Should mods be monetized? The controversy around PureDark’s Starfield Frame Generation Mod

should mods be monetized
By | September 4th, 2023 | Categories: Starfield

While Bethesda games are known as a modder’s dream, the discourse around mods has been controversial and borderline vitriolic since Morrowind (remember Horse Armor or Creation Club). Starfield is shaping up to be no different.

Due to a licensing agreement with AMD, which AMD disputes, Bethesda has not implemented any DLSS integration into Starfield. Given the performance problems players have been having with the game, the hefty quality and performance boost from DLSS would have been welcome.

To rectify these problems, and to start the controversy, experienced modder PureDark, who integrated DLSS and FSR into Skyrim released a DLSS mod for Starfield, however, he locked his DLSS 3 Frame Generation mod behind his Patreon and an associated DRM, which many have criticized for being opaque and a potential security risk.

With the minimum subscription tier being $5, PureDark makes at least $45,000 a month from Patreon alone.

PureDark’s basic DLSS upscaling utility for Starfield is free, but the frame-interpolation features, which can provide another substantial performance boost for RTX 40 series GPUs, are only available to his Patreon subscribers, with PureDark including copy protection to block non-Patron Subscribers from accessing it.

Given the attitude of a segment of the PC community against DRM, whether these arguments have merit or not, I’ll say little more on this topic since the discourse can become recursive and combative, the paid version of the mod has been quietly cracked – one of the few examples of a mod being pirated.

I’ll have to stop there and not go into the source of the crack or any instructions since we don’t condone piracy.

PureDark’s DLSS FG Mod page.

The argument against mods being monetized goes something like this: modders are profiting off of an IP they themselves had no involvement in developing, paywalling mods goes against the spirit of modding, and DRM from third-party modders might be malicious in nature and there’s very little in terms of safety audits to ensure your personally identifiable information remains safe.

It remains to be seen where the general discourse around paid mods and DRM will go, but given the historical trend of the PC Gaming community, it seems unlikely that the stance will soften or that paid mods will be met with a warm reception.

As far as the basic version of the DLSS mod itself, not including Frame Generation, here are the performance gains players can expect, credit to RockPaperShotgun:

FSR 2, 75% render rezFSR 2, 60% render rezDLSS, 75% render rezDLSS, 60% render rez
RTX 4060, 2560×1440, Ultra quality38fps43fps39fps43fps
RTX 4070 Ti, 3840×2160, Ultra quality50fps59fps52fps59fps

The difference is not night-and-day between FSR and DLSS, DLSS is never slower than FSR and the performance gains are only marginal, but according to James Archer, the primary difference is in image fidelity, with DLSS providing a substantially better image quality than Team Red’s offering.

Left: DLSS/60% render resolution; Right: FSR 2/60% render resolution | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Bethesda Softworks

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