Sean Bulger's Column
Community Column: Player Made Content

Sean Bulger | 26 Mar 2008 17:20
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Player created content comes in a variety of forms. There are, of course, dynamic content systems, such as player-created factions as discussed once before, as well as other types of content that players can create. However, one type of content has certainly been around for quite a while, and its a form that has evolved quite a bit. Its also a form that has not been quite as embraced by developers as it could be.

By this, I mean, creative content. Stories, art, and videos are some prime examples of this. Fan-fiction has certainly been around for quite a long time - as are other types of writings created by players (just look at the numerous guides one can find on sites such as this one). Fan art can be much the same. How many of you can say you haven't watched videos created with in-game footage of MMOs these days as well?

As strange as it may seem to some, there are plenty of people out there who enjoy creating things by using parts of the game they play, or by creating something for the game. Even more people like to enjoy those creations - more so the videos in this day of age. This is also something that developers could take advantage of when trying to build a strong community.

Embracing content like this has a number of potential benefits for community building. People already like creating this sort of content, so a developer isn't going to need to spend a whole lot of effort on getting people to participate. People like to create content and share it - that's why sites like YouTube are so popular. Many people want to put something out there that others can see, so that they can build some sort of fame. However, there does need to be some sort of reason for developers to spend some effort on implementing something - either in-game or on their website - to allow people to share this content.

This is actually rather simple - or I would say so anyhow. User generated content does a few things that are very important for a company:

  1. It encourages users to participate in the product more. People will spend more time creating content as they know it has a great chance to be seen by the community. People viewing the content are also 'getting more' out of their product (even if it is viewable to anyone, they're more likely to get in-jokes and other things that require in-game knowledge to fully enjoy). In this case, however, I refer more to people creating content. If it is supported by the developer and has the chance for higher penetration, more people are going to bother doing it. This is probably why you see more videos like these with sites like YouTube around.
  2. It strengthens the existing community by increasing retention rates. People are given more to do than just play the game - they know that they can create content and share it, they know that they can access such content. This involves people on another level besides just playing the game together, which generally strengthens the community. Also, by providing more things to do, it should cut down on some amount of MMO burn out.
  3. Possibly the most important of all, user created content can increase advertising for an MMO - for very little (if any) cost. If players are busily creating content to be shared, using a game, then sharing it with people (and likely people they know, and people that those people know, etc... I love viral marketing) then the game's name gets spread out more. People also get to see it in action. This can go a long way in getting a game's name out.

Potential Issues
Okay, suffice to say, when you give people on the internet the ability to create content, chances are things are not going to go entirely smoothly. That is to say, some of that content isn't going to be something that the developers of the game are going to want representing their game. Just to give an example of that, I'm simply going to point to the good old internet as a whole - not to mention games that already heavily emphasis player-created content, like Second Life. We all know the reputation that has.

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