Tag: user-generated content

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.



(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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Engagement and Content Volume

January 16th, 2012 — 7:02pm

This is part two of the four part series on value creation in games. Part 1: Value Creation in Games; Part 2:Engagement and Content Volume; Part 3:Engagement and Personalization; Part 4: The Game Engagement Landscape.


In my last post I talked about how value creation in games falls into two large buckets:  access and engagement.  This time I want to focus on the engagement portion, and more specifically, how we increase it.  I’ll give the usual disclaimer about how there’s many ways to slice this, but in my view there are two ways to increase engagement:

  • Increase the volume of content
  • Increase the personal meaning of content

Increasing the volume of content – the sheer amount of it that can be consumed – increases the possibility space and therefore the likelihood that the consumer will find something that engages them.  That may evolve over time – i.e. initial bits of content may grow dull but, due to the large amount available, new bits are available that may extend interest.

Increasing personalization reduces the possibility space in a way that’s meaningful to the individual player.  It does not reduce the possibility space for the game’s audience as a whole.  Think of it as the percentage of interactions an individual has in the game (relative to the total interactions they have) that are interesting to them.  What’s interesting to one user may not be interesting to another, of course.

In general we use three methods to increase the volume of content:

  • Author a lot
  • Re-use content
  • Emergence

Authoring can come from developers or consumers.  In the hands of skilled developers the content is often extremely well-made and balanced, and difficult to pattern match.  But it runs out quickly, a lot goes unused, it doesn’t adapt well to varied player interests, and it’s expensive and economically hard to sustain except at very high sales volumes.

Letting consumers author the content (i.e. UGC, or what I like to call the infinite monkeys solution) generates an almost unlimited supply and the cost of creation is very cheap.  But it has its own challenges, including a terrible signal-to-noise ratio, difficulty maintaining cohesion and consistency with the overall product, and a dependency on some level of creative or technical expertise to generate interesting content (the burden of creation, at least for some portion of the audience).

Another alternative is to simply re-use content.  Far less expensive than developer authoring, it’s also relatively easy to balance.  For example, we might use meta-structures like high scores, scenarios or levels, difficulty settings, quests and so forth to package what is essentially the same core game loop in a larger play mechanic.  That can generate more long term interest and extend play, but it doesn’t actually solve the pattern matching problem since the core game loop remains the same (potentially leading to boredom fairly quickly).  Procedural content generation is another variation on this theme but tends to produce undifferentiated content.

That leads us to emergence.  In emergent play, core components are recombined to produce novel new play dynamics (in the MDA sense).  In the mid-90s, the colleagues at my first company often mocked my constant preaching about “complex combinations of simple, distinct elements”.  Emergence might occur at the systems level, or it might come from adding other people to the game (but not necessarily friends).  As with simply re-using content, emergence is inexpensive.  And it’s hard to pattern match, making it difficult for players to optimize play and get bored.  But it’s terribly difficult to balance.

Next time I’ll talk about the personalization side.

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