The following is a guest post by Moormur.
Greetings, readers! My name is Moormur. Some of you may know me from LOTROCast or the Galactic Holofeed, podcasts I co-host both with a very able crew. I am also an avid reader of all the stuff here at Kill Ten Rats. I refrain from posting commentary on my podcast websites for whatever reason, so I have asked Ethic here at Kill Ten Rats if he didn’t mind a guest column.
I’ve been thinking lately of a trend of sorts in the MMO developing community…player designed content. I’m not talking about sandbox MMOs…those are really a topic for another time and place. I’m talking about when developers release a set of tools in a theme park style MMO that allows players to create missions. City of Heroes, as far as I know, was really the first to do this. Now, my former MMO Star Wars: Galaxies has put out their own set of tools with the Chronicle Master.
As I sit here pondering all this, I start looking at other MMOs with a somewhat analytical eye. I am thinking specifically of Lord of the Rings Online, my MMO of choice. As far as I know, Turbine has no plans of implementing any sort of custom content into LOTRO. Or are they? Maybe it’s the conspiracy theorist peeking out of me, but for some reason I suddenly got suspicious of the Skirmishes coming out with Siege of Mirkwood. For those unfamiliar with Skirmishes, they are basically instances that scale up according level and group size. The idea behind them is that they will be quick, fun (hopefully), and repeatable instances that you can do at any time from any place. I’m excited for the possibilities this opens up…with every new content update, Turbine can release a handful of new skirmishes, too.
But is there a deeper motive? Turbine has created a framework for quick and scaleable content. The instances don’t seem to be too big…as far as I know, they use locations already in the game. They are designed to take 30 to 45 minutes. They are compartmentalized ‘popcorn’ instances, as the devs put it.
So is Turbine setting the stage for Custom Content?
What’s to say they aren’t? What’s to stop them from releasing a set of tools that allow players to design skirmishes?
This, frankly, makes me a little wary. I have mixed feelings on integrated user content in general. Not unintegrated content, like back in the days when we made user maps for Medal of Honor or Jedi Outcast using Radiant that were never actually supported by the dev team. I mean integrated content…where the content that users make becomes an ‘official’ part of the game. I haven’t experienced integrated content, like that of CoH or SWG firsthand, so I don’t know from actual experience how ‘fun’ it is. But it does raise some concerns for me, nonetheless.
First is the amount of ‘good’ content to total amount of content ration. I know from my Jedi Outcast days, where I would head to pcgamemods.com and download 20 or 30 maps at a time to try them out that for every good map, there are a dozen bad ones. And that was back when we had to jump through enough hoops to even download the design tools (let alone use them) that the number of people developing custom content was miniscule. What happens when anyone out there can design stuff? I’m sure that some of the user generated content is actually pretty good. Some people, when given the chance to express themselves like this, generate some pretty neat stuff. But you have to wade through a lot of crap before you get to the good stuff. Will devs use this user-created time sink to become lazy?
That is the crux of my second, and much more major, concern. Will user generated content make developers become complacent? If the devs know we players have a mountain of content to go through, regardless of quality, how does that affect their outlook on developing? LOTRO is a very, very solid game. Even if Turbine has slowed down lately in the amount of content they release per year, what they do release is, in my opinions, of high quality. Would that standard degrade if they released user tools?
What are your thoughts? Would widespread custom content make developers more complacent? If you play an MMO with these tools, what do you think of them? Do they improve your play experience? Or are they just another time sink between real updates?