.
Some mods however are the culmination of hundreds of hours of work from their developers who aren't going to make a single penny on it. For example take a look at Falksaar a massive Skyrim mod which adds over 25 hours of new content on a brand new land mass which is a a third of the size of the original game. Mods like this are rare, however they are also the most beloved by gamers. Falksaar is free, however many gamers would be willing to pay some sum of money for all the new content it adds to the game.
It's important however to think about what drives modders to create mods in the first place. Many modders simply enjoy turning their imaginations into realities through mods. They want to see new features, items, you name it, inside of the games they play. They do it for themselves just as much as they do it for the player community as a whole. Many of them don't care about making any money from it and will continue to create mods free of charge since it's their passion and they don't want to turn it into a job. We'll talk more about this in a later paragraph.
"The creator of the mod gets only 25% from Skyrim Mods!"
We should look at each party and justify why they deserve a cut of money made on selling a mod. We have Bethesda, the creator of Skyrim, Valve with the Steam Workshop, and the modder. Bethesda made Skryim, they also made the mod development kit that modders are required to use when creating Skyrim mods. Valve made the Steam Workshop, and the modder came up with the idea of the mod, used the development kit to create it, and uploaded it to the Steam Workshop.
Valve has to pay every month to keep the Steam Workshop running. All of the mods on the workshop probably takes up quite a few terabytes, which they have to pay for. The bandwidth for players to download these mods also probably adds up, and they have to pay for it too. Valve is the only party in this situation that actually has any sort of monthly cost they must deal with. Bethesda already created the game and it doesn't cost them to have mods sold, and modders just have to pay their bills, but that's not really relevant.
It's obvious that Valve is the one here who has a cost associated with mods being sold (or even the Workshop existing in the first place) so definitely deserve a cut of the profits. Bethesda was the one who made Skyrim, and without the game itself there would be no mods, so of course they deserve a cut of the profits too. The modder didn't have to make the Steam Workshop, and they didn't have to make the game either. If anything they did the least amount of work out of all the parties, but without them, there would be no mod to sell.
So is 25% for the modder really fair? As we've discussed Valve has to fork over money monthly just to keep the Steam Workshop running, not to mention they also developed it, they deserve a good cut of the profits as well. This leaves Bethesda which has already made their money back, but they still deserve a cut since without them there wouldn't be any mod's in the first place, the size of that cut could either be the same or less than that of Valve's but in the end what's really important is the share the modder gets. The creation of new mods should be rewarded graciously with atleast half of the profits going towards to modder themselves. It's no fair to see three quarters of your hard work going into someone else's pocket.
There will be some terrible mods, but there will be more great mods. I am hopeful that in the future we'll start seeing paid mods with sizes similar to if not larger than the Falksaar mod for Skyrim. As mods becomes a profitable endeavor there will be more people who are interested in creating them. The added incentive of making money off mods also encourages mod developers to create them with a higher level of quality to attract more buyers. If anything we should start seeing higher quality mods appearing on the Steam Workshop then ever before, sure they'll cost money, but when they add features of the same quality if not better than the original game itself, can you really complain?
Imagine a day when there is a such a thing as a "Mod Studio," a game studio that just creates paid mods. In this future will they still be called mods, or will it bring about a new definition to DLC's? What if paid mods become so successful, so prominent, that game developers only release DLC's that they feel are just as good if not better than paid mods for their game? Is this not what so many gamers are demanding?
The future of modding may seem dark to some, but I can't wait to see what happens.