Thursday, January 22, 2009

User Generated Content vs. Professional Developers

So lately I’ve talked a lot about growing trends in the gaming world such as sandbox gaming and the growing monster that is online play, so today I figured I’d take a pissy little look at another recent development: User Generated Content. Now of these three game mechanics user generated content is by far the newest, well in a mainstream sense. The truly nerdy of us were modding Doom levels back in the day after all. More developers are hopping on this recent bandwagon and to be honest, I don’t much care for it. To me, every time I come across a game whose emphasis is on user generated content I’m left feeling a little ripped off and here’s why. I’m not a professional (paid) developer in any way, in fact I’m paying them to use their game. The notion of paying someone my money for a copy of their game just to have it ask me to design the levels or characters just seems like a slap in the mouth. After all, if I went out to dinner sat down and ordered a delicious cheeseburger just to have the waiter come back to me and hand me a raw meat patty and point me in the direction of the grill I’d be severely unhappy. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to go out into the backyard and fire up the grill and start flipping burgers but sometimes I want to leave it up to the professionals and the same goes for my games.

Yes, I understand that players have been allowed to make their own game content for a long time, the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series has had park creators for a good long while and sure when that came out the bright eyed younger man that I was happily rushed to design my own skate parks and every time I finished and looked at my creation it made about as much sense as an M.C. Escher drawing and any attempt to skate it with my little virtual slacker quickly degenerated into an awkward mash up of bails and getting stuck in corners. And the reason is that I’m not a game developer. I have no training or experience in how to design a level that flows well and is fun to play. Game developers however, are trained professionals who understand these things (in theory, there are a lot of poorly designed games out there) and have people who test these things.

Ok, my main issue isn’t with my own limitations as a completely awful developer because those abominations are confined to my own personal gaming. My issue however comes in now that developers have realized that letting players create their own game environment is a lucrative market and use those player created designs in other gamers experiences. Let’s look at Spore, which on an unrelated note was my biggest disappointed of 2008. Now I had a great time with the creature creator pre-launch designing and constantly refining my creations and I do have to say that my ‘Frogmo’ creatures where a true work of art, but once the game launched it became painfully obvious that not every Spore player was taking the time that I was on my creatures. Ok, before anyone yells at me and leaves mean comments (but please leave comments, I’m a vain man who craves feedback) there were some truly amazing creations that players made on Spore but they were few and far between. For the most part my might Frogmos would go out into their worlds and encounter other player’s creatures which generally looked like penises. Then I’d start making buildings, and find other cities who’s user created buildings looked like penises. Then after attacking penises with spears and then airplanes my Frogmos took to the stars and encountered spaceships… shaped like penises. I think you see where I’m going with this.

Ok, those are at least only aesthetic values in the gaming experience, but what happens when the core gameplay is left up to the player’s imagination. Little Big Planet attempted to answer this and while I’m not saying that Little Big Planet isn’t an interesting game but leaving entire levels up to the players can be a dangerous road to travel. Granted again, some players can spend hours slaving away to design their opus but 99.99% of the time players hastily rush out some poorly put together level, which may or may not be conspicuously shaped like penises, and then upload it. For as much as I’m not a game developer I’m even less of a musician and that’s why I choose to leave music writing to actual musicians, so why then would I want to download a random collection of notes strung together by another user that sounds like a circus staffed by sick cats? Or maybe that’s the new Guns and Roses record that I’m thinking of? Either way, leave the developing to the professionals or limit user generated content to something that isn’t going to directly effect gameplay.

1 comment:

Midwest Gamer Podcast said...

Great post, Ryan. I agree with you. User generated content isn't a bad idea in itself, but when it's intended to be the bulk of the gameplay, I think that's just a cop out on the game developer's part. While I can't really sympathize with your epic battles against penis civilizations in spore, your Pro Skater anecdote really hit home for me. The idea of creating my own level in the Tony Hawk games was always exciting, but actually creating it never turned out as well as i thought it would.

Matt (MWG)