I was idly browsing for some information about Pirates of the Burning Sea the other day, and ran across this bit of information about how Flying Lab Software is looking to integrate the internet meme du jour, "user-created content", with a traditional MMOG design. Here's what they say:
We put the player community in the designer's seat. Using industry standard tools, you can create new textures and even 3-D models and submit them to the peer-reviewed web site for incorporation into the game. And you own what you create - if you design a new sword hilt or throne or sail design texture, you can make it freely available or charge for it within the game world. Earn in-game income from the sales of your designs! Or keep them to yourself and customize your own unique gear to the nth degree.
This paragraph is fascinating to me, because it manages to capture almost all of the most difficult aspects of player-created content within MMOG gamespaces, and all within a few lines.
At the broadest level it signals the degree to which moving to a "player-created" paradigm is a radical shift in control for game devs. Second Life is, of course, the modern-day exemplar of player-created content (LambdaMOO is the text-based exemplar), but there is a reason that it is a social space and not a game-space: it is really tough to reconcile the type of obsessive-compulsive attention to detail which characterizes the best games/worlds, and the loosey-goosey, "whatever makes you happy, man" approach that the Lindens allow. Which means that if you are a game developer and you want to grab the unfettered creativity of your players, you have to constrain them to the point of irrelevance. I don't mean to disparage Flying Lab or Pirates of the Burning Sea, but really, hilt designs or sail textures are the best examples of things you're gonna allow your players to do? Hardly earth-shattering. Which is not to say that it's not interesting; just to say that it indicates a well-placed concern on the part of Fling Lab that if they really let the players have their way, the 18th Century Caribbean is going to be populated by avatars with amazingly-detailed primcocks. [NSFW]. Which may not be exactly what the lead designer had in mind.
We've talked about this a lot before, of course, with various takes on the question of developer sovereignty and the urge for democracy within game worlds. The desire on the part of developers to harness the creative engine of the player-base is only going to exacerbate the need for developers to work out just what degree of autonomy that they can grant their users. It simply cannot be the case that Flying Lab mean what they say above, that the designs will be submitted to a peer-reviewing panel and the "best" ones will be implemented. The developers must intend to have a high degree of control over the designs that make their way into the world, because it is a certainty that if they don't the entire Port Royal harbor will look like t-shirts at a fan faire, with sails that feature large breasted elven princesses, Darth Vader in a jaunty pirate hat, and slogans like "Minus 50 DKP" or "WTS [Wang] PST". "Peer reviewing" is only as good as the individual peers, and the milieu in which they operate. So this is great for things like assessment of quality in scholarly work, or assessments of relevance in a tightly knit technical commentary community like Slashdot. It's not gonna be totally fabulous when your game has an historical milieu and the most active chunk of your community is either ideologically ill-disposed towards roleplay (most gamers) and/or are a bunch of griefers. This means that the peer reviewing panel is either hand-picked by the devs, is controlled by them, or is a kind of recommendation body for the real decision-makers.
The form of the model used to introduce designs brings up the politics of aesthetics. I've spent time in Second Life but I confess that I always leave as fast as I can because I find it so unappealing and disorienting. I applaud what the Lindens do, and I think that it serves a vital function in the development of virtual worlds and in user expressivity. But seeing the 1000ft spaceneedle next to the Art Deco mansion, surrounded by an accurate depiction of 19th Century Whitechapel...well, it just plain hurts my eyes. Give me the cartoon simplicity of WoW any day: at least it's aestheticly consistent.
Of course one can have user-generated content without embracing the kind of aesthetic libertarianism that characterizes Second Life. But to do so one has to make a commitment to law and politics: specifically one needs zoning and planning laws, and a political process to implement these. This should be familiar to all from the real world. The reason that I can't tear down my turn-of-the-century stone house and erect my preferred alternative of faithful recreation of Philip Johnson's New Canaan House, in the WASPy "village" of Chestnut Hill PA, is that I have to go through a planning process dictated by law, and numerous people affected by my architectural aspirations (ie my modernist-archiecture-despising neighbors) have standing to be involved in the outcome of the process. And they don't want a modern "monstrosity" spoiling the "character of the neighborhood".
The law and politics of aesthetics implicates all manner of questions about the construction of "neighborhood" and "community", and these are questions that game devs often have to grapple with in dealing with griefing or inappropriate chat or the like. But user generated content has been so attenuated to this point that I think that the difficulties of decisionmaking about aesthetics is unfamiliar to almost every single dev out there. Once again it requires the dev to make decisions about the degree of autonomy it is prepared to relinquish; except this time the question isn't just a dyadic relation between the developer and the player, but a triadic relation involving the developer, the player and "the community" (and indeed that hard-to-define subpart of the community called the "neighborhood" which has standing to have a voice about local amenity and appropriateness of specific types of development). My guess is that MMOG-developers like Flying Lab will try to stand-in for the community in all of the early attempts to introduce player-generated content ("Your sail design of 'C3PO with a parrot and pegleg' is REJECTED because it is contrary to lore/community expectation/other. This is an automated message. Please do not respond to this email"), while VW/social world developers like Linden will opt for a libertarian response (and on this issue, effectively deny that a community exists, or define it out of the picture by appealing to the overriding value of individualism that characterizes spaces built for and by cyberlibertarians). Perhaps these approaches are the best options that these two types of developers have. But I doubt that they will resolve the inherent tension that emerges when you grant players autonomy to begin designing the world.
Finally, the paragraph about Pirates of the Burning Sea raises a fascinating question about user-generated content and real money trades (RMT). If you are a game dev and you look to adopt user-generated content you have to consider 2 related questions: what are your users' motivations in generating content for you, and what intellectual property regime will you impose on them? You can see how the two are linked in the announcement above: Flying Lab will not assert intellectual property rights over the players' creations, and in doing so they announce an economic incentive for players to generate content because players can "[e]arn in-game income from the sales of ...[their] designs." I have some views about whether using incentives in this way is a good idea, but let's bracket that for the moment. What is interesting about the use of economic incentives to production is that it is hard to implement this without breaking the magic circle of the game: at the point that I buy a spiffy custom cutlass from Ted (or Ted's toon) I am engaging in an out-of-game transaction. I suppose it is possible to build a transactional system here which makes it look like Whitebeard (my toon) is buying a sword from a noted swordsmith named Greenbeard (Ted's toon). But that requires a in-world profession system of swordsmith, or sail-designer, or hilt-maker, or whatever, and relatively few swordsmiths of the 18th C had access to "industry standard tools" like Maya running on high-end PCs. And it means that each type of user-generated content requires its own in-game lore to justify it. If one looks at Second Life, one sees no attempt to introduce a lore around the production of virtual assets, because the world is built without any expectation of the magic circle. Game worlds are not like that, and so the reconciliation of the magic circle with user-generated content poses a difficult challenge. It also opens up all sorts of possibilities for RMT, since the sale of in-world hilts and sails using pieces of eight and doubloons will soon be followed by the sale of these items for dollars, euros, and cents. As I've said before I don't have any particular dislike of RMT, but there are many who do. Introducing user-generated content while managing the inevitable RMT effects is going to be an interesting challenge for Flying Lab and other devs who want to use their playerbase to generate content for them.
Comments on WTS Custom Designed Doubloons PST:
Very interesting development and post, Dan. I think you nail the main issues. You say you don't believe they really mean peer review of user-created content, but I think they might. I agree completely with the issues you raise, but who knows, they might be willing to take a chance -- or they may believe as one BigGameCo exec did about griefers and social malcontents when he said to me, "we're not selling to those people." For better or worse, MMOs really don't filter their customers, and as such don't have a strong (scalable) method for filtering "peers" in a peer-review board. Either this is controlled tightly by the company and is thus inordinantly costly (for often mediocre art), or it's not controlled and they end up with the bad-end-of-Renn-Faire look you mentioned.
All that said, I'm glad they're trying this (with their customers and their dollars). I think it's almost certainly a disastrous move, but who knows: maybe they have an innovative peer-review method that everyone else has missed; have some way of ensuring that the "best" content is created and gets through; and are able to handle the disruptive aspects of copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and RMT that this seems certain to create.
I'll watch with interest, but I'm not holding my breath.
Posted Jul 11, 2006 11:37:05 PM | link
Interesting.... And I like the idea of locale-based 'community' having an input into allowable user-created content, at least when tied to the locale.
I'm not sure your analogy to zoning is a particularly good one, though; it's certainly a common model in the real world, but there are alternatives. E.g., Dallas has close to no zoning laws, yet seems to get along without them. (I'm not praising Dallas as a particularly interesting city, btw--indeed, I'd shoot myself before living there, but not because of its lack of zoning, certainly.)
Here are some alternatives:
1. The original owners of a piece of territory can impose binding convenants restricting use of the land by subsequent owners. This can replace government (read dev)-enforced zoning in an adequately 'libertarian' way, albeit with potentially obnoxious results ("No Armenians allowed!")
2. Freedom of anyone to create any content, but a system of "fashion police" and "fashion courts" to fine, imprison, and/or toad those who create something deemed tacky or ill-advised according to some set of criteria established by democratic poll of the membership--no code enforcement, purely on the basis of the decisions of the member of the structure.
3. Player-created content is permissible under all circumstances, but any player-created content is linked to the creator in an identifiable way, and creation of content is sufficient grounds for immediate PvP combat on the part of anyone who chooses to take offense (or pretend to take offense) at it. Thus, create something narsty and you get killed a lot, which is a drag, so there's an incentive to create stuff people actually like.
4. I think you under-rate the efficacy of Slashdot's system of peer review/uprating/downrating. I don't know how you'd generalize it to something like sails i n a pirate game, where I can force my damn sail in your face regardless of how many people have rated it "f---ing repulsive", but no, I don't think the system depends on an audience of tightly-knit technogeeks. Digg, which gets a much broader audience, uses something similar, after all.
5. I think you could do pretty well with a relatively simple system--e.g., anytime you see user-created content, you can, if you feel so motivated, label it "cool" or "suppress this." And only if there's a 2-1 ratio for suppression (with a minimum of 20 votes, say) in all does it get suppressed. And if UberGuild A votes enmasse to suppress, go get UberGuild B to vote for cool. And most people, not giving a rat's ass, won't bother to rate. I think that would handle the extremes, albeit not the mediocrity that pertains to most user-created content.
Posted Jul 12, 2006 12:30:38 AM | link
Yikes. What to think?
The populist in me is appalled at the elitism of Dan's argument. "What? Some scruffy MMORPG players want to create their own content? There goes the neighborhood!"
Incidentally, I lived in Reston, Virginia for ten years, where your neighbors would rat you out to the local rajahs if your basketball backboard was painted the wrong color. I know first-hand what neighborhood design fascism looks like, and I don't like it -- I'd pick Dallas any day over that. (Although Fort Worth would be even better.)
And yet, the realist in me knows perfectly well that Dan's right. It's clear what kind of user-generated content can be expected from the consumers to whom MMOGs are currently marketed: 80% of what's created will be simple, ugly, and utterly ahistorical texture replacements; 15% will be attempts (more or less sophisticated) to break or abuse the system; and maybe 5% will actually be thoughtful, polished, and entertaining content.
So the question boils down to whether the developers will let everything into the game (with perhaps some in-game economic process to subsidize "good" content and tax "bad" content), or whether the developers will act as gatekeeper to prevent content that violates their standards of propriety and quality from ever entering the game world. Either approach has obvious costs, which I suppose is why developers haven't widely embraced user-generated content.
Another example of a developer who's decided to allow user-generated content is Nevrax, with their Ryzom Ring. It seems their approach will be to allow anyone to create places and scenarios... but these creations will be temporary and by-invitation-only until the player achieves "Pioneer" status. A player who is granted that status can make their creations permanent and globally accessible, just like dev-created content. Since Pioneer status will be accorded by Nevrax, it looks like they've chosen the path of the gatekeeper.
I don't know if these experiments will work, but it's great to see them being attempted. And it'll be fascinating to watch the results.
Posted Jul 12, 2006 2:38:33 AM | link
I wonder who the peers on the "peer-reviewed web site" are? Anyone who can access the site? In that case, it's trivially easy to exploit - all those well-intentioned sites for the peer-review of novels, screenplays, poetry etc. inevitably die under the weight of false identities and bloc voting by groups of friends.
If the peers are selected or elected, that makes it harder to exploit. However, then the problem becomes one of limited resources. Some people are highly prolific creators, and not all of them have great critical faculties. Why submit one hat design when they can submit 20, each with minor variations? They'll want them all to be rated, and they'll want to know why the hat with the green parrot image was accepted when the one with the red parrot image wasn't, and then they'll want to know if this new one with an image of a green parrot wearing an eyepatch will be accepted, and this other one where the green parrot image on the hat is itself wearing a hat which has a red parrot image on it. There's great potential for a small committee to be overwhelmed by the flood of material, meaning it can be days or weeks before players get their rejection email.
A possible solution would be to make players pay to submit a design, perhaps giving them their money back if it's accepted. This would cut the flow back considerably, but players would want better feedback as a result (after all, they're paying for a service).
All in all, it's one of those ideas that doesn't look like it has been thought through. Let's hope the rest of the game design has fared a little better.
Posted Jul 12, 2006 5:21:19 AM | link
I like the idea of an armed fashion police.
Posted Jul 12, 2006 7:57:24 AM | link
We are separating, once again, the player and the character, and the game and the content. Which seems, to me, bad, when you begin to talk about blending boundaries. Isn't this a good opportunity to allow game mechanics to help guide, inspire, facilitate and funnerize a game related activity?
First of all, if your only character is, lets say, a swash-buckling, fencing expert, fighter-type pirate... why should the game allow you to create "stuff." Pirates didn't do that, except for maybe some scrimshaw and carved wooden toys and grafitti on they wooden legs. So, firstly, limit the ability to create content to character classes for which it is relevant. If you want to *create* a texture for a sail, you need to become a... Master Sail-er. Or whatever the hey-nonny-nonny they called it. Sail-canter. Yardsman. You get the drift. I'm less concerned with the *quality* aspect of the stuff that gets created, than with the whole, "Look, ma! I did something utterly impossible for my character!" aspect.
So. If you do that, then you can have not just content creation character classes, but levels. And tools for content creation and distribution that scale-up with those levels. For example, a Level One gunsmith might only be able to make guns that look exactly like guns that already exist in game, that he has an example of and all parts for, and a plan for, and that he has been taught how to make by a Master. The Master gets XP for doing the teaching. At higher levels, gunsmiths get to start messing with "internal" workigns, and, eventually -- lastly -- with externals; the looks of the thing. At that point, you would have spent a long, long time building up relationships and earning your way to the "top" of your profession.
And, if I were designing some of these classes and levels, the "change the look" costs would be much higher than the "change the function" costs, because that's the way it is. Making a sail with all kinds of fancy pictures on it? Bah! OK, you can do it... but why? It would cost an arm and a leg. A sail if functional. It's like "pimp my muffler."
Tattoos, though? Sure. No big deal. They're meant to be stupid and fatuous. You want a dumb-ass tattoo? Knock yourself out. But... it's forever. And I mean forever. In SL, you can change skin with the flick of a switch. In an MMO, though, you want to change a leg tattoo... you can do it only if you change your name to Peg. You know Peg, right? That old stick in the mud...
You could even go so far as to have self-regulated "guild points" that require "journeymen" craftsmen to keep a newly created piece "private" until it has been voted "yes" on by a number of higher-level players or moderators. An incentive system could be put in place such that the sale, use or positive voting ("I like it!" votes from viewers or potential customers) of a piece that you "approve" accrues money and/or positive XP to you. Whereas the non-sale or "This is garbage!" votes from customers would give you bad mojo. IE, you approve your friend's crappy looking codpiece, he gets spanked by the masses... you get spanked.
If the tools are worked into the game, and make sense "behind the 4th wall," it could be a lot more fun. You could also limit the number of "out of bounds" things that can be done, for example not allowing easy "text" as part of textures, hopefully limiting quick, stupid "bumper stickering."
Though, again, under the system outlined above, by the time you get to the point in your craft class/guild where you can do something like that, you would have attached your ratings to a number of "guild elders," such that if you started spamming the world with "Impeach Bush" sails, and everyone who thought you were being a total dork harshed you... well, your chances for advancement would be impeded severely because you would have just dinged the dudes who you need to move up a level.
Posted Jul 12, 2006 8:16:17 AM | link
I didn't see this posted, so, from the PoBS site:
[b]How does voting work?[/b]
[i]Each item is rated on a scale from one to five. This rating is adjusted as the item receives more votes. When an item has accumulated enough votes, it is presented to the site administrators for a final review. Items which pass this review are accepted into the game.[/i]
[b]What kind of content is off-limits?[/b]
[i]We aren't permitting anything obscene, offensive, or copyrighted in the game. Any items that violate this rule will be deleted, and repeat offenses may lead to a banning. We're also providing specifications that items must meet; items that don't adhere to these specifications will also be deleted.[/i]
It seems that, as suggested, they're maintaining developer-level "veto" on content, no matter what the votes may say. The peer-review process appears to be more of a filtering tool for the devs (so they hope) so they don't have to spend alot of time on each asset.
I don't know if the dev time could have been better spent developing assets instead of reviewing them...
I'm also concerned with the issue of something beyond skins- meshes. From what I've seen in the modding community, while most player mods won't be at an abusive level of detail, players will occasionally make extremely-detailed, ridiculously-high-polygon art assets that can choke my system.
(You can't appreciate the impact this can have until you watch your framerate plummet when 8 characters sporting the same hair mod in the "sims" appear on the screen simultaneously.)
An alternate view I haven't seen mentioned:
On top of the review process, every player-created asset also has an alternate dev-created "default. If displaying the player-generated content would cause a player's system to suffer (or, for that matter, the player) it can be "turned off" to the default.
Effectively an /ignore filter for bad content.
Simple data mining could reveal assets that are frequently "ignored" and these could be "recalled" for additional scrutiny.
Posted Jul 12, 2006 10:03:03 AM | link
I agree with Andy that the jack-of-all-trades character-class thing needs to stop. I guess I can understand the need to please all of the people all of the time, and so you open up everything to them, but then again why can't warriors cast heal spells? Or fireballs? Crafting should be it's own class, and especially so for PotBS (anybody else read that as "pot of BS"? ... Just me?).
Also, why is it that the entire world except me seems to have access to this game? Nobody has a bigger pirate-crush than me, so it stands to reason that I should be playing this game ... now! :)
Posted Jul 12, 2006 12:21:58 PM | link
Chas, high-poly assets are the easiest to stop... borrowing from Andy's idea, there could be a polycount limit on the objects you uploaded, which would scale up (up to a limit, of course) as your character's level goes up. Same for maximum texture resolution: you could impose a limit where the user could use one 512x512 texture, or four 256x256 ones (one detail, one bumpmap, one main texture, one cubemap?), and that's it.
Compared to laser rifles and Weenie Bazookas in a pirate game, performance-sapping assets are a non-issue.
Posted Jul 12, 2006 10:58:53 PM | link
Mike Sellers wrote:
Either this is controlled tightly by the company and is thus inordinantly costly (for often mediocre art)
I guess maybe I'm missing something, but we do in text exactly what they are proposing to do graphically, and we have admins reviewing every piece that is submitted. I'll argue that it's -more- intensive in text rather than less, as one can't just glance at text and make a snap decision on whether it's good or not. One has to read it, look for grammatical and spelling errors, etc.
One admin can plow through an incredible number of items per hour, and besides, The Sims Online does it as well with company admin approval of submitted assets. What about what they're proposing do you see as inordinately costly if controlled tightly by the company?
Posted Jul 13, 2006 2:31:24 AM | link
I work at Flying Lab, so I thought I'd chime in and explain a little bit more about what we're doing.
The idea of integrating user-created content came from a GDC address by Will Wright, where he talked about providing a toolset for the Sims to the public before the game was released. They got two big advantages from this. First, players were able to "play" the game in some sense, and wanted to see their content in the game as soon as it shipped, so they're committed to buying the game. Second, it made a great deal of content available to casual players from day one, more than EA could ever have made internally. Because of this, we made the decision early on that we would support user created content as a core feature of the game.
Of course, we don't want inappropriate (bad, jarring, copyright violation) content in the game. We use the peer review as a filtering process, so that we don't have to waste time reviewing content that was clearly unsuitable for the game. We maintain final authority on any content that goes into the game, which needs to meet our quality standards.
Also, it's not just minor things that the players can craft; we allow players access to the very core of our game, the ships themselves. This really surprised us, as our ships are extremely complex, and we thought that it would be just too much work for people. As it happens, not only did it turn out not to be too much work, but the ships are generally of higher quality than the ones we contracted out. (This is because players are willing to spend significantly more time on the details, and because they can work from less complete plans than our contractors need.) Because it takes so much work to build one of these ships, we never want a player to build one and have it rejected, so we've created a steering committee of players to approve plans before work starts, and to give feedback as it progresses. So far, the process has worked fantastically, and we expect that the majority of the ships at release will have been created by the players.
Of course, just like the flags and sails, we maintain final approval, and we are solely responsible for setting the game play characteristics of the ships.
Someone mentioned that we have to spend resources on making this happen, resources that could be spent on other things. I would submit there is nothing else that, bang for the buck, is as valuable as supporting user content. If you do it half-assed, you're not going to get very much out of it, and you're going to frustrate your users, rather than converting them into day one customers. But if you do it right, the benefits are tremendous. I think when people see how we've done this, and the results we've gotten, that this model will become a no-brainer in MMP development.
If you're interested in more, all of this info is easily available at our web site, www.burningsea.com, and has been the subject of some great discussions in by our community.
Posted Jul 13, 2006 3:30:24 AM | link
As Mike noted above:
"Either this is controlled tightly by the company and is thus inordinantly costly (for often mediocre art), or it's not controlled and they end up with the bad-end-of-Renn-Faire look you mentioned."
It's certainly not free. We have a full time person devoted to it, and have other departments support as needed. This isn't a neat thing to do on the side, it's a significant area of focus, both in cost and opportunity (though the latter far outweighs the former).
Posted Jul 13, 2006 3:41:06 AM | link
I got an email from John Tynes (producer of PotBS) explaining how the system works, and it seems that Dan is correct: the peer-review process weeds out most of the substandard material, meaning that the degvelopers only have to look at the serious possibilities. They've never said they did otherwise, although the mmorpg.com write-up doesn't explicitly say they that they do do it this way, so it's easy to see how the impression might arise.
I dare say it's still possible to sneak in a provocative design by submitting two innocuous ones that together can be used to make something alarming, but ballot-stuffers and their ilk aren't going to see their efforts rewarded.
Posted Jul 13, 2006 5:22:52 AM | link
Take a look at PotBS User Content, Approved. It certainly looks like thoughtful, polished and entertaining content to me.
Posted Jul 13, 2006 12:02:46 PM | link
While I'm not saying that this idea will not work I am reminded of a couple of stories from my brief stint in the SCA.
In the SCA you can register an insignia, or arms, typically for your shield, and similar to this it is peer reviewed. This is both to make sure two people do
not register the same arms and to make sure that designs that are considered inappropriate are rejected.
One approved design featured "a serpent gules ensigned above a diamond or". Once the design was approved the person was able to modify it slightly enough that
it was still considered the same design by the rules of the SCA but of course it now looked like Superman's big red 'S'.
The other story I heard was someone who managed to get approved the image of a roster standing in profile with an outstretched claw imposed over a background
made of the faces of young women smiling. This is possibly an apocryphal tale since I think the description has to be included with the submission but the
story goes that whenever the knight was announced the herald was forced to call his arms which were "a cock rampant upon a field of maidenheads".
My point to this is that clever players will figure out ways to slip things through, just as they do with naming filters, clothing colors, or about anything
else. They will figure out ways to break apart images for approval and then stitch them back together on their character or submit something that looks
innocuous by itself but which gains significance when placed upon a character or object in a certain way.
Again, not saying the idea is doomed to failure. Just saying that I hope they realize what they are letting themselves in for. :)
Posted Jul 13, 2006 12:34:42 PM | link
"how Flying Lab Software is looking to integrate the internet meme du jour"
Do you even know what a meme is, or did you just sling some words together until you came up with something that looked educated? I suppose I shouldn't expect anything more from somebody who thinks of slashdot as good example of a peer-review forum.
In any case, at most, it is a trend, and you've only cited two games doing it. SL caters to artists and programmers and not much else, while FLS simply chooses to support artists among its future playerbase.
Posted Jul 13, 2006 1:59:58 PM | link
The other viable solution I've seen is making seeing custom content an "opt in" process. For example, Xbox Live uses a three tier system:
1) I don't want to see any player created custom content.
2) I only want to see my friends' custom content.
3) I want to see all custom content.
This lowers the show-off potential of customization, because having the coolest looking custom ship model doesn't do you any good if no one sees it but you. However, it means that the peer review process can be completely decentralized. If I choose to make my ship look like a giant floating Cadillac, that's my business and my friends' business. If you don't want to see it, you won't.
I suspect the PotBS solution will produce fewer, higher quality submissions, tough.
Posted Jul 13, 2006 3:08:01 PM | link
@ Russell Williams: "...I would submit there is nothing else that, bang for the buck, is as valuable as supporting user content. If you do it half-assed, you're not going to get very much out of it, and you're going to frustrate your users, rather than converting them into day one customers. But if you do it right, the benefits are tremendous. I think when people see how we've done this, and the results we've gotten, that this model will become a no-brainer in MMP development."
Brother, I couldn't agree with you more! I stopped playing MMOGs a couple years ago because they suck and aren't worth my time. This innovation gives me hope, albeit a fragile one, that perhaps, on some still distant day, I might return to the genre I fell in love with all those years ago. Nice work FLS! If only I could get you guys to develop a really nice Sci-Fi/Cyberpunk MMOG...
@ Richard Bartle: "A possible solution would be to make players pay to submit a design, perhaps giving them their money back if it's accepted."
It's thinking like this that makes you one of the big dogs! I'd keep their money though...let the players reward them through the in game purchase of the created object. Limited Edition and custom one-of-a-kind items would require a higher deposit than would a mass market item, etc.. You could actually sell item attributes to the player/creator (i.e. to add +2 to damg. to your flail of disruption will cost you an additional $50.)
@ Andy Havens: a lot of excellent ideas Andy! I especially like these here..."you can have not just content creation character classes, but levels. And tools for content creation and distribution that scale-up with those levels. For example, a Level One gunsmith might only be able to make guns that look exactly like guns that already exist in game, that he has an example of and all parts for, and a plan for, and that he has been taught how to make by a Master. The Master gets XP for doing the teaching. At higher levels, gunsmiths get to start messing with "internal" workigns, and, eventually -- lastly -- with externals; the looks of the thing. At that point, you would have spent a long, long time building up relationships and earning your way to the "top" of your profession."
Turn MMOGs into hobbies...make ones acheivements mean something! Oh, wait...I forgot, MMOG developers want to attract the "casual gamer", not the Hardcore, High-End gamers like me. Sorry Andy, but this idea won't work.
I gotta get going, I'm re-reading Gibsons Sprawl-trilogy...good stuff. ;)
Posted Jul 13, 2006 8:54:26 PM | link
One method beyond democratic/republic/autocratic methods that haven't been mentioned is training.
As an active mentor or advisor system may have labor issues, devs and players can create training programs to show new players the vision, principles, social norms, and practical skills of content creation. It's not as rigid as zoning or regulations, but not an anything goes.
Some features are:
1) building blocks
2) basic models
3) principles of content creation
4) training tools created by devs and players to help newer players understand the basic civil understanding of the VW
5) and other items I haven't thought of yet
We learn by see by doing, so as an alternative to rigid policies that needs to be enforced, proper guidelines and training can influence the community to willfully achieve a common goal. Of course a boring training program won't be effective, but a fun subgame tutorial built into the game (ala Andy Haven's class-base idea) can work.
Now, if this is deemed to idealistic, then we can use the lowest common denominator and basic store of value: money. The cheapest method is to allow players to vote with their real life money. Ideas like Dr. Bartle's suggestion (submission fee) should work nicely and can be a source of revenue.
And addressing Mike Sellers concern on the filtering issue, devs can install a three level system:
1. peer-review (democratic system)
2. editor's pick (republic system)
3. dev's executive powers (autocratic system)
Players through whatever the mechanism provided works as a 1st level filter. Then a company-paid editor pick a mix of peer-reviewed selection and their own personal picks to be added to the next quarterly additions.
* If necessary, we can add a 4th level where a super-majority of level 1 votes can veto level 3 executive powers.
Some random thoughts,
Posted Jul 14, 2006 7:17:17 AM | link
Thanks for the kind words. And, as to:
"Turn MMOGs into hobbies...make ones acheivements mean something! Oh, wait...I forgot, MMOG developers want to attract the "casual gamer", not the Hardcore, High-End gamers like me. Sorry Andy, but this idea won't work."
Well... nobody said that hard-core and casuals can't play together [Why am I seeing the "Farmers and Ranchers" song/dance/scene from "Oklahoma" played in my head between orcs and elves?]? I'm guessing that most casual gamers would want to play the same kinds of classes that are available now; fighters, magic users, healers, theives. The kinds of classes whose levels go up with fighting, raiding, adventurous... adventuring.
But for every 100 (or 50 or 500, whatever) fighters types, you might get 1 "craftsman/woman." It is, frankly, the reverse of a real-world pre-industrial, agrarian economy, where you need 99ish people working the land and supporting ag in order to field one knight.
Hmmm.... that's an interesting topic right there. Anyway...
So your Guild wants its own custom tabbard? You either need to have a Level 20 Clothier in the guild, or commission one from a member the Dyemakers Union ... because on your shard, all the Level 20 Clothiers have organized. And to be a Level 20 Clothier, you need the "blessing" (game mechanic) of some number of Level 25+ Clothiers. And they rule their guild with a... cotton fist? Sure. 'Cause there's only nine of them in your world. 'Cause it takes lots of in-game effort, not of the "slack and hash" variety to get to that level. It's a scarce commodity.
Or your guild can threaten them with greivous bodily harm if they don't lower their prices. Which might drive them into the arms of another guild, or they might band with another guild (the one that makes the sweeee-eeet defensive turrets for your guild hall) and black-list you. Or your guild could offer the clothiers protection and lock up the dry-goods trade on your shard.
Hey... all of a sudden we're role playing again, aren't we? Giving people choices of what to do... And, relative to another recent TN post, this is something else that would be more possible with "great, huge numbers of players on one server" that wouldn't be at 100 players. Because if there's only 1-in-100 interested in each of the funky, crafty tradework, and you have 10 or 20 funky, crafty trades... and, let's say, to have an interesting market for any of those trades with some competition and town-vs-town pricing battles and intra-guild trade wars you need, oh, at least 10 practicing players in each of those (call it, low-ball) 10 trades. That's 100 x 10 x 10 = 10,000 players needed to support a thriving, in-game RP-based trade/craft economy.
And, as a publisher, I'd build the craft-building tools and mechanisms for how they interact with levels/classes for several reasons:
1. By "casual" gamer, we don't just mean people who only want to game 5 hours a week instead of 5 hours a day. We mean people who like different things than boo-yah fight fests. Craft-based classes -- requiring actual *player* skills, with real, in-game results; not "Bang on this rock with a pick for 3 hours and you'll be more skilled at mining" -- could attract many "casual" gamers, because "crafting" can be a much more casual game experience than adventuring, PvPing, instancing, etc.
2. The content that will be added to the game will increase the value of the game.
3. The personalization of the content will increase the "stickiness" of the game for the players involved, even those who don't do the creating, but who are involved 2nd hand in the economy, per the example above.
4. The variety of what will happen on each shard/server will be so much more... uh... varried, that there will rise up, naturally, places where things happen that will be of interest to various groups of players. Interest = revenue. For example, if enough people agree, the architecture in one town could begin to take on a particular historical slant. That might be very attractive to a certain fence-sitting newbie. Or the ability to play in a world where they are concentrating on siege warfare with insanely detailed engines of war. Or a shard, perhaps, where there is no fighting, and all conflict is handled through economic and artistic contests.
We're close to the point where a player can become an in-game GM, if the publisher puts the right pieces in place. The Level 50 head of the Alchemists Guild needs a sphincter of green dragon in order to make the "Horn of Remorse" he has craved forever. But he pissed-off the only fighters' guild in town strong enough to do the quest that ends with that item. So now he sends out a message to three smaller guilds; "Band together, get me the sphincter, and I will supply you with health potions and poison for a month at half-price."
They'd like to... but none of their members is a Level 40 Healer, and *everyone* knows that quest is impossible without a serious band-aider... Where to find a high-level healer?
Starts to sound like some of pen-and-paper games I GM. Multiple elements, problem solving, what-do-we-do-first, various personalities all engaged...
All when you let players choose more "things to do" that interact with the world and improve their characters than "kill stuff."
Posted Jul 14, 2006 7:43:01 AM | link
@ Andy: HAHAHA! "The Level 50 head of the Alchemists Guild needs a sphincter of green dragon..." Hehe, I wonder if i could solo that.
So now "casual" gamer = carebear? 'Cause it used to be that "casual" gamer = someone who's too busy to play for more than an hour a day. Carebears gamers I like, too-busy-to-play-a-MMOG-but-I'm-gonna-cry-about-anyway gamers, not so much.
I love having carebear gamers around; in fact I wouldn't want to play a MMOG that didn't have at least one carebear type class in it. As for me, I always seek out the class that's the most complex and difficult to play (well). My all-time favorite class is the Meta-physicist in Anarchy Online...kept me very busy; controlling 3 pets simultaneously, loads of nanoscrystals (spells) buffs and de-buffs, very complex buffing rituals, implant crafting, excellent melee fighter and having to create a bunch of macros to control the pets, made this hybred class my fave.
Interest = revenue. True enough. But it's pretty obvious that the vast majority of gamers aren't playing MMOGs. Why? No interest = no revenue. I quit playing MMOGs because the quality just wasn't there to keep me interested.
So, I guess what's needed is a sudden "shock" to reinvigorate the genre. perhaps the PS3 will be the conduit for that jolt; all else being equal, any MMOG that's been specifically designed for the PS3 will be of far greater quality than any MMOG made for the PC.
We'll just have to wait and see...
Posted Jul 14, 2006 7:41:38 PM | link
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Posted Sep 24, 2006 10:35:53 PM | link
As much as I hate to say WoW should consider "borrowing" anything new from Everquest, I think Blizzard should look seriously at EQ's alternative advancement model for level 60 characters. Let characters continue to gain alternative XP when they hit the level cap and every "level" they can choose a single enhancement, whether it be higher innate resists, a bonus to a statistic powerleveling (STR, INT, AGI), a run-speed boost, a talent point (for example, wow powerleveling they could allow people to choose up to 10 additional talent points, allowing dual spec'd characters), etc., etc.
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