User Generated Content Revisited
Okay, I promise I won’t spend more than these three sentences griping about the weather here: What the hell? There’s ice on the roads with snow on top and everyone’s acting like it’s not a huge deal! It’s incredibly dangerous!
Okay. So I talked a while ago about how I thought that WoW was being pigheaded for not allowing user generated content into the game. I was corrected a few times by people who rightly and smartly pointed out that all the add-ons were user generated content, and that often the most popular became built into the game. Yes, very true. I bring that up because today I wanted to revisit that discussion but point out that when I talk about user generated content, I specifically mean playable content, not all the amazing add-ons that people have generated.
I wanted to bring this up for a few reasons. We’ve all talked about “WoW Killers” for years (and I’ve chimed in that there won’t be one, since WoW appeared at a very specific time and place that made it far more likely to be successful in terms of money and time, that WoW will survive until it decides internally not to). But perhaps that conversation misses some of the point; instead of talking about “WoW Killer” games, what about games that have lasted a very long time despite the fact that they’ve become outdated and largely forgotten?
Some of these games have a very loyal fanbase that’s often been given the power to tinker with the game, which of course adds to the allure. Nothing gets buy-in from people like a little feeling of ownership. Nethack is one such game. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an ascii-based rogue-like game (one of the most well known until the recent resurgence) that’s incredibly tough. People still play it all over the world, which is evidenced by the many forum posts about it in various languages. Let it sink in that it’s ascii based; for those of you too young, and there may be a few that still bother to read things like blog posts instead of just watch videos (and kudos to you for that), ascii was a graphics set based only on using letters and symbols. The Nethack link above has an image if you want to see what it looks like.
Recently, I’ve been spending a fair share of time playing Neverwinter Nights, as I’ve mentioned a few times (but not enough for my NWN buddy, who points out every time I don’t bring it up but should have, which there’s been a few). NWN is an old-school RPG based on 3.0 D&D rules released back in 2002. I played it back in 2002; I likely bought it at release and played straight through it that summer; I’d just graduated from college (now you know how old I am) and was sitting pretty with a job near where I already lived and a girlfriend (who’s now my wife) who also liked playing RPGs, so I didn’t have much else to focus on.
I played its sequel, various other RPG games, then MMOs, and eventually it faded from my consciousness as a quality game from the early days of 3d graphics.
Why, then, revisit it more than a decade later? Because of user generated content. Of course, I had an external impetus – my NWN buddy – but if it hadn’t recaptured me, I could easily have walked away. However, it did; I wasn’t being asked to replay the same old content I’d played before, but instead to play through another – a, I suspect, longer – campaign developed by a user instead of by the design team.
I might have been a bit skeptical about UGC except I’ve played a lot of really good user generated content in Star Trek Online and in Neverwinter, both of which have a solid rating system and an “approval” process for making supported missions that can even reward you with legitimate items and in-game currency. I also played through several enjoyable UGCs in Shadowrun Returns, so I’d been properly primed to expect quality products from users, and for the most part, that’s what I got in NWN, too.
The UGC campaign has been enjoyable, with a lot of good consistency in characters and locations. Rather than spanning hundreds of “boards” throughout the world, the creator smartly set it mostly in a single country, reusing boards for multiple purposes. Rather than that feeling like cheating, though, the creator smartly reworked each instance of the board to make it feel changed and different, succeeding at creating consistency without repetition. The characters have mostly been enjoyable, though of course a few stereotypes have snuck in, but to be fair, they almost always do in high fantasy. The story, too, has been enjoyable, with lots of side diversions, interesting NPC factions, and lots of good chance for role play, though of course there’s limitations to what can be done in any CRPG (too often I gripe how I’d never say any of the speech options I’m given, but there’s rarely been consequences for them).
So as WoW ages into its (very likely) last expansion, I hope we get an option to prolong the life of the game through allowing for User Generated Content. There’s a lot of die-hard fans out there who’d love nothing more than to turn their fan-fiction or other wild ideas into a little dungeon that players could then explore. I know I’ve had ideas like that myself in the past, though they’re a bit outdated now.
Now that Neverwinter’s pretty solidly established that UGC is doable in a quality and supported way, would you like to see UGC in WoW? What ideas do you have?
Stubborn (and wishing I had more of a computer background so I could make UGC instead of just staring confusedly at the toolset)