The SpigotMC forums is an amalgam of amazing topics. Everything, from game releases to the presidential elections, is neatly summarized in short threads for members to read. And yes, just like any other forum, debates are always imminent. Heated discussions surrounding development dominate the forum politics. Today, I decided to focus on just one of the major controversial topics: the issue of free and paid plugins.
I’ll assume that everyone who is reading this article has heard of both Spigot and its plugins. Plugins can be described as extensions to Spigot. To put it in friendlier terms, imagine a fresh installation of Windows on one’s personal computer. There are basic features that can be used, but the computer’s full potential can only be achieved when third-party programs and peripheral devices are installed. Similarly, Spigot plugins change the game that is played. They introduce useful tools like map editors and text modifiers. Simply put, just like the programs on a personal computer, plugins spice up the multiplayer experience.
Ever since the creation of add-on support for CraftBukkit and similar software, plugins have been—and still are—a major part of the Spigot culture. All plugins generally remained free up until April 15, 2014, when md_5 announced the creation of premium (paid) resources via Xenforo’s Resource Manager on Spigot. From that point on, developers could publish paid plugins.
Now, where does the controversy lie in all this? With the rise of piracy, Spigot members have begun to wonder whether or not paid plugins are truly suitable for an open-source project like Spigot. In order to get further information about the topic, we asked the Spigot community for their feedback.
I released a poll around two weeks ago asking, “Which do you prefer: free or paid plugins?” The question itself was obviously very basic, but I encouraged members to voice their personal opinions about this issue. Their responses were quite remarkable.
A total of 119 users voted in our poll, 49 of whom voted for “Free,” 60 for “Paid,” and 10 for paid additions/add-ons on plugins. I was surprised to see more votes for “Paid” than “Free,” but I quickly understood why after reading the replies.
The majority of those who had voted for “Paid” justified their preference by citing the superiority of paid plugins. Furthermore, they highlighted the value of supporting creative development. Maxim Van de Wynckel (Spigot username Maximvdw), the creator of widely used paid Spigot plugins like Featherboard and AnimatedNames, stated in his reply that paid plugins usually attract a different kind of server owner, typically one who has done his/her background research about Spigot and is knowledgeable about the different plugin options available. So, it could also be said that paid plugin authors may be looking for more experienced server administrators.
What I found most interesting was that most of those who voted “Free” pointed out that it didn’t really matter if the plugin was paid or not, it just had to be open source. For those of you who have not heard of open source software prior to reading this article, it can, in the simplest way, be defined as software whose source code (the raw, decompiled program) is available and can be freely modified. While licenses for open source software vary, they typically advocate for three central concepts: the freedom to edit, recompile, and redistribute a program to a user’s liking. In most free plugins, all three are possible. However, most paid plugins (which rarely include the software source) prohibit the redistribution of the source code for obvious reasons. In a comment by former Spigot moderator Justin Flory (jflory7 on Spigot), open source is described as a trust factor. “My trust in whether or not I will use a plugin is determined by going through the source code,” he says, adding that “if a plugin does not have any source code available, it’s extremely unlikely for me to ever consider using it.” According to Flory, the “higher quality” of paid plugins isn’t necessarily true, especially if users don’t have the source code to verify it.
As we can see, the conflict essentially boils down to more than just free versus paid. But overall, I personally think that the best resolution to this issue was proposed by MC-Market moderator Justis R. While he echoes Flory’s words in the argument that software should be open source, Justis also states that paid plugins are similar to luxury items in the physical world. A niche plugin with little demand can be compared to an expensive car. Both are unique and, because they have such little demand, probably have few—if any—competitors. These plugins are the ones that should have a price tag attached. In contrast, plugins that are widely requested (i.e., chat plugins, navigation menus, world editors) typically have many competitors. To prove this point, a search for “chat plugins” in Spigot’s Resource Manager yielded 112 results. Because the concept of a marketplace competition exists with plugins, developers must prove that their resource excels when compared to their competitors. And ultimately, one of the main aspects server administrators look for in widely requested plugins is, generally, the price tag.
So, unless a developer implements features that are unique to one published plugin and are not widely requested, there is no reason to stamp a fee on a resource. As stated by Justis, “I think the amount of downloads each individual plugin has is a very decent reflection of whether or not that specific product…was priced appropriately.”
It’s amazing to see how such a basic question could expand to include so many arguments. We can clearly see that no one side can truly win; all we can do is appreciate that both free and paid plugins have their benefits as well as shortcomings.