[Veteran designer Pascal Luban (Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory) concludes his series on the "megatrends" of the gaming industry by tackling user-generated content, player aging and emotion. To read
his first article in the series, click here; to read the second article, click
here, and to read the third article, click here.]
In this fourth and final chronicle of game design megatrends, I shall address three trends that, while perhaps less obvious than some of those dealt with in prior articles, are nevertheless full of potential for future game development. They are: player-created content, the aging of players, and the emergence of gameplay generated emotions.
This self-explanatory term can refer to anything from digital items to maps or mods for multiplayer games, even going as far as full Flash or Java based games. Today's PC gamer expects to have a map editor available. Left 4 Dead was barely on the shelves when player-designed maps were already appearing on the net.
Development of mods is rarer, since comparatively few games support them, and player-designers need decent programming skills in order to achieve anything of interest with the tools available to them. On the other hand, the impact that a well-done mod can have on a game's life can be tremendously deep, as shown by the massive success attained by Counter-Strike.
Finally, the last category of player-generated content covers games entirely developed -- and sometimes even distributed -- by players. We frequently see this kind of Flash or Java game crop up on the Internet.
However, such achievements still come only from a limited number of people. Second Life, conversely, offers a surprising and revealing example of an application where creation is not only within anyone's reach, but an end in itself.
Second Life gives players the opportunity to create objects and locations and to show them off to others. Though a website's proportion of active users is generally low (only 5% of eBay users are sellers), the proportion of Second Life users who actually created something exceeds 30%! Better yet, 15% of those users write their own scripts, an endeavor which requires a genuine personal investment.
How has this torrent of creativity been fostered? Firstly, creation is made very simple through the availability of numerous ergonomic tools and tutorials. Secondly, there is a strong culture of cooperation and mutual help within the Second Life user base -- this culture is typical of internet gaming communities. Lastly, it is very rewarding to show off one's creations to the whole world, and therefore that's a strong motivator.
Another example comes from Trackmania, a car racing game developed by the French developer Nadeo. The game's appeal lies in its track-generating tool. Around 10% of the game's players build tracks and share them with other members of the Trackmania community. According to Nadeo, there have already been close to 20 million downloads of user-made tracks!
How might one explain this fervor for creating new content? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the act of creation is inherently one of the most fulfilling of human activities; to create is to express oneself, and to express oneself is to exist. It is natural for an individual to wish to share the fruit of his creativity, thereby rising from obscurity. Once tasted, the reward of creation often becomes an irresistible need.
The fact that Second Life is not a "game" in the traditional sense of the term should not divert our attention from an important rule which it clearly embodies: give power to the players, and they will take over your game.
An interesting example comes to my mind from the development of the multiplayer mode of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. In this mode, spies had to hack consoles and mercenaries had to prevent them. But some players missed the traditional deathmatch mode found in almost all multiplayer games so they invented new rules for deathmatch-only sessions.
Whoever wanted to join such a session had to abide by the informal rules designed by the community. We were so impressed by this phenomenon that we decided to add a dedicated deathmatch option to the multiplayer mode of its sequel, Chaos Theory.