Custom Design

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 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?

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I own this little MMO gaming blog but I hardly ever write on it any more. I'm more of a bloglord or something. Thankfully I have several minions to keep things rolling along.

9 thoughts on “Custom Design”

  1. Custom content, in the games that had it implemented, lead to a plethora of exploits and very little actually good content. Most defenders of user created content (UCC) often either deny this completely or say that those games “just didn’t do it right.”

    However, when you dig down into what “doing it right means”, it gets harder to see user created content being worthwhile at all:
    1. Restrict to access to UCC to those who have accomplished grind X like reaching a certain level or simply the creation of an annoying grind
    2. Hire employees whose purpose is to play UCC, remove the ability to create said content if it is exploitable and close extremely bugged quests
    3. Add a rating system for users to spotlight the actually good content and to make it easy for users to avoid the poor content
    4. Hope there is enough good dungeons to warrant the cost

    Turbine has already came out and said that UCC is something extremely expensive, requiring an incredible number of hours of work and testing to close all the security dangers and to make their tools somewhat accessible to their user (remember the numbers of bugs Orion cam upon during his coverage of Garth Agarwen?). Then, you have to add the cost of the upkeep (the moderators).

    All of that for a chance to hopefully get enough content to warrant the cost?

  2. Before tackling your two questions, a minor correction – as far as I know the undeservedly-obscure Ryzom was the first MMO to bring in a full-blown system for user-generated content.

    Overall, my experience in CoH with the Architect )the user-generated content tool) has been quite positive, both as a player and as a designer – the tool is easy to use, fun to play around with, and a Goddess-send to the roleplaying-inclined, allowing you to generate custom content tailored to the needs of your friends/supergroup. There is also quite a bit of solid, fun ‘public’ content, especially if you’re willing to take a little time to read reviews on the forums or one of the Websites that focus on them. No sign as yet the addition has turned the devs lazy – there’ve been two Issues (think LotRO Books) since the system went live, with another in the works, along with a paid expansion. I think my favourite thing they’ve done with the system is the ‘Guest Author’ program, bringing in people like Bill Willingham (of Elementals/Fables/etc. fame) to write guest arcs.

    Best part of user-generated content? Being able to bypass zones you find boring (I’d kill to be able to skip the Lone-Lands and North Downs completely).

    The process hasn’t been without its pitfalls – on initial release there were a *lot* of xp-gain exploits, most of which have since gotten fixed, which put a lot of people off the system (some because they were frustrated that for a while public channels were saturated with exploit-abusing teams LFM, some frustrated because they couldn’t hit the level cap in four hours anymore).

  3. I don’t see how Turbine could ever support UCC in LOTRO? There is a tightly-controlled intellectual property license at the core of the game. It seems to me that UCC would be far too difficult to manage legally.

  4. I think it’s more likely that Turbine will start offering skirmishes as RMT download modules, a la DDO’s Adventure Packs. The model for this is developing quietly with the paid DD-only Mirkwood expansion. I can’t be the only one who sees the “Adventurer’s Pack” as an artful dodge to get people to pay $20 for marginally profitable features (account-based storage and extra character slots).

    I see player content as particularly unlikely in LotRO because it’s licensed from a group that cares enough about lore integrity to forbid PCs with tattoos (Floon IIRC dropped that on the forums; canonically only Evil Men had tattoos).

    Galaxies is licensed too, but let’s be frank — Lucasarts has been moving its eggs to SWTOR’s basket for years. That will be their focus and their canon. Galaxies will left afloat for exactly as long as it feeds Lucasarts money, and they’re being given a longer leash to graze for whatever they can find.

  5. I’m in the same boat as Alex and Stormwaltz above. I just can’t see player content being allowed with any sort of freedom considering the strict IP and setting in LOTRO.

  6. Letting people run their own servers and alter it themselves might lead to something better, alla Neverwinter Nights. Still, with freedom to change comes problems. An easy solution though it to give the tools and then hire some extra employees to screen submissions of exploits and sub-par content. Do things the OCRemix way. “Anyone can submit but few succeed in getting published.”

  7. I am with Borror0. Also, I pay to play, so please deliver content and do not make me make my own pizza and try out the pizzas of other pizza bakers to have something to eat in your game.

    And the said truth is, users will always exploit and play the system to the fullest.

    So you have tons of exploitive and tons of very unimaginative content. So much about user created content for MMOs. This is not an offline game, in a MMO customer created content is very hard to do.

    I wish they would rather support player run events than this.

  8. You forgot one thing that would make UCC work better: allow content creators to get paid such as via microtransactions. This would attract people with talent hoping to make money. It would also encourage collaboration if you can split payments up. This would work best in a F2P/microtransactioned game.

    Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End is based around this model for the future of games.

    Just like 2nd life it will attract pirates and copying as well, but that’s always a problem with everything anyone produces. Games with more robust watermarking and anti pirating measures will attract more content developers.

    I think it’s mainly a technology hurdle. After all the 90% of everything is crap rule applies to everything not just content created by users. If that were a reason to not do something, then we wouldn’t have any games at all, or books.

  9. So, you wanna _try_ CoH? I’m pretty sure we’ve got a few invites around somewhere.

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