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?