April, 24, 2013

Why don’t more games utilise user created content?

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Name: Mike Hayward
Member of: Student Panellist
Joined: March 2013
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The thing that captivates me the most about older games, is the creative freedom that they allowed you to exercise.

Photo by Dan Zen

I’m talking primarily about a game I played in my teens called Neverwinter Nights. It was a fantasy role-playing game that was based on the Dungeons & Dragons third edition rule-set. The single-player story mode was created using the same tools that they gave you for free, as part of the game in its 4-disc cardboard box. DVD-style cases were still in their infancy. The editor was both simple to grasp, and complex enough to suit the needs of any dungeon master. It had all of the tools (aptly named ‘Wizards’) to create seemingly infinite amount of content. Online communities sprung up around it and would share, create and play each other’s levels or ‘modules’. Quests were easy to work into conversations, and could be generated with a few simple clicks in the Plot Wizard. Areas could be created with the Area Wizard, and characters with the Creature Wizard. After that, it was all down to the design and writing of your module. You could even string modules together to create a series of chapters with overarching stories. Over the past few years, there hasn’t really been a release that allows players to exercise their creativity in the same way. Frankly, I’m tired of being spoon-fed by triple-A titles.

There have been a few glimpses of genius in the current market. Crusader Kings II allows players to re-forge the course of history, and customise their own characters that rule certain regions of the world. The Might and Magic: Heroes series has always been good with including map editors. However, the games are much less focussed on narrative, and their ever-decreasing popularity means that map-makers have a declining audience.

Perhaps there’s a rationale behind the lack of tools to create content in modern games. Would it hurt a developer/ publisher’s profits if user content out-performed future expansions or DLC? It’s understandable that a publisher would want to protect its revenue by keeping the intellectual property strictly inside the company, but this stance only holds water if they continue to add content at the rate that consumers find acceptable. Considering the rate that an experienced RPG player exhausts content, it’s very unlikely that any developer could keep up. Also, if your content is sub-par compared with the content created by a team of amateur users, your DLC simply isn’t worth the money anyway. It begs the question: ‘why isn’t that publisher hiring that group of talented individuals?’ This has happened, by the way.

Portal 2 released a free patch called the Perpetual Testing Initiative (PTI) last year, which was a simple yet effective tool which allowed players to build their own puzzles, complete with switches, timers, laser beams and choosing which surfaces are portal-friendly. It’s linked with the Steam-Workshop, which is essentially a forum which allows for the download of work from each user. Valve have actually hired level designers based on their stellar work on the PTI, which makes the PTI a great tool not only for appeasing gameplay-hungry users, but also as a talent scouting system. You might even say that it’s a… portal into the business? No? Please yourself.

Whichever way you look at it, you simply have to admire the creative potential within gaming as a hobby, particularly with regards to user content generation. It’s becoming more and more ubiquitous, and even more respected as the years pass, making the old stigmas attached it seem horribly out of date.

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19 Comments

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  1. Charlotte Flanders

    They mainly seem to care about profit.
    If you’re that bothered by the lack of editing etc. there’s Minecraft. If it’s character customization you’re after, there’s a large number of games, but I can’t be asked to name them all.

    I’m interested in games which have good reviews, part of a series I already play or what I prefer (family-friendly, cartoon fighting or something).

    Just my thing. =\

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  2. Mathew Birks

    It seems that the new games only seem to care about profit and not put much thought into the customers interest. Then again, if there is zombies in a game, I will be drawn towards it ;)

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  3. James Loftus

    BeamNG is a good example of this, the games still basic and the Dev’s have out the game out to be open to improve the experience … its a step forward for the gaming genre!!!!!

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  4. Dominic Bourke

    Yeah, people with just develop better mods and share them, and the standard packages will not compete

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  5. Luke Hill

    A lot of games now allow you to mod and create new characters/items to share, best example i think would be Skyrim.

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  6. Harrison Fowler

    Many companies are worried that the users will create beter mod content than the DLC packages they would release.

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  7. Joseph Butt

    It’s also useful to have this creative mode from a social aspect. RPG players are typically seen as hobgoblins residing in their own bedrooms at their parents house, only leaving to get more Mountain Dew and Doritos but the creative aspect could help to break that stereotype, get people more interested in gaming and increase the employability of hardcore gamers

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  8. Joshua Strange

    I disagree, I think a lot of games allow editing, but they don’t publish it for the larger community.
    Games like Minecraft however are the very basis of ‘Heres a single player game, create whatever you want!’
    Halo – Forge Mode
    Morrowind – Elder Scrolls Construction Kit
    I believe in fact the majority of games from Bethesda allow modding and these mod’s can easily be graphic patches, weapon fixes or even entire map re-works! (Oblivion mod, changed Tamriel into Halo check it guys)
    All the above examples are PC games, so its obvious your a PC gamer, and if so how can you say games don’t utilise user creations when majority of companies promote mod usage, its just the few who don’t and who utilise DRM that hit the headlines.

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  9. arthur caulfield

    Andrew Cooper, comment below, is right, even call of duty allowed a PC map creator for zombies, this article clearly has little power behind it and furthermore, if you are such an experienced RPG player, go by farcry 3 and use its map creator? thank you, goodbye

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    • Andrew Cooper

      yeah i mean at the end of the day this is all of our opinions i guess. if im honest i havent really played much pc gaming, im more of an alround gamer. i play all consoles and most game types. i shall give far cry 3 ago and get back to you on that one. one day id like to design my own game as at the minute im doing my first year of Games design.

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  10. Andrew Cooper

    you say there hasn’t really been a game in years that allows people to say show off their creativity. but for that matter there has been plenty for that. for Example PC minecraft, then about 2-3 years it go comes to Xbox. and Games like halo with forge mode giving the player a chance to build their own maps and game modes for thousands to play. also a lot of games are spending time on the customisation side of things and all these little things bring out the creativity you say that is lacking. on the new Gen console for example Xbox one theres a game called project spark coming out where anything you can literally think of you can create you can give a rock a purpose. now if that’s not creavtive I don’t know what is you should check it out. my facts might not be entirely correct but that’s what makes it my opinion im quite the game fanatic if that’s the right way to use it aha.

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  11. Lukasz Malec

    This is why it’s rare to give players power:

    http://imgur.com/a/uooT9

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    • Andrei Badoiu

      Haha.
      Still, it’s a free choice, should you decide to modify your character like that

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  12. Elliot Vale

    It is certainly a shame that user-generated content is fizzling out, there are many many people out there with absolutely amazing ideas that could take the game beyond what even the developers thought possible, but they simply do not have the resources to build their own engine and game. Not to mention people get really into certain genres, especially MMORPGs. Unfortunately towards end-game they stagnate, become less inviting to the players, because they’re left with nothing to do. As Michael said, the main reason is money. Developers and publishers would rather churn out DLC and make profits off of the extra game time than provide users with a way of making their own content. We have a few exceptions, things like Kickstarter or the new crowd-funding project Square Enix are starting. Unfortunately these models aren’t the best, you have to put money towards them to help the development along and there’s no guarantee you get returns. Plus it doesn’t actually give the funders any creative liberty over what goes on, they simply support production of an idea generated by somebody else. These days, changes are only made based on majority feedback, or in some cases changes are made when no-one asked for them
    Consumers are treated as cash machines essentially.

    Modding is also a fear for developers. The amount of DRM many companies produce these days is a sign of that. Not only are they against piracy, but modding has become almost synonymous with hacking. In the eyes of companies, give someone the power to mod a game, someone will find a way to manipulate it to give themselves an unfair advantage. Which in multiplayer might be an issue, but not single player. Gaining an advantage over NPCs? Oh no(!) The only fun they’re ruining is their own. And hey, if you gave people the option to mod, people will generally stick to making the game better and more diverse. Look at Team Fortress 2! Or GMod! The original servers have Valve Anti-Cheat, but custom servers can be made for mod-specific things. It’s so easy to do. But no.

    It’s also laziness of the companies. CoD Ghosts was quite universally panned by anyone with a brain. Especially on PC. It’s the same stuff each time. In fact, this was worse. For a next-gen game, it looked really bad. The company isn’t trying. Because lots of people seem to have made it clear that their expectations are low and they don’t WANT companies to try. They don’t want to spend that little bit extra and forfeit that little bit more to give people the ability to create their own content. Because to them, we don’t want that. It shows in their sales.

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  13. Michael Bergamini

    As you said, having mod-tools available is a nice gesture by a company towards its consumers, but not a sound business decision. With DLC becoming more and more prominent in the games industry, no one wants to release mod-tools as that would cut into their DLC profits. It’s all about the money, unfortunately.

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  14. Robert Peck

    it would make sense to redesign games so one could import ones own 3d models rather than just using the stock ones in the package. one could for example alter the player character to something one had created in blender, or change all the enemies to low poly copies of david cameron, LOL!

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  15. Nick

    There’s a couple of reasons why developers and publishers aren’t huge on supporting mods:

    The engine does not allow for mod creation – remember that many modern PC games are developed alongside console counterparts, quite often ported. In order to fit in with Microsoft and Sony requirements modding isn’t really allowed. Many of these titles can still be modded, but they are not supported. Crusader Kings II and Might and Magic are PC only titles and therefore modding is much more at the forefront of the developer’s minds. CKII in particular uses such an old engine, the chugging Clausewitz, that the modding is well established and easy to implement in new iterations.

    Assuming your game is using a newish engine, any formal mod support (eg. steam workshop) is usually only viable AFTER release and some form of commercial success, such as Red Orchestra 2 or Torchlight II. The development of official tools is expensive and time consuming. Again, note that these are PC only titles.

    Finally, even PC is starting to come under similar control rules as Xbox and PS3. With the popularity of Steam, mods are a risk to some extent – they can allow users to cheat at online modes or auto-obtain difficult achievements. The former is stopped with anti-cheat software but the latter is harder to do unless you disable them as soon as a player boots up a mod, which kind of ruins the fun.

    Games can only offer modders the tools, and even that is expensive. To offer formal support can only be managed in very limited modes or the game could potentially fall apart. I’m sure you’ve installed a dodgy mod at some point and screwed a save. How do you expect a support team to manage that in a full-sized game? The best we can hope for are map-editors and minor examples of content creation like custom character sharing in Dragon’s Dogma or notes/hints in Dark Souls.

    A smart developer and level-headed publisher will assume that the player community will mod their game regardless of how much support they offer. And they know modders will potentially make better content than their own. But modders are a minority of players, ones to be loved and nurtured as they can be learned from, but hardly a group to threaten a dev/pub financially. After all, modders are working for free, so definitely not motivated by money!

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    • Ben

      I do believe that all of his examples were PC-only titles. I think that the point of the article was more a case of want than actual possibility.

      You can hardly criticise a piece based on previous developer decisions. In my experience it is certain studios and certain publishers which provide dev tools rather than them deciding whether or not to post-launch. Why simply use CK2 when you can look at the majority of Paradox games? More often than not they are shipped with user manipulation in mind.

      Obviously modders are always going to be lowkey, if they weren’t they would probably get paid to make games. He actually makes reference to that in the article, while talking about Portal 2 levels.

      I don’t agree that the modding scene should be on an equal presence to the gaming market, rather it should be a niche which acts as a critical bulwark to the shady activities of some mainstream publishers.

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      • Nick

        I got the impression Mike was asking why more studios don’t follow his examples. Paradox, Bethesda Game Studios and others that have a history supporting modding will hopefully continue to do so despite the industry trends that may act against freedom of content creation.

        Should studios consider hiring modders? Absolutely, they can potentially obtain smart people to develop their team in new ways. However, creating an efficient way to do so if you’re not Valve, and therefore lack your own globally dominant gaming platform, is a huge challenge – and would be a waste of resources unless you could pin down the specific skills (technical and transferable) you needed and match them to the specific skills present in your modding community to head hunt. This is not appealing to a Studio Head when their alternative is to dial up a recruiter and shout “I need a level designer with 6 years experience and I need them now!”

        Modders as a critical balwark? Absolutely! From Making Halo 2 run on non-Vista systems to all those graphical fixes for Dark Souls! Just some of the ideas that come to mind. However, with games becoming more and more online-focused, console paired and competitive, I will expect a decline in the number of games that allow modding. This isn’t because of shady, evil publishers, its because this is what the people who buy games seem to want – they’re just not interested in mods.

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