From the scene editor in the 1990s to the large mod community created by Doom, to the co-creation done by players in sandbox games such as The Sims and Minecraft, these game designs weaken the fixed rules and give players more free space to play have gradually become the mainstream. It is not difficult to find that the lower cost of social participation has undoubtedly given people more opportunities for knowledge obtain and self-expression. And the game industry has already embraced the voluntarily generated content created by players.
What is UGC? A brief review
There is no uniform definition of user-generated content (UGC), and under the broad definition, UGC is any type of content created by someone other than the producer or brand itself. When it comes to UGC in games, the most familiar ones may be players' mods, game stream videos, or game production platforms like Roblox. But game UGC is much more than that, it can also be all kinds of emoji, walkthroughs, and fan fiction, which has endless possibilities. But it is obvious that, regarding game UGC, the three elements of playing, creating, and sharing are indispensable.
The common game UGC can be divided into three major categories: passive UGC, portal UGC, and mod UGC.
Passive UGC, that is players mainly based on the game's existing DIY features and tools to create. The fertile ground for this type of UGC can be found in major console games and mobile games, such as the character creator in Naraka: Bladepoint, the dyeing function and music creation and performance system in Revelation Online, and the video editor in Justice Online, as well as all kinds of simulation sandbox games. For this kind of game, the creation of UGC is often with a low threshold, as each player has the opportunity to become a content creator for the game and beyond.
The portal UGC allows players to edit and modify the levels within the game and share them on other social platforms to communicate with other players and creators, such as Super Mario Maker of Nintendo. For this type, compared to the first one, the editor is more difficult to use and the number of creators will be correspondingly smaller, but the created content (e.g., re-designed levels) will usually have enhanced gameplay.
As for MOD UGC, players have more power to modify the game, and can create new characters, levels, and even gameplay more freely by modifying the code of the game. Player-made mods are usually used as extensions and supplements to the game itself, but they also have the opportunity to spawn other new games. The threshold to enter MOD creation is higher, and the number of creators and works is usually very small. But the potential of UGC content is much greater, and the history of the game has given rise to classic games such as Dota and CS. Steam's creative workshop is well known to all players, and it is the openness of the workshop and the creative atmosphere that prompted many players to buy games on the Steam platform, The creative workshop also prolongs the life of games and enhances the gameplay. With the creativity of players glowing, it forms a miracle that some MODs are more interesting than the original games.
What are the main motivations for players to create UGC?
From the perspective of players themselves, the motive of making and sharing UGC can be summarized into three points: self-creation, self-expression, and getting rewards. Simply put, players get pleasure from creating and sharing UGC, try to get others' recognition through their creations, and hope their creations can have social and economic rewards.
No matter what type of UGC, no matter how difficult it is, there are many players who are willing to put their energy into UGC creation while enjoying the game, and share the creation content as personal works, so as to get a sense of achievement and satisfaction. For example, in Revelation Online mobile, there are many home-aholic satisfying their design desire by creating different houses, and in Minecraft there was also a wave of craze to replicate classic realistic architecture.
In addition to satisfying their own creative desires, the desires to express individual differences are what motivates players to keep creating. In today's diverse world, many players want to show their personal identity and highlight their personality through UGC, and their works will convey ‘who I am’ and ‘what I am doing’, and expect others to recognize and understand them. UGC is more like a drawing board for players to express themselves freely.
For example, in Crossout, a competitive battle game of scrap chariots, players can freely design their own chariots, and the game provides a display mode for players to communicate with each other about the chariots they have designed, and players can learn about the performance and fighting style of various chariots through test drives to help improve, but it is not difficult to find that some of the chariots designed by players are not for actual combat, but simply for fun, or just highlighting their own uniqueness.
In addition, there are also players who will monetize their creativity through UGC, either by selling UGC or by sharing UGC on social media platforms to get fans, so monetary rewards are also a motivation for many players to create.
From the social (or player community) perspective, the motivation to make and share UGC mainly revolves around two points: social relationship and community contribution, for example, players create and share UGC as a way to communicate within the group or circle they belong to, and by communicating with others in the circle through UGC, both the transmitter and receiver of the content can enhance their sense of belonging within the player community. People are not just playing games, but using games as a topic for interpersonal interaction and communication. Meanwhile, UGC is a social carrier derived from games, for it allows players to provide information for others and communicate with others through sharing self-created UGC, and the essence of creating for them is to find a sense of identity in social relations.
Why is UGC important for games?
UGC can be used to expand the game experience, increase user engagement and retention, and function as a cost-effective form of marketing.
In terms of expanding the game experience, the Sims player community has far outperformed the producers in creating content for the game. Maxis made about 5 thousand costumes for The Sims in 5 years, while UGC site of players created nearly 40 thousand costumes in the same period. Games such as City Skyline also have a constant stream of mods in the creative workshop for players to experience. This form allows players to bring in continuous fresh content has played a significant role in enhancing player engagement and user retention.
Secondly, in terms of marketing, the premise for players to publish and share UGC-related content is their recognition of the game, and this spontaneous recognition will expand the game's influence, improve the impression for potential players who have not yet played the game, and also have the opportunity to attract more UGC creators to the game. In addition, as mentioned above, UGC creative channel is a way of expression where players can create personalized experiences, and different UGC creations will show a more open game experience. In addition to influencing potential players, the social bonds between players have the opportunity to be further strengthened in UGC-based games. UGC will make players feel part of the game community, and this sense of belonging will continue to inspire players to contribute creativity to the game.
Ways to make good use of UGC to achieve the game's potential
Study the existing game UGC success stories and learn from the best
No matter what kind of UGC type, there are many successful cases of games using players' power to make the game more successful, like various mods in Minecraft ...... for gameplay design and publicity, we can take lessons from both domestic and foreign games and combine our own products to make up for shortcomings.
Improve the tools for UGC creating and sharing
The perfect UGC tool should have the highest degree of freedom with the lowest learning threshold and also allow for easy sharing in various creative forms. For most ordinary players, whether they can learn to use the tools quickly and easily and see the fruits of their effort instantly will greatly affect the willingness to create UGC. From some UGC hits in the past, it is also the lower limit of difficulty to create and upper limit of creative freedom, as well as the ease of sharing, which altogether determines at source whether a game will spread outside the circle. For example, there is almost no threshold for the design of clothes in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, for the public players, simple designing can show their super ideas, and for the players with skills to design, they also have the space to show their outstanding ability. At the same time, UGC sharing is also very convenient, and Animal Crossing encourages players to show their DIY content to other players, such as in the clothing store can buy other players' designs, but also through the QR code to appreciate other players' beautiful hand-drawn and so on.
Therefore, the usability of the function/tool is very important, and this can be optimized by researching the usage of players. For example, we can verify our judgment of the function through early testing, and improve it according to the feedback from the testers. Creating the UGC tool that really suitable for the target market players, enables players to have a better UGC creating an experience.
Insight into players' needs from UGC
Creative freedom for players means they can play the game exactly as they want, so we can see first-hand content created by players to understand their behavior, as well as gain insight to determine what works and what doesn't, and what content can be added to existing games and what content can energize potential markets to continue the life of the game.