J. and the Australian Gamer Podcasters have realized an important truth, namely that most user-made content is crap. Then again, most x is crap for all values of x. The question, I comment there, is whether you have tools to separate the wheat from the chaff (to jump metaphors). The goal is to set a million people loose, let it be 99% crap, and still get the work of 10,000 talented people (and remember that even talented people produce a lot of crap to get their good stuff).
Editing is hard. I will not even get into that here, except to note that many companies edit their own stuff too poorly to consider harvesting user-made content. If your internal content-production still gives mostly crap after filtering and editing, what hope do you have?
A standard approach is to point to the most popular stuff. Granted, that means that a superior late-comer loses because its name never rises to the front page, but sometimes Firefox starts eating a chunk of Internet Explorer’s market, after IE ate Netscape’s market.
We have a problem: ripple works. The top-rated user-generated content frequently includes crap. The best stuff will usually be in the top tier, and it is a big win getting your top tier to only half-ish crap, but it is still insulting to see how poorly things are chosen.
Let’s take Kongregate. Looking at it now, the Top Five for each category is almost entirely decent games. I’m impressed. Hmm, that seems to strike at my core point, so let’s look a little closer. After all, you may want to play more than five games of some type.
We will peruse my usual favorite category, Strategy and Defense. Off the top, Sonny is pretty good, but should it really be the top-rated game on all of Kongregate, across all categories? Do we like level grinds and Final Fantasy III gameplay that much? And the trivially easy, Kongregate-edition crippleware version of Gemcraft beats Desktop TD? That’s just being picky. We have three lousy games in the school of Bowmaster that are all on that first page, one of which (Age of War) is again trivially easy, disgustingly unbalancing, mind-numbingly tedious… I must move on before I drown in bile. The real winner, though, is Pandemic 2, a Top Ten game despite being one of the worst pieces of design on the site. It looks somewhat professional, and then you learn that there are almost no moving parts, and whether you can win is entirely random. You can improve those random odds, but the dominant strategy is “re-start until you get one of the best starting spots, re-start if it randomly becomes unwinnable,” which more or less comes down to re-starting the game about 100 times. And this is a Top Ten game for the site with more than a million plays.
Hand-picked user-generated content will not help you there either. They picked it. The game has four trophies and was the card challenge one week. The Kongregate people are aware that the game is horribly broken: they gave it an Impossible trophy, mocking it with the name, thereby encouraging everyone to keep “playing” it. Please, everyone, re-start it 100 times, we can use the ad revenue. (And I am half-ashamed to say that I have those trophies. When the hard part is “wait 10 minutes between re-starts while you see if it is possible to win this time,” keeping it in the background between clients at the shelter is pretty easy.) Other games hand-picked for trophies and cards have included a buggy typing tutor with “kikes” in its dictionary and the challenge mode of a card game where some challenges are instantly failed if the computer plays one of eleven cards (luckily, the computer plays at random).
Part of the problem is that we will keep pressing that bar until we get our food pellet. “Study Claims Xbox 360 Achievements Boost Sales, Review Scores.” I have not paid to check the research methodology, but it appeals to my prejudices so I am going to believe it (ha, take that Overcoming Bias!). It is not just that people will crawl through barbed wire for candy. At the end, cognitive dissonance sets in and people rationalize that they must enjoy the hardship and character-building aspects of crawling through barbed wire. Everyone should crawl through barbed wire, or else they are not hardcore enough to be real players! l2p newb
How much overlap is there between the favorite dungeons/instances/quests/raids in your game and the ones with the best rewards? Yes, by now you are really good at getting through the barbed wire, you do it more efficiently than other guilds, and you have the most candy. You are still paying for permission to crawl through barbed wire, and you are doing it for digital candy. And if the candy were not at the end of that barbed wire, you would not crawl through it, so why…
The best games make the most entertaining things the most rewarding. Grouping should be more rewarding as well as more fun. Shouldn’t there be a trade-off there, rewarding people who are willing to undergo hardship x? No, it is a game. If you are not encouraging people to have fun in your game, you are an idiot. Do not make them trade fun for the shiny, unless you want them to leave once they have their shinies but are not having fun. (Or mudflate new shinies, what do I care, it’s your game. It’s worked for years so far.)
(Disclaimer: differing ideas of fun exist, so we might disagree about the “most fun” game design, etc. Assume that your idea of fun is best and apply it here.)
Cripes I’m bitter. Maybe I can come back with some happy words or recommendations next week, but right now I am just bitter and angry and hateful about how we can take a world of infinite horizons and churn it into crap for a worse Skinner box than the last incarnation. And no, I’m not talking about whatever MMO you’re thinking of. Or I probably am: this is not a problem of a particular game, it is our entire industry, society, whatever. Why did Jessica Mulligan stop writing Biting the Hand?
One of the reasons the column is/has become stale is because there is nothing much new to write about. I mean, come on, how often do we need to hear about the same mistakes being made over and over again and what lessons we need to learn, as an industry, from those mistakes? Hell, I could just reprint old columns with new titles and dates and they’d still apply to that subject.
But hey, it is not just us. The Happening made more than $150,000,000 at the box office. As I write this, 30% of site visitors gave it an A-rating, and it is the 6th-highest grossing R-rated film of the year. I probably should not speak ill of a movie I have not seen, but I have seen this (NSFW, bloodletting and dear god this made it through scripting and editing on a ~$50,000,000 project), which implies I don’t need to see it. Hey, this year’s Indiana Jones movie is top 25 all-time domestic and international. Too bad it did not beat those two Shrek sequels.