Trent Oster Profile picture
Jun 8 59 tweets 8 min read
Since #NeverwinterNights is 20 years old, I started looking back through my archives. I found the notes from a roundtable I ran on User Generated Content. here are the notes:
User Created Content: Is it worth it?
Well, is it? After a very brief debate where most everyone in attendance agreed User Created content is indeed worth it.
Since we hadn’t really talked about what user created content was or what the associated costs were this overwhelming positive attitude seemed odd. Oh well. Maybe I should have named the roundtable something else. We then started in sorting out what User Created Content was.
Types of content
In a brief listing we identified a number of basic forms of user created content. Each type requires more work for the creator as you go down the list
Modding Existing content
Many content creators start here. The typical example is loading up a character skin bitmap and changing the skin color. This is an easy way to start understanding the content systems of a game. Many end users work in this level of modification.
Custom Content
Textures
Textures can be bitmaps, paintings or character skin repainting. This is typically the easiest form of custom user created content in terms of skill and time required.
Models / clothing / vehicles
Models usually take the form of custom created 3D meshes. The users who undertake the creation of models for a game is a small subset of the overall creators as the skill and sorftware requirements are much higher than texture editing..
Maps / Environments / Housing
Maps and Environments typically take the form of custom 3D meshes of larger scale and detail than most models. Some game toolsets make this process much easier, but on average this can be a very daunting task.
Few content creators ever progress to creating environments in most games. As mentioned above, certain games have made this much easier through custom tools.
Dialogue
Dialogue creation usually takes the form of prescripted text an in game character will speak. Most games have very limited dialogue support and as such implementing your own dialogue in most games can be very difficult.
Large scripts / Minigames / alternate games
Large scale scripting and wholesale game modifications are quite rare. Alterations of this scale typically require a great deal of game system understanding and extensive exposure of systems functionality to the end user.
Issues:
Following the discussion about the various forms of user created content we stepped into the associated issues.
Separating the great content from the rest
A large issue which quickly came to the forefront was separating out the great content from the rest. A few ideas on directing people to the best content emerged from the resulting discussion
Allow the community to do it
All attendees supported the concept of fans sorting content for you. Two big approaches emerged as obvious methods.
Word of mouth
Word of mouth was the easiest way to allow the end users to sort the content. The downside to word of mouth is the limited reach of opinion within the fan community
Rating systems
Building a rating system seemed the best way to showcase the best content. The issue of creating the system came up as a huge stumbling block. All present agreed implementing a system could be painful, but the end result would be worth it.
Pay people to do it
The other method of sorting through the content was to have dedicated staff perform the task. There were a number of issues with this approach, but at least one company was using this method.
Two of the major issues were the high cost of keeping staff employed after a commercial launch and the high responsibility required to approve content.
Benefits of User created content
Now we had talked about what user created content was we set about trying to define the benefit to us as game developers.
PR / Marketing -> Viral marketing
With user extensions to your game you gain a great deal of hype and talk about your title without your direct involvement. The payoff off this free no effort marketing can be huge.
Ongoing sales
With a constant supply of content your game can have constant appeal to some people. The side result of this ongoing play is the constant word of mouth which can continue to drive sales long after the initial hype has worn off..
Brand loyalty
We talked briefly about fans associating your brand with fan support and thus developing strong brand loyalty. We thought this might be a valid area, but we could be reaching a bit.
An experienced talent pool to hire from
A huge point we all agreed on. Not only do you get new people applying to work at your company, but you can sample their work and when you do hire the training time is greatly reduced.
Free content
With people creating content for your game you have a pool of free content which further justifies the purchase of your game.
A community
We really got sidetracked talking about community. The table agreed establishing and maintaining a community was a good thing, but we couldn’t settle on sure fire means to establish and maintain a community.
The only sure thing is a very successful game with some good support can create a community around the title.
Community positives
We delved into the positives of having a community, many were the for supporting user created content
Word of mouth marketing
Game player retention
Brand reinforcement
Useful feedback
Target group for marketing
A group training new users in complex tools
Community negatives
We got a fair way into the negatives a community can bring as well. The major issues seemed to be with greifer players or other groups which felt unfairly treated.
Developer morale can suffer
You can only be told “You Suck” so many times before it starts to take a toll. We talked about how some developer’s morale can be shattered by the negative feedback found on many messageboards. We proposed a number of solutions to this problem.
Have a PR filter person pass on valid comments to the team
This seemed a good solution, but it involves hiring a person to deal with the community and it introduces a level of indirection between the fans and the developers. All in all we agreed this was a reasonable solution
Prepare the team and develop thicker skins
This solution keeps the developers on the front lines and keeps the fans direct communication open. The downside is you must ensure the morale effects never reach too far.
The vocal minority dominates discussions
We identified another huge issue within the community in the form of the vocal minority.
Many open discussions between developers and fans are quickly hijacked by members of a very vocal minority and the subject is quickly moved to suit the needs of a much smaller group. We came up with some solutions to try and deal with this group.
Try to ignore the vocal minority
In short, just ignore the input of the excessively vocal individuals. Try to dig past the surface and engage other people on the topics you wish.
Reward constructive feedback
When someone offers constructive feedback, reward them. The reward can be as simple as praise in the message thread or even mentioning the user’s name when dealing with the issue.
Don’t feed trolls
Understand some people want nothing more than to pull your attention and waste your time. We agreed the best manner was to ignore openly volatile posts and to pull any valid topics into a new thread with a positive name.
Reorient the negatives
We talked briefly about engaging the overly negative people and attempting to hear them out. In some cases a harsh critic can be turned into a solid supporter.
Filtering feedback problems
With the community you often want some feedback on your game. Either which bugs need to be fixed first or what additions would be popular. This may also involve checking the validity of a reported issue.
Do polls
Everyone agreed polls were the way to go. If you can ensure most of the players see and respond to the poll only once, the result should give you a representative picture.
Use in game metrics to measure
The idea of using in-game metrics as feedback was also popular. An attendee mentioned how fans had complained how unpopular the elf race was. According to the metrics this was not true and the complaints quickly went away once the truth was shown
Managing expectations
Few companies enter into a community with enough information and preparation. This leads to developers directly communicating plans with the end users. It was vital to only present information which was 100% confirmed to avoid a strong negative reaction
Firm but fair
Many people agreed the best approach was to be honest and firm. If a publicized feature is cut, be open and honest about it, but don’t dwell on it longer than you have to.
No false promises
We also talked about laying out a communication strategy and sticking to it. Only communicate the 100% likely events.
Crazy people
We all agreed with the fine fellow from Rambo II” God must love crazy people, because he makes so many of them.” Many people have different perspectives than you do.
The key is to try and understand the viewpoint they are coming from and defuse any tension in a swift and sensible manner. If no reasonable resolution can emerge, you can consider removing the person from your community.
Politics
We talked briefly about how groups can form up and establish a political will within your community. We didn’t really think of any great solutions.
The end users maintaining a log of all your promises
This comes back to the 100% true feature promises issue. The only solution is to avoid promising things which don’t happen.
Gangs and gang mentality
Gangs can be a positive in terms of increasing the interaction of players within a group. Gangs become a problem when they start interacting with other groups in a negative manner.
The effort required to manage a community
We all agreed it was a huge effort to maintain and manage a community. The group all hoped it was worth the effort.
Future of UCC
Time was very short when I finally dragged this topic up. As a group we quickly listed out some predictions, but we ran out of time before we were able to go very in depth.
Content creation simplification
Everyone present agreed it was quite difficult to create content for any game out there. We all agreed the growth of user created content required better tools and support from us as developers.
Natural language programming and visual programming
The concept of natural language programming and/or Visual programming was put forward as a solution to the difficulty of developing user created content.
We all agreed it would be a great method to increase the quality of the average user created content.
Better security
Security and privacy kept coming up as issues throughout our discussions. As a group we agreed through better security we could improve the experience of the average community member and average content creator.
Content access levels
Content access levels was a solution put forward to help support the costs of supporting end user created content and community.
The concept was to offer free access to a good deal of the content and to charge a membership fee for premium content. Premium content could be developer created or developer contracted at one end and profit sharing end user created content at the other.
Virtual property sales
The sale of virtual property was seen as an increasing trend. We talked about implementing systems within the game to better support the sale of items and property. The consensus was it would happen with or without you, so you better prepare for it.
Standardization of UCC Legal issue resolution
Every point we talked about seemed to be teeming with ownership and other legal issues. As a group we agreed the future required some legal standardization on user created content.
Summary
In summary all the sessions were well attended and exceptional discussion ensued. Many high caliber attendees had a great deal to offer and the varied view points really expanded the discussion. Fun was had, notes were taken and now my writeup is complete.

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