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Each month, we pose a question to our developer friends, and each month
they impress us with their candor and the diversity of their responses.
This month is no exception. We asked Ten Ton Hammer's href="http://tentonhammer.com/membership">premium members
to provide questions for the developers, and we chose one for them to
answer. This month's question deals with the future of user-generated
content, from mods to complete quest packs, in MMOGs. Big name
developers from Trion's Scott Hartsman to 38 Studios' Curt Schilling
weighed in with responses both thought-provoking and passionate.



This month's question comes from premium community member Anacche...


"Is there a future for
user-created content (mods, or even total quest packs, etc.) in MMOGs?
Why haven't we seen it realized yet?" -Anacche




Scott Hartsman

Trion Redwood City Studio Lead,
Creative Director | href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/2035">Rift:
Planes of Telara




Modding and creating content are two separate endeavors, driven by
different desires. Modding is taking an entertaining experience and
making it more convenient, attractive, or desirable, and sharing those
improvements with others. It's social improvement. It's alive and well
on dozens of mod sites. Creation of interactive
experiences is a

cellpadding="10" width="253">
style="font-size: 20px; line-height: normal;">"The market
has spoken in a voice both loud and clear-- It wants to be
entertained."

- Scott Hartsman

different beast entirely. It's orders of magnitude more difficult to
succeed in. It's been proven many times over the last decade to be a
niche desire at best. Even professionals fail at it regularly.

 

Look at the last few attempts at full-on user created content. They're
niche endeavors at best, compared to all other kinds of entertainment.
When an honestly good attempt was made in MMOs, it wasn't popular
because of user expression -- it was a popular way to cheese to the
best rewards. A validation of the exact opposite point.

 

The market has spoken in a voice both loud and clear--it wants to be
entertained.  

 

On the consumption side, a customer pays a subscription fee (or, these
days, plays a free game) and for that payment, they expect to be
entertained by professionals who are on the hook to create entertaining
experiences, and not create crap. People don't pay for the YouTube
model, where you have 99.5% garbage, and the 0.5% that's worth
experiencing gets sorted to the top. People don't pay for MMO
experiences that have no cohesion. Some very smart people took some
hard knocks proving that.

 

On the creation side, the average gamer doesn't come home after a long
day of work or school, or sneak some time

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Trion
appears to be gearing up to "give customers what they really want" with
Rift: Planes of Telara.

after their kids go to bed,
to come online and...do surprisingly hard work to entertain other
people. Not that there's such a thing as an average gamers, but it's
been proven that customers have no interest in creating quality content
in large enough numbers to support an industry.

 

This is why it's on developers to create compelling experiences, in a
cohesive package.

 

This is also why televisions outsell video cameras and editing
software.

 

People want to be entertained.

 

Games don't fail because they're not "user-created enough." Games fail
because they fall down on quality.

 

We approach game creation with these thoughts firmly in mind. Give
people fun ways to customize their experiences. Give them ways to
entertain each other socially, but always remember to provide them with
interesting, solid experiences that you've thought out.

 

Innovate in content creation and delivery. Focus on quality. Give
customers things they actually want.



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Curt Schilling

Chairman/Founder, 38 Studios | href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/883">Copernicus



There absolutely is a future, though I don’t think
it’s something 38
will be a part of. When you get into the details of creating a world
that has massive amounts of user created content it becomes the exact
opposite of ‘hands off’ and easy to manage. 



If you are tailoring it to an adult audience then that can change many
things, if not then it gets even harder and messier. 



The amount of users that would create content the games player base
would engage with is likely to be proportional

cellpadding="10" width="253">
style="font-size: 20px; line-height: normal;">"If you were
talking about users creating content within tight little boxes (such as
tattoo art for artists) I think it becomes something more manageable,
but even that opens up things you just don’t think about when you
consider executing on a seemingly simple and ‘cool’ idea." - Curt
Schilling

to the MMO community
forums. Less than ½ of 1% of the community posts on forums read by
hundreds of thousands, to millions. 



This would be no different. You’d have a world of shields bearing
penises, boobs on tunics and all manner of other porn, again fine for
an adult only game, but the amount of staff you’d need to police and
manage user created content would be huge.  



I think there are little wins to be had here, potentially.  



But at the end of the day this, in my opinion, would have to be the key
driver behind a product to be done and serviced right. Meaning if you
were going to create an MMO that featured user generated content, that
would need to be the primary design focus if you were allowing players
to create the majority of the content. 



If you were talking about users creating content within tight little
boxes (such as tattoo art for artists) I think it becomes something
more manageable, but even that opens up things you just don’t think
about when you consider executing on a seemingly simple and ‘cool’
idea. 



So ya, it’s going to happen, it’s going to make news, but at the end of
the day my argument is that gamers want to play games, not make them,
and a game focused on user generated content is one of those things
I’ve come to feel is way more fun in concept and on the drawing board
than it is in practice.




Chris Lee

VP of Publishing, En Masse Entertainment
| TERA



Throughout my career in this industry I have been astounded by the
creativity of its players. There are loads of UI mods and hacks for
MMOs, and you need only look at The Sims and Forza Motorsport to see
what players can

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Chris Lee
of En Masse Entertainment

create when they put their minds to it. The advent of
machinima is another great example, and even our recent href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/TERAonline/sets/72157623867599286/">TERA
Caption
Contest
yielded some really imaginative responses. The creativity and
resourcefulness of players extends well beyond making or painting
in-game items, and a company who can leverage this stands to reap great
rewards.



There is absolutely a future for user-generated content in MMOGs. Many
within the industry already realize that this type of content, often
referred to as “crowd sourcing,” can help sustain long-term user
interest by supplying an additional content pipeline. href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/140">The
City of
Heroes
franchise is a
prime example of this type of user-generated content.



So why haven’t we seen it take off in a big way yet? It is a difficult
challenge to harness the energy in the community in a way that directly
enhances the game universe. There are some fairly obvious reasons why
this endeavor cannot be entered into without careful planning and
consideration. Important principals such as maintaining a coherent and
consistent game lore, managing quality expectations, and the ability to
support users who run into potential challenges or conflicts based on a
mod are all factors that must be weighed thoughtfully. Provisions need
to be made for how mods/packs/quests will be evaluated, moderated, or
promoted.



Then there is the development investment required to provide the tool
set for users to realize their own creative

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TERA's
Caption Contest garnered some amusing entries.

inspirations. Due to the
high cost and multitude of touch points, it is critical that
integrating user-generated content must be part of the product's
original vision. All levels of development and publishing, as well as
the creative visionary behind the product, must be on board with the
idea and working closely together if it is to be done right.
Additionally, the level of investment in the framework for this type of
add-on content is extremely high. The downside is if a significant
amount of players do not take advantage of the tools then a lot of
resources went into something that few people participated in and as a
result the content generated would be much more limited..



All that being said, MMOGs require strong differentiators to survive,
in large part because they are so much more expensive to make and
operate relative to other types of games. For all the reasons stated
above, an MMOG that incorporates user-generated content needs to
embrace the system whole-heartedly and make it a major selling point of
the game for it to pay off. With TERA our key
differentiator is our
action combat system, but given the numerous MMOGs in development
looking to carve their own niche, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a game
that implements this type of system in the near future.








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Brian Hughes

Development
Lead | href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/1841">Alganon



There is most certainly a future for user-created content in MMOGs. The
easiest and most prolific form is modded

cellpadding="10" width="253">
style="font-size: 20px; line-height: normal;">"Another
avenue that Alganon has employed in the past and will undoubtedly do so
again is the 'user-inspired' content. This is a system whereby the
actual content is created by our developers, so it is subject to our
standard quality control, but is inspired by submissions from our
players."

- Brian Hughes

UIs, which have become one of
the most popular tools among gamers, and which will become a part of
Alganon in the near future. UI mods are an easy
choice for developers
looking to allow user-created content because their use is specific to
one user's machine; there is no worry of one person's mods affecting
game play for others.

 

Beyond UI mods, however, you get into dicey territory. If you allow
users to create visual content that can be extended to other players'
machines, you have to install a very rigid verification process that
scrutinizes every piece of submitted content carefully, and you can see
how that can easily require more resources than most companies are
willing to dedicate.

 

Another avenue that Alganon has employed in the
past and will
undoubtedly do so again is the 'user-inspired' content. This is a
system whereby the actual content is created by our developers, so it
is subject to our standard quality control, but is inspired by
submissions from our players. A good example of this is our contest
from December, in which the winner got to permanently lend his name to
an NPC in the game and help decide how the NPC would look.




Jon Virtes

Community Manager | href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/1234">Runes
of Magic



User-created content can be a very strong addition to games. We have
seen many games of various genres benefit from great mod communities.
User-created content would help solve the problem of being able to
create enough new content in an MMO to keep players entertained with
new material all the time. There are some hurdles to creating content
for MMOGs, but it is not insurmountable.



There already is a great deal of low-level content creation in MMOs. It
can be easy to overlook, but the act of

cellpadding="10" width="253">
style="font-size: 20px; line-height: normal;">"Ultimately,
content creation in an MMOG has to stay within the context of the game.
Content has to be fun to both create and fun for players to discover
and play-through. The fun factor cannot be overlooked. If it is not
adding fun and enjoyment to the game, it does not belong." - John Virtes

creating and developing your
character is content creation. MMOs are giving players more and more
character customization options, like pets, mounts, costumes, player
and guild housing. This will continue to evolve and in time we will see
much more player driven creation in our worlds. Building on these
foundations will bring players along into creating content and keep it
a natural part of gameplay.



Finding a way to keep the creation within the game world and within the
context of playing the game is key. You could expand the crafting
system to allow for creating unique content, rather than just cranking
out yet another Sword IV item. In fact, a cool master crafting quest
would be to gather the necessary items and knowledge to create your own
unique item blueprint, within reasonable parameters for balance, then
that blueprint will become part of the game. Both the blueprint and the
items made from the blueprint are created by a user through regular
play.

 

For a bigger leap into content creation, perhaps you could open a new
continent within the world that is purely for user-created content. It
could be worked it into the storyline, that this a land of chaos that
can be molded like clay, and build a whole storyline around reclaiming
and redesigning that land to be worthy of adventurers, and so on. Then
perhaps you could take the more successful parts from the continent and
plug it into the main world. There would need to be some quality
ranking system to sort the good content from the bad, and maybe once
the good threshold has been reached, the new area earns a portal that
the user can place in the main world to open it up to the rest of the
player population.



Ultimately, content creation in an MMOG has to stay within the context
of the game. Content has to be fun to both create and fun for players
to discover and play-through. The fun factor cannot be overlooked. If
it is not adding fun and enjoyment to the game, it does not belong.




Wes Platt

Director of Content Development | href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/fallenearth">Fallen Earth

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Fallen
Earth's Wes Platt



There's been a history of users as content
that I think will carry on
and evolve going forward in the development of MMOs.



In Fallen Earth, this shows up in the form of clan wars and other PvP
conflicts, but also in player-driven activities - from bar crawls to
road rallies to the occasional effort to extort cash.



User-created content and mods for single-player games are fine because
they don't require screening before they go into the game world. For an
MMO, the tools either let you do too much (and require additional work
for online editors to screen the content for inappropriate material) or
let you do too little to justify the creation of the tools.








Cedric Gerard

International Marketing Manager, Ankama |  href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/45">DOFUS,
Wakfu



There is already a lot of freedom in MMOs (not all of them) allowing
players to create guilds, create stories and background, acquire houses
and decorate them, all of that is actually user-generated content but
indeed most often at a lower level than what players can expect.



User generated content is the most important feature and the one with
the most potential, yet it is the most difficult feature to conceive,
implement and handle. When allowing users to create content, you open
the door to their creativity and interest, and it is a great way to
keep the community interested in the game and helping the game to
evolve.



But you also open the door to problems that can be difficult to handle:
some people could use the feature to find

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exploits in the code; all
content that is uploaded has to be checked by someone in the company in
order to make sure that the quality and content are appropriate; and
also adding content means adding new possible bugs and conflicts so
every piece of user-generated content would have to be tested by the QA
team before it appeared in the game.



There are also legal concerns as to who actually owns the property when
it comes to user-generated content; the developer provides the tools
but the user is the one creating the content. That problem has already
been raised in the case of account and character property. Technically,
the company is the one with the rights to the product and everything
that is created with it, and normally the user recognizes that when
accepting the end user license agreement.



So normally players know that they do not have the right to sell
characters or mods that would be created through long hours of work,
but there is a chance legal battles can be raised if the users
ultimately feel they own the content. Now there is a possibility that
content sales could be authorized in the future if there is a platform
that is designed to host that user generated content and distribute it,
in the event that the company gets compensated for the sale the users
make.



One must not lose sight that in online games the ultimate truth is that
the user is the content, and ultimately as an MMO developer our goal
must be to give those users the possibility to enhance their experience
and the experience of other users as much as they want to.





The developer responses show that industry experts clearly have a wide
range of opinions when it comes to user-generated content. Some seem to
relegate the concept to future developments, implying that the MMOG
world isn't quite ready for in-depth player input into the development
process. Others say that we're realizing the future right now through
features like add-ons and deep character creation. Either way,
there's clearly a bright future for player involvement in MMOG
development.



To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our DOFUS Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Karen 1
Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.

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