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Bridging the Gap Between User-Generated Content and Interesting Content 73

Edge Magazine is running a story about user-generated content — or rather, its failure to live up to the hype of the past few years. The author says it "turned out to be a niche. Not everyone has the chops to learn the tools, and even fewer gamers have an idea they want to see through. Instead of revolutionizing games, it merely adds another rung on the ladder from 'player' to 'game-maker.'" Instead, the games that have incorporated the concept in a fun way use what he calls "user-generated, machine-mediated content," and he points out the flexibility of Scribblenauts; the user supplies the imagination and the developer translates that to gameplay. "It shows us our reflection — however tiny, however distorted — inside our games, an experience that is guaranteed to mesmerize us. Ambitious players will still go pick up the tools and learn the languages that let them mod or make their own games; but while they're busy with that, [this system] can invigorate our content — and give us a little more of what we love: ourselves."
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Bridging the Gap Between User-Generated Content and Interesting Content

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  • MUDs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @01:32AM (#29614131) Homepage Journal

    MUDs showed just how prolific users can be in creating high-quality content. Ok, sure, not all of it was high quality, but they did amazing things back in these online games in the mid-90s that still haven't been replicated in MMORPGs. And since the content was generated by the same people that consume the most content (the hardcore users tended to become the admins), it both satisfied the problem of having an end-game, and made sure that the people tended to have a better understanding of the issues in the game than you see from, say, Blizzard (whose community chats have revealed a rather appalling lack of knowledge about how their game actually works).

    The only problem is vetting user-created content, but having a hierarchical admin system similar to what the MUDs used to use could be a reasonably sane solution.

    I personally spent many weeks coding stuff for ElendorMUSH - one of the largest Tolkein MUSHes out there (and was where I got this name from). The level of interactivity players had with their environment in my region of the world puts WoW to shame.

  • Re:MUDs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jurily ( 900488 ) <jurily@g m a i l . com> on Friday October 02, 2009 @01:41AM (#29614163)

    There is one big difference, though: MUDs had a player base of computing professionals (by default, since they were the ones with access to computers).

    They had the tools, the knowledge, and the source code to make a difference. Also, the gameplay encouraged thinking, not just endless grinding for quest items and prof materials.

    Today's gamers are, well, not like that. Do you think a 3D Nethack would sell enough subscriptions to keep them in business?

  • Re:MUDs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plover ( 150551 ) * on Friday October 02, 2009 @01:49AM (#29614189) Homepage Journal

    I also added content to a couple of MUDs way back when. I think the difference between those and WoW is that to write for a MUD meant your only technical requirement was to have an good command of the language. Adding content to WoW, Eve, or whatever, would require you to have 3D modeling skills.

    You'd also have to be cognizant of game balance -- adding a vending machine to spit out Swords of UberPwnage +10000 for a gold piece, or adding the "Quiet Fieldmouse 1HP" and having him drop 500 gold is going to ruin gameplay.

    Back when we were writing MUDs, balance was in our minds because we wanted our creation to be both challenging and fun. Today, with MMORPGs serving as real paycheck-delivering jobs for armies of offshore gold farmers, you'd have to suspect everyone of ulterior motives no matter what they were creating. "You added a tree in the middle of that open field? Hmm, is that really so you can play a game of capture-the-clan-flag, or is it to let you climb up and shoot the snakes easier for your gold-farming operation?"

  • by ((hristopher _-*-_-* ( 956823 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:34AM (#29614335) Journal

    I think edge has it so wrong here, it's a knee jerk reaction to a play session with Scribblenauts.

    The hype of user generated content started long before littlebigplanet and spore etc, as there has been a content and growing tide of people that make a hobby from generating content since the early days of doom.

    In fact, user generated content has become is own art form. Just as there is sculpture and painting.

    There will be titles that come up that provide simpler was of doing that (and therefore appeal to those who don't want to make a hobby out of it), however the more detailed the creation process can become, the more intrinsic reward and sense of achievement that can be had. Sure detailed doesn't have to mean complex, but complexity comes from interface not from design, and detailed creation usually requires complexity within the interface due to the limitations that we have in interacting with it (mouse, game controller, keyboard).

    IMO Littlebigplanet is probably the most significant user generated content advancement this generation of games, not Scribblenaughts. Scribblenaughts computer moderation actually kills true generation of content. It's not user generated at all in the end, and nothing unique can be created.

    Edge have missed the mark, Scribblenaughts isn't brilliant because of it's user-generated, machine-mediated content, it's brilliant because it allows creative problem solving like no other game before it.

  • by The Archon V2.0 ( 782634 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @03:41AM (#29614547)
    ... and it opened the floodgates. Thousands of maps, many of them lousy but some of them brilliant.

    Without Doom showing that a good game can spawn a community of people interested in expanding the game, developers wouldn't take the time to release SDKs.

    Without that thriving and long-lived community of Doom developers, id would've had little reason to release source code for its engines. Why bother if no one's going to use it?

    Without id commercializing TeamTNT's first release as Final Doom, the idea of a group of fans having their work go professional would still be seen as either an insane dream or "selling out".

    And would any of this happened if Doom was a lousy game? Hell no! You don't attract talented and skilled people with a poor game. That's half of the problem with this new generation of user-generated games. They seem to think that if you make the tools, someone will use them. The tools are the bonus, not the core; the gift to your fans, not the main selling point for the ad copy.

    In a sense, it's like fanfic. People design new stuff for games for the same reason they write fanfic - they want to continue the story, or see how it would play out if changed.
    - It's five years later, and the bad guy is back - time to get your gun. It's five years later, and the antagonist has returned - how will the protagonist defeat his old enemy?
    - How much harder are things if the Heavy Weapons Dude dual-wields two chainguns? Would the main characters act differently if their brother hadn't died?
    - What if we changed all the monsters and the weapons and made a whole new game? What if the characters were taken out of their dark conspiracy-ridden world and dropped into a bedroom farce?

    The result is also the same. Some is damn good, some is lousy. The highest amount (and thus the highest amount of quality product) tends to collect around the better series. No TV series would fly if they did half a season and expected fanfic writers to finish it for them, so I don't see how a game company can expect to excel by expecting the community to build the levels.

    On the other hand, if there's a good game that just happens to be moddable....

  • by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @04:43AM (#29614755)

    ... the real issue is that tools for generating content are not advanced enough. If you look at a game like Need for speed underground or Galactic civilizations 2 which you can easily design your own ships, this is the beginning of what you need. Or how about the F zero GX for the gamecube with the car designer? You need to do all of the legwork in your tools, you can't expect users to train for years to become artists, programmers, technical people. Thats the *real issue*.

    You need the computer to autogenerate and aid in generating content in a big way. People want to create content but the software tools just aren't up to scratch yet.

    You should all go get a copy of Galciv 2 and play around with the ship builder, they make it easy for anyone to make stuff without having to learn about texture maps, modelling, etc. They have a bunch of pre-fab pieces with "hardpoints", it's basically like virtual lego set.

    If you want people to participate in content creation your tools have to do the vast majority of the legwork. The truth is the software tools for the end user just aren't there yet.

  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @06:24AM (#29615031) Journal

    Actually, I notice that most of his examples of where user-generated content was great, were _single_ player games or limited multiplayer games, not MMOs.

    In single player games, for a start, nobody pushes their content on you. If you don't want to play someone's goatse map, just don't download it. In MMOs you inherently play on the same map as 10,000+ other players. (Quite literally in WoW's case for the most populated servers.) If I make my own tower shield with the goatse or two-girls-one-cup pic as custom texture, there's not much you can do to avoid seeing it.

    And, well, just look at how much that link was popular on Slashdot. The goatse links are probably the main reason why in the meantime there's the name of the site in square brackets next to any link. At one point, if you didn't run into half a dozen goatse links and a rickrolling in one thread, it was a slow day.

    And on Second Life there were quite a few attacks of the pink flying penises on someone else's event.

    Let's face it, any game will have a population of trolls, and if you offer them even half a chance to push offensive stuff on unwilling victims, they _will_ do it.

    Second, in single player games you don't ruin anyone else's day if you break balance. If you want to give your marines in Starcraft 2 a Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch or let the Zerg spawn Vorpal Bunnies, who cares? Even in limited multiplayer games, it's between you and the server's owner, and doesn't ruin anyone else's enjoyment.

    In a MMO, you'd very soon see hunters with 100,000 HP damage photon cannons and rogues with dual insta-kill lightsabers in level 19 battlegrounds. 'Nuff said.

    Third, the limited single-player games try hard to detect and prevent any differences that one side doesn't know about. If I want to give my marines insta-kill miniguns, either you install that mod too, or the game will refuse to connect. In effect there's a very strong element of opt-in. You have to aggree to my list of mods and actually actively install them too. You effectively have to opt-in for my changes. I can't spring unbalanced or unfair suprises on you.

    In a MMO, everyone _has_ to play in the same world. The only way to not play in the same world where my hunter is running around with a tactical nuke launcher, is to stop connecting to that server.


    Basically it's not that simple at all.

  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Friday October 02, 2009 @09:47AM (#29616095) Journal

    1) allow only player to make up environment and mob which have identical property and level than what is available for the concerned area

    2) allow the player to make up item in value and quantity only to what is allowed to that area

    UGC in MMo does not need to be *allow them to make everything* to be interresting. Already building your own area, with a few remoded mob/items would be enough to be a smash hit.

    That's a good start, no doubt, but I fear that it still doesn't cover even a fraction of the problem spectrum. E.g.,

    A. What do you do about offensive textures and meshes?

    Do you allow the users to do any 3D editing? If yes, how do you prevent people from running around with a Black Russian cod piece? (Think: strap-on, for those who somehow missed Black Adder series 1.) For that matter, how about a cod-piece which isn't just a strap-on, but has a naked gnome impaled on it too? How do you prevent people from running around with plate armours which look like naked female meshes?

    Unless you want to make the game AO from the start, that is.

    How do you prevent people from having a giant penis monster as a custom animal in their areas? For bonus points, tamable. Sure, it'll have the same stats and xo as any other animal, but you're going to get a new one ripped by the media, as soon as some fundie mother goes questing with her pre-teen daughter in that area and tells the tear-wringing story of the trauma on every TV channel.

    Just a map editor? How about a map which is a giant snow plain with "YOUR MOM SUCKS DICK!!!" written on it in 100 ft big letters?

    B. What do you do about content which is, simply put, just crap?

    It may not seem like a problem per se, after all, if you don't like someone's Smurf Massacre map, you can simply not go there, right? But now imagine you have a million players cheerfully churning crap content after crap content, until finding anything else is... well, an example of DDOS on a human.

    Exactly that happened on COH with its ill advised "Mission Architect". Within weeks there were tens of thousands of user missions, the majority of which were simply farming exercises. Worse yet, the rating system didn't really help either: the best rated _maps_ were the simple farming exercises and exploits.

    Let's face it, about 99% of the people vastly over-estimate their creative abilities. Just like, say, most people think they're funnier than they really are, most people really aren't that good at creating anything. Especially stories and quests.

    C. What about other kinds of exploits? Sadly, with your plan you don't even cover all the exploits.

    E.g., what's to keep one from making a map where (1) everyone is an undead, and (2) everyone is a melee fighter, no mages or even ranged fighters, and (3) everyone does strictly physical damage, and (4) if they have to spend some points on defenses, they're all dumped into fire, ice and nature protection. You probably got the idea by now, it's a paladin grind map. Sure, the mobs individually satisfy your points requirements for their level, but the mix is where the problem is.

    (Again, there are a few thousand of user-created maps on COH which are exactly that kind of an exploit. In fact, by now finding any map where any enemies do any other kind of damage than physical and don't prefer melee, is a task akin to cleaning the Augean stables.)

    E.g., how about, say, a map with a sorta Ziggurat in the middle, with the top accessible only via a spiral road winding around it... or by clever jumping between the road segments. It's the kind of thing that doesn't look like a blatant exploit at a superficial look, but it would actually be the perfect kiting map. The players could pull some boss npc and skip to the top, while the NPC follows the road up, then simply jump their way down and make the NPC follow the road in reverse.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken