Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The problem with player-created content and incentives...

I call my blog "Player Versus Developer" because there is an ongoing arms race of sorts between the two sides - players want to maximize their incentives over time by whatever means necessary, while developers want to maximize subscriptions by getting the limited content they can create to last a long time.

Now, on paper, allowing players to help with the content creation might sound like a good idea to alleviate the lack of things to do. What could possibly go wrong if you let players make their own content? Let's see what players of COH did when given the opportunity via the game's new Mission Architect feature....

Uh oh. Apparently, players are making custom levels full of carefully designed foes that appear to be strong enough for their level, but have a glaring weakness that the players' class is well suited to exploit. Then they run their characters through these trivial instances, gaining 20 levels in a single run. The devs, who were ever so proud of how much content players made (more in the first 24 hours than the devs had done in all the years since the game's release), have had to shift into damage control mode.

The head designer now claims that they ANTICIPATED exploitation. Not enough to actually, I don't know, announce that exploiters would be banned BEFORE rolling out the system - wouldn't want to rain on that press release - but they totally definitely knew that this would happen, and made a rational decision that they would rather roll the system out with no exploitation policy and ban people after the fact than articulate one in advance. (Seriously, guys, you're in uncharted territory here, there's no shame in admitting that it never occurred to you.)

Maybe player-created content is the future, but the future isn't quite here just yet.


DeftyJames said...

I liked the post you linked too because it address what I see as that heart of the problem. Namely, an expansion-focused business model. There has to be way to reinvigorate old content and make it profitable so that rolling out an expansion each year is not the only way to keep the game alive.

People only cluster at the level cap because that's the way that Blizzard runs the game. It doesn't have to be that way. It's odd but true that before we really can have new games, we need to invent new business models to support those new games.

Klepsacovic said...

Player-created content is all fun, but when it gets tied to rewards, no matter who creates them, it's trouble. Or to refine that, tying them to explicit rewards is trouble.

Pangoria Fallstar said...

I love generating content, and if I played CoH I'd probably of created something myself.

Thing is that, I'd be making the content to be a challenge. I guess I can see why people would exploit it, but to make the choice to ban them without telling people the policy first? That's kinda weird.

Maybe just ban that toon that they exploit it, or take away the levels and have them start over...

I'd love to see the ability to create custom WoW dungeons, such as going to RFC or Deadmines, and placing new mobs, and mob packs. Just force all placement to be "Heroic" quality mobs, and only mobs of that dungeon. I could imaging making double boss fights, or things like that.... hehe.

Gevlon said...

I think there is one place where player-created content has viability: aestetics. The Developers create the dungeon with white walls and monsters with carefully designed abilities who appear as red cubes. Then players design skins and animations for the monsters and terrain.

Moranin said...

Aww, for a minute I thought your post was going to be a Star Wars: Galaxies post-post-unearth-the-corpse-mortem.

Gevlon - I like the idea of customizing the aesthetics of a dungeon. There seem to be lots of folks out there who write mods for single player games, why not try it for an MMO? Perhaps that sort of thing could be run as a contest. The top few get their designs featured on the game website, the top one gets permanently added to the game. The developer could then populate the dungeon with appropriate mobs, select the balance of rewards, etc. without leaving it up to players who have a decided self-interest in making that content as quick and easy as possible.

A while back I did some time as a freelance quest writer for an MMO, and it truly is amazing getting to see words that you wrote in game. (Of course that bubble quickly bursts when you hear people complaining in general chat because you wrote a riddle-based quest that is ‘too hard’!) Even having a basic ‘hey we’re working on a new area, here are a few screenshots of the map – go to town and try to impress us” would be a fun activity to keep players engaged.

Tesh said...

Letting players generate art assets? Um... that would get abused just as easily, and not with something as innocuous as easy XP.

I still point the finger at the devs. If your game is so boring that people don't "play" it any more, but would rather farm XP, there are some deep design problems afoot, and the "exploit" of abused Architect missions is merely a symptom.

Plastic Rat said...

"I still point the finger at the devs. If your game is so boring that people don't "play" it any more, but would rather farm XP, there are some deep design problems afoot, and the "exploit" of abused Architect missions is merely a symptom."

I don't think the devs can be blamed for this. I think it's more the development of your average gamer's mindset today.

People for some reason obsess about the 'payoff' or 'the win' at the end of the game. For some reason they've completely lost sight of just playing the damned game.

In WOW, even new players who have never experienced the old world content appear to be on this frantic rush to hit max level, and then what? A frantic rush to gear up so they can raid.. so they can participate in the frantic rush to finish all the raiding content and then what? Sit around and bitch that there isn't enough content to keep them busy?

It doesn't really matter how much time and effort the devs put into the quality of content, people just skip it. The vast majority of players don't give a rats ass about story, quests or even what you have to do during a quest. They care about 2 things 1) the quickest way to complete the quest and 2) the reward at the end.

That's it. You might as well just give them one button to push repeatedly.

It doesn't matter if your game is 'boring' or 'exciting' players will still always go directly for the optimum route that they feel 'progresses' them. If they can't find what they feel is the 'optimum progression path' they will in then whine and cry that your game is forcing them to play longer so you can milk them of their subscriber fees.

People have stopped actually 'playing' games a long time ago already.

sam said...

In WOW, even new players who have never experienced the old world content appear to be on this frantic rush to hit max level, and then what? A frantic rush to gear up so they can raid.. so they can participate in the frantic rush to finish all the raiding content and then what? Sit around and bitch that there isn't enough content to keep them busy?because the devs have repeatedly refused to do anything to keep the population coming back. Of course all the new players rush to end game. It's an MMO and thats where all the players are. Until the Devs come up with some mechanic to keep the old world refreshed this will never change. But yes its th e Devs fault. I've worked with Developers for 15 years and the one truism for all of them accross all the industries I've worked in is no developer wants to go back and touch old code. It's harder than writing new code and it doesn't look as good on a resume as writing something new. I think that is the root problem with Devs and MMO's

Jormundgard said...

Unfortunately, this isn't uncharted territory. Most old text-style MUDs allowed max-level players to transcend to developer, and it was as big a problem as you'd expect. Players making content for themselves was pretty common, and ultimately the only solution was strict rules and approval by an actual human.

Good luck with that in a Massive MOG though.

Handy said...

When the City of Heroes Mission Architect was announced, they specifically said over and over that it was not intended for farming. If players exploited the system to farm and then got punished for that behavior, it's their own dang fault.

Steven said...

I think the best way to implement user generated quests is to let them 'upload' their own items as quest rewards. As for the XP: no XP gain in those user-generated quests, apart from the monster kills (which comes anyway as grinding with a game).

I am still looking for that one game that can immerse me completely in the gameworld, let me craft a lot, let me explore, let me gather materials, let me build things and let me also give the option to create content (very nice for RPers) and basicly just let me place my own well-awarded items as a questreward to others.

Ruth Andrews said...

A lot of modern MMORPG's have the same problem, in that the systems have been developed over time to what they are today, and yet there is still the same base that they have all come from, and not many have the imagination to improve and take the next step beyond 'Xp for kills, or quest completions, to gain levels' etc, etc.

This is so true when you want a lot of players a.k.a "income", and so set goals and rewards etc, ad. inf. to keep players gaining and paying you.

The basic systems of a game mean you kill things to gain experience, and level, then you can use your uber lolly of super doomy-death +500, or whatever. And I think that's where a lot of problems are created, because it's encouraged to gain, in order to gain some more, as games are about completion, and a massive income can be gained through people wanting to pay their subscription fees so that they can be 'uber leet, and pwn all the noobs'but also to 'complete'.

So give any of those kinds of players half an inch of exp and they'll find a way to make that half an inch full of gold and uber-items too.

The systems encourage it, and until someone with enough imagination starts to work in MMO development, then it'll be the same, no matter how shiny the new game looks. It's all based on the same old, tired foundation of gain, gain, gain to 'complete'.

The systems are the same pretty much no matter which MMORPG a person would choose to play. Pick a profession, go and kill things and complete quests, then you get experience to gain levels, and monetary/item rewards. It really doesn't matter, as someone else has posted here, what the content really look like or how convoluted vs. easy, quests might be.

I considered that if I were to develop a game, and to call it new, I would have to change the foundation in order to actually move away from all of these games that even though new, are in fact just additions and follow ons to 30+ years of role playing games, and offer nothing new but prettier graphics and slightly different story-lines to the old, old grand-parent type games that came out on the ZX spectrum and all those home computers, way back in the mists of time.

Player created content shouldn't really have much to do with the system, that's what the programmers are there for. Allowing players to change aesthetics is a good way to encourage people to play, then they can show off their new highly decorative bow, that they made themselves, after an actual person employed by the company has given it the O.K.

So then developers, are you up to the challenge, or are we as gamers so stuck in our ways that we can't move beyond where everyone else is, and so doomed to live our groundhog day, forever?