Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Mod vs. Mod

Mods are great. I'm talking about game modifications, the incredible user-driven field where commercial games can be altered by the people who play them. Some mods are simple, like one that puts a flashlight on your gun in Doom 3 so you can see in the dark while you aim. Some mods are complex, like one that turns Crysis into Mechwarrior. They're great because they free games from the constraints of the marketplace. A modder doesn't have to worry about what will sell, or what will pay for itself. Mods can do things for their own sake.

Mods are shit. I'm talking about community moderators, who can delete or prevent your speech online. Some modding is done according to visible rules, like no mentioning Overwatch in a Battleborn community. Some modding is mysterious, like a moderator deleting thousands of comments because a personal friend privately asked them to. They're shit because they put constraints on speech. A moderator worries about whether the speech of an individual reflects the consensus of a community, or whether a user's beliefs match the moderator's own. Mods can erase what other people say.

In May 2016, a mod for Stellaris which narrowed human racial variety in the game was taken down. From its original description, still available on moddb:

Makes it so humans are only Europeans - and European names only.

It's common in science fiction settings for there to be different factions of humans, often visually as well as culturally distinct. Examples include Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars (Humans and Terrans), X (Argon, Terran, and Aldrin), Endless Space (United Empire, Horatio, Sheredyn, Pilgrims, and Vaulters), and Civilization: Beyond Earth (every playable faction). Other related mods such as Separate Human Phenotypes are still up.

Later, the banned mod returned, with some interesting claims about demands the developer, Paradox, had privately made:

So here are the 'rules' imposed by PARADOX ((UPDATED)):
1) I can't mention a certain non-offensive commonly used word
2) I can't link to my YouTube Channel - Paradox specifically slandered it. My YouTube is Progeny of Europe (don't you dare look it up!)

You may be thinking "so what, it's still on moddb." That's certainly a mitigating factor, but I remained concerned about the chilling effect of publishers removing mods from Steam Workshop, or dictating how they can be described.

I'd long been curious about modding and decided this was an opportunity for me to make a small test mod, both to see if I could and to find out more about these hidden rules. I made a simple mod called "Intersectional Diversity" that narrowed human variety differently (black women only) and uploaded it to the Steam Workshop. Because it remains banned, I can't link you to the description, but I can quote a saved copy:

Deeply hurt by recent events ( http://archive.is/INlbd ), I have made a mod which removes the vestiges of racism and sexism from Stellaris. This is a vitally important act of social justice work which will move the grand strategy discourse closer to equity, but only if you download and use this socially conscious mod. Together we can make Stellaris welcoming and inclusive. Multiculturalism here!

When the mod was banned, I contacted Steam Support as directed (my words in italics):

I received this email:

"Your Steam Workshop item Intersectional Diversity has been banned because it violates the Steam Terms of Service. The item is now only visible to you.

You will be unable to publish any user generated content for 1 day(s).

If you believe your item has been banned mistakenly, please contact Steam Support."

My mod, Intersectional Diversity, was formerly available here: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=691736286

I do not know how my mod violated the Steam Terms of Service. Here are three similar mods which are not banned:

One Race Humans - Africans: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=688751838
Separate Human Phenotypes: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=685069894
European Phenotypes and Names REBORN! (Original): http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=690928807

I have seven questions:

1. What Steam Terms of Service did my mod violate?

2. Are the similar mods linked above also in violation of the Steam Terms of Service?

3. Was my mod reported by Steam users?

4. Was Paradox Interactive, developer and publisher of Stellaris, involved in my mod being banned?

5. Was my mod banned due to comments written by other users?

6. Are there forbidden words in my mod description, and if so, what are they?

7. Under what conditions could my mod be reinstated?

Thank you for your time.

Thank you for contacting Steam Support.

Steam Support does not offer technical assistance with the Steam Workshop or user made content.

For general information regarding the Steam Workshop, please visit the following link:

For game specific information, please visit the respective link below:

Dota 2: http://www.dota2.com/workshop/
Team Fortress 2: http://www.teamfortress.com/workshop/
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: http://blog.counter-strike.net/workshop/
Portal 2: http://www.thinkwithportals.com/

Additional assistance can found in the Community Workshop Discussions:

Dota 2: http://steamcommunity.com/workshop/discussions/?appid=570
Team Fortress 2: http://steamcommunity.com/workshop/discussions/?appid=440
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: http://steamcommunity.com/workshop/discussions/?appid=730
Portal 2: http://steamcommunity.com/workshop/discussions/?appid=620

But I was told in the email I received: "If you believe your item has been banned mistakenly, please contact Steam Support."

I have reviewed this issue and confirmed that the ban was issued correctly.

I am sorry but the ban on your mod will not be removed.

I see, but I am still unclear on why my mod was banned, and how I can avoid bans in the future. Here are my outstanding questions:

1. What Steam Terms of Service did my mod violate?

2. Are the similar mods linked above also in violation of the Steam Terms of Service?

3. Was my mod reported by Steam users?

4. Was Paradox Interactive, developer and publisher of Stellaris, involved in my mod being banned?

5. Was my mod banned due to comments written by other users?

6. Are there forbidden words in my mod description, and if so, what are they?

(7. Under what conditions could my mod be reinstated?)
(I assume the answer to this is that there are no such conditions.)

I forgot to mention an eighth question.

8. I have 421 games on Steam. Is my access to those games at risk?

The Stellaris official support team will have the best solutions since they have taken action against your item.

Please follow the link below to this game’s support page on our help site and log in to your Steam account:


If you’re not seeing the specific problem on this page, select “Gameplay or technical issue.” From there, look below the “Official Support” heading for a link to the game’s customer support website, contact email address, or support phone number.

To see if other users have posted a solution to your problem, follow the link below and search for the game by title:


The story so far: I followed the directions I was given and got the runaround for a week before they told me to speak to the publisher. Only two of my questions were answered: there was no way for my mod to be unbanned, and Paradox was involved. I set the issue aside for a few months.

When I finally contacted Paradox I had a similar experience. Their support team told me to message BjornB on the forums. BjornB's job title is Community Manager and his profile says not to contact him directly like that, but I did. The Paradox forum software rejected my message for him as spam, so I had to post the body on the forum's blog feature and link it in the message.

Was unable to submit this as requested via the Paradox Forum Conversation system, got this error message:

The following error occurred:
Your content can not be submitted. This is likely because your content is spam-like or contains inappropriate elements. Please change your content or try again later. If you still have problems, please contact an administrator.


I have noted this [from BjornB's forum profile]: "If you need support, please submit a ticket through support.paradoxplaza.com rather than posting here. It will help you sooner. Thank you! "

But when I submitted this issue on support.paradoxplaza.com, I was specifically asked to contact BjornB instead, with a link to his forum profile.


I'm afraid that we here at the support team aren't involved in the moderation of mods and I can't actually give you an answer to your questions. What I would recommend is that you send a message on our forums to BjornB (https://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?members/bjornb.471407/) as he is the Community Manger for Paradox Development Studio games and is usually more knowledgeable when it comes to mods and Steam.

Kind regards,


Several months ago I had the following conversation with Steam support. My mod is still banned. The three similar mods I linked are still up. Because I do not know what made my mod bannable (and not these others), I hesitate to create any mod content for fear of another unexplained ban. If someone could tell me specifically what is going on here, I'd understand my situation better.

[I pasted my Steam Support conversation here]

Here is my conversation with BjornB:

Christian Arvidsson asked me to contact you about this. https://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?blogs/my-stellaris-mod-was-banned-without-explanation.109/

Yeah, I removed it because the description you made seemed rather trollish, and it succeeded as the comment section was a travesty.

You can re-upload your mod using a less flame-bating description, and if you put some effort into keeping the comment section at least somewhat decent.

Best Regards

1. I was told my mod "has been banned because it violates the Steam Terms of Service." Did my mod in fact violate any aspect(s) of the Steam Terms of Service, and can you specify the relevant clause(s) if so?

2. Are there forbidden words in my mod description, and if so, what are they?

3. Can you give mod creators any advice on what specifically makes a mod description "rather trollish" and therefore bannable?

4. As a mod creator, am I expected to delete comments, ban users (if so, what is the scope of the ban?), or both? Are there clear guidelines on when mod makers must take action against commenters to avoid you banning their mods on behalf of Paradox Interactive?

5. I have 428 games on Steam. Is my access to those games at risk?

1. I can't stipulate the reasons for the removal. I can only press a button, and Steam sends you a generic message.

2-4. I won't even bother with replying.

5. No

I see. I feel I've gathered all the information about this incident that I can.

Thank you for your time.

I was told three untrue things in the Steam phase: that I had violated Steam's ToS (I hadn't), that there was no way for my mod to return to the Workshop (BjornB said it potentially could), and that I should contact Paradox support (they referred me elsewhere). When I finally got to BjornB, things didn't get much better, as he refused to explain any rules for me to follow in order to avoid mod bans ("I won't even bother with replying").

What it all comes down to is a common problem with moderation: vague or non-existent rules leave mods free to use their power as the whim takes them. BjornB's personal, subjective opinion that my mod was "trollish" and its comments section a "travesty" were all it took to ban my mod. He could have pointed to a specific rule, like Paradox's known-to-exist banned word list, but he didn't, and he refused to answer when I asked about it. When BjornB took action, it was misrepresented as a Terms of Service issue when in fact it was his own arbitrary decision. And as Crusader Kings 2 players know, Arbitrary is the opposite of Just.

I decided never to make mods. This incident, coupled with the mysterious friction between Firaxis and the Dragonpunk mod team around the same time, signals developer/publisher interest in mod suppression. I don't want to put any significant amount of work into a mod only to see it blackballed and memory holed, and it's clear that the power and inclination to do that exist.

It's been fashionable for the industry to talk about specific games being "mod-friendly," meaning that they provide modding tools to users, or use common formats that will be convenient for modders. But part of mod-friendliness is a tolerance for the freedom that modding allows, a willingness to let the community make of your game what it will. Without that tolerance, and even moreso without honesty or consistency in its limits, anything you make can be forbidden. In which case, why make anything?

No comments:

Post a Comment