[As subscription MMO City Of Heroes launches its Mission Architect expansion, allowing user-generated stories and quests, Paragon Studios' Morrissey discusses the logistics of creating policing for the system.]
Am I allowed to say penis in this article? If not, how would you stop me? Maybe I could get past your profanity filter by spelling it peenis. Or I could get creative and simply write in euphemisms about my third leg, my love tool, or my joy stick. Seriously, if I really wanted to say penis, how would you stop me?
If you're planning on making a game with user-created content you are going to have this conversation... a lot.
For those of you not keeping track, City of Heroes, the first massively multiplayer game set in the comic book genre, has just unveiled a new game system: Mission Architect.
In short, the system lets players create their own stories and then share those stories. These stories are rated by the players and the best ones garner prestige and in-game rewards.
This system is tied directly into the lore of the game through a company called Architect Entertainment, offering virtual world experiences.
This world-within-a-world format allows players to take their in-game characters and walk them into a virtual environment where they can create and play their own adventures.
Even though the Mission Architect feature has done many things right, there is one question that always, and I mean ALWAYS, comes up:
When this conundrum presents itself, like it did for us, the quick answer is to simply throw money at it. Have Customer Service vet all content before it goes live. As exorbitantly pricey and time-consuming as this process would be, there are actually companies out there that do it.
In these situations, the games are usually those that deliver content to children, where turnaround time isn't an issue, and there aren't a lot of people submitting material. However, in any other situation this isn't a viable option.
At the instant of Mission Architect's launch, the players will outpace any Customer Service department. Besides, it's not exactly something you can hand off to an overseas outsourcing company. Much of what makes content inappropriate is cultural and difficult to teach to non-native speakers.
So, if you were to try to do this, where would it leave you? Well, below are some potential solutions we came up with in an attempt to avoid the problem of inappropriate player-created content.
Have them. Have a lot of them. And have fifty-thousand variations for the same word. If your game has any kind of chat system in place, odds are you already have something like this. Even if it comes down to a huge text file filled with words you hope your grandmother doesn't know and secretly enjoy adding to the list anyway.
Allow your players to flag content as inappropriate. This is a pretty common system. If someone reads something he doesn't like, he can hit a big red button that reports the content and potentially removes in from the system right then and there. That's the high level idea; unfortunately, the devil is in the details.
You have to decide how draconian you want to be. The more hardcore you are, the fewer people who will see inappropriate content, but you expose yourself to potential grief voting. Grief voting is when a player flags perfectly acceptable content as inappropriate just because it's fun.
If it only takes a single vote to eliminate content from the game, clicking that button is going to be the game for a lot of players. You don't want perfectly good content getting pulled because someone's a jerk. If your system is so harsh that a single vote pulls content, then you're making it really easy for griefers to have a lot of fun.