Sponsored By

User-generated content, particularly on the PC, is here to stay, whether developers planned for it or not -- and representatives from Three Rings, inXile, ACES Studio and Obsidian have been talking about "how to work within the sweet spot" on user-generat

August 20, 2008

3 Min Read

Author: by Stephen Jacobs, Chris Remo

As the dynamic, user-centric mentality of Web 2.0 creeps ever further into traditional interactive entertainment, game makers are struggling with how to introduce user-generated content into their products. Developers including Obsidian Entertainment (Neverwinter Nights 2) designer Josh Sawyer, Three Rings (Puzzle Pirates) CEO Daniel James, inXile Entertainment (Line Rider) community director David Heeley, and ACES Studio (Flight Simulator) tech art lead Adrian Woods contributed their thoughts on the issue during a recent SIGGRAPH panel. In the course of the discussion, they addressed the range of user-generated content they have encountered, as well as ways to moderate and supervise it. Players Forcing Opportunities Some of the discussion dealt with the developers' experiences of first becoming aware that their players were modifying their games, then trying to adapt to that creativity by offering better tools and support. Said Woods, "[Flight Simulator is] maybe one of the oldest user-generated content apps out there. Users were generating content despite us for years, and we finally got smart and created an SDK. For years and years, users just hacked us." Users continue to add to the ACES Studio team's official work, expanding the size of the game world -- "we have 24,000 airports now and it's still growing," the developer said. "It improves our product and we get the benefit of having way more content than we can do on our own." The amateur Flight Simulator development community comprises hundreds of individuals, some of whom surprisingly are able to earn a living creating content for the game. Players Expanding Opportunities Even when studios plan their games with the express intent of encouraging user-generated content -- such as with Obsidian's RPG Neverwinter Nights 2 -- the community can still take the concept further than expected. As Obsidian's Sawyer described, a "small group of people" turned the game into a persistent online world, likened to an Ultima Online server. "For them, Neverwinter Nights gave them the opportunity to create a living story like in a MUD," he said. "They were passionate enough about it to make it work." Some games, such as Line Rider, consist almost entirely of player expression. Whirled, the latest venture from Puzzle Pirates developer Three Rings, relies heavily on user-created content, with players able to create their own Flash games that will be added to the site. "For Whirled, 90 percent of the people will play other people's creations," said James. Some Things In Moderation All four developers present agreed that moderating user-generated content remains a difficult problem. Heeley said he has received angry emails from parents about inappropriate user-generated content in Line Rider, while Sawyer related an account of players acting out rape fantasy in a persistent world. Said Sawyer, "Since we don't host [that content], we leave it up to the community to police itself, which it does pretty well." Heeley said that inXile tried automated moderation, but that had an adverse affect -- "it killed the experience" -- while professional human moderation is cost-prohibitive and can discourage the community. Monitoring of user content relates not only to potentially offensive imagery, but also to technical quality, which can sometimes erroneously reflect on the original development team. Woods painted an example of users creating airplanes with hundreds of thousands of polygons and dozens of textures -- which eight people then try to use in a single multiplayer game. "Sometimes we'll get blamed," he said. To help address that issue, the team has gone so far as to hold developer conferences, aimed at teaching users "how to work within the sweet spot." A Sense of Perspective Going forward, having taken note of players' own creative initiatives, developers plan to more robustly support the trend. Said Heeley, "One thing that comes out of Line Rider is that we're looking to offer some form of user-generated content in all our games." Still, James tempered the discussion with realism, noting that while amateur creators tend to be an extremely loud and even influential minority, they are still a minority. "It's something special if it's more than five to ten percent of people who will create," he said.

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like