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Paid Mods & Donations - aka why they don't work

May 21, 2015, 09:22:05 PM by kat
(image courtesy PayPal)

Warning: long post ahead...

Summary: There are a number of reasons Modders don't use Donate buttons. It's not that they don't want to. They're hesitant because complications arising from the nature of content monetisation, especially when that's often at the expense of Third-Party Intellectual Property, makes trying to find an equitable solution that satisfies the many parties involved no easy task. Instead they'd rather just avoid the issue altogether...
The following discussion should not be construed as Legal, Business or Tax advice. Where applicable consult an appropriately qualified Professional Adviser in these matters.
"Gamers and Mod Authors should exercise caution using donations in conjunction with 'Paid Mods' and other paid content, or avoid using it altogether"
During Valve's recent failed Paid Mod's program Gamers kept asking why Mod Creators didn't (and still don't) have "Donate Now" buttons on their websites or project pages as an alternative means to solicit financial support. It's a valid question. Unfortunately it doesn't have a simple answer because at its heart donations are a form of content monetisation, that compensating Modders for their work, even through donations, is an effort to commercially exploit someone else's Intellectual Property, something that's not normally done without permission or license.

Even then the matter is further complicated by the fact that donations are a specific form of income only a few entities can rightfully accept; they are not just a means of transfer between parties absent transaction fees, and their receipt is not a weaselly way to avoid income liabilities such as tax because... "donation".

Payment processing and Donations
Payment Processors like PayPal typically impose rules that 'donations' can only be accepted if the recipient is a registered or recognized Charity, Non-Profit or other Tax-Exempt organisation (cf. Additional Resources below). Individuals are not exempt from these conditions and, if not working for, on behalf of, or being one of the aforementioned themselves, would be required to provide proof funds were being raised for, or on behalf of, a specific non-profit cause, drive or event. The key concern in this is "non-profit"; donations cannot be accepted or used for 'financial gain' of any kind, doing so is seen as a significant Terms of Service violation that can result in summary account suspension and the confiscation or refund of monies held.

Tax and Donations
More important than Payment Processor restrictions are Tax Authorities regulations. To them receipts qualify as donations only when certain criteria are met, which are in fact the basis upon which Payment Processors determine their own policies and procedures; that a transaction is not considered a donation unless it's received by a registered Charity, Non-Profit or other Tax-Exempt Organisation, or an individual that's duly authorized to accept funds in a non-profit capacity (notwithstanding there being income thresholds requiring individuals register as a legal 'charity' Entity). This means individuals may be, intentionally or not, committing fraud at best, tax-evasion at worst, should they accept donations when not properly authorised or duly recognised to do so.

Generally speaking then, it's bad news because the above points mean both Gamers and Mod Authors should exercise caution using donations in conjunction with 'Paid Mods' and other paid content, or avoid using it altogether.

--- Part II ---

Mod Authors in particular should then also be aware of the following additional, and not so insignificant, concerns that may prevent the use of donate buttons on their project pages and websites...

Terms of Service & Solicitation
It's likely that 'donate' buttons violate Terms of Service agreements websites or services often have in place expressly forbidding individuals monetise traffic independently of any sales mechanism a site may or may not provide. Violation typically results in profile pages or websites being pulled and users banned, a common practice for free hosting services, social media sites or other service the End User has not specifically paid for (even paid hosting for personal use may have restriction that prohibit the solicitation of money from visitors).

Modding & Licensing
If the Modder decides to set up their own Store there are licensing issues to contend when selling content because game modification is a privilege granted the End User by the IP Holder, usually conditionally defined in an EULA or other User Agreement, which also often expressly prohibiting the monetisation of content based on, or using their IP. Without the appropriate permission Modders can be shut-down through the issuance by the IP Holder of Cease and Desist Notices or other legal action (equally applicable consequences to "Fan Art" and "Fair Use").

Modding and Copyright (DMCA)
Related to "Modding & Licensing" is Copyright Infringement. Although a complex topic in its own right, the crux of the matter for Modders is that they alone are solely responsible for policing their work to make sure it complies with any licensing requirements or restrictions, and that their own work is not being misappropriated by others; Service Providers or other Third-Parties are under no obligation to do this for, or on behalf of, the Author (even when agreed). And whilst the End User may notify Mod Authors of possible infringements, only the Mod Author can take action. This requires Modders be familiar with DMCA principles, procedures and consequences.

Modding & Income Status
In general because donations are a specific type of tax-exempt receipt from/for non-profit activities, income not classed as such is considered to be revenue generated from normal for-profit (business) activities and will need to be declared appropriately by the individual to their local Tax Authority, typically though Sole-Tradership, Self-Employment or other form of self-assessment or declaration. Income earned and declared in this way might also be in addition to gainful employment and income received from other sources (a 9-5 job for example).

The Business of Modder
Hand in glove with "Modding & Income Status", receipt of income whilst engaged in for-profit activities essentially means the Individual is in business for themselves as a Sole-Trader or Self-Employed Entity, although not necessarily as a registered Company or Corporation. This isn't a semantic argument, it's how other businesses will relate to the Individual, as their being a business not an person, irrespective of their self-identifying as an "amateur" or "hobbyist" Modder or Creator. This change in 'status' brings to the table a whole host of business, tax and legal obligations and concerns Modders would then need to be aware of (some of which are discussed in the above).

All in all then finding an equitable solution to Paid Mod's isn't easy, it turns out it's not quite as simple as putting a donate button and a website because doing so opens up a litany of issues that convolute what should otherwise be a sincere act of transferring money from 'fan' or 'customer' to 'creator'. As with anything that involves money though, providing a means through which Creators can generate income if they so choose to is never that easy.

Addional Resources

- How does PayPal approve charities and nonprofit organizations? (US)
- How can my charity or nonprofit use PayPal to collect donations? (US)
- What can I do with PayPal? (US)
- Create a Donate Button (US)
- How do I accept donations for my charity through PayPal? (UK)
- Fundraise online with our affordable solutions (UK)
- How do I get the discount rate for charities registered with the CRA? (CA)

- Charitable Contribution Deductions
- Topic 506 - Charitable Contributions
- Eight Tips for Deducting Charitable Contributions

- Charities and tax
- Tax reliefs for charities
- Get recognition from HMRC for your charity
- Charity donations: tax relief

Valve & Paid Content/Mods

April 23, 2015, 09:18:24 PM by kat
IMPORTANT: Paid Mods to be removed

There's a lot of discussion in the community questioning why Mod creators don't add Donate buttons to their projects. The simple truth of the matter is that, aside from real-world implications concerning donations, they just don't work. For mod authors this makes finding equitable solutions complicated as they also have to avoid doing things that inadvertently break network or provider Terms of Service rules that risk their accounts, work or even legal action.
[updated 28th April 2015]

Value has unveiled a new initiative, Paid Mods. Initially offerings will be for Skyrim but others appear to be planned (although not yet announced).

For Mod CREATORS this is obviously good news; all the time and energy spent creating mods can now be rewarded in a meaningful way.

For GAMERS (consumers/customers) it might not be such good news as they may now have to purchase their favorite (or new) Mods.

Which has inevitably (one might say "obviously") lead to a lot of... comment, 99.99% of which are in agreement that this new move by Valve is a bad idea, the only salient reason why being because "mods have always been free". Freely available to be consumed perhaps. But not free to make, and nearly always at the commercial expense of the creator, who doesn't even get a cut of the advertising revenue accrued by the mod hosting party.

The truth of the matter is that Mod creators have only offer their content for free in the past because there has never been an effective mechanism in place to 'charge' for their efforts - Mod's traditionally have never been recognised as DLC in the modern sense so have never occupied any status beyond being fan-made material, which has always put it in an odd position where monetisation is concerned, especially for games where EULA (End User License Agreements) don't make specific allowance for the modification and exploitation of original content ("exploitation" might not necessarily explicitly mean "revenue generation").

The key point about this new initiative on Paid Content however, is that's it's OPTIONAL; modders wanting to continue offering their wares without cost are freely able to do so, they just provide them as normal; those that don't want to do that can offer their content using different payment options, as either a fixed or pay what you want price - a mod being offered for 'free', at a 'fixed' or 'pay what you want' price, is entirely up to the mod creator.

The amount of revenue Creator can earn from selling their item or Mod via Workshops and Paid Mods varies depending on the Mod - this also applies to whether or not items or Mods can be sold; permission to do so it granted by the Developer through Valve.

For Skyrim Modifications revenue share currently stands at 25% (see resources links below).

An unofficial FAQ on this initiative is available here

Creators should visit the Steam Workshop/Community Paid Content page for more details.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Modder & UGC (User Generated Content) Creators wanting to take advantage of this initiative are urged to thoroughly read through the Getting Paid on Steam page, especially sections relating to TAX and TIN (Tax Identification Number) requirements.

Additional Resources
About Paid Content: FAQ's
Getting paid on Steam: Payment info FAQ's
Getting Paid on Stead: Tax Information
Getting Paid on Steam: Tax US/Non-US TIN's
Supplemental Workshop Terms - Revenue Sharing

Mario, Fan Art and Fair Use

April 12, 2015, 01:47:03 AM by kat

Mr Henderson: We keep having this conversation don't we Mr Peters.

Mr (Johnny) Peters: Yes sir (said sheepishly).

Mr Henderson: You should know by now that your energies are better spent bringing your own ideas to life, not taking something someone has already done and distributing the results. The fact that you're "doing it for free" makes no odds. Nor does claiming it to be "Fan Art", "Fair Use" or whatever else you might think, let you off the hook.

Johnny: Sorry Sir.

Mr Henderson: Here's the thing. "Fair Use" is not what you think it is. It's not a "get out of jail free" card, its not a "protection"; if you reproduce someone else's work and claim "Fair Use" you can still be issued with a 'take down notice'.

Johnny: But why? Everyone else does it... (whiny tail off).

Mr Henderson: You shouldn't be concerned "everyone else does it". You should be concerned with YOUR doing it, because YOU will be the one that has to deal with the repercussions of not understanding the way "Fair Use", "non-commercial", "NY BC ACDC", whatever, actually works.

Johnny: hmmpph... (slumps back into chair).

Mr Henderson: As I was saying. Using other peoples work like that can still have you issued a 'take down' notice and pulled into Court, albeit unlikely at your age, because the person owning the original material has every right, as the owner/creator, to challenge your claim of "Fair Use" and sue; even Library's, Educational Establishments and other institutions that have actual considerations specific to their needs can fall foul of Copyright and "Fair Use". In all instances the Courts determine whether something falls under that exemption or not. And only when some very specific criteria are met.

Johnny: (fidgets in his seat).

Mr Henderson: So with your Mario character, what do you think this means?

Johnny: That I shouldn't have made it?.

Mr Henderson: That's debatable. No. What it means is that you certainly should not offer the results of your efforts for others to use. You should most certainly not be distributing it. That is where a line is clearly crossed. And it's a sure-fire way to get yourself in trouble even Santa can't fix.

Johnny: But how am I supposed to learn? How can I see how to rig and animate a character if I can't use what I have access to?.

Mr Henderson: You make your own. Or find something you can distribute or share afterwards. Don't assume because you can, you should.

Jenni: (sniggers).

Mr Henderson: That goes for your 'creative endeavors' too Miss Dunning.

Jenni: Sorry Sir.

Mr Henderson: Now be off with you both. I don't want to see you back here any time soon. Understood?.

Jenni/Johnny: Yes Sir, no Sir, sorry Sir.

For more on Fan Art click here...

Keeping kids safe; do more...

April 02, 2015, 02:42:46 PM by kat
Keeping kids safe online is about education. The recent Nantwich letter, Northamps' Study, and even as far back as the Byron Review, all conclude the same way. Education. Oddly no-one seems able to clarify exactly whose responsibility this is; except the games industries of course - they really should "do more".

But what does that mean, "do more" than what?
- place ratings symbols on boxart?
- positioning display boards in-store explaining the ratings?
- having leaflets and flyers available/given to customers upon purchase?
- requiring age confirmation for credit or debit cards purchases?
- requiring age confirmation to purchase 18 rated games?
- refusing to sell games directly to minors (illegal in some locals)?
- be subject to hefty fines any time the aforementioned are contravened (PEGI T&C)?
- risk the possibility of prosecution (region specific).

If the issue is one of education, that involves two parties, the 'teacher' and the 'student', if the latter is unable or unwilling to learn (for whatever reason) no amount of teaching will alleviate that. Who then is to blame for said individuals abrogating responsibility to remain ignorant of the issue(s). Just how is a parent too busy working/[insert reason] 'forced' or 'coerced' into understanding how appropriate little Timmy or Tina's games are relative to their (the parents) sensibilities. And more to the point just how exactly is 'the industry' expected to know all this when demands for deeper involvement are made.

To make-real on such, parents need to be prepared to put up with deeper intrusion into their personal and family lives at purchase, perhaps being asked questions such as;
- "Is this purchase for you or someone else".
- "Is this purchase for a person under 18 or a minor".
- "Is the intended user of the relevant or appropriate age...".
- "... If not are you/parent/guardian going to be supervising their play"
- "... If not would you be 'OK' with us passing your details on to the police/Social Services/etc.".
- "Would you be willing to sign this release confirming you're 'OK' with this purchase being made for a minor".
- "Sorry Madam/Sir. According to our records we're unable to sell you that game".
- [other questions related to sharing personal data, possibly about minors, with strangers].

Quite the proposition when put that way.

[sample flyer that might be handed out/put in bag at purchase or alternatively, rather than using tax-payers money to produce yet another study/hold more conferences/discussions that conclude the same way, money could be used to print flyers, similar to the below perhaps (do not use, sample only based upon PEGI marketing materials/guidelines - note also deliberate use of hyperbolic language to get the attention of target, i.e. parent, "fear", "risk", "danger" etc.), for a leaflet drop through letter boxes of "to whom it may concern"]

#educate, #mentorate, #gamergate - encouraging STEM participation

January 04, 2015, 09:21:37 PM by kat
What can be done to address one of the main issues highlighted by #gamergate; there being too few women in the games industry (and IT & STEM generally). It's not a new problem. In the UK, central Government has spent the best part of the last twenty plus years exhausting public money on the problem, largely to no avail (according to their own data and admission there are now fewer females entering STEM than twenty years ago). So if Government can't find a workable solution, even with access to (relatively speaking) infinitely deep public pockets, what can be done to remedy the situation that don't cause more problems, unintended or not.

Speaking to game developers about what they do the address the dilemma (and running the following past a charity/fund raising consultant incidentally [1]), the key seems to be acting locally, getting to the problem early and keeping it personal. In other words, it's not about throwing money around, rather it's a matter of getting to the students (girls in particular) whilst they're still in (middle) school (under 18's) [2]. Failing that, for older College or University students (18+), it's more important to 'mentor' rather than 'teach' - the critical factor in whether girls go on to a career in STEM in particular appears to have greater relation to their first hand and informal interaction with industry professionals and not necessarily their teachers or professors ("teachers teach, industry professionals inspire") [3].

With this in mind, the following are some ideas game studios and educational establishments can exploration at the local level;
  • Studio visits - onsite studio visits by local schools.
  • School visits - studio representatives visiting the classroom.
  • Run Computer/IT/STEM clubs and/or extra credit after school activities.
  • Studios working with educators to create extra credit projects.
  • Studios working with educators to create more involved course work.
  • Provide teachers data they need to develop study materials for the classroom.
  • Provide teachers information needed for policy change.
  • Preferential learning environments - programs tailored to either/or/both girls and boys.
  • Encourage either/or/both girls and boys to collaborate with, and compete against, each other [4].
  • Encourage critical thinking, exploration and problem solving [5].
  • Encourage female mentoring [6].
  • Encourage industry mentoring in general [7].
  • Parental involvement - help parents understand that "computer" is not synonymous with "toy/game".
  • Program & initiatives that cater to traditional biases [8].

[1] A specialist in the field of fund raising for charity and non-profit educational programs for school age youngsters (ostensibly 13-18).

[2] Generally speaking, it's preferable to get to students early as they likely won't yet have established any strong personal 'social' biases towards STEM subjects that might otherwise turn them away from study because they're not seen as 'cool' or fashionable by their peers. In other words, 'geeks' and 'nerds' are still considered stereotypically 'unfashionable'. Unfortunately only anecdotal evidence appears to be available to confirm this bias. In other words, girls don't get involved in tech  due to their not wanting to be seen as being 'geeky', 'nerdy' or 'unfashionable' by their friends and peers (who are not interested in STEM) - "geeks only need apply", a considerable 'negative' compared to the numbers wanting to be famous.

[3] This is not to denigrate or diminish the importance of what teachers do and their abilities to educate students (a thankless task?), rather it's an issue of the formal nature of the "student-teacher" relationship (similar in many respects to "Doctor-Patient" or "Client-Council"); because visiting professionals are not 'teachers' the relationship to students is more readily casual and informal, meaning it's more likely for students to be 'inspired' rather than 'educated' into action.

[4] Preferential or dedicated environments, otherwise know as "Safe Spaces", should be physical or virtual locations where program or project participants are able to be freely and openly creative or expressive rather than necessarily free from criticism, being questioned or being on the receiving end of 'lip' from fellow students/peers as a natural result of competitive or challenging interactions, actions the individual might subjective consider 'unsafe' (cf. #5 below).

[5] Game development (IT and STEM generally) is ostensibly about problem solving, the expression and explanation of thoughts, ideas and concepts to others (not always versed in what are often regarded as 'technical' subjects). As part of this process however, 'arguments' are likely so students need to be made aware that the difference between critical thought processes and analysis, the interpersonal interactions and differences in communication skill usually required for this, and that the 'heated' discussion and arguments that occur as a natural result of the expression/explanation of ideas, are just that, heated or passionate debate - students should be encouraged to understand this and be open to criticism as a means of improving their output rather than it being perceived as an 'attacked' on their person, identity or ideas.

[6] Mentoring has to be free of politics, agendas and ideologies, i.e. free from authority figures and individuals (teachers/mentors) that might be looking to use these environments for 'recruiting' purposes. This is of significance because part of the reason girls don't currently get into games development appears  (anecdotally) to be a result of the constant stream of 'fear porn' spread by a very vocal minority falsely accusing the games development Industry of being "misogynistic" and "women hating" when there is no empirical evidence for this (correlation does not imply causation).

[7] Non-gendered mentoring should be as valuable as gendered mentoring, in other words, industry involvement should be encourages based on the individuals experience, knowledge or expertise, rather than their gender. With this said however, it should be acknowledged that some students may find it easier to relate to same-sex authority figures so this should be a consideration where possible.

[8] If the idea is to encourage girls to get into game development, in a general sense it may be advantageous to structure programs in a way that caters to traditional biases; because certain aspects of their world view are already familiar, orienting complex concepts to those might make them easier to digest. Development of 'pink' (for girls and 'blue' for boys) educational materials should be embraced for their easy familiarity as a means to comfortably encourage individuals participation.

Article Research Resources
IGDA - "Developer Satisfaction Survey 2014" (Game Developers at a glance)
Develop-Online - "Women make up 15% of UK games development industry"
Gamasutra - "Gamasutra salary survey 2014"
Video Games Lack Female and Minority Characters
Video Games and Gender: Game Representation, Gender Effects, Differences in Play, and Player Representation
Why Do Women Outnumber Men in College?
Black Women Students Far Outnumber Black Men at the Nation's Highest-Ranked Universities
Growth in the proportion of female medical students begins to slow
Why Do Women Outnumber Men in College?
Women in higher education
Postsecondary enrolements by institution type, sex and field of study
Women’s college enrollment gains leave men behind
University of West London - Student Statics HESA Equality data analysis
SAT® Percentile Ranks for Males, Females, and Total Group 2014 College-Bound Seniors — Mathematics
The 2014 math SAT test results confirm a pattern that has persisted for 40+ years — boys are better at math than girls
Girls better than boys at making story-based computer games, study finds
Graduate Careers Australia June 2014 - An analysis of the gender wage gap in the Australian graduate labour market, 2013
Why do boys outnumber girls for computer science?
(not primary data source NBC Science - Geeks drive girls out of computer science)
American Psychological Association - Men: A growing minority?
European Centre for Women and Technology - She Figures 2012: Gender in Research and Innovation
More women entering male-dominated specialties, finds GMC
Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education - Statistics
The Value of Fame: Preadolescent Perceptions of Popular Media and Their Relationship to Future Aspirations
Teenagers who 'want to be famous' face poorer job prospects in later life

[this post was originally part of the general 'gamergate' topic but split so it has it's own focused attention]
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