Friday, April 13, 2007

Directed Content

99% of all user-generated content is useless. Not because it sucks: bad content can still be useful content. But if you wander into SecondLife, you'll see acres of completely worthless buildings and billboards - ugly, uninteresting, worthless. Even the nice stuff will rarely hold anyone's attention for long.

There is a reason for this, of course. I'll want your advice after this essay, so soak this up:

The content's only purpose is social.

In most games with user-generated content, the only real effect it can have is a social one: a new backdrop, a new animation, a new texture. In 3D chats, these are literally just frosting: a new skin on the same beast. In SecondLife and similar, you can script your stuff to have world effects - such as you'd do with a gun or a car. However, since the world is basically consequence free, these are still only social tools.

Sure, these games allow you to buy and sell for real money. But what has value is determined by what the players most want in the game, and all they can want is fluff. Luxury items. The game rules don't really allow for anything that is actually valuable, because anyone can do anything. Artificial limits and imaginary prices are the name of the game.

So, a possible solution is to make it so that content can/should/accidentally will accomplish something in the game world, give the other players something to do. For example, if you design a building to be a generator, not only do you get some kind of benefit (the ability to recharge your stuff, probably), but your building can be found replicated by NPCs all over the place, ripe for raids and role play.

There are two problems with this kind of idea. The first is one of algorithmic limits: the design variation between generator buildings is likely to be fairly minor. The more plausible variations you allow (aesthetic, material, design), the more intricate your algorithm has to be. At some point you start to say, "we'll let the players upload aesthetics, materials, and design parameters..." which is cool, except that it's about ten years of programming to get it to work.

So you end up with a bunch of content that's basically the same except for relatively minor topological differences.

The other problem is that you'll probably run out of things to accomplish. How long can a player stay entertained just building bigger and more refined versions of things that they already got working?

I suppose that could be somewhat fixed by making for a huge variety of situations - IE, move on to the next planet, which has a very different environment, or fight the next boss, who is basically immune to whatever you are currently geared for. It could also be fixed by making the world PvP, but I don't suggest it.

It also might be fixable by making the specifications about stories and mystery rather than statistics and energy. Tough, though.

Anyhow, if anyone has anything to say on the subject, or can figure out any way around any of the problems, post a message. I'm kinda spinning my wheels.

On the plus side, the new DosBox plays Quest for Glory 4 perfectly. :D


David said...

And System Shock at hi-res!

Craig Perko said...

But not SS2... :(

Nobody Fugazi said...

Don't look around you in the real world then - because most of the stuff is social there as well.

Point here is that what you have accused SL of is as true as WoW and anything else... even the internet. It is *all* mainly social. Give me one thing that is not social, I can give you many things in the same context that are (with the exception of anti-social itself).

That said, it depends on what you consider socializing and what you consider 'interesting'. I, for example, am not a very social person. Yet within SecondLife and on the internet and even in RL, I find things that I am social at. Maybe I'm just not *as* social. Maybe you are not *as* social either.

There is, however, value in social. That value, as you have pointed out by beating around it, is that social value is determined by... society. Thus, 'social'.

Does SL have value outside of social? Some people think so. Some believe that creating is fun, and there is that - but this ends up being social one way or another.

I do not disagree with your statements. However, I cannot agree vehemently. :-)

Craig Perko said...

Nobody: I think you missed the point. I'm not saying social play is bad, I'm saying that social content is largely worthless, because it has no intrinsic value.

In games like WoW, that new sword isn't social play. That new sword is a better way to kick ass. Additionally, the social play in WoW enables you to kick more ass, because now you kick ass as a team.

I'm not saying not to have social play, but I am saying to allow for some other kind of content. Because, you know, that would be nice. Especially given the difficulties of being social on the internet.

Patrick said...

What do you think of research which shows that across MMOs, from WoW to SL to web-based stuff like Travian, most people get on to be "alone together", a substantial minority get on to play with friends and a small minority play together? Doesn't that preclude a theory where social life in a primary draw?

Craig Perko said...

Patrick: I'm running around here saying that social play isn't the best thing to base a MMORPG around, and that social play can serve nonsocial play (IE raids and parties). So I think my position is pretty clear.

If you're saying that there has to be more to SL than social play because a research team has found people aren't very social, I have to disagree with someone's definition of "social play". The only non-social play in SL is building structures, vehicles, objects, etc - and those all serve primarily social ends. So instead of socializing to serve your game world (parties and raids) your game world serves your socialization (automated dildos and more underwear options than inhabitants).

I won't say it's backwards, but I will say it's not what I'm after.

shaktool said...

If you have a customizable object that has a well-defined purpose, it won't take long for players to optimize it. You can increase how long it takes to figure out how to optimize it by making it more complex, but as soon as one player figures it out, it's all over the internet and everyone can do it. The object ceases to be interesting at this point.

The trick is to make the purpose of objects ambiguous. Like, "Hey, I just built an object that... extends itself and pushes things. Is that good? Is that bad? I don't know." Turn up a knob, and suddenly it's a player-launcher. Turn it on it's side, and suddenly it launches itself as a projectile. Put it sideways in a narrow corridor, and it'll break down the walls. Is it more useful than a grenade launcher? Is it optimized? I dunno, but it's fun.

Let your player create objects with no specific purpose that let the player interact with the environment in creative ways in a world with an emergent set of rules.

Craig Perko said...

Shaktool: Yes, that was what I was trying to say. But you still need to have consequences of a more lasting manner than the social games do. Otherwise, any action will just be a curiosity.

shaktool said...


Consequences are a matter of context. The color of a rug is inconsequential to a space marine or to a disillusioned Second Life member, but is crucial to a Sims character. Objects that extend themselves in some way on command are inconsequential to Phoenix Wright, but prove to be invaluable to Chibi Robo. The environment needs to depend on the quality of the customizable aspect of the object, but not in a quantifiably good or bad way.