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Video: Cryptic's solution for new MMO content: Let the players make it! Exclusive

[Note: To access chapter selection, click the fullscreen button or check out the video on the GDC Vault website]
September 26, 2012 | By Staff

September 26, 2012 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Design, Exclusive, Video

All MMO developers understand that releasing new game content is vital to the long-term success of their game. The only problem is that churning out brand new content month after month is a long, arduous process, and sometimes it can be difficult to release enough content to keep up with consumer demand.

But what if your MMO allowed players to create new content for themselves? Cryptic Studios believes that user-generated content could be a real boon to online game development, and at this year's GDC Europe, studio COO Craig Zinkievich explained why the company has decided to let its players craft their own game content in titles like Star Trek Online and the upcoming Neverwinter.

"Why do we want user-generated content for MMOs? It's all about the content," Zinkievich said. "If anyone here is an MMO developer, you know that one of your major challenges is providing enough content for your players so they're continually playing your game...One of the main things that we hope for from user-generated content for MMOs is building that evergreen content stream, letting your players themselves add new content to the game."

But while this all sounds good on paper, the number of challenges involved in making this happen are too numerous to count. During his talk, Zinkievich outlined just a few of the obstacles involved in enabling user-generated content, and noted that when it comes to design, developers will have to address very tough issues -- the most important of those being, "how do you attract authors to make content?"

Cryptic has found that the people making user-generated content tend to make up less than 2 percent of a game's player base, and you'll need to make sure they stay active and productive by offering them robust tool sets, plenty of promotion, and even some meaningful in-game rewards. After all, "your authors are gamers too."

In the rest of his presentation, Zinkievich went in-depth on the numerous other challenges involved in enabling player-created content, and offered various tips to help other online game developers learn from Cryptic's experience. You can check out his talk in full by watching the above video, courtesy of the GDC Vault.

About the GDC Vault

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent GDC events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers. Those who purchased All Access passes to events like GDC and GDC Europe already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription Beta via a GDC Vault inquiry form.

Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company. More information on this option is available via an online demonstration, and interested parties can send an email to Gillian Crowley. In addition, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault admins.

Be sure to keep an eye on GDC Vault for even more new content, as GDC organizers will also archive videos, audio, and slides from upcoming 2012 events like GDC Online and GDC China. To stay abreast of all the latest updates to GDC Vault, be sure to check out the news feed on the official GDC website, or subscribe to updates via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS.

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Ron Dippold
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Based on my experiences with inFAMOUS 2 the opposite problem may be how you filter out all the crap, or at least make sure the good ones stand out clearly. The UGC (User Generated Content) there was just awful except for a very few good missions. But the missions that people had obviously put a lot of work and creativity into were getting rated the same as (or worse than) missions that were just straight up XP whoring like 'here are a bunch of monsters in a cage in the water, electrocute them all instantly, mission done'.

Since it is for RPGs where you have lots of stat boosting incentive it seems closer to this than it does to something like Little Big Planet. He probably talks about this, so I'll watch the video later. Thanks!

Ron Dippold
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Yeah, this starts at about 23:30 ('STO Foundry Exploits').

Fairly clever choices on the devs' part (give XP based on time spent), but of course the users are always more cunning than the devs and there are 1E6 more users.

tl;dr they just ended up putting a fairly low daily cap on rewards possible from UGC.

Kenneth Blaney
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This makes sense. In MMOs other players are content anyway (that's why WoW has so much inertia: "All my friends play WoW, I can't switch to X"), a developer might as well make it official.

John Trauger
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You also have to filter out the content aimed at short-circuiting the game. A chunk of City Of Heroes' player generated content was designed to either farm the game for resources or power level (with "both" being a pretty common result)

Maria Jayne
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That's not exclusive to City Of Heroes, it's been a "feature" of user generated content forever. I don't actually believe user generated content works when that content can be used to empower players with any form of advancement. Advancement, acquisition of wealth or belongings should always be developer controlled.

Having said that, given how weak Cryptic has been at creating engaging player content in all of it's mmos, it doesn't surprise me they are turning to the players. I imagine there will be some clause within that user generated tool set which requires all content to be controlled and no doubt monetized by Cryptic.

Free labor from paying customers to make the game they're's the equivalent of printing your own money.

Alex Boccia
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Kind of a cool concept in theory, but I think I'd rather have a professional development team stick to the content creation. There's a whole lot more testing, polishing and "lore-checking" that goes on in games like WoW, TERA, Guild Wars, than we really understand.

Troy Walker
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why is this video showing up about as thin as a pencil... can anyone actually see it? i can't

Ron Dippold
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It's squashed for me too, but you can get it full sized at

Jeremy Reaban
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I can't speak for their most recent games, since I get disconnected from STO and CO within an hour or so, but in their older game, City of Heroes, the problem the mission designer ran into was people exploiting it, which ruined the experience for people who wanted to use it for its intended purpose.

For one, it had to constantly be nerfed, so the rewards were less and less, which still didn't discourager the exploiters, since they would still get great rewards, but people who just played a mission normally didn't get much, which made it less appealing.

For another, it made non-exploits missions very difficult to find. People would upload 20 exploit missions for every 1 real mission, and it just flooded the database.

Russell Watson
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Ugh. Don't let users 'generate' content, users *are* content for other users, they become this by arranging assets or using systems that have emergent game-play value. Learn from CCP with Eve on-line, they've nailed it.