Problems with user content? Not new

One of the advantages of being old and decrepit, like I am, is that you remember old inconsequential stuff that may or may not matter (also that you forget important stuff that is necessary now but that’s not the point). There’s an anecdote from way back in the day that deals with the problem of user content. I don’t know if this anecdote is true, but from what little I’ve read around, some of the people involved do validate it.

Goes something like this…

Turns out that back in 70s our good friend Ralph Baer (you do know your history, right? you know who Ralph Baer is, right?) after having quite a success with the Odyssey got to thinking about what to do next. His thinking got him to a place many of us have visited in the past as well; how to bring people into the game and let them generate their own content. Still today, this issue is considered to be a (little) Holy Grail, so you can imagine how utterly revolutionary it must have been back then. But how to do it?

Mr. Baer apparently got together with some folks at Midway (manufacturers, at the time, of arcade machines and pinball tables) and he came up with a wonderful idea: an arcade game with a camera attached, so players could sign their high scores and a camera would take a picture of them to put right next to it. This is, on paper, the Gates of Gaming Nerd Heaven right there. Your mug right next to the highest score, so everyone knows who you are. Play with your average teenager’s hunger for popularity and notoriety, give him the tools to achieve this goal and just sit there to collect the quarters that would inevitably pour in.

That was the theory.

Midway went ahead with the design and installed a prototype in Chicago as a test run, to be closely monitored to see how the idea played out. The first day was an unquestionable success. The machine was immensely popular. On the second day… they called Baer back and told him they were discontinuing the project and pulling out of the whole idea. Why? It’s simple for us to divine the answer with the benefit of our 40+ years of experience in gaming: It seems at some point some guy pulled up a chair, climbed up and let the machine take a nice picture of his crotch equipment.

Yeah, of course we saw it coming. Had we travelled back in time we could’ve prevented Baer from doing this, and would have been able to tell him exactly why the idea wasn’t going to work. But imagine the shock back then. We give players these wonderful tools, this amazing opportunity… and they do THIS?!. Yes, of course they do it. Why? Because they can and because there are no repercussions, no punishment and not even a way to identify the culprit (unless you wanted to run around the neighborhood looking at people’s plumbing just to see if it matches the picture in the machine, like in a gay Cinderella slash piece).

So if right now you’re banging your head on the desk trying to come up with a system that feeds the monster but doesn’t let it out of its leash at the same time? Dear Dev? We feel your pain. Know that the road you walked has been walked by many others in the past, many great people too, and they also failed. Nothing personal. It’s the nature of the beast.

(Midway later on recouped the money they lost on this idea when they took the camera tech and built a game about Journey, with digitized pics of the band members and all. I’m still not entirely sure if they would’ve been better off just by going with the male bits idea)

8 thoughts on “Problems with user content? Not new”

  1. Given picture tech today, that idea might work. You would think you could get something that could scan the picture and identify whether or not it’s a face, and if not delete the pict.

    At worst, it would take people a little bit longer to figure out how to make their junk look like a face…

  2. It’s the interval known as “Time To Cock”.

    And part of me is trying to figure out how to make my junk look like a face, and the other part of me is recoiling in horror from the first part.

  3. It kinda reminds me of King Kong. You know, when they take Kong to NY and drop the curtains to reveal him to an audience of gob-smacked spectators. We, the players, are the angry giant monkey and the “chains” of game design cannot contain us for long.

  4. Ralph Baer is awesome. He wrote a short bit about “What he wish he knew” in my book.

    I didn’t know about this little story, though. That was fascinating, though. You’re right, I could see the problem coming a mile away, but that’s with a lot of experience behind me. I think the real lesson here is that those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, a lot of them get funding anyway. :P

  5. This is, in fact, one of the subheadings of Lord British’s Law.
    A: If it exists, it must be killed.
    B: If it moves, people will use it to spell out dirty words.

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