Auri sacra fames.

CTDP is discussing its financial future at the moment, as we described in an earlier post, I’d like to sum up a few points of the discussions with people in and outside of the team, that may also concern the community and may be of general interest. As I do sometimes, I speak here from my perspective alone and not as team CTDP. Money is not an easy topic in this community, but I think it’s worth talking about.

CTDP has been very stable for the past few years, but even modding has costs, although they may not be as visible as for example running a league or a website. CTDP is not out here for profit, but since modding is increasingly more difficult, so are the expenses. This is an hobby for us, hobby usually are not cost-neutral, but since we take an active part in this community, have our share of impact and truely believe to do a good job in providing you with the means of good simracing entertainment, we’d like to believe our work is worth something to the community – to you.

We frequently discuss this and often the conversation revolves about same basic arguments and facts, I’d like to sum up here.

1. Against money

It appears money is a very wound point in this community, in that many many people react very defensive and even aggressive when it becomes a topic.
Over the years several individuals and organizations have tried to establish a commercial participation in the community. Two prime examples are Hudson Kerr back in 2006 and SimRaceWay back in 2009.

Hudson provided high quality texture updates for rFactor tracks for a few dollars. Now you could argue, based on the price of the textures a full-size mod would costs in the thousands, but this argument is missing the point, that he provided a service you could take or neglect. How many people took his offer personally and refuted him being a true Modder and attacked him for being greedy and missing the spirit of simracing and modding. Quite often the quality of the debate dropped way below the wasteline. And in meantime, everybody shared the textures behind his back. Earning money in this community is something you are not allowed to talk about and if you have plans, help god the shitstorm.
On the one hand, our community is in a constant state of surviving with very little means, we don’t have enough new modders starting and at the same time every chance is taken to put a knife in a modders back, if he poses a demand himself.

SimRaceWay was another example although a very different situation. SimRaceWay was to provide a simple service for downloading and installing mods, with a solid server infrastructure and attached league community for selected high quality mods. Financing was supposed to be by optional premium membership. The criticism SRW received by the community and first and foremost by the Modding community (including us being quite verbal about it) was, that SRW developed a business plan based on free available community work, that was regarded as exploiting. While modders don’t release their work under solid-proven licenses (either copyright or copyleft), they usually state what can be done with their mods and how they may be used. Mods don’t have official licenses, the legal aspects are very much in the grey and Modders have no interest in provoke more infringement than necessary to release their mod. For this reason a silent consensus developed over many years about what is deemed “acceptable” use of mods. When in doubt ask the author and usually everything can be sorted out. SRW went over the Modders heads, included their work in a commercial environment that made Modders feel uncomfortable as it exposed their work to legal trepidations. SRW failed due to large community boycotts. The way they approached the community was stupid.

Yet another company may come with an idea that commercialises aspects of the community. Many services require money to work effectively. Right now the only company “allowed” to earn something are the simracing developer studios. They create the environment, the community revolves around their games, but in the wake a there is potential. Biting of heads because somebody sees this potential and tries to push his ideas in a commercial endevour is a waste of opportunities – for the community.

2. Donations

Donations are a great way to say thank you. Usually when the discussion about commercial projects in the community arises, there is a large group of people arguing, that donations are a great way to support modders and that they would donate x amount of money.

The issue is: they don’t – nobody does.

The last time CTDP got a donation was in 2009. We are well-known, we have high-regards in the community – I don’t want to say we are entitled to, but I wonder – if we don’t receive donations, do any other less-established and lesser known modders?

Personally, donations are fine given two requirements are met:

  1. It is easy for me to do.
  2. I trust the donee invests it well (and at best is transparent about it.)

Both points are hard for me to determine if this is given for CTDP and all in general for this community I could say, there is room for improvement.
This could be a point for discussion, does CTDP accomplish these two requirements? Are we missing something?

Regarding point 1, the regular way for donations by now is PayPal. It’s widespread and – for customers – easy to use.
My personal favourite is flattr. This is a micropayment service that makes it very easy to donate small amounts of money. Think a facebook-like button that pays a dollar per click. I will write more about flattr some other time. Where are the modders with flattr-accounts, I have money to throw at you!
In the end PayPal and flattr are just two tools with different approaches: Paypal is better for larger amounts, flattr, for the quick easy click.

I feel here is a chicken-egg-problem, because too few modders provide good means for donations, the community doesn’t demand any and doesn’t try those available, because no modders use them.

3. Gratitude

After looking at the current situation so far some food for thought and let’s start wondering, what do we want? In what community do we want to be? And what kinds of gratitude may Modders expect and ask for?

Should modders seek gratification just by the amount of people driving their mods? Seek motivation from cheering comments in forums and blogs?
Or are we allowed to ask for more? At what point is it ok to expect some more material return in the investment the modders do?

What do modders do you ask? I couldn’t begin to count the time we invest, just infrastructure, servers and research material comes easily at 300€ per year for a team. Not counting personal investments like steering wheels and hardware to develop, test and drive our mods. Simracing can be an expensive hobby and we are certainly not excluded from the expenses. However in the end, it’s not about the individual sum, but how many people have a share.

Donations can’t be mandatory and they are supposed to be voluntary. However donations are a great expression of gratitude and support for our work.
If you like the work and you want them to continue, think about how you can help them. Money is an easy and certainly valuable way.


4. Kickstarter and Fund-raising

Crowd-sourcing has become a major topic in the independent game industry in the past year. Especially the last month has seen some very interesting developments with several game-related projects kicking of at kickstarters. Kickstarters is a platform similar to what Project CARS did initially to get started. You pledge to invest to a proposed project and if a defined sum is exceeded within a deadline, the money pays out to the project and they have secured financing. Especially for games that do not have a large market anymore this may become very important. By estimations in March alone 9mio US$ were invested by individuals into various game projects. How much did you invest into your games community apart of the game purchase?

Tim Schäfer (Grim Fandango) and Al Lowe (Leisure Suit Larry) announced new titles of their adventure games. What would you say if Geoff Crammond proposed to kick off a new GrandPrix5 given enough people help to invest? What if a Modding group proposes a mod and details its financing through kickstarter?

This is similar to fund-raising, to collect a required amount of money. Do we need an angry looking Jimmy Wales to collect the cash? 😉
pCars has started it, before switching to a publisher. More kickstarter projects will come and surely it’s only a matter of time until a project from the community arises and seeks for support. Will you help? How do you determine if you want to support it?

Technology emerges – while many things get easier, time and effort is always an issue and bundles resources. At one point money is an issue, fact. Right now, as a community we try to hide and ignore this as much as possible. Until somebody comes along, testing the waters and gets his head ripped off. Do we want to neglect new ideas out of hand? Ignore potential at the root? Or see and embrace the brave new world?
The community is at a point, where it becomes very hard and impossible to improve and grow without some financial involvement. The choice is between stagnation and decreasing quality or opening up new opportunities.

A last few words. Being a member of a well-known Modding team, it is obvious why I propagate for a more open-minded approach. However I do believe, that we are not the only mod team who would benefit from donations, but everybody in the the community. For this to happen, first all of us have to become more open-minded and respectful towards commercial ideas in the community. For good ideas to rise we need mature discussions. Thank you for your attention.

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Textures supervisor, Webdesign, Programming

6 thoughts on “Auri sacra fames.”

  1. Thanks for the reply, you mention many good points I left out. To capture everything is quite a task and you bring some valuable additions.

    We mentioned it in the last post.. For us the two important fields where we could invest are:
    – Research material (books, car manuals, access to photo-databases)
    – Infrastructure (Subversion, project server, download mirror)

    Both stuff, which would help us to provide better work in the end. So every donation is an investment in the team and helps to improve the overall quality of what we can deliver. So by supporting us, we also give in return.

    Based on your post, our motivation for bringing this topic up is, to push the social norms a bit. The motivations you mention are all valid, but I don’t think some to be realistic. “Fair compensation” for modders is not possible, because you lack the correct metrics. Given the time and effort we spent, we are not “effordable” in business terms. And especially at CTDP, we always tried to keep our independence so we would not have to abide to these terms. We want to have the freedom of our own scheduling and freedom to decide how much effort we put into stuff. The result is, we are slow, but the results makes up for this.
    I also don’t think you can pay members to become more active. Maybe this is different in other modding teams, at least at CTDP it’s a meritocracy. You working hard, doesn’t earn you money, it earns you influence and with this influence and option of participating in commercial projects. We are realistic enough, that donations won’t be enough to “pay” members and I wouldn’t want that, as it is a knife in the back to the members who just work for the fun.
    In the end, this is a hobby, it’s not supposed to be anything else and therefore fun comes first.

  2. So the point of asking for donations is to provide opportunities for modders to create/research things they couldn’t otherwise afford?

    If that’s the case I believe we would need to be much clearer than “books, car manuals, access to photo-databases” for the goals to become salient. Which book? Why does it help you/CTDP make a better mod? Specificness is important here.

    While the Wikipedia donation marathons have their downsides, they show you elements that I believe is necessary if you want to take in any substantial amount of donations: A goal; a visible, salient metric to grasp if progress is being made; and finally and most importantly – your donations causes a direct change, showing that what someone did had an effect.

  3. Dahie, how much of a leap/difficult would it be for CTDP to do something like Reiza studios, and if that’s been a thought, even to what Simbin did from modding to licensing the engine, to making their own stuff based off an engine?

    You guys have done the mods and have licensed the engine for a game. What happened since? Would the team ever be interested in doing similar again?

    I don’t know how the dynamics are or what is the current scope of the CTDP team, but the F1 2004 mod for F1C, and 2005/2006 for rFactor were major hits, and CTDP was very much in evidence. Do you find yourselves getting a bit lost in too much detail? Are the pros in the pro/con of doing the current level of detailed work – like round specific liveries/chassis/helmet – worth the additional hours invested?

    I’d love to see CTDP continue to be successful and not have the financial strains that catch up with so many people. I’d love to see a group C mod to pick up where Virtua_LM left off in F1C, or very early 90s F1, done to CTDP standards. I guess I’d go as far as donating a few bucks for your beer :p.

  4. Unlike many, I have no objections to someone charging for content that they make – I may or may not buy it myself, but that’s beyond the point. The problem is that, as soon as you start charging for a mod, unless it’s completely fantasy-based, the IP holders will be on you. Ferrari in particular has taken down people charging for products that include them in the past. And good luck getting licenses…

  5. 1. Please let’s keep the distinction between donations and payment. We don’t propose pay-mods, on the contrary, as soon as you have licenses in your mod, it should be off-limits for payment. Charging for a mod only works for fantasy-creations.

    2. CTDP has no plans to go company. This would involve a lot of additional legal and tax work. First and foremost, we’d loose the freedom to choose our projects and create our own schedule. This is a luxury we wouldn’t want to miss. Personally going professional is no goal, because there is nothing we could do then, that we can’t do know, we’d just have more reasons for headaches and more deadlines to deliver. I don’t expect to earn money with CTDP, but we would be happy, if we lose a bit less. 8)

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