Increasingly, it seems that one area of interest that Grandyo is moving toward is User Generated Content (UGC). Broadly speaking UGC refers to anything from customer reviews posted on an ecommerce site, discussions on forums and brand pages, YouTube videos, Wiki content, blogs or more complex work such as fan made fiction, art, design & music etc. For our specific purposes though, we are applying the open, ‘conversational media’ content creation model to assets directed to use in/ around a computer game.
If I have to think of a Developer/ Publisher that welcomes UGC, it is Valve. The creators of Half Life are wholly embracing the 'fan created content' thing, to their merit financially and socially. Although they have a tiny userbase on consoles and no mobile games that come to mind, among PC players, they are an antithesis to the way EA is generally considered among the same group of fans (i.e. Valve = good, EA = bad).
Rise of the mods
Some of Valve’s most successful games started as User Generated Content; first surfacing in 1999, ‘Counter Strike’, a first person shooter modification (‘mod’) of their ground-breaking game ‘Half Life’, has risen to great popularity and the most recent version is played worldwide as part of eSports tourneys as well as having a large and dedicated player base.
Since the beginning, able-minded and creative players have been able to add their own value to the game with the creation of playable game areas/ maps, character appearance ‘skins’ and even game modes (although this requires more in-depth programming knowledge).
Many of Valve’s most popular titles use the ‘Source’ game engine; ‘Half Life2’, ‘Counter Strike Source’, ‘Team Fortress2’, ‘Left 4 Dead 1&2’ and ‘Portal 1&2’ all share the same foundations which means that a very similar skillset is required to create assets for them.
This is helped by the fact that Valve has made a wealth of tools fully available to those wishing to try their hand at (a part of) game creation.
Valve’s digital game distribution platform Steam is a realisation of their philosophy of openness to modding with its Steam Workshop areas dedicated to the sharing of fan created game media of all sorts.
'We can't compete with our customers'
Occasionally, User Generated Content for their games makes it into the official game, the creators are thusly rewarded.
However, Gabe Newell, Valve CEO said in his D.I.C.E. presentation last year (about creating game content) “we can’t compete with our customers...they’re building content that is just as good, if not better than what we’re building and they’re building it at a spectacular rate.”
Realising the benefits of this, Newell decided to allow users to trade and sell the goods they had created amongst themselves, the result being that the there are content creators on the Steam workshop making their livings from producing assets which are essentially aesthetic (in the case of ‘Dota2’ & ‘team Fortress 2’) - source (no pun intended).
The new version of the Source engine will go even further in helping fans to make their own games and content, in a recent AMA (ask me anything) on the site Reddit, Gabe Newell CEO of Valve said:
"The biggest improvements will be in increasing productivity of content creation. That focus is driven by the importance we see UGC [User Generated Content] having going forward. A professional developer at Valve will put up with a lot of pain that won't work if users themselves have to create content."
From a PC Gamer article:
"Here are some more mind-boggling stats that were posted to Steam Database:
484,768 compendiums were sold during The Dota 2 International, which added an additional $1.2M to the prize pool. (This is higher than the $1 million figure we’ve reported on previously).
More than 90 percent of Team Fortress 2 content is from the community.
Valve reports that 17 million Team Fortress 2 accounts own items, with 500 million total items.
The Counter Strike: Global Offensive community has created 4700 maps and 20,000 weapon skins.
Portal 2 has over 381,000 user generated maps, which Valve attributes to the easy to use map editor.
Garry’s Mod has a total of 250,000 user generated items.
Skyrim has over 19,500 pieces of user generated content."
User Branded Content
Some of the content even goes as far as placing brands into the games; this is where it gets even more interesting for Grandyo as this is done voluntarily by the asset creators/ players and the brands they chose give us some kind of insight into their way of thinking.
‘Left 4 Dead’ has seen an ‘80s Snickers ad on an in-game TV, Heineken molotov cocktails, McDonalds, Mountain Dew, Pepsi, Coke and Red Bull to name a few. The easiest items to create are those with which the player interacts giving them a strength or health boost.
McDonalds also featured in Counter Strike where the mapped playable area is a drive thru restaurant where the battle between Terrorist and their adversaries takes part.
The Next Great UGC
Crowdfunding success story ‘Star Citizen’ by Cloud Imperium Games has a competition which is further engaging its loyal fan-base.
Called ‘The Next Great Starship’ (TNGS), the competition pits teams of creators from around the (real) world against each other to make a fully functional spacecraft which will be part of the final game. Given the game’s complexity, quality and reputation, the developer’s standards are high and only the best will do.
But the rewards are also great, with a $30,000 cash prize, an AMD developer’s PC station with Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite software package (for each winning team member) and the chance to have your creation in the game, purchasable by the Star Citizen player base.
The developers also consult their backers on which route to take the fiction of the pre-release universe which is helping to truly engage fans of the game.
Crowd of the Avatar
Richard Garriott (aka. Lord British), Chris Roberts’ old colleague and creator of ‘Ultima Online’, arguably the first MMORPG, is also hard at work on his next project which, in a similar way to ‘Star Citizen’, is being crowdfunded and cutting out the middleman/ publisher.
Another similarity is that the game is actively welcoming User Generated Content in the form of assets created in the Unity game engine. The ‘SotA’ forum has threads dedicated to helping users with their creations and a host of detailed Google Documents with ‘how-to’ videos and documents.
A publisher that realises the value of the content that their fans bring is Rockstar Games. On the back of a multitude of ‘mods’ to their previous installment in the GTA franchise (‘GTA 4’), Rockstar introduced features in the online version of the recent, record-breaking hit ‘GTA V’. With ‘GTA Online’, the multiplayer part of the game, fans of the series can share, comment on and promote ‘jobs’ (mini-games) they have created in the game’s content creator. This happens with the support of the game’s publisher which bestows a ‘Rockstar Verified’ status to the best content and promotes it on the Rockstar site, on social media and makes the ‘job’ available for play across platforms (Xbox & Playstation).
It is more and more obvious that User Generated Content is going to play a large part of the future of gaming, as tools are made more available and the practice of players becoming more involved with the creation of their favourite games with things like crowdfunding and increased communication across more connected platforms, it is feasible to imagine a time when it might be considered a negative thing not to allow at least some UGC in your game.
This would beg the question that if such high quality content is coming from a never-ending stream of able creators willing to do it for next to nothing, what is the worth of a developer?
Will we see brands getting in on the act? How will that be controlled?
Thank you for reading, and as always, your comments are most welcome.
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