It's Your Game

It's Your Game
Player Created Content

Jason Smith | 2 Aug 2005 12:02
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Even when players don't find anything negative hidden in the game itself, the changes that they themselves create can draw significant negative attention to the game or the brand. An incredible number of games have had textures on female models replaced with fully nude ones (most famously, Tomb Raider, and most recently, World of Warcraft). Although these incidents are unlikely to have the same impact that Hot Coffee had on GTA (as the content was not present within the game itself), they can and do cause negative press. Perhaps the worst instance of this problem was suffered by id Software with DOOM when the media discovered that one of the Columbine shooters had created a DOOM level based on his high school.

With multiplayer games, there is also a distinct danger that users will be able to create mods that dramatically tilt the competition in their favor. Some early FPS mods made all walls transparent, added "auto-aim" functionality to weapons, or colored opponents in bright colors to make them easier to spot. An entire industry has actually sprung up around keeping these types of user modifications out of the multiplayer arena, led by PunkBuster, and it's now becoming a standard in many multiplay-enabled games. Some MMORPGs are also integrating similar anti-cheat protections, as NCSoft did with nProtect's GameGuard in Lineage II.

Finally, as mods and their distribution become more fully integrated with game communities, there's the possibility of changes to gameplay spreading unknowingly. As a part of their supporting the Sims 2 community, Maxis provides a way for players to download other player-created content - a significant draw to longtime Sims players. This distribution system was unintentionally responsible for the spread of objects with hidden side effects, resulting in many players going to Maxis' forums and customer support department to report strange behavior.

We See Farther
The future of player content is rapidly approaching. What will it hold? Despite the recent negative press, expect to see more access for more genres, and a much higher level of developer involvement.

Player-created levels are coming to consoles. Pariah, an otherwise unremarkable first-person shooter for the Xbox, provides both an integrated map editor and a way to use and distribute those maps over Xbox Live. While we're unlikely to see the same levels of heavy editing we see with PC titles, as the next generation of consoles go online we can expect to see more, and more sophisticated, content creation tools included with them, along with the ability to distribute them to friends.

Second Life, an online virtual world, bases its entire game on player created content. With an advanced scripting language and full support for customized art, players create everything from customized player models and lines of clothing to virtual fish and simulated skateboarding. On top of that, players can then sell these creations to other players, allowing the most talented to actually make a living independently developing game content.

The Sims Exchange, a centralized point for players of The Sims family of games to distribute and download new content, is a great example of where developer support of the player-content community is going. The Exchange provides thousands of customized character models, house designs, and objects created by both official developers and the player community.

With Neverwinter Nights Premium Modules, Bioware has approached some of the most talented module creators and offered them the opportunity to create more complex adventures professionally. These modules include voice acting work, composed music, and heavy scripting that would make their independent creation prohibitive. Sold through their online store for far less than the cost of retail expansions, these modules provide trustworthy, high-quality content that extend the life of the game dramatically.

Like it or not, player content is here to stay. And we should like it. Players are responsible for Counter-Strike, a genre-defining mod that became a separate title in its own right, and arguably the most popular online game to date. It's responsible for the wonderful - independently created - adventures that make Neverwinter Nights a permanent fixture on my hard drive. It's responsible for the endless font of creativity that comes from Second Life. And it's training the next generation of game designers, who will create games with more depth, content, and customizability than ever before.

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