Category Archives: User-Generated Content

Dance To Your Own Beat (Literally)

Oh happy day … I’ve spotted the convergence of two of my favorite topics: physically-active games and user-generated content. :)

Codemasters has announced that Dance Factory will be available for purchase in April. Dance Factory is DDR with a twist: game content is auto-generated using a player’s own music collection. In other words, you can dance to anything you own (or create!) I wonder what would happen if you popped Barry Manilow in the drive…

This screenshot shows that the game has a definite emphasis on exercise: it displays “calories burned”, “equivalent jogging”, and “equivalent swimming”. I wonder if this might almost be too much information? I think the fitness angle is extremely important, but it’s kind of a downer to think about jogging when I’m looking for fun. More of a downer if I play a quick game and burn hardly any calories. Maybe there’s another way to communicate this information? Doritos incinerated, perhaps? Gotta choose a small food unit to keep the reported numbers high. :)

BTW, Codemasters has also produced Music Generator 3, in tandem with MTV. Good example of the correct way to fuse consumer brands with video game content — sensible and relevant to the gameplay.

User-Generated Content: Not Without Obligations

The 2005 Second Life Game Developer Contest, intended to generate positive PR and fun new in-game content, appears to have generated some serious controversy as well. Jeffrey Gomez, the contest winner, recently discovered that a system-wide software patch had rendered his 1st place entry non-functional.

Linden Lab has argued that Gomez could have used their test servers to identify and troubleshoot the problem before it was too late. Gomez has responded that he (and other users) shouldn’t be forced to adopt a patch before they are good and ready.

I chatted with my friend Sameer Ajmani, PhD graduate of MIT’s computer science program (and a systems specialist) about this debate. His words:

It can be very difficult to enable users running different versions to coexist in a game. But even if they could coexist, this would force users to choose between features of the different versions. Most MMOGs require that users upgrade to the latest version specifically to avoid this problem. However, since Second Life depends on its users for content, Linden Labs ought to make every effort to make API changes backwards-compatible. If users have no guarantee that their content will work after the next upgrade, then they will be demotivated to create new things.

Someone who makes content for Second Life doesn’t necessarily want to maintain it for the rest of their (real) lives. Users don’t have the same persistent (and/or consistent) committment to a game that the game’s developers do. If users can’t be certain that their efforts will retain value for a significant period of time, without significant upkeep, their motivation to produce will diminish. A business that is reliant upon user-generated content cannot afford this.

PS. While we’re on the subject, check out this cool business simulation Second Life competition. The Apprentice meets MMOG. :)

Bioware: Geniuses? Or Just Really Smart?

This fit of admiration was inspired by two articles I read yesterday. One announced a writing contest; entrants must create a Neverwinter Nights module via which to tell their story, and the winners get a job working for Bioware. Good (free) content and good employees in one fell swoop. Nice.

The second article summarized a recent lecture by Bioware’s web community manager. The whole thing is worth reading if you care about learning from your customers, fostering a fan base, creating “super-fans”, and/or grooming an audience for future sales.

Bioware really understands the value of social engagement and user-generated content, two of the differentiators that make games so much more interesting (and potentially lucrative) than other forms of media.

They’re also smart recruiters. It isn’t cost-effective to build a team entirely from “experienced” talent in a rapidly-growing industry that lacks supply of qualified personnel. Plus, new people bring new ideas and fresh perspectives! (Then again, that might take all the fun out of bemoaning the industry’s lack of innovation. I can’t imagine going one week without reading another five articles on the subject…) Anyway, no surprise that Bioware was one of the few game companies attending the MIT career fair this year.

Fighting Piracy with Goodwill: More Carrot, Less Stick

Yesterday’s post got me thinking about creative solutions to the problem of piracy. If you take for granted that engineering solutions are insufficient impediments to piracy on their own, then what? Legal solutions are band-aids; at best slowing the phenomenon, at worst enraging consumers… how do you fight the collective will of humanity with a bunch of lawyers?

So, aside from accepting that piracy is a given (and perhaps less-than-horrific) part of life, what can you do? How about give consumers more reasons to pay for the product? Many people choose to purchase multiplayer games (rather than pirate them) because they want to participate in sanctioned and/or ranked online matches with the bulk of the player community. Blizzard has used its service as an effective enticement for years. But why limit social solutions to multiplayer games?

Imagine the following single-player experience: you’re a soldier tasked with sneaking behind enemy lines. Your character is captured and thrown into an empty jail cell. Some of your comrades are held in nearby cells; you can hear them tapping on the walls, and you can tap back. What if the game connected to a sanctioned server and broadcasted your taps to other real people playing this part of the game? Perhaps the players could be encouraged to solve some problem together under real time pressure? (AI could kick in when not enough players are online). This could enrich gameplay and encourage users to purchase games instead of pirate them.

In Grand Theft Auto, you can spray graffiti on the walls. What if players were enabled to customize their graffiti in great detail? The game could automatically upload player-generated graffiti to a server, where it would be randomly downloaded by other game instances. The virtual cityscape would quickly fill up with graffiti, creating a sense of real authenticity. Perhaps players could be enabled to “vote” on other players graffiti, or add to it, or overwrite it?

Implementation aside, my point is: games can tap social forces and user-creativity to enrich play and encourage purchase. Company-sanctioned servers can act as the greatly preferred (if not only) clearinghouse via which access to extra content is obtained.

I’m not advocating for piracy, here. I think that IP protection is vital to a healthy economy, and government/industry should work together to fight infringement. That said, ubiquitious access to the Internet is clearly a double-edged boon to the entertainment business. The question is: can businesspeople and designers take advantage of the opportunity, or will they be left behind by it?