User Generated Content in Games

Ah, see you think I’m going to talk about something that isn’t really what I’m going to talk about.  I said that to confuse you.

In the Web 2.0 world user generated content generally means blogs, comments, photos, videos, etc.  Basically, stuff users create and then other users look at… consume. What is particularly interesting about this is that it means the site owner doesn’t have to produce all that content – they just give users the tools to create it, browse it, look at it, consume it. The sites themselves are basically facilitators.

I’m going to make a distinction before I get to the point.  My view of what a game is might be different than other peoples.  In fact, I’m sure it is.  For example, I don’t consider Second Life to be a game.  I consider it to be a social environment.  In a social environment, like Second Life, user generated content is pretty much the same as the user generated content I mentioned above.  It may be more difficult to create, have to adhere to more complex rules, and/or it may have a larger aspect of commercialization, but it’s not meaningfully different.  (That’s not to demean it, I think Second Life is a great model.)

Every example like this seems to have that ambigous case though. I’ll call the Sims that ambigious case.  In many ways it is a social environment.  But there are more game mechanics there, but still I would argue that it doesn’t past my game test because it is pretty much voyeuristic.

So moving on to games, user generated content could mean users make swords or armor or other in game items.  Unfortuantely, this concept won’t work to well in games though.  Why you ask?  Because of balance issues.  See, if users create their own swords they might be overpowered, because that’s what people will tend to create.  Users could of course be allowed to create graphics but not attributes, but that would create oversight issues and linkage issues.

In certain types of games, this issue can be skirted.  Games like Neverwinter Nights and Warcraft 3 (not World of Warcraft) allow users to generate modules and maps (respectively).  This is not uncommon.  It is good.  It is also traditional user generated content.

So, finally, to the point.  What is different in games?  What is this user generated content in games?  It is the actual game itself. Many games are delivered in beautiful worlds, populated by beautiful avatars, and controlled by complex rules.  This is just like those Web 2.0 sites I mentioned above – the game is facilitating an exchange, but without users creating content they’re not very interesitng. In games this is also critically important because what makes them fun and interesting is also the user generated content:  competition.  The things all the other players do – the one difference is that it is not persistent.

Take two examples:

  • World of Warcraft:  In many cases, this is a traditional game and relies on content generated by Blizzard.  But in the PvP arenas (Warsong Gulch, Arathi Basin, and Alterac Valley) much of the “content” is generated by the players (users). Once you are in these areas your goal is to beat your opponent, who is another human.  So all the “action” is generated by other users.
  • Battlefield 2142:  I think this game has a single player mode, but I’ve never played it. The fun of this game is massive (32v32) player vs. player team battles.  On each team, a commander is selected, squads are created, orders are issued – all by the players.  Now that’s user generated content in games!

So, what do you think ?