The world of massive multiplayers is continually changing. Game companies are attempting to stretch the limits and take risks as they develop new and more advanced content. All of these moves are made in order to attract players and attempt to stay fresh and relevant in a fast-paced industry packed with competition. Game producers all agree: keeping content fresh is how you keep players interested.
So what if, instead of building content you hope the players will enjoy and keep coming back to, you have the players make their own content? After all, the players already know what they like. Right? So why guess?
The idea is called user-generated content (UGC). It’s not new at all, but it is relatively new to the MMO market.
Most MMOs use a simple game development template. I’m not referencing the business template discussed in last month’s How the Gaming Business Operates article, though some of this is included there. Here’s how it goes:
Those are the three basic steps every MMO goes through as it progresses. From Lord of the Rings Online to World of Warcraft to Star Wars: The Old Republic and even World of Tanks, those are the three basic steps to building a long-term gaming empire through MMO or MMORPG.
The basic storyline theme behind most MMOs doesn’t change:
Think about it. All MMOs follow the same basic theme: you’re a hero with a set of weapons and protections (armor, spells, whatever) and you deal and take damage using those items. Your goal is to kill as many bad guys (if you’re the bad guy, it’s just a change of label, not really role reversal) as possible, gain experience (XP), and level up. (Gamers Are the Problem..)
What changes are the detail elements of the game – the weapons, the armor, the graphics, and perhaps some of the game controls. But the basic premise of the game doesn’t change because it’s almost literally what defines an MMO and an online RPG.
So how does UGC change things?
The beauty of user-generated content is that it’s always fresh and new (meaning it hasn’t been seen before, at least in terms of details) and it’s virtually free for the game developer.
Some of the most successful websites on the Internet are those that deal almost exclusively in user-generated content. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, forums, wikis, etc. all are merely platforms to collect and deliver UGC. So why not MMOs?
Those who’ve played EverQuest II have seen how limited user content can be used to enhance the game. In EQ2, players can collect items that can be put together to create a self-made instance-type dungeon or short adventure and then invite their friends and guild mates to go through it. Rewards and experience are given just as they would be in any developer-made dungeon and most players generally agree that it’s more fun and interesting. At least different.
Neverwinter, a game from Cryptic, is doing the same thing, but taking it a step further. When the game partnered with Perfect World Entertainment, it expanded from a “group game” into a full MMORPG with all the trappings. Neverwinter is known amongst gamers as the “carpel tunnel combat game” as it does away with the conventional auto-attack mode usually offered in MMOs and instead requires players to use relatively complex mouse use to facilitate combat.
What Neverwinter really shines with, though, is what in-game is called The Foundry. This is a toolset that allows players to create their own adventures. It’s a chance for the slow (from the player’s perspective) content rollout to be made breakneck.
Cryptic has been quiet about the Foundry, but players have not. Two things make the Foundry a new evolution in UGC and are what will likely make this new idea for MMOs into a mainstream must-have in the next couple of years.
First, the Foundry is relatively open and allows players to create dungeons, adventures, and even stories and then share them not only with friend and guild mates, but with the entire Neverwinter world at large.
Second, the Foundry also includes a rating system that lets players who’ve been through UGC adventures rate them or even flag them as inappropriate or offensive. This user-based quality control means that oversight of the UGC is largely done by the players themselves, limiting the amount of manpower required on Cryptic and Perfect World’s crews. Which means its costs are low.
So for a small amount of resource, the game could potentially see a huge amount of new content being created by the hour. What developer wouldn’t love that idea?
Currently, the Foundry is not available to Neverwinter players at large. It’s a beta idea that hasn’t been publicly released yet. But it likely will be included in game launch later this year, says VentureBeat’s Stefanie Fogel.
If it does launch with the game, it will be a game changer. (HA!)
If you’re still dubious about how user-generated content can really change gaming, and MMOs specifically, as we know it, then think about this: if you played table top games like Dungeons & Dragons, what was the best part about it outside of the group interaction and social get-together aspects?
Original content thanks to creative Game/Dungeon Masters and the players around you who helped liven up the experience. With MMOs, the creativity often loses its luster after repeating the same quest for the fifth time so that you can get your Ranger up to the same level as your Fighter. LOTRO players, for example, are likely intimately familiar with the “go kill goblins” and the “run around the Shire delivering pies” quests that haunt the lower starting levels of the game.
Now imagine if every time you created and leveled a new toon, you’d have the chance to bypass some of those repetitive quests and instead go through new adventures you’ve never seen before? You’d love that. Right?
That’s where UGC comes in.
And not just then, but all the way through the game, from beginning to level cap.
Sure, some quests and requirements would remain. LOTRO has level 30 quests you’d still have to accomplish and Deeds would still be there. These could be supplement by UGC too, though. Instead of collecting claws by just running around slaughtering random wargs, you could enter a quest someone just made and announced in the forums called “Warg Slaughter Fest” which contains as many wargs as you can possibly handle, coming at you in waves of drooling, toothy fury. Why not?
In the end, what we’re talking about is creativity and freshness. The greatest struggle for developers, once a game is released, is keeping it fresh enough that players will continue to play it. In today’s competitive world of Free to Play (F2P) MMOs, that’s even more crucial.
User-generated content seems to be the answer.