Tobold's Blog
Monday, April 04, 2011
Player-created content

A reader directed my attention to an article in Massively about the new Star Trek Online Foundry, specifically the part where players used the Foundry to create missions that practice their jumping skills, needed for one of the game's raids. Sure, that would be one of the valid uses of such an editor for player-created content: Create training missions for developer-created content.

Unfortunately mission editors and MMORPGs based on player advancement don't go well together. Either the players are given very little freedom on how to create new content, or they tend to use any freedom given to create missions that give the maximum amount of reward for the minimum amount of effort. Paragon had to threaten players who used the mission Architect of City of Heroes / Villains with being banned for exploiting.

That is the curse of games in which character advancement and rewards have become more important than any notions of "fun". Add an editor and players maximize rewards instead of maximizing fun, because they can't even tell the difference any more. Given the possibility, they would create the big red button which advances any character to maximum level with best in slot gear in all item slots, in spite of that button being a thinly disguised "game over" function.
On the note of the "game over button", I would point out that the Arena Tournament Realm offers unlimited gear/gold etc and allows players to compete on truly even footing. Players can then spend hours dueling, trying out other classes, and actually having fun with their chosen form of WoW, Arenas.

If you want to find a group of WoW player who have elected Gameplay over Shiny Purple Gear, look no further than the Arena Community.
Yeah, but there, the game over is when you reach #1, not when you reach the top tier gear. That's the difference between PvP and PvE.
"Rats in Skinner boxes with metal electrodes implanted into their nucleus accumbens will repeatedly press a lever which activates this region, and will do so in preference over food and water, eventually dying from exhaustion."

We all know the experiment, and we all know that MMOs are Skinner boxes for people.
Actually, the foundry missions in STO do not reward anything. They are simply there to allow players to create their own StarTrek stories and missions.

It is to keep the Roleplayers going and those that play for the story.
There are lots of reviews about the played created missions that have been featured by Atari, and they are celebrated for the great story lines in it.
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In CoH/V, I wouldn't call that a thinly veiled game over button, I'd call it a play with fun powers now instead of spending a hundred hours unlocking them button.
This does beg the question of whether a persistent world with PvE gameplay could succeed if there were no levelling-up/skilling up. It's probably established that players will PvP indefinitely with "out-of-the-box" avatars that never change, given the incentive of some sort of ranking system or competetive matchplay, but is there an equivalent for PvE players?

What would "content" consist of in a persistent PvE virtual world in which your character either never changed from the point of creation, or in which all necessary improvements were automatically and instantly granted? What would keep someone playing such a game for months or years in the way players play MMOs?

Have you played the Left 4 Dead games?

The PvE cooperative campaign is very popular, regardless of the fact that there is no 'loot', 'experience' or 'rep' to grind.

There are some basic achievements but no one in the community seems to care about them.

The game is fun to play in itself.

The 'reward' comes from beating a dynamically scaled challenge.

I missed out the word 'persistent' in your original post, however I would argue that the modern WoW end-game is almost as lobby/dungeon-running based as L4D.
"players maximize rewards instead of maximizing fun, because they can't even tell the difference any more"

Sadly true. And then, when everyone has the same reward, they maximize the importance of dps meters, achievement points, etc.

I hate rushing through content just because everyone else does. I wish I could turn off my XP gains in Rift so I could enjoy some lvl 20 invasions, but they don't seem to happen as much in those zones. I'm guessing it is because people just try to rush to level (and therefore through the zone - it's only about 6 levels) so the invasions don't get triggered.

I'm thinking this is likely why Blizzard streamlined the talent trees and the questing experience - they just decided to acknowledge that most players don't care about the lore or creating a unique character anymore, they just want to get max level.
"We all know the experiment, and we all know that MMOs are Skinner boxes for people."

What I want to know is, when do I get my electrode?
Why "game over?" Modern MMO's are always insisting that the game *begins* at the level cap. The gameplay before the cap is just "training."

To some extent, they're right.At the level cap, I have the full slate of my characters abilities, so playing my character is more complex and interesting. Also, since players can't just level more and overpower content, developers spend more care with the level cap content.

Is is any wonder, then, that players seek to reach the level cap as soon as possible?
They just need a player "voting" system.

When first created, player content offers no xp. You can try it out, like you try things on the test server, and vote on how well you like it.

The highest rated ones are then approved by the developers, and added to the game where they give actual xp.
These kinds of discussions always make my head hurt.

AOL already has "been there done that" on any permutation of "outside party" created content iteration.

Back when AOL was a big deal they had a customized client for creating advertising for AOL users to be pitched to. This client was a greatly enhanced version of the default AOL client (that for the day was pretty locked down). The name for this client at one time was called "Rainmaker" and through nefarious means a series of hackers got a copy of the client and then used this advanced interface to pretty much pwn AOL. Case himself was always commenting about hackers being in the COE (Center of the Earth - core AOL hosting servers).

What AOL found out in... say mid 90s is that ability to upload arbitrary content = insecure systems.

Before people start talking silly understand a few things:

a) uploading in most cases today is to a web (http) thin interface which is much more limited than a MMO game or AOL fat client

b) don't believe the nonsense of the browser being the "client of the future" - (quick check name 10 browser MMOs that people spend money for ... exactly)

c) the idea that you can control anything allowing for random unstructured content is absurd except by implementation of a LIMITED interface.

So talking about player designed content is cool as an academic exercise... but it's about as productive as discussions about the Easter Bunny and other myths.
I've never played an MMORPG with such a function, but on games like Pharaoh I used to use the scenario editor to make *harder* levels.

I think it depends on which Bartle type you are. :)
In a way players can create thier own content through pvp. The content is created with conflict.

A battle over a mineral node or a quest that leads you near an enemy town can start such conflicts. Conflicts are player made and they can hold great reward.

In mmorpgs without factions like horde/alliance there are many more of these conflicts they dont even allways have to involve battle.

Conflicts will make you care about your own honor and reputation on your server not just stats and achivements.

That is another form of player-created content.
I really love the idea of turning XP gain off(I think Vanguard has that ability).

I would love to see how game balance would play out if that little option were in there for players, in many MMOs.

I'd love to do it in Runes of Magic when wanting to stay at 29 for the battlefields, or simply to suspend my disbelief and increase my immersion a bit by playing a character that could "age" at a controlled rate and still be able to kill stuff.
There's an easy way to balance the reward difficulty with player-created content: charge them.

If we had a dungeon editor for WoW, the creator would get charged X gold for each item that dropped, and receive Y gold every time a player dies in the dungeon. If the cash allocated to the dungeon runs out, nobody can run it until the creator deposits more cash.

Yeah, you'd wind up effectively turning cash into items, but the AH already allows players with enough gold to pick up a pile of epics. This would provide a feedback mechanism to make sure the player created content isn't too imbalanced.
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