Cast your mind back to the days of Counter-Strike 1.3, Day of Defeat Beta 3 and the myriad of add-ons available to those die-hard online Half-Lifers. I vividly remember leaving my PC on for days to download the latest patch, first for the mod and then for the engine build, as my 56K connection struggled at a mere 4.6KB/sec and my patience grew ever shorter.
But it was worth it. Despite being labelled a "HPB" (an unpleasant way of labelling one with a high ping), despite the 20fps churned out by the GeForce 2 and despite being hopeless and blaming everything but my own skill - I loved it.
I'm a sucker for freebies - what can I say? The extra juice I managed to squeeze from my friend's abandoned copy of Half-Life surpasses that of any other game I've ever slaved over, including the sequel. I spent so many hours playing CS as a 14-year-old that it became a ritualistic hobby - but it was ok: my hobby was free!
Not anymore, it seems.
Take a look at your Steam account - did you buy the basic Half-Life 2 package? Valve's current pricing shows that you'll need to carve an extra $30 out of your wallet for the souped-up Source versions of Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat. Can you feel yourself going glossy eyed and proclaiming: "Once were the days..."?
It's as if they're charging Gordon for that HEV suit. Prepare yourself, Mr Freeman, it gets worse.
Garry's Mod, the somewhat sadomasochistic cult-classic which allows you to fiddle with the Half Life 2 characters, props, vehicles and - well ANYTHING, is about to cost you! That's right, your mentor has struck a deal with Valve, so the next version of his masterpiece will cost you a crisp $10.
Ok, so it's not much - I can hear you yelling "Tim stop being a stingy geek and bite the bullet!" - but this is the first genuine homebrew Half-Life 2 mod to go commercial. This is the first free-turned-fee add-on for that copy of Half-Life 2 sitting on your hard drive!
Does this spell the end of free mods? No of course not. But it might spell the end for free mods that make it big, pick up a following and leave the developers hungry for beer money. Will we see more and more fan efforts swallowed up by Gabe and the gang at Valve?
Well I guess the quality of new add-ons will determine that. One could argue it's an incentive for quality. Another could argue it's the death of a golden era.
Get your FREE copy of Garrys Mod whilst you still can, before the release of version 10.
Link: Garry's Mod