Are there other tools for encouraging quality missions besides a voting system? Are there ways to, through design or through messaging, encourage players to put effort into their user-generated content, or is it just a Darwinian system?
JC: We have two systems. Players can vote for each other, and they can get into a hall of fame. Then missions are submitted to developer consideration to become Developer's Choice, and that's when our studio reads through the story arc and, if we really like it, will star it as the Developer's Choice. That indicates that that story represents the pinnacle, the paragon, of what's been created through user-generated content.
One of the big challenges with MMO development always has been and continues to be that content generation is so expensive. There's been a lot of debate about procedural content, but user-generated content is another road to beefing up your game.
JC: Yes, and players try to push that tool in so many different ways. They use the tool in ways that we didn't envision. They challenge us to keep trying to improve upon it.
When we initially launched it, we only allocated a certain file size to the missions, but based upon user feedback and just seeing how the system grew after it launched, we were able to increase that file size to allow players additional customization opportunities.
Any time that you create a villain group or a story, it takes up data space; when we doubled it, it was received very well because players could then create more complicated missions and more complicated villain groups.
As you said, the original foundation of this game was from 2004. You know you have to deliver content continuously; how have the back end tools for you and your designers developed? Is there a continuous upgrade path, or when you release new engine enhancements like this are you hamstrung in any way?
JC: Well, actually the Mission Architect system was something that was a tool proposed internally, a full way for our own mission design team to craft missions. Once we were like, "Oh, wow. This is really easy!" Then it's like, "This is something that we could deliver to our players!" Right? So yes, there's always improvements to our pipeline that we're implementing on our back end that could kind of complement some of the features that we've actually delivered to players.
When you look at a game like this, to go back to the tech question, how often can you upgrade and how fundamentally can you upgrade what you're offering both to the developers and to the players?
JC: Those are just opportunities as they come up, right. I mean, Going Rogue was a major initiative; out of that came Ultra Mode development and graphical improvement. Prior to that was Mission Architect. We are always striving to improve our back end to make sure that forward development isn't constrained by tools and systems that were created six, seven years ago.
This game fascinates me just for the basic reason that it's still around, you know? Not really that many MMOs stay around with a vibrant community for such a long time.
JC: Oh, yeah, and that's one of the things that we've absolutely leveraged. I don't know if it's just the nature of our game or what, but our community is very mature. We can have very intelligent dialogues with them, and, in our betas, we invite people who can talk intelligently to just discuss the game and discuss the features -- any changes that are upcoming.
They have a very powerful impact on how certain features are actually released. It's very cool. I think that kind of back-and-forth and that discourse that we have with our player base is one of the reasons why we have such a dedicated following.
DN: From an artistic side, we actively seek comments about what new pieces players want or how we can improve the zones. A lot of that information gets collected on the forums and put directly into the pipeline for upcoming Issues. So players can relatively quickly see their request come to life! It's a constant reward system for them.
More and more, we like to keep our players involved by actually having them create assets that go into the game. For Going Rogue, for example, we held a contest where players could submit either resistance graffiti or propaganda created by a loyalist faction.
We got surprisingly good entries and put them in almost as-is! There are at least three assets I can think of off the top of my head that we put in based on player contributions. We're following that up with a new load screen contest coming fairly shortly, where players will be able to play photographer and take new load screen photographs of our Ultra Mode-enhanced zones to make the base game look that much better as well.