RTSL Donation System

24th October 2015

After posing this question as a poll question a few days ago and getting a fairly positive response, I thought I would take the plunge and try it.

Here I present the guidelines and some technical details for us to discuss, amend, remove or add.

General Guidelines

1. Initially it will only apply to mods released from this point forward.
2. Only pre-agreed mods will be able to accept donations via RTSL.
3. RTSL will not take any percentage from the donations unless agreed with by each mod in question.
4. RTSL will not lose any money through forwarding donations – so basically, the modders pay the fee.
5. Donations will be completely optional and the download button for the mod will remain the same and just as visible.
6. A total amount of donations will be visible, but all donations will remain anonymous, unless specifically requested not to be.

Hopefully, a few modders will suggest I keep a small percentage as a thank you for running the system. However, I am thinking that I should request a period of exclusivity. Maybe 2 months? This will mean that even if RTSL doesn’t get any financial benefit, it gets the good mods earlier than other sites. Does that sound fair or am I being too controlling? That said, it would be in the interest of modders to direct people to the mod’s RTSL page as the donation option will be visible.

Technical Details

1. I will create a PitchIn widget for each mod.
2. If enough income is generated for RTSL then I will get Pro membership of PitchIn as this helps support them.
3. Each month I will transfer money from the RTSL PayPal account to each modder, unless otherwise specifically agreed to with the modder.
4. The PitchIn will be indefinite, again, unless otherwise agreed to with the modder.
5. The will not be a minimum donation, although I hope users are sensible.

One other option is to have donations to modders instead of mods. Ultimately, the money would go to the same place, but it might be worth having both options.

Okay, that’s enough from me, over to you. We need to make sure the idea is robust but I am sure things will come up once we start.


  1. I feel this is a gray area without Valve’s consent. Valve lets fans do all kinds of things, but making money off their work without their authorization isn’t one of them, as is reflected in their video policy: http://www.valvesoftware.com/videopolicy.html

    This is also demonstrated in their Greenlight policy, which says that you are not allowed to sell Source content through things like Greenlight without licensing the engine itself. Non-commercial purposes are fine.

    I think it would be worth contacting someone at Valve – maybe Marc Laidlaw, since he seems to respond to these things – and see if they can chime in on whether or not donations are acceptable or if they count as selling.

    Like I said, this feels like a gray area. It’s not like the Valve Police are going in come in and take names, because this wouldn’t be the first example (the mod and fan movie Kickstarters come to mind), but I’d feel more comfortable if I knew this was allowed in their policy.

  2. Zekiran

    ^^ I agree with Maki, in that this is not something that CAN be decided without Valve’s express permission. Since their work is the proprietary source for the modder’s work, all works done in that engine are considered as derivative. That’s the kind of copyright and trade agreement that needs to be hashed out in contract form, unfortunately.

    If there IS a legal and completely consented way to prove that it’s good with them, that’s definitely one good way to do this. But… I can’t really say it’s a good idea to just open the tip jar yet.

    1. I don’t agree. There’s nothing stopping people from contacting modders and asking to give them money. All I am trying to do is make it easier for that to happen.

      In the same way that Valve is happy for you to monetize YouTube videos that contain Valve content, this seems similar.

      The donation system would be completely optional.

      That said, I have no problem checking with Valve and if they say “No” then I won’t pursue it any further.

      Okay, after doing some reading, maybe I do now agree, although I think that’s wrong. It would mean that anybody who had a piece of text in the readme or credits saying something like “If you enjoyed this mod, feel free to donate” would be in breach of contract and could have the mod removed.

      It could even mean my asking for donations is illegal.

  3. I believe section 2C of the Steam Subscriber Agreement is the one to see for this stuff: http://store.steampowered.com/subscriber_agreement/

    The relevant note being that some tools, like Source Filmmaker, may be distributed with their own set of rules which don’t match those in the Subscriber Agreement, but

    Otherwise, you may use the Developer Tools, and you may use, reproduce, publish, perform, display and distribute any content you create using the Developer Tools, however you wish, but solely on a non-commercial basis.

    I’m not a huge fan of the notion, but I believe most legal departments consider donations to be a form of commercial usage.

    On top of that I’d worry about Valve’s licensors, namely Havok; from what I’ve read ( https://partner.steamgames.com/documentation/source_games ) there is to this day an up front fee of $25,000US per commercial title using Source thanks to the inclusion of their physics engine. I’d most certainly agree that accepting optional donations for one’s modding work is hardly the same as shipping a full on game that’s only available as a paid product, but I imagine both Valve and Havok would have to agree with that too for this kind of thing to go forward.

    Good luck, at any rate! Hopefully the idea’s not taken to be objectionable.

    1. It’s the definition of “non-commercial” that’s really important here. Generally, “non-commercial” means not making a profit, not “not accept money”, but a company could make it mean whatever they wanted.

  4. How would challenge “-villes” work? No donations or separate them?

    1. Excellent question. I would think that in this case no donations would be accepted, but if there was a way of donating “to an author” instead of “for making a mod” then that might apply here.

  5. It’s clear that this is a little more “grey” then I had hoped. Personally, I think people should be able to donate if they want to without Valve getting involved, but I do understand that they are using Valve’s content.

    Perhaps, if there were a limit to the donation per mod and per author, that might help. For example, each mod can only accept a maximum of $100 and each author a maximum of $500 per year.

    That way it’s clear that modders are not making a living off Valve’s work but players can thank them.

    What about the idea of Wish Lists?

    1. Indafloop

      Mod comes with a youtube video, so you are donating for the video not the mod? But really you would be donating because you liked the mod.
      Would that still be a breach?

      1. Zekiran

        The basic premise of why people cannot take donations right now, is that all mods are derived from materials and the engine of the HL / source games. That legally means that if any money – ANY at all – is acquired for the mod, that is a breech of terms for the engine and tool use.

        Look at it this way: they allow monetization of videos because the videos show play throughs, commentary, and can be considered under US “Fair Use” in copyright. They are ‘for educational purposes’ or for review, and those things are *specifically* covered as okay to use and profit from. The mod isn’t what is being monetized, the video is.

        The MODS themselves though, are specifically ‘that product’ that is being shown off – you’d be taking money for a product which is already covered by someone else’s ownership and copyright.

        That’s why Gmod is such a huge mess of legality, they DID put into the workshop rules that ‘if you aren’t the creator you cannot upload this’ and that means all those other game products like the DC and Marvel characters, anything from any other product that Valve did not produce, NONE of those things are legally supposed to be there. Period. No one chases them down, *because* they are not making any money.

        The moment even one dollar changes hands, *lawyers get involved* because companies do literally have rooms full of lawyers on retainer *looking* for such breeches.

        So in order to legally take money for any of this, Valve must have the specific agreements in place to protect them from being sued for allowing it, AND the agreements with the modders, to NOT do those things that would get them into trouble.

        As long as the mods HERE are uniquely HL or user-created (which for the MOST part they are, but even recently there was the horror mod which may or may not have legal rights to use that one monster model) then all that would be needed would be the expressed permission from Valve on it. BUT that will certainly open a huge issue with other mod sites – will they be willing to go through the same hoops as Phillip or will they just blanket the site with “donate here” signs, and *get it all shut down for everyone* in doing? It’s risky and hasn’t been done because it IS illegal to do so, until you’re given consent.

        Copyright is squirmy but … it’s pretty plain when you think of who is making products, and who is actually responsible for their art, assets, and code. the people making mods are using tools, but they’re NOT making uniquely their own material from start to finish.

  6. Speaking of the gray area of Valve policy, I can speak from experience that it’s probably not a good idea. When talking to Marc Laidlaw regarding my comics, I asked (not too seriously) what was the policy regarding me making money off them. All he told me then was to not go that route, as then the Valve lawyers would have to get involved and possibly take down all the fun.

    So, yeah. It probably would be best if you went to Valve first before even posting about this, even if it’s “donations”, not selling. After all, it’s all their intellectual property, and they’re unlikely to approve of people profiting off of it.

    1. Indeed. Despite it feeling completely unfair that YouTubers like Valve News Network can profit off videos showcasing our work, it’s really up to Valve.

      1. Zekiran

        The fact that it’s a video showcase versus an actual mod being made available, is the only important part.

        I’m not saying in any way (from any of the above context in my prior posts) that I *agree* with the way it’s had to be handled. I don’t. I think that copyright laws are badly in need of revamping to address these issues. However, I’ve been on both sides of the discussion in the past: I’ve had my website slammed with a bigfoot ‘shut down or else’ notice which was NOT appropriate given that I made no money off the product and in fact never quoted or even used any part of the original material in making my site (the Dragonriders of Pern series inspired dragon adoption characters) and had to hire lawyers who all said the same thing – this isn’t infringement why did they have your site taken down.

        The other side though, is that people *do* abuse the privilege of getting donations, and DO often enough post their work on sites like Etsy and Teefury or whatever else there is, and they are not only unlicensed but *relying on the trademarks* of other people to sell work that does not come from those trademark holders. That’s *illegal*. And I’ve seen everything from sparkly eye-shadow in ‘portal-inspired colors’ (complete with screenshot from the game as a selling image) to whole teeshirt lines using copyrighted characters, all of those making someone money, who doesn’t own the property and has zero right to do so.

        Some amount of protection should be offered, but where does that end given that there are literally hundreds of mod makers who COULD start making even a couple bucks per mod? Limit an amount? That’s still going to add up to tens of thousands of dollars that are *not going to Valve*, who made the original property. That’s the one side of the ‘sellers agreement’ that was in place that I both understand and still dislike (given the percentages).

        While it’s apt to become a twisted mess and can of worms mixed liberally with ramen, there are ways to look at the situation and simply understand that it’s not our property to make money from, period, and thus anything else has to be agreed upon.

      2. The difference there being, as Zekiran touched on, that those videos aren’t profiting off Valve’s intellectual property per se, but rather from the ads they run. I’m no lawyer but I do know digital marketing, and it’s a whole can of worms considering that’s how YouTube, and Google in particular, make money. It doesn’t harm Valve in any way – in fact, it’s basically free publicity – whereas mods arguably would be profiting off Valve’s work.

        The best hope here is the fact that we’re talking donations, meaning that it’s not mandatory to pay for the mods, but you can thank and support the modder. You’re not paying for content but rather donating as support to allow more modding, which doesn’t look as bad. Then again, though, the moment money gets involved into anything, it’s a whole can of worms.

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