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Oct 21, 2003



TL, this is kind of OT (more on the substance of this great post later) but let me just reiterate Ted's earlier welcome message and say that I'm soooo happy to have you blogging with us...


I've just been in touch with an anthropologist at UW-Milwaukee, Tom Malaby, who's preparing a study of game production. He pointed out that many of us (especially here at Terra Nova) focus so heavily on the experience side of things that we overlook the massive value of player production. Taking a somewhat different approach, Hector Postigo (of RPI) has this idea of pricing out the value of mods to the engine-building company. Sounds like these AoIR sessions got at the idea another way. This new research says that games are interactive experiences, which means that they are produced when consumed - yet another thing that tips ordinary economics on its head.


This leads into one of my favorite subjects. namely open source games. Specifically, the application of open source development approach to persistent worlds.

I remember being in guilds in Doom, Hexen II, Heretic 2, etc. in the old days. Most of us tried our hand at making mods, and we all played heavily on the mods that various people added to the game. In fact, many people I knew bought the game expansions simply to be able to play the newer mods effectively.

I wonder how many people bought NWN in order to be able to join one of the player made communities?


I've actually fiddled with the Aurora toolkit. I'm not sure, but it doesn't seem to be suited to persistent worlds.

Setting that aside, though, I think the concept of linked open-source persistent worlds is a next-level kind of thing. Quantum leap. And we are still processing the quantum leap we are in now.

Make it peer to peer, and it's quantum-leap-squared.
It's all big-think stuff, but it seems there's a real potential there.


Thanks for the conference report TL. It was interesting to see that so many now are focusing on the same issue that Anna Croon Fors and I tried to have a stab at back at the first AoIR conference (2000) in our "Beyond Use and Design" paper. I, for one (and apparently I'm far from alone think this is a very interesting area for research and development and agree that there is an important link here to the open source movement.


TL wrote: "And are they getting 'enough' in return for all their labor?" And here:


TL wrote: "The current turn toward privileging corporate interests above the creative independent and collaborative work of users is setting up worrisome precedents." We've hashed a (very) little of this out here:



I guess my question has to be, who says when enough is enough. I.e., who is the audience for this question? Obviously the audience for the article was the Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference, which is primarily academic. If that's where the idea stops, that's fine -- much of pomo crit, e.g., never got past that point. But to carry it out onto the high seas...

You cite to Lessig and Coombe often in the ownership article, but if your audience is legal, this might be a hard sell. Presupposing that virtual worlds are allowed to be run as for-profit enterprises and presupposing that players can be contractually bound to certain agreements prior to participating, is there any realistic alternative to the status quo? If so, what would it look like?

If you're audience is the designers -- I can imagine what the responses to this question from the designers here will be. (:runs for cover)

But if you're talking to the players, I think this makes sense, because the players are the ones who you're suggesting don't get enough. If this is true, they'll be the ones willing to make demands, vote with their feet, and possibly suffer the consequences of those actions.

p.s. Saw that the abstracts for Level Up are posted --


Looks like *LOTS* of MMORPG papers will be presented. You'll have to give us a report of that one too.


This is a really fascinating thread (for me). The idealist in me says that we have a wonderful opportunity to recognize that the reason that these worlds survive is because of the presence of other users. They are genuinely a community, and the artefacts created by community members provides a huge pool of commons property. Sometimes we can identify this as property (eg specific user mods) but other times it will fall more under the rubric of "social capital."

This is, I think, fundamental to our understanding of what these worlds will mean to us in future. I've argued elsewhere that the initial state of the Internet was of commons property, that society as a whole has benefited massively from this understanding, and that recent trends towards private control of parts of the Net are a Very Bad Thing.

Now, I am in *awe* of the designers of these worlds, and I recognize that they create the worlds in which these stories of property get played out. But if recent history is anything to go by, we're going to find that these worlds and *everything* anyone produces in world will become the property of individual (ie developer) interests. This is the realist-lawyer talking here.

I think that this is a shame; not because I think that developers should not be recognized, nor because I think that information wants to be free. But because we have an opportunity to recognize the role of the community here, and my guess is that we absolutely will hear nothing of it.


I found that the Aurora toolset actually IS suited to Persistent Worlds just fine.

It is not, however, suited to Massive Persistent Worlds, where Massive is a measure of concurrent users.

But persistent, with a userbase along the lines of a smallish mud or two or three typical (non-persistent) MP play sessions, sure.

Had Bioware distributed it with usable documentation(well, actually ANY documentation) I think the adoption of NWN as a (small-scale) MUD replacement would have been surprising. As it is, they missed their window and too many would-be worldbuilders got disgusted at the lack of documentation and support for the casual designers/modellers/developers and moved on.

The tools are fantastic, but many, many people I know bought NWN _solely_ to be able to build and DM modules as well as to host small graphical persistent MUDs. When Bioware fumbled on docs, the window of opportunity for large-scale adoption was missed, at least that's how I see it.

"And are they getting "enough" in return for all their labor?"
Playing in a sandbox is not, IMO, labor. The folks "laboring" in MMOGs are doing it for the same reason some people "labor" at hobbies such as fishing, golfing, restoring a musclecar, knitting, or making letterholders out of Thanksgiving turkey carcasses.

They do it because it's "fun" to them. It's their hobby. It's not often you get paid to do your hobby, and often, when you do, it quits being a hobby. The amateur fly-fisherman who is finally good enough and knows the region well enough to be a guide might guide his work buddies or relative pro bono and find that he likes doing that. Starts a guide biz or gets hired to be a guide. Now it's not a hobby. And he's not merely getting up at 4am and going to do battle with the fish, he's getting up at 3am so he can handhold some city-slicker wanting to do battle with the fish.

Either it's a hobby or it's a job.
If it's a job, it's labor, even if a labor of love, and reimbursement for time spent laboring is in order.
If it's a hobby, it isn't labor, and odds are, not only is the hobbyist not being reimbursed for his playtime, but he's probably spending a *lot* of money in addition to time to facilitate the hobby.

Which is, IMO, as it should be.
A hobby is not a job by default, no matter how hard you "work" at it. If it stops being fun, it bears reassessment as your hobby.


One more brief note. I'm loathe to first mention this in a comment field, but Ted has amazingly *timely filed* his conference draft for NYLS, it is (of course) brilliant and entertaining, and there's a lot in it that argues counter to what we might call, for lack of a better word, the instrusion of real legal ownership rights into gamespaces.



On Duckilama's hobby-job distinction, it's intuitively pleasant, but I don't think it holds up to much scrutiny. I enjoy what I do. If I were independently rich I would probably continue to research in this area. Is this my hobby or my job? Well, I get paid for it, but...

In any event, I'm not sure that the distinction is going to help us much. The *glaring* problem I see down the road (and not too far down the road) is that the hobbyist realizes she can make money from doing the equivalent of fly-fishing in a VW. But the developers say that the river is theirs, the flyrod she uses is theirs, the fish are theirs. If she wants to be a guide then she is free to negotiate a royalty rate with the world owner. But otherwise, well, she can go to hell. And if she wants to make a big deal of it, the developers will just boot her from the world.


I think the one thing missing from your own fly-fishing/guide rebuttal is the fact that in the real world, there are actual, honest-to-god areas of public property. State Parks or National Parks for example. You pays the nominal entry fee and as long as you have a fishing license from the state, you're good to go. Noone gets a "cut" except for the IRS.

If, on the other hand, you hop someone's fence with clients in tow, you're trespassing. If you negotiate with the landowner ahead of time, sometimes you can fish for free, but sometimes you are turned away or have to pay a per-person fee, again, on top of your fishing license.

The guide gets paid, the willing landowner gets a cut, the guidees get to fish.

In virtual worlds, the entire world is Private Property: No Tresspassing. No fishing without permission. No profiteering without sanction.

Now that we've gotten to this point, I wish I'd used deer hunting, as deer leases are common where I'm from and make more sense in this realm, but the fishing/camping thing shows the difference between "Public Property" and "Private Property" better.

Still, I contend that hobby is not necessarily a job - a job is something you get paid to do. As I said, the few and lucky find jobs that coincide with their hobby and get paid to do what they'd be doing in their freetime, but just because you expend a lot of time, effort, and money on a leisure activity doesn't necessarily make it a (paying/pay-worthy) job. Even if it duplicates something that OTHER people DO get paid for. Volunteers at hospitals spring to mind.


Hey, Ted, just catching up here and wondering if you could unpack this observation for me:

"many of us (especially here at Terra Nova) focus so heavily on the experience side of things that we overlook the massive value of player production"

I would have thought that your calculation of the Norrathian GDP was pretty much the definition of paying attention to the massive value of player production. So what exactly is it we're overlooking?


Good point Julian. I guess I was thining about 'production' in this context as the building of game technologies - levels, MOBs, puzzles and so on. That is, players doing what game designers do. But of course, when I kill the dragon and get the magic wand, well, that's a game piece, isn't it. And what's the difference between these three people:

a designer who codes a world so that a wand is lying in a dragon's belly

a modder who intervenes in the designer's code so that the wand is lying on a table

a player who intervenes in the designer's code and removes the wand from the dragon's belly, laying it on a table

There's some nuance there, but much similarity too. Once again, analogies to categories we apply to the Earth economy are elusive.


I'll take a crack at Earthly economic categories and try not to embarrass(sp?) myself.

designer - manufacturer
Goods(wand) are kept in a warehouse(dragon) and consumers(adventurers) must (very) actively seek out the location(kill the dragon)

modder - value added reseller(VAR) or simply retailer
Goods are shipped at the retailer's expense(modding time) from the warehouse to the convenient retail shop(table)

I haven't got a good one for the player. Just consumer, I guess.


I'm doubt that TL was referring either to:

1) The player-created "value" created by killing mobs and taking their 13w+ (Imho, that value is *not* player-created, it is designer-created -- though the eBay valuation of the 13w+ itself is, in some sense, player-created -- though again contingent on appealing game design.)

2) The value created by modding. (Here, due to the Turbine cite, I'm not quite *so* sure she's not talking about this (TL?), but look at her EQ ownership article -- it doesn't seem to focus on mods.)

She seems to be talking about the player created "value" of community structures that make the gamespaces vibrant. In other words, MMORPGs would not *be* MMORPGs if they were one shard/one player. So the market for these games (and the mechanism for the recruitment of new players -- as Dave hinted in an earlier thread, and as TL and MJ pointed out in the Sopranos article) is substantially driven by the investments of the players in the VWs.


Indeed. In most MOGs, players contribute through conversation and cooperation. In some, they can also contribute through competition and even construction. If the developer doesn't give these abilities to the players, then she is designing a single-player game. On the other hand, if the designer grants these abilities but the players don't make use of them... Actually, I've never seen that happen. It seems to me that players will do just about as much of those four things as the developer will allow. So while I can see how it takes both developers and players to make an MOG, it would appear that the players contributions mostly just involve doing what players love to do: play.

On the other hand (yes, I realize I've already used up my allotment of other hands), over the past five years or so, I've participated in more development forums than I'd care to count. Perhaps I delude myself, but I'd bet that I've contributed some ideas that have been used in development, or at the very least, have adjusted developer perspectives on some issues. This activity itself isn't really play, but some of my motivation might still have involved lobbying for the sort of environment in which I wanted to play.



I have some comments, but no conclusions about some of the issues raised here in relation to player investments, and unpaid labour.

It seems to me that capitalism has always relied on unpaid labour to maintain its momentum, and this has been most apparant in the unpaid domestic work of women. There's a whole body of literature that investigates what the national accounts would look like if domestic and emotional labour were counted. This is not to suggest that we necessarily should pay women for domestic work, or even that some women aren't willing unpaid workers in the home. It is just to point out that it is work that is crucial to the system - it has value.

In a similar way, players are productive and their investments in the game worlds are integral and crucial for the success of the games. (And I am talking of both material and emotional investments here). Whether they should be paid for it I'm not sure. And obviously almost all players are willing and even passionate about making those investments. Also obviously, the publishers/developers are making profits directly from that labour. It's capitalism doing its thang again.

As a final observation, sometimes an unpaid labour force can be very unruly. They cant be told what to do in quite the same way that someone who is a paid employee can be. John Banks has written an interesting account of the relations between a developer and player mod community that illustrate the tensions that arise when voluntary labour is used. The article also explores ways in which player creaters can share IP rights with developers.


Greg, I agree that T.L. likely didn't have player-lewted pixel crack in mind when talking about the players' contribution to game worlds, but I'm not sure the two are so easily separated.

By the same token, I don't see how you make such a clear distinction between the "value" of game lewt and its "eBay valuation." If Ted has taught us nothing else, it's that for the purpose of economic analysis, they are one and the same. And I would argue that they are at least roughly equivalent for other purposes as well -- maybe even T.L.'s.

The quantity and price of goods in a given game (its GDP) simply would not be what it is if not for (a) the player "work" that brings those goods out of the dragon's belly/warehouse/database and into the game and (b) the player "demand" that makes those goods sellable. The GDP is a function of (a) and (b). It is also, obviously, a function of (c) the designer's indispensable creativity. But no matter how great (c) is, if you zero out (a) and (b) you still get zero.

So how can you say that the GDP does not, in a very meaningful sense, reflect "player-created" value?


Jules --

First off, IANAE (e for economist). That said, I think player contributions of labor to create virtual items are required only based on designer decisions to code certain types of artificial scarcity -- that's all I'm saying.

E.g., as a designer, I could build a system where instead of investing the "labor" of 80 hours to procuce item X from the dragon's belly, you could just request item X and have it delivered at your virtual doorstep in unlimited quantities. The designer is free to change the code to flip the switch either way (labor req't --> no labor req't or vice versa).

So because the player investment required to produce item X is contingent upon the designer's decision as to whether such an investment will be required, it seems to me like a potential category mistake to tag the player investment as a standard contribution of additional property value that is not attributable to the designer/owner. (I realize this may seem slightly discordant with the Lockean analysis in part II of the Law of VWs paper. Oh well.)

Yes -- you're right, that without players (player "creators," player owners, and player buyers) the EQ GDP would not exist. So in that respect, the GDP is all about player-created value. But I'm trying to draw a distinction between value and valuation. (Please don't go pomo on me here.) Imho, with only a few exceptions, the designers are the ones who create the ebay-traded artifacts in VWs today and/or set the conditions for their "creation" by players.

So unlike the unrecognized labor investments that Sal talks about, the player investments in obtaining ebay-traded artifact X are investments to jump through the hoops set in place by the designers. When we're talking about player investments v. designer investments, this seems like a salient distinction between the respective investments.

I don't see this as a big point, because I think the investments of valuation and community (as Phin notes) offer a much stronger case for TL's position, anyway.


The math is very simple: The average player puts 20 hours a week into a game. If your game has 100,000 players, that is 2,000,000 man-hours a week. If you could make that one percent efficient at creating content, it would be the equivalent of having 500 employees. Even Sony has less than 1/10 that amount working on content.

I realize that is somewhat tangential to the point at hand, but it illustrates the incredible potential of setting the players to entertaining each other.



I think you're right on point, Dave. The only question I have is what you mean about being 1% efficient at creating content -- are you suggesting that 1% is an average figure? Arguably, with the exception of griefers, the mere existence of others in VWs is an instance of player-created of content. When I log on to any VW, the majority of the enjoyment for me is about the presence of the other avatars and trying to figure out what they're doing. Maybe I'm high on Richard's "socializer" aspect, maybe I'm just an ethnographer wannabe, but the community (enabled by the design) is the content.

I guess you could define content as something more than simple presence in a 3-D chat interface -- and it seems like VWs are partially retracing MUDs in this regard, with EQ=MUD1 --> There/Second Life=TinyMUD. (I must read Ricard's book!) But arguably you're seeing community-created content in EQ even, as TL says, with "fansites, walk-throughs/strategy guides, maps, databases"

I'm sure others here have more experience and better anecdotes, but when I was trying to get a handle on DAoC, for example, the little booklet that came with the software was kind of useless whereas the fansites were a great resource. So the fans, to a significant degree, make the game.

I probably ought to look at Raph's laws page re all of this -- there's probably one that fits.


Dave Rickey wrote, "If you could make that one percent efficient at creating content...."

If I could cheaply extract 1% of the total weight of the dirt in my lawn as gold I'd be rich, too. I mean, as long as we're comparing pipe dreams here, might as well have fun. ;)

DuckiLama wrote, "Had Bioware distributed it with usable documentation(well, actually ANY documentation) I think the adoption of NWN as a (small-scale) MUD replacement would have been surprising."

I have to call bullshit on this. Most text MUD engines had no or at best abysmal documentation. There are still thousands of text MUDs out there that were built from these humble beginnings. Hell, once I became a wizard on an LP-MUD, I had to go searching on different FTP sites for an LPC manual just to add my areas to the damn game; all I found were about a half-dozen incomplete works and I had to piece together the rest from other people and trial and error.

I think the real lesson is that making these games is HARD, especially when you have to deal with graphics and the unpredictability of a non-standard client. Not just anybody can come along and build a fun, balanced, interesting world out of thin air. It takes a certain level of discipline to use even the most basic tools to full effect to make interesting game worlds that don't crash. On the text MUD side of things, having a standard like telnet for text MUDs helped them go a lot further, because you knew what to expect with a standard telnet implementation. You didn't have to worry about graphics card compatability, or any of the other issues that can sink a computer game.

Not to sound too haughty, but there's a reason why we have professionals that do this type of thing full-time. It's not something just everyone can do.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see some easy-to-use tools that would encourage a homebrew environment for these types of games. It would definitely improve the industry as a whole to have people experimenting with interesting designs on the small scale instead of requiring them to screw up on a grand scale before they get the experience needed. :) But, I don't think you can fault the NWN system for just having bad documentation and ruining the utopian perfection that is hobbyist game development.

My thoughts,


There are ways to do it. There and Second Life are taking on obvious approach, almost everything in SL that is interesting is created by players.

Camelot's RvR is another way, when players launch a Relic raid and other player respond to defend it, they are in essence creating gameplay for each other. SWG's player-cities are another, as is its economic system. I've already described Wish's House system, and I'm currently working on our economy.

The key, in my opinion, is to set things up so that players, by pursuing their goals, inherently create situations that provide gameplay for others.

Remember the old debate about "Define "Fun", in terms that are useful as a guideline for design"? I think I finally came up with a workable version: Fun is the process of establishing, pursuing, and achieving goals. Obstacles to those objectives can add to "fun", *if* they are surmountable and the means to do so occurs to the player before frustration takes all the "fun" out of the process.

Players getting in each other's way is "fun" as long as there aren't ways for them to completely block you. Setbacks on the way to reaching the goals are "fun" as long as they can be traced back to things under the player's control.



Hey all. Thanks for the nice welcome Greg :) How cool to pop back on and see so many comments for the entry. Just thought I'd comment on a couple angles real quick. The first is that I think there are strong and weak versions (maybe better to term it something like obvious/less apparent) of what it would mean to call players developers/designers depending on if you are talking about game modifications (which it sounds to me the DeCal plug-ins for AC are), the massive cataloguing and organization of game knowledge (check out any of the serious player-run EQ databases for example), or simply the amount of cultural labor invested in a game to make it (play, avatars, objects, lifeworld) meaningful. In the same way I'd argue that designers are actually lay sociologists(+) it seems to me we can consider active players as something much more than just 'consumers.' This was what in large part what animated my Whose Game piece - a concern that we begin to understand how players are productive (I liked how Dan put this as taking the community seriously) and what it might mean to start really wrangling with that issue. There is an important broader debate about positioning people as not simply consumers but citizens (I think the 'hobbyist' model also doesn't get us far enough) and there is something to pull over to game studies from that.

The second thing I want to mention is I believe we have to be careful to not conflate 'players can be producers' with 'therefore designers are irrelevant, have no specialized knowledge, etc.' (not that anyone has outright done this but I think it can be an imagined leap). I absolutely still think professional designers are a crucial part of the equation and I've written elsewhere about how they set up very important structures in virtual worlds that deeply shape what happens within them (Julian gets at this as well in a great chapter he has on the creation of Schmoo in Lambda). I'd argue however that the best design practices acknowledge the kind of labor (and yup, I do think that is a word we should use for it) participants do in spaces and shift practice accordingly. I actually don't think it's neccessarily the case that designers don't want this but that they themselves might operate in institutional/corporate structures that limit even their ambitions or more progressive design orientations.

One final thought - I actually don't have any final answer on what I think might constitute 'enough.' I'd say it depends on the situation. I can imagine scenarios where money/material reward might be involved, but at a most basic level I think the language we use is one step in giving players the recognition, and legitimation, they deserve.


Dear Mr. Lastowka, Esq.:

(And bear with me, folks, while I continue to pick Greg's nits -- it's all in the nature of primate socialization, and besides, I promise there is some relevance to the discussion at hand.)

If I understand you, you're saying virtual goods would not have the eBay valuations they do if it weren't for the hoops designers require jumping through to get them.

I agree.

And what I'm saying is that they also wouldn't have the valuations they do if it weren't for the jumping through hoops that players actually perform to get them.

The two statements obviously don't contradict each other, so I guess where we're disagreeing is that I don't see how you pick out one or the other as being the decisive moment where value gets created. I mean, I will probably regret this analogy in the morning, but the fact that God declared gold must be mined rather than wished into existence does not mean miners add no value to the stuff.

Likewise, the fact that designers choose to build puzzle worlds rather than challenge-free utopias does not mean players contribute nothing to those worlds by solving the puzzles. This is related to what Ted calls the "puzzle of puzzles," but it's really no puzzle for a MMOG designer. Build your world in such a way that players feel they are contributing value to it, and they will come. The downside, as Dave Rickey can no doubt express more pithily, is that by giving players that sense of contribution, you inevitably give up a good deal of control.

OK, now for the relevance, such as it is:

MMOG design seems to be an unusual sort of creation, with a hard bargain built into it: to a degree approached but never quite attained in other fields of creativity, "your" creation (enforceable legal fictions notwithstanding) is never entirely your own.

Now, T.L. raised an interesting question about the varieties of contribution that go into making a game what it is, and I grant that in the hierarchy of those contributions (if you want to rank them) the labor of puzzle-solving that makes virtual economies function is bottom-rung stuff. But if it weren't at least on the ladder, I'm not sure why any of us would be as interested in those economies as we are.


So I just read Ted's paper.

And it makes me queasy for some reason. Forgive me while I ramble.

I feel like I'm contaminating this comments thread by discussing it, but... Ted, aren't you troubled by the totalitarianism required to maintain a closed world? Specifically, cf the Law about the roleplay-required world being a fascist state... you're describing the same thing, and arguing that we need that respite of a constrained world. Why?

If you use Richard's formulation of virtual worlds as places (as you seem to, implicitly), then there's already some analogues here. There's theme parks. There's universities. There's companies with private security and company towns (as Dan & Greg have pointed out in the past). Disney World enforces its fantasy by having underground tunnels filled with men in black who come out of manholes and clean up the offenders against consensus reality (yes, I'm serious, this is literal). I'm pretty sure that you agree to the equivalent of a EULA (park policies) when you go in there...

And yet... and yet, Disney World doesn't say you can't talk about the World Series. But I'd point out that kids at play don't stop talking about schoolwork or about their parents' divorce either. What is this privileging of escapism that you're arguing for? Why do we need it exactly?

I can see the value (absolutely!) for worlds that are partially closed. Some experiences cannot be had any other way... but at the same time, I have a gut negative reaction to defenses of the commons *of the imagination*. Perhaps because the commons of the imagination are incredibly resilient (imagination is never a finite quantity, unlike the square footage of a sheep enclosure). Perhaps because too many other things are tied into the imagination. Imagination is in fact impoverished when external factors are not allowed to crosspollinate with the setting.

A very interesting paper. Do I get to heckle you at State of Play?


Here's the line that got me.

"Better a play space with no gift items than no play space at all."

It was at about this point in the paper that I realized I'd rather play in an open space than in this sort of closed space. While we started with Huizinga's notion that the only act of moral consequence that can occur in a game is ending the game, we ended up with a game where a player cannot give another player a gift.

If giving another player a gift is an act of moral consequence and must therefore be disallowed in a closed play space, one wonders exactly what other sorts of activities will turn out to be of moral consequence. I rather think all of them eventually may, as we come to the realization that the attempt to contain human actions in some sort of insular space is a vain one. Our choices have consequences. Period.



Dave Rickey wrote, "There are ways to do it. There and Second Life are taking on obvious approach, almost everything in SL that is interesting is created by players."

Yeah, sure. Online games are all about player interactions. Players "create content" at the very least by providing another human being to talk to. I think TL's distinction between "weak" and "strong" content creation is important here. (I'm not terribly fond of the terminology, though. How about "supplementary" and "primary"?) I agree that players will always be able to add supplementary content in the forms of communication, role-playing, fan fiction, etc. However, I don't think that we can realistically expect to allow people to add primary content to the game.

Randy Farmer gave an amusing anecdote about Second Life. He created the smallest possible object. This object stayed in the air and fired 100% damage bullets in all directions. Then, the item teleported a random distance away, having a small chance to create another identical item. Stop and think about that for a second! All it takes is one of these things let loose to create havoc for everyone in the world.

There were similar problems in one of the LP-MUDs I played in college. Wizards would create secret areas with hidden passwords for their mortal characters to access and get good equipment with minimal effort. Obviously there's some room for problems if you give players primary content creation ability.

Dave also wrote, "Remember the old debate about "Define "Fun", in terms that are useful as a guideline for design"? I think I finally came up with a workable version: Fun is the process of establishing, pursuing, and achieving goals. Obstacles to those objectives can add to "fun", *if* they are surmountable and the means to do so occurs to the player before frustration takes all the "fun" out of the process."

Sounds like Sid Meier's statement, "A good game is a series of interesting decisions. The decisions must be both frequent and meaningful."

However, I don't think that's a complete definition. I can create goals that are not fun. Hell, look at the cries against the "treadmill" by most jaded players and you can see that one size definitely doesn't fit all.

Anyway, after the last few posts, I think I have a paper I need to read. ;)

My thoughts,


OK, you guys have been dancing around an issue that needs to be addressed. If players are acknowledged as making a valuable contribution to the game world, then who owns the player generated content?

I saw this on Slashdot.org. I knew this was going to happen eventually:


"A small woodworking tool manufacturer, Stots Corporation, includes a license agreement on its TemplateMaster jig tool. The tool is licensed, not sold, and customers cannot sell it or lend it to others. Nor can they sell or lend the jigs they make with it...."

There was once a long and intense debate on the Skotos forums about the Xbox-modchip controversy and the degree of ownership that a company retains to a product that they make and sell. There were actually several people who posted the opinion that MS retained the right to ttell you what you could do with your own hardware after you had purchased it. I recoiled in horror at the thought, but this attitude is spreading like SARS. I believe it was Dave who brought up the subject of automobile diagnostic codes and court decisions that require auto makers to release these codes, even though they tried to keep them secret.

Then there was the case of a medical publishing company who sent out a flock of books to various doctors with a shrink wrapped license, stating that the contents of the book remained the property of the publisher, and if the doctor did not agree they were required to return the book (at their own expense). I other words, reading the book was a contract acknowledging that the knowledge gained from it remained the property of the publisher.

Fan fiction controversy. Enough said.

So tell me folks, who owns the player made content that you designer types admit is important to the game world? As a player, how far can I go? What am I allowed to create, and what can I do with it without getting banned and/or lawyer-ized? Where is the line drawn?


Brian Green> "However, I don't think that's a complete definition. I can create goals that are not fun. Hell, look at the cries against the 'treadmill' by most jaded players and you can see that one size definitely doesn't fit all."

Perhaps the definition isn't quite as complete as Sid's because it leaves out the word "meaningful." Perhaps fun is the process of establishing, pursuing, and achieving meaningful goals. Now that explains why I don't particularly like treadmills. Of course, "meaningful" is defined by each player, so it gives your definition a bit more flexibility. Or maybe it just waters it down. :p

Actually, I think the second part of your definition contains the more practical information for developers. I think I'll add it to Sid's statement as one of those guidelines I try to keep in mind when reviewing a game design, whether my own or someone else's.

As for the content discussion, I really think that developers should shift their focus more toward providing context instead of content. I don't think that developers need to try to directly entertain players. I believe that is a losing (or lost?) battle. Instead, I'd like to see those resources put toward providing a good context in which players can entertain each other through conversation, cooperation, competition, and construction. Their are still plenty of dangers, as Randy Farmer's anecdote points out, but I think this battle can be one whereas the content battle cannot.



I think most of what some are calling player-created "content" - and I don't agree that players are "creating" "content" per se - is not the same as the content that a designer creates and therefore needs a new term.
(Notable exceptions are places like There, where players actually can create content just as designers do).

I propose the term "emergent content".
This would, I think, describe all the "touchy feely" stuff that some of us believe _is_ player-created content.
By the mere fact of being logged-in, the argument goes, a player is creating content. I disagree, but it may just be semantic, hence the new term.

A player buys the game and pays the 'scrip fee for the express purpose of logging in and consuming content. I don't think that the act of consuming content is, in and of itself, the "creation" of "content". By that argument, even someone playing a single-player game is creating content, whether for someone watching him play or for himself, experiencing himself playing.

I realize that the original thought was that players log in and create roleplay scenes and situations, which could loosely, IMO, be called the creation of content on par with designer created content. But through the discussion, some have intimated that the mere state of being logged in is a creation of content for others that are similarly logged in and in a position to observe your "logged-in-ness".

I think that this type of "content" is not the same as designer-created content.

I think it's emergent content and should be distinguished from the more "active" forms of content-creation that players may or may not have the power to perform.


Content creation is a very difficult thing to pin down. Shakespeare writing his plays was creating content. But the actors acting them, one could easily argue, are also engaged in content creation at the same time as they themselves consume it.

It is sad to see people buying into the lies of passive-consumerism that the media outlets have spread. Let us look at what is often held up as the most passive, brain numbing, form of mass-entertainment - watching television. The watcher is not just consuming content, but is often also creating it. The proof of this is the existence of meta-shows which broadcast the content created by people consuming content, cf Mystery Science Theatre 3000. And one does not have to look long on Google to realize the plethora of content which has been generated as a result of consuming that derivative content.

Have I merely trivialized "content generation"? Possibly. But even under much stricter defintions of content generation, games such as Ultima Online saw vastly more player generated content than developer generated content[*]. This includes purely emergent content (content created without the intent of creating content) and intentional content (the crafting of quests, events, contents, duels, battles, plots, etc.) I don't know how far it got, but I do recall back when you could gate monsters, there was an attempt to turn the unused tunnels underneath Buccaneers Den into a dungeon by manually gating in monsters.

[*] This may seem an overly strong statement - did not the world get written by the developers? The world writing was two halves however, the infrastructure (which really isn't content any more than building a television is content creation) and the artwork/building. While players have not added any additional artwork, they certainly have built more buildings than the original designers. And likley spent more man-hours decorating them. In the end, however, it shows how difficult it is to measure content creation. Does the play writer or actor contribute more to the play? I'm sure there is an economic answer, but that is biased by the current fashionability of being an actor.

- Brask Mumei


I'd argue that an RP guild that creates an ongoing story for itself and then travels in the game world in character to accomplish their story goal is creating content. Some of it is quite good, and it definately adds to the game/world experience of anyone who comes into contact with them. (You could easily argue that the developer should be sponsering teams to do the same.)

There is also a value-add from anyone with the initiative to set big goals, build a force of several people, and motivate/manage them to accomplish that goal.

I won't bother arguing that someone who just logs in to exercise the xp treadmill is making content, but that shouldn't eclipse those who are.


Does the player really decide whether a goal is meaningful? Is it "meaningful" to knock out a line of blocks in Tetris? Is it meaningful to do *anything* in a game? Only within the context of the game (ignoring eBay for now).

The process of being presented with goals and being able to pursue them is, I believe, the essence of the question.



This is fascinating and insightful. But it doesn't address the question I asked earlier. Who owns player generated content? Or perhaps more appropriately, who holds the right(s) of use for it?

Unless the lack of a response is itself an answer of course...

B. Smith


"But it doesn't address the question I asked earlier. Who owns player generated content?"

Legally? I think every EULA I have bothered to inspect VERY clearly states that they will gain full and complete rights to everything done in game.

Morally? I don't think the game company should gain any rights to any speech made within the game. They should be considered more like ISPs - as far as I know, by posting this message through my ISP, the ISP doesn't gain any rights to the content. However, my understanding is that the books I wrote in-game in UO are technically the property of EA. I really don't see EA enforcing this, but as worlds become more complex I think it is going to be a more important issue.

Consider if SWG had an in-game internet where one could post "web pages" which exist only on the SWG servers. What would happen if Sony, noticing my pages were super cool, decided to publish them in a book? Could they sell such a book without my permission and without paying me? Conversely, consider the (slightly) more likely scenario, where I, the poster, want to publish it as a book. Do I need to get Sony's permission, and possibly cut them into the deal?

The right course of action, IMHO, is to have a contract that does what most players think is happening:
By posting/saying/doing anything in game, one is:
1) Verifying that one is the original copyright holder of said post/speech/act, or have received the appropriate permissions.
2) Granting the game company the license to use the post/speech/act within the game world, including copying, deleting, and changing.

IMO, that would seem to be the proper balance. If the game company wants to use a characters story as marketting material, they should have to acquire permission. It is not as if that permission would be reluctantly given!

One whole aspect of the content debate not talked on here is the creation of derivitive works with the game engine. Consider the numerous "comics" that flourished around Ultima Online, Imanewbie, for example.

- Brask Mumei


Dave: I think "meaningful" distinguishes "more fun" from "just something to do." Your definition just assumes "meaningful" in whatever definitions of "goal" or "objective" that you are using.

And, it is both the players and the developers that establish what is meaningful.

In fact, if Hunter still wonders what consitutes intra-game criminal activity, I would suggest considering those activities (and, game mechanics) that the general population normatively rejected to such an extent that a developer decided to drastically change the game mechanics to restrict (to whatever degree) such activities. That might avoid some of the definitional issues.



On meaningful:

Dave> "The process of being presented with goals and being able to pursue them is, I believe, the essence of the question."

Perhaps. But that still leaves me unable to explain (at least in the context of this definition of fun) why I don't enjoy treadmills...or even tetris for that matter. It is the futility of these exercises that I find boring.

Looking back at Sid's definition, the fact that player decisions are frequent isn't enough to make a game fun. If not meaningful, the goals need to at least be interesting. I'm not sure where that gets us though, since it seems a bit circular. Fun games have fun goals. Fun games involve fun decisions. From this perspective, maybe you are right that the only real contribution these statements make involve pursuing goals and presenting gamers with decisions.

On content:

Consider this in-game scenario. A merchant walks into a tavern and hires two bodyguards to help him transport valuable goods to a distant town. On the way, the group is attacked by thugs. The two bodyguards fight valiantly and drive off the thugs. The merchant is grateful for their protection and gives each a special item as a bonus for their assistance.

There are (at least) three possibilities for this scenario.

1) The merchant and thugs are NPCs, PCs or both, controlled by the developer and designed to provide entertaining content directly to players in the form of a quest. In other words, this is what I would call developer-generated direct content.

2) The merchant is a player who has staged the scenario with the help of friends to provide entertaining content directly to other players in the form of a quest. In other words, this is what I would call player-generated direct content.

3) The merchant is just a merchant, the bodyguards are just bodyguards, and the thugs are just thugs. I like DuckiLama's label of emergent content for this category.

As a player, I find the third option by far the most compelling. To be honest, I don't really get much enjoyment out of the first two.

It is interesting to consider who is actually creating the content in the third scenario. In order for it to work, I think the most important consideration is the context and not the content. If the game provides a rich enough and balanced enough context to allow for merchants, bodyguards, and thugs to function as merchants, bodyguards and thugs would naturally be expected to function, then there is really not much need to make up stories to spoon-feed to players.

The reason players are starving for more good content than the developers or other players can give them is that the context is paper thin. Solve the context problem and you won't have a content problem. In addition, you'll have a much more compelling game, IMHO.



I guess that depends on what the "player generated content" is, and whether it has any value outside of the context of the game.

By that, I mean more than eBay value, but a "creative work" that would have copyright value. There and SL have much more of an issue with that than anyone else, since they do explicitly encourage the creation of new "creative works". Which makes me curious, since they explicitly claim that anything uploaded belongs to them, if I design a There t-shirt with a recognizable logo, and then I create the same logo t-shirt in reality through Cafe Press and register a trademark on the logo, who the hell owns that trademark? The copyright office only recognizes a trademark that is "in use", physically present on some real-world piece of merchandise, and the one There or SL has doesn't meet that standard.

Basically, you're not getting a response because nobody wants to be on record as having guessed, because we haven't the slightest clue, including the lawyers.



Smith: "This is fascinating and insightful. But it doesn't address the question I asked earlier. Who owns player generated content? Or perhaps more appropriately, who holds the right(s) of use for it?

Unless the lack of a response is itself an answer of course..."

Dave: "Basically, you're not getting a response because nobody wants to be on record as having guessed, because we haven't the slightest clue, including the lawyers."

Well, it's not really a question that can be answered without significant knowledge of the fact pattern. It's a question not unlike asking: "Dave, there are two avatars, A and B. Which one would win in a duel?" Without more information-- like the avatars' stats and the game mechanics-- you can't answer it. The more evenly matched the avatars' stats or the greater the standard deviation in the game mechanics, the less the precision with which you can predict.



I get that, but it's kind of the point. We've got the intersection of two exceedingly complex fields: Gameplay, much of it experimental or hypothetical, and IP law, much of it outdated and contradictory (when applied to this). Where are the lines to be drawn, what is a "creative work", what is a "derivative work", etc.? Take the t-shirt example, in the real world I don't have to be a lawyer to know that the clothing maker can have a copyright on the pattern of the shirt, the cloth manufacturer a patent on the material, and I can *still* have a trademark on the logo that appears on it. Other property rights relating to my "creative work's" expression don't negate my ownership.

But when There or SL "owns" uploaded content, what does that mean? Obviously There doesn't own the trademarked "Red Tag" of virtual Levi jeans it sells, but they have an explicit agreement with Levi Strauss for that. If I create a distinctive logo, upload it to there, and I want to trademark it for use on t-shirts in the real world, what is the legal status of that trademark? What if I already had it trademarked, but didn't have the special arrangement Levi's do?



First we need to check out what claims these companies are making on the ownership of content. I read a interesting thread in the Second Life forums a few months ago that compared what SL and There's policies regarding user created content.

From SL:

6.1 Content. You acknowledge that: (i) by using the Service you may have access to graphics, sound effects, music, video, audio, animation, text and other creative output (collectively, "Content"), and (ii) Content may be provided under license by independent content providers, including contributions from other Participants (all such independent content providers, "Content Providers")...

6.2 Rights in Content. You acknowledge that Linden and other Content Providers have rights in their respective Content under copyright and other applicable laws and treaty provisions, that they retain all such rights and that you accept full responsibility and liability for your use of any Content in violation of any such rights. You agree that you will not use any Content other than in connection with using the Service and that your creation of Content is not in any way based upon any expectation of compensation from Linden. You shall hold Linden harmless from any claims by third parties that your Content infringes upon, violates or misappropriates their intellectual property or proprietary rights.

From There:

All materials you send to Company, whether or not at our request (including, but not limited to, e-mail, postings, contest entries, Avatars, There Objects, "Developer submissions", creative suggestions, ideas, notes, drawings, concepts or other information) (collectively, "Submissions"), shall be deemed, and shall remain, the
property of Company.

I'm not experienced enough to tell you what that really means, but the basic points are that I don't see SL claiming ownership of the content - just claiming the ability to use that content. This feels very different than There's outright ownership. Of course, as I understand it, the There 'developer' gets paid in therebux for the content, while the SL content provider looks to the rest of the community for compensation (if they need it).

So I'd guess in SL if you upload a T-shirt with an original design, and decide to trademark it, its yours, but you've already allowed LindenLab to use it all they want. If you upload it to There, and then create the trademark - well, there owns it already, so you shouldn't be able to claim the trademark, right?

I'm enjoying this discussion, being a longtime SL user (well, about as long as anyone), and a very big fan of the ability to create content that is "player-generated direct content." From a user perspective, creating content is such an unique experience, it is its own reward. Right now, a group of users I am involved with is trying to make a persistent MMOG *inside* of Second Life. To me, just being able to do that is an awesome thing. And I'm pretty sure I would be able to sell that game on Ebay, because it is *mine*.



Brask Mumei wrote, "I don't think the game company should gain any rights to any speech made within the game. They should be considered more like ISPs - as far as I know, by posting this message through my ISP, the ISP doesn't gain any rights to the content."

I'm not a lawyer. However, this place needs to have some rights in order to accept your post. At the very least they have to have broadcast rights to broadcast your post to other readers. If this blog didn't have that right, then they couldn't legally carry your content. One could say that you are giving consent to letting this blog have broadcast rights since you posted up the comment.

Brask Mumei also wrote, "Consider if SWG had an in-game internet where one could post "web pages" which exist only on the SWG servers. What would happen if Sony, noticing my pages were super cool, decided to publish them in a book? Could they sell such a book without my permission and without paying me?"

What's the difference between Sony charging people for a subscription to SWG to view your web pages and Sony charging people for a book? Broadcast medium vs. printed medium, perhaps? Could they make a Pay-Per-View TV show about your web pages and be in the clear, then?

Not easy questions to answer without some amount of specialized legal knowledge.

Paul "Phinehas" Schwanz wrote, "As a player, I find the third option by far the most compelling. To be honest, I don't really get much enjoyment out of the first two."

Really? Have you actually went into a game and experienced the boring trek of hauling goods from point A to point B? Do you really like the possibility that you'll be throwing money at the bodyguards for no effect since the thugs weren't playing that day? Did you really like the possibility that the bodyguards would turn on you and help the thugs steal your cargo?

I don't think the third scenario is the utopia you might think it is. IMHO, of course.


Quoth Brian, "Really? Have you actually went into a game and experienced the boring trek of hauling goods from point A to point B? Do you really like the possibility that you'll be throwing money at the bodyguards for no effect since the thugs weren't playing that day? Did you really like the possibility that the bodyguards would turn on you and help the thugs steal your cargo?"

That's exactly how it should be. Merchants pay bodyguards to protect them because there MIGHT be thugs waiting between their A and B. Or, if they expect it (perhaps because it happened last time.) The merchants select the bodyguards based on how much they trust them to do the job they were paid for.

The main problem with #1 and #2 is that someone needs to plan for it. Yes, some people like doing that. There's a time and place for #1 and #2. Others prefer realism; that is, consistency with reality. No merchant PLANS to be attacked. They prepare for it just in case they are.


Michael Chui wrote, "That's exactly how it should be."

And then 90% of your playerbase will log out in disgust and post how your game is unfair and filled with immature 12-year-olds (cf. references to PvP games).

Life has enough unpredictability. Start your own business, and I guarantee you'll get enough dynamic, unplanned, "realistic" action you'll ever want. When I visit a virtual world, I want to enjoy myself. Maybe I want to have fun conquering orcs, or maybe I just kick back and chat with people that have similar interests, or I might even work at creating some work of art within the world. But requiring me to hire on unpredictable bodyguards just because the world needs to be more "realistic" is just silly. Especially when said bodyguards can exploit the game (lack of easy reputation systems, pseudoanonymity, might-makes-right consequences) to screw me over, then it's definitely not fun anymore.

This is not to say that some unpredictability can't be fun; however, you really have to design well for it. My own game, Meridian 59, has full PvP. You are rarely 100% safe from people attacking you in the game. But, you can always plan for an attack, and recover quickly; our poor merchant in this example would probably take a very, very long time to recover from the bodyguards murderering him and taking his stuff.

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