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Will the rise of User Generated Content be the real “WoW-killer”?

Posted by on October 1, 2008

Maracas aren’t as good at warding off intergalactic invaders as I thought they would be.

While out gathering the day’s meals, my duckling tribespeople were startled by a huge contraption which WALKED on white, clanking legs down from the sky and sucked up the food animals that were being kept in the pen behind the main hut. It then buzzed the village twice and stalked back up into space.

It was Ogrebears‘ starship. Later, when my little ducklings had ascended to space, I was given a mission to suck up some of the Ogrebears creatures into *my* starship. Their terrified yelps couldn’t save them from the power of my abduction ray.

That was SPORE. As a game. it’s okay. As a way to get millions of people creating their own content and sharing it with their friends, of unleashing their creativity and playing games in a way that engaged people’s brains instead of numbed them, it was amazing.

In three weeks, LittleBigPlanet will play the same trick by giving kids and adults all the tools to make pretty much any arcade game they can imagine, along with all the awards and prizes, and share them with their friends (and anyone else).

Warhammer Online decided to vastly de-emphasize the scripted encounters common to older games in favor of boosting the PvP game. The PvP game — the part of the game where your opponents are other players and not computer-controlled automatons — is considered by Mythic to be very much more compelling than the part of the game where you find a clump of Wuzzits and press a key repeatedly until they are all gone.

It’s not that WoW is the only game that encourages repetitive and meaningless killing — its predecessor, EverQuest, was widely mocked for focusing on exactly that — but that it took such great delight in it. The Deadmines is a fantastic little story, but it always plays the exact same way. The fight against the dread dragon Onyxia was so scripted that a video where a raid leader berates his raid for not following the script exactly enough was one of the most widely circulated WoW videos I ever saw while I played reveals just how ingrained this has become.

The game devs have long assumed the path to big success was in leading the player to the rides, then letting them have their very tightly managed fun.

EverQuest 2 shares a lot of things with WoW. But, you can decorate your home limited only by your imagination. You can dress your character however you like (depending on your class). Lord of the Rings lets you also choose from among several outfits of your own design and build your own house. Likewise Vanguard. Star Wars Galaxies lets you design almost anything you like to your own specifications. Chronicles of Spellborn will let you from the start design your own look. City of Heroes will let you write your own missions — complete with a villain of your own design.

Yet in Warcraft, every character looks the same. There are no houses, no outlet for creativity. Only in the battlegrounds (and the upcoming open PvP zone) are the players set loose to be free.

There is a new generation of MMORPGs coming. It won’t be marked by super real graphics or ever-more elaborately scripted raid encounters. The new games will hand over some of the keys to the playground to the players. And, absolutely 100% guaranteed, what the players will do with them will astonish.

I’ve talked about this before, and people have said it’s impossible, but it’s not. It’s already happening. The days when you could log on to your MMO and depend upon a scripted experience, the same as everyone has, are nearly over. Within five years, the quests I run will be the quests YOU wrote. And FINALLY, a dozen years too late, 3D MMOs will be up to parity with the text-based MUDs that inspired them.

And once we’re up to date with the state of the art of a dozen years ago, we can move forward into something truly new.

WoW is a dinosaur, bigger than anything that came before it. A hundred feet long, tall as a tree, thundering footsteps and a trumpeting call proudly proclaiming it master of the prehistoric.

But we all know what happened to the dinosaurs.

They just couldn’t adapt.

12 Responses to Will the rise of User Generated Content be the real “WoW-killer”?

  1. Anjin

    While I’m very interested in seeing a community involved in content creation for MMOs, I shudder to think what Sturgeon’s Law (the famous one) would mean for us without diligent content policing or efficient community self-regulation tools.

  2. Tipa

    Clearly there would have to be a vetting system — SPORE has one, LittleBigPlanet will. It will be interesting to see how City of Heroes solves this problem. MUDs used to usually require you to submit everything you built to the Wizards until they knew you knew what you were doing and weren’t going to get weird on them before they let you loose.

    Whatever happens, it’s an exciting time to be a MMO player :)

  3. GrnTxtonBlk

    Aptly stated and I completely agree with you. The joy of MMOs is in its ability to create a connection between players. Scripted encounters, while old and busted, create a high sense of community accomplishment. While this is great for the players the first time through, over time the developer needs to add content. This model is the current “static” content paradigm business model. Enough for convoluted sentences!

    Overall, what matters isn’t that the industry is moving forward or backward. Whats important is that MMO developers create compelling, motivating and unique game systems that drive the player experience. How we define those parameters is up to each individual MMO studio.

  4. Ogrebears

    Nice, i don’t think i’ve encountered any of your thing in Spores yet. Hahah, but that is great!!!

  5. Tipa

    I set my SPORE to only use things from Buddies, so everything in my game is either from a buddy or Maxis. I’ve seen Darren’s stuff more than anyone else’s, but there’s been a little bit of everyone’s, except Stargrace’s stuff.

    But your walker scooping up my meat beasts was hilarious!

  6. Tipa

    I added the screen shot :)

  7. Openedge1

    Did Ryzom try this from before? I wonder how that concept fared there? And is it available now with their relaunch?

    But, this seems to be in line with something that Saylah at Mystic Worlds wrote about, and the fact that people may enjoy themselves more if they were not lead by the nose.

    So based on that concept (I still hate the word “Sandbox” as it is difficult to do I think, but somewhat applies) what if the changes you made to the world held on?

    One developer (I think I posted on this a while back, but has entered the ether since then) has discussed a setting where if you “rescue the princess” in their game, that the Princess cannot be rescued by another player.

    This type of scripting may be more in line of what this genre needs.

    Guild Wars 2 has been discussing real world events taking place, and not being “scripted” but random.

    One day a village is attacked by a Dragon, and anyone that is there can join to defeat it. But, any damage the village receives will stay until the villagers repair it. If the villagers are all killed, then a new set of people may move into that plot of land and build.

    Sounds very much like Black and White except the Gods are the developers, and the NPC AI is in line of a “God game”.

    Is this off, or is it what you envision?

  8. Tipa

    I’m not sure a game where everything was a one-off would be very fun. One of the basic elements of MMOs is knowing that if you do something fun, that it’s possible for me to do that too, maybe after I level up some more. But it’s as even a playing field as it possibly can be.

    I remember the uproar on Stromm when we woke the Sleeper, a once-in-a-server event that changed Sleeper’s Tomb forever once done (killing the real cash cows that other guilds were exploiting along the way, but anyway).

    Asheron’s Call had a bunch of server events, one every month, that players could influence. I have never played Ryzom — I want to, but I just am overscheduled as it is :(

    But what I really meant was, devs can only do so much. And there’s nothing about a dev that says there aren’t players out there who could design something better. There’s ALWAYS someone out there better than you are. But maybe these master designers couldn’t get a job in the game industry or are happy doing whatever else they do but would make cool stuff if given the chance? History has shown that the stuff these untapped players come up with can be up to par or better than the efforts from internal developers. Half Life: Counterstrike or WC3: Defense of the Ancients are the usual examples, but there are hundreds more. Hero’s Journey was meant to have nearly all of its content be player created.

    I’m not a level designer or an artist; I’m a writer. Do I think I can do better than a ‘kill ten rats’ mission? Yes. But that’s not a stretch. Do I think I can craft a piece of lore into a long quest that would tell a fun story, give you a sense of accomplishment, and add something new to the genre? Yeah. I want a chance to do that. I’m going to GET my chance when CoX Issue 14 comes out.

    And I bet every single player out there has come up against some quest or mission and said, you know, here’s a story they didn’t tell, about this graveyard, or that mountain, or those ruins over there, they could be more than a skeleton respawn point. Or maybe a flipside thing where the players play monsters waiting around for other players to try and kill them (yes, EverQuest has their monster missions and LotRO their Creeps vs Freeps… more of that, please!).

    Companies are increasingly handing the tools to the players and inviting them to play. It’s coming, and it is the sign of the REAL next generation of MMOs. Not a retread. Something actually new.

  9. Openedge1

    @Tipa
    I’m not sure a game where everything was a one-off would be very fun

    I agree…somewhat.

    Like the Dragon example.

    Say the village is attacked by that dragon…well, bummer, you missed that quest.

    But, now the Villagers are rebuilding that village, and oh no, they need extra wood for the tiki bar hut@! (hehe)
    Then you must go into the forest not far from there and get the wood..
    ooo…nasty undead there, so you kill a few, and get the wood and go back.
    OH NO, now come to find out a spirit lives within this wood that was to protect the forest, and now the Undead want their wood back (hmm)

    So, this is not to say that the adventure just stops. But changes to reflect the situation?
    Would this even be possible with today’s developers capabilities?
    But, maybe you are correct. WE need to be designing these games dangit, as I would play that game I just described!!!

    I am interested in how Fable 2 will handle their multiplayer world design where changes you make affect your world. Yet, now someone else can come to that world…and THEY can make changes there (like the infamous video of the other player killing Peters husband…lol…oh my!)
    How does THAT play into this concept?

    Thanks for a great “mind massaging” post.

  10. Tipa

    I dunno. If you get to kill the dragon, I want to kill the dragon, too. You shouldn’t have all the fun just because you got there first. I don’t think having heavily dynamic content is really fair; that puts the whole focus of the game at the people who get to the content first, and I doubt I’d want to play such a game. I like being able to play at my own pace and know I’ll see everything eventually.

    Especially if, as in your example, you get to kill the dragon, and I get to cut lumber.

    Now, if you made a quest for which had a persistent state such that one group comes in, kills the dragon, gets its treasure and leaves, and then another one rebuilds the town, and another replaces the cattle, and that ends with another dragon moving in and the whole thing resets, well, that could be pretty fun — has everything you wanted, but everyone can eventually see all the parts.

    Fable 2, I dunno. Being a PS3 owner, I won’t get to see it. But I will get to see LittleBigPlanet, and I’ll be writing about how that goes here.

  11. Openedge1

    Hey now…it was more than cutting wood…it was cutting limbs off of Zombies or Skeletons too..

    I LOVE dead Zombies (after their undeath that is…)

    But, your option would work as well,,,new dragon settles in after time, etc..

    Hey …we are postulating anyways. My theory is based on how they had an example of quests in Guild Wars 2. I doubt repetition will ever disappear from MMO’s…lol.

    I am sure that Dragon resets after a while..

    But what if it did not?

    I would like MY one character to experience a situation once, and be done. I don’t want to go kill Raid Boss Myjel 4 times a week.
    I want him to stay DEAD after I kill him…for me.

  12. Tipa

    Both Final Fantasy XI Online and Lord of the Rings Online do that for storyline quests. You can help other people do those quests, but they have to start them — the world has already changed for you. But you don’t *like* LotRO :P You can just do raids and stuff like that once only in other MMOs and it will be the same deal. You can pretend it is dead forever and ignore those people marching off to kill him again five days later.

    If you made an MMO without killing, or at least one where killing is reserved for situations worthy of it (and we must remember that back in the D&D days, while a good battle was the usual way of ending a fun night, most of that night had been spent doing other things), then you could be a lot smarter with bosses and storylines. You can’t have the world change when Uberbear gets killed for every player unless killing Uberbear is a signficiant achievement. One that would have to be prepared for and would take the determined efforts of many people over a long period of time.

    That’s a problem with games like WoW and EQ2. Venril Sathir, in EQ2, is a legendary opponent with a long history in lore. And yet I could solo him in EQ1 and he is seen as a trivial gateway mob in EQ2. Clearly killing him SHOULD change the world in a significant way, yet it doesn’t. Clearly it should be something more like “Acolyte of Sathir” or something. But it isn’t.

    Anyway, the MMOs work the way they work because people want to know they can always have the experience of killing a big baddie, and if they liked it enough to do it again, they can. This is just giving players more things to do that are fun, and I have no problem with it, however questionable it might be given the lore. You can think of it just being fair — player characters don’t stay dead, so monsters rez and respawn, too!

    It’s that division between GAME and SANDBOX — MMOGs always have to remember that they are a game, and their purpose is to give you interesting ways to have fun. You can go total SANDBOX like in Second Life, make your own raid scenario if you like, complete with boss, hand out little tickets good for one visit only, and hand them out to everyone you know. But would you really refuse to give someone another ticket for a second trip through?

    Single player games can have the world revolve around the single player. I think it’s dangerous for MMOs to copy single player games too much.