With YouTube disruptive to the movie and TV industries, a panel at the recent Social Gaming Summit, including Daniel James (Puzzle Pirates) and Cary Rosenzweig (IMVU) looked at the idea that that the games industry should understand user generated content before it's too late, with the intriguing proposition that game developers should think virtual "spaces" not virtual "worlds."
"The more tools that you provide can lead to richer behavior, but often it's the simpler things that people enjoy most," began Daniel James, CEO of Three Rings. "As designing games constraints can lead you to designing better games, constrained environments can lead to more fun."
"The simplest games are the ones everybody can join in and play," expanded Ted Rheingold, founder of Dogster and Catster.
Cary Rosenzwieg, the president and CEO of IMVU, described their take on user-generated content. "Almost 100% of the content in IMVU is user-generated. They have collectively created the world's largest catalog of virtual items."
"Much like eBay, we introduced buyers and sellers within the game, and last year we estimate our top developer made $1 million in income, and our top 10 made over $100,000 each. We've never issued a press release in our history and people have come primarily through word-of-mouth."
Rosenzweig continued, "Of most people who create items, most of them create one or two items. People do what they do mostly for affirmation; because being a creator is cool and they like the status -- it's their choice if they want to turn the credits to cash."
Jeremy Monroe, Director of Business Development, Sports & Entertainment, North America for Sulake (Habbo) explained that "from a company standpoint," they're "not encouraging or taking money from the community to create, nor paying the community for the things which they're generating."
In future Three Rings titles, James expects players to be able to "generate money in the marketplace which we operate and then cash out," but noted that they were "not sure yet how we're going to do that."
Rosenzweig admitted that they had to work "very hard" on the internal economy for IMVU to make sure that the "microtransactions are very robust," and in "making sure you build a community that trusts you."
Why Do Users Create?
"It provides an opportunity and a place for professionals to really engage with their audience," said Monroe. "And that gives them additional tools that they can take to their community friends."
"The idea that everybody can participate as a creator seems to be coming from many directions," opined James. "Look at scrapbooking, it's a mass market phenomenon. Music and art. Look at the younger generation who grow up with these tools like Photoshop, they're totally au fait with that. There's that attitude of 'I'm going to throw it out and, yeah, I'm not an expert yet, but I'm going to get started.'"
"I think the space is natural for this process because of the feedback loop," expanded Monroe. "Not just in the community but between the users and our production team, so we can provide those tools so people can get started."
"We teach users to be creators," said Rosenzweig, explaining that they use tutorials on their site to push user-generation of content. "Amateurs are sometimes better than professionals because they're closer to the truth, to the social reality. About a year ago we had a teenage creator out of Canada who identified a trend that was hot with goths. For a time, it was hot to have zippers in your skin with a little blood coming out."
"She jumped on it, created it and made $100,000 because she was involved. By the time a professional company could have jumped on it, it would be gone. We have people who are supplementing the income for their family through what they're selling on IMVU."
Virtual Spaces Not Virtual Worlds
"One of the things I would say about IMVU for those of you who have not seen it, is that we do not believe in a virtual world," Rosenzweig went on to explain. "The founders were the founders of There, and what they found was that people do not want to walk down an empty street alone, so when they came to IMVU, they did not build it from the virtual world down, they built it from the avatar up. What we believe in is a virtual space."
"I think from Habbo's standpoint," Monroe said, "You have to make sure that you're bringing content that is suitable to all players in the world. So when we bring a piece of content that skews to one demographic we have to make sure that we bring more content that skews to the other demographics. Some games try to create different servers, such as a PvP vs. PvP situation. You have to give everybody equal opportunity and an equal number of tools to express themselves."
"Puzzle Pirates is very accessible because everybody understand the pirate context," said James. "When you step into Second Life, you blow away the context -- which is very challenging. Like Cary [Rosenzweig] said, not building a game around geography but building a game around people is very important."
"Blowing away geography is a very powerful point. I think in Habbo too, your hotel room is totally separate from the rest of the virtual space, it's an instance... And that's really where the action goes down."