Player Created Content
Seven years ago, Cryptic Studios released the Foundry toolset for players of Star Trek Online. The software is used to create custom missions, which are then submitted to a database for the community to review. Needless to say, over the years hundreds of new bespoke missions have been created. Despite concerns, the overall quality of content has been very high. Popular and notable creations are now showcased by Cryptic. A sensible ruleset has ensured that poor quality, lore-breaking or exploitative material is filtered out or prevented. Broadly this this works and works well, adding a great deal of new content to the game and effectively extending the life cycle of the MMO. The Foundry system can also be found in Cryptic’ other MMO, Neverwinter, where it has met with similar success.
This is not a new idea and many games in the past have had the capacity for players to edit and create material themselves. Some of the best content for Unreal Tournament was created by its fans. Superhero MMO City of Heroes had a comparable editor called the Mission Architect. Users apparently created more quests on its launch date, than the development team had in five years. Needless to say, such facilities do have a positive proven track record with certain games. Then there is there are add-ons and UI customisations that many RPGs and MMOs support. The Elder Scrolls Online is quite challenging to play unless the player adds various mods that customise the interface and improve systems management. At the very least, players will often seek to customise the HUD of whatever game they are playing. LUA scripting facilitates this and subsequently, you’ll often see a great variety of UIs when watching Twitch streams of games such as WoW or LOTRO.
Now of course there are some who will argue that this is nothing more than the gaming community doing the game developers job for them. However, when it comes to systems such as The Foundry, who better than gamers themselves to know and produce, exactly the right sort of content that they require? Concerns over quality control have been addressed over the years and what actually makes it to the live game is often very well written and paced. I certainly think that this degree of player involvement can certainly extend the lifespan of a game. Is not the most common complaint levelled at any MMO, the lack of regular new content? Therefore, is not player created content a potential solution?
Sadly, this is not a binary question. The use of player created content has a multitude of consequences. There are issues of copyright, ownership and other legal issues to consider. It is more than likely that these are currently weighted in favour of the developers and publishers at present. Then there is the financial side of things to consider. Allowing players to create content may be beneficial in attracting a new audience but will it generate sufficient revenue? Some may suggest charging for player created content but that has proven a PR disaster in the past. Then of course there are differing types of player created content. For example, LOTRO has a community that regularly organises its own events and social gatherings. It’s a process that runs mainly on goodwill. Yet to try and formalise or monetise such activities would be difficult and potentially disastrous.
With the MMO market becoming extremely competitive and “live services” emerging as the latest industry buzzword, it will be interesting to see if there will be a wider flirtation with player created content. Putting aside morals and ethics and looking at things from a purely business perspective, the idea of players making game content that can then be sold back to them is surely an appealing concept. The only obstacles that logically stand in the way are ones of marketing and PR. Landmark experimented with something of this kind before it was closed, and it would be fascinating to see what the internal memos had to say about the experience. But the games industry is reticent to risk another debacle such as the one caused by Star Wars: Battlefront II. For the meantime, I suspect that player generated content will remain as it is in games such as STO and Neverwinter. But if we have learned anything from contemporary society it is that nothing is truly off the table.