The Culture Of Try And User Generated Content

February 20th, 2012 — 7:25pm

Last week I posted about how the acceleration of personal sharing over the past couple decades has created a “culture of try”, where consumers are much more willing to sample new things and aren’t turned off by poor experiences despite a high signal to noise ratio.

While this is significant for indie games, it’s also very important for any kind of game that depends on user generated content.  A willingness to try and fail, repeatedly, is being baked into our culture and expanding the ranks of those willing to create content in any particular product.

There’s a great blog post by Raph Koster from several years ago in which he observes that “everyone is a creator”:

“…the question is ‘of what.’ Everyone has a sphere where they feel comfortable exerting agency — maybe it’s their work, maybe it’s raising their children, maybe it’s collecting stamps. Outside of that sphere, most people are creators only within carefully limited circumstances; most people cannot draw, but anyone can color inside lines, or trace. If the games require serious commitment and challenging creation tasks equivalent to drawing from scratch, they will have smaller audiences.

This is, of course, the argument that some in the comment threads were making against complex ecologies, cool NPC AI, and so on. The logic goes that too much complexity will overwhelm the casual user. We must not forget that casual users aren’t stupid users, they’re just not adept at, or willing to invest in, that particular system. They are likely heavily invested in creativity in some other aspect of their lives.” (1)

A lot of Raph’s article is about the barriers many games (and products in general) leave in the way of consumers who want to experience it on their own terms.  I agree with his reasoning that improving accessibility enables greater creation and consumption on the part of users, but I think this masks the underlying cultural shift going on.  People have been conditioned by the internet to accept false starts, and this is helping them tolerate less accessible products.

Some rules, perhaps, to go along with this:

  • Rapid feedback is critical.  Failing is ok, so long as they know immediately.
  • Feedback needs to be obvious.  The reason for failure should be explicit so they don’t have to waste time trying to understand why it didn’t work.
  • The build-try-fail loop must be very tight.  You can’t expect a user to spend thirty minutes building something before they can try it, only to have to spend that much time again if it fails.
  • The act of creating itself should be a fun experience, not a means to an end.  Some of that will be intrinsic to the user’s desire to create that got them to the starting line, and some will simply be via the absence of barriers, but if your product is dependent on users making stuff there is no reason not to make this part engaging as well.

There are huge benefits to getting more users across even the most shallow creation line for a product, but the most obvious one is that “creators are the most voracious consumers” (2).  To extend that further:  more creators means greater consumption per user, and greater consumption per user translates to greater revenue per user.

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Footnotes:

(1)  I’d also recommend reading Dave Edery’s post on the benefits of UGC that Raph links to at the beginning.

(2)  That’s Raph again.  He’s going to think I’m stalking him pretty soon.

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