Lessons from Second Life for the MMO Community

15 Aug

I’ve ranted a bit before about the unseemly banality of Second Life and the static staleness of most MMO offerings. Second Life, though more like a user created side show than “game” has actually given us a few things to think about. Likewise, the ambition of Ryzom has held the promise of delivering content in perpetuity through user created content.

As many have pointed out, content is king and kings are not born every day. At least not quality content. Quality (and polish) cost vast quantities of money and take enormous quantities of time. Time is money and money is something relatively scarce in the MMO development community. Or, if it is available, its more than likely that property in development is maybe not so risky, not so different to make it an unsafe bet. Another fantasy MMO anyone?

Enter user created content. Yes, yes, I can hear it now. Thats what SL is about and all they got was flying penises and furry riffing and people selling virtual designer goods to virtual people. Oh, and the pervs. Yes, I’m being a bit unfair, but anyone who lives in a city and reads the newspaper knows they don’t report the culture index or the well-being index, they report the crime index, etc. We only hear about the prurient details which drown out the many interesting things that may be going on there. Too bad I can’t hear them over the din.

Stop. My own eschewing aside, the SL community is actually creating the community that they want, more or less. Moreover, the entire virtual universe in which users participate is almost devoid of pure “company” content as in Linden Lab content, not “company” as in the “Man.” That’s a different post. With so many MMOs being hamstrung by budgets and lambasted by users for a lack of new content (which is consumed extremely rapidly), isn’t it about time for MMO developers to take a few lessons from SL to heart and create a mechanism for user generated content?

What form would this take? I don’t think most traditional MMOs would be willing to simply allow any registered user to bolt on their own craptastic phat lewt spewing pinata content module. Furthermore, there have to be some limitations to how much leeway a dev could provide a user via a content creation editor v. a completely internal design team, but still, it could be done. And aren’t we getting to the point where such tools could generate more than NWN or Diablo-esque maps to explore?

Time and time again, I hear about the dearth of content generation in the bigger MMOs. Blizzard just announced that Wrath of the Lich King will be its next expansion, though no date was set. I hope I live to see it. Even so, as its been billed, it leaves a ginormous hole as far as new content.

Now I can’t imagine a company so hell bent on quality, polish and balance like Blizzard giving players the opportunity to bolt their own player created amusement park onto Azeroth or Outland or Northrend, but if an MMO is designed with that level of community contribution in mind, it might be just crazy enough to work. Hell, they said the same thing about open source software…

So how would it work? Game companies would start out of the box with an MMO game design that would build in the idea of user created content. This could be either on a server by server basis or network wide basis. Obviously, some genres are a bit easier to add this sort to and keep immersion. Science Fiction space environments come to mind most because a la Eve Online, its fairly easy to tack on another solar system without having to usurp the game’s initial foundation. Its a little more winky to conceive of purely instanced user-created continental zones.

The lynch pin of this whole idea is of course (i) an IP within which the development of such user modules would be consistent and (ii) a robust enough editor to be able to extend a meaningful amount of content creation to most users (rather than a small subset of Uber users).

Such an environment would be everchanging but still built within the constraints of the original IP. Likewise, the original developer could still develop significant content expansions on a longer time frame (much like Blizzard’s 2-4 years).

Imagine raiding the stronghold of a petty warlord or the lonely citadel of a long forgotten wizard or reclaiming some lost mine of the dwarves, etc.? Seems like such a system could be built into the basic gaming system at release. Imagine having thousands instead of hundreds of developers working for free out of passion for the game contributing new content all the time…

Of course, it could just end up like SL, but then again, a guy can dream can’t he?


Posted by on August 15, 2007 in Uncategorized


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7 responses to “Lessons from Second Life for the MMO Community

  1. syncaine

    August 15, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    Hey Dennis, I was going to post a reply here about your post, but it started getting long, so instead just linked you and made a post myself.

    Great blog, and maybe we will run into each other at some point in New Eden!

  2. p@tsh@t

    August 15, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Thanks for the link. Suckage as you point out is the achilles heel. I would hope that in order to prevent suckage you wouldn’t get shunted into mediocrity.

    It might be done is a way such that new content modules get vetted before being opened up in game or, god forbid, some kind of user-driven rating system gets applied. Kinda MMO 2.0-ish. God I can’t believe I just typed that, but you get my point.

    Validation of user generated content ultimately has to come from the user. Whether unused or unloved content faded over time is a good design challenge. Likewise, how not to make something that is simply a pinata.

    Still, I’d like to see someone try.

  3. syncaine

    August 15, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    I think the ‘pinata’ issue can easily be solved by removing the focus on items and traditional ways of getting loot. Take EVE for instance, all you have is time to train skills (fixed amount) and the general need for ISK to fund wars/ships/ammo whatever. You could let users design missions, writing the story, designing the room the combat takes place in, and picking the sides involved, and then let the game generate the loot/difficulty based on agent level/standing. Not a huge change, but at least a little something different to do, both in terms of making the missions and seeking them out. Hell you could even make ‘mission design’ a new skill for the game, with some bonuses worked around that. Players would have to work up there BoB standing to get to BoB level 4 missions, haha.

  4. Ariannel

    August 15, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    This is something I’ve been wanting from MMO’s for a long time, ever since my Mudding days on Imperian. lol! I loved making my own content and it’s partly why I still play games like The Sims 2! Second Life was fun for the first couple months, but then it started to annoy me. Since then, I’ve been wanting a true adventure-based MMO that will allow you to upload your content to share with other. The user validation part could be where you have to get enough user votes before the item will become available within the game. That would be so exciting! Adds a new spin, huh?

  5. talyn328

    August 15, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    I’d love to have the ability to create (or at least play someone else’s) user-created content, though I’m not sure it would work for all MMOs. DDO, in particular, just screams for it. Just give a watered down editor to create the dungeon, texture it, scripts, and place spawn points for mobs, treasure and traps. The game engine itself would handle loot dispersment from chests just like it does with dev content. They could place a custom portal somewhere in Stormreach that brings up a dialog to choose which user-created dungeon you want to play. The CoX series would possibly be another contender since they already have a pretty limited number of actual instance backgrounds for their existing content. Let the users put a level on it, populate it, and perhaps a tiny bit of scripting and off you go.

    Fat chance, but if I ever get to make the MMO I’ve designed a reality, allowing user-generated content in a Holodeck-style instanced environment is on the table.

  6. p@tsh@t

    August 16, 2007 at 6:18 am

    Talyn328, there’s a great idea your comment. When I used to GM a table top RPG game back in the day (i.e., when Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson stomped the terra), ye olde pubmaster npc was a favorite resource for, shall we say, furthering plot development…the fantasy equivalent of a custom portal. I can see it now…

    GM as Tavern Keeper: Say, you boys aren’t from around here, are you. (I’m paraphrasing. Really, there was much more color in my Method Acting as Van Hemlock would say back in the day).

    Player1: Aye, a flagon of ale for myself and my companions barkeep. Indeed we are traveling on business that is our own, though we are gracious for your homely public house this dark night.

    TK: “Travelers” you say, eh? Well, you certainly look like you can hold your own on the roads these days by the look of ye. This is a local pub, we’ll have no trouble here. Likes of you wouldn’t be put off by much of the strange tales one hears lately, I’ll wager. Say, what’d you say your name was again stranger?

    P1: I didn’t. What of these strange tales of which you speak, barman?

    TK: Well, a stranger passed through here within the last fortnight and he told a dark tale of mystery and intrigue. Said he’d just returned from [insert user created content module] and certainly had a tale to tell if any of its to be believed. Skittered off the next day fast as can be to parts unknown and unspoke.

    P1: What is this [user created content module] of which you speak?

    TK: Don’t rightly know. Stranger left a map though. Got it right here. Asked me to keep it, he did. Said it was for safekeeping in case anything happened to him. Seer, he must have been, ’cause not two days ago, old [colorful tavern helpmate] come across most of a man’s carcass down at [suitably creepy location]. Unnatural it was. Like nothing no man nor beast I know could have done. Not much left but [colorful tavern helpmate] brung this back, was how I know’d it was the stranger.

    TK hands P1 [strange article of clothing/adornment].

    P1 turns [strange article of clothing/adornment] slowly in his hand glancing at his companions.

    P1: Where is this map the stranger left?

    TK: Right here. More than welcome to it as far as I’m concerned. If what got the stranger is interested in that map or [strange article of clothing/adornment], then I want no part of it. Missus say my roving days is over…

    P1: Have you provisions and beasts of burden for hire?

    And so the adventure begins.

    For a fantasy environment a la DDO, these content modules could be cycled through various NPC dialogs randomly, transparent to the player. The “map” or equivalent would be the opportunity for travel to the user created content instance. These modules could even be chained together so that the plot progressed from module to module or place to place.

    Honestly, I don’t know what I’d spend more time doing, scripting the plots or playing them.


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