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January 19, 2021
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Thinking with Platforms

by James Moak on 04/28/15 02:44:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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        This is an old blog I wrote a year ago (JAN 31, 2014), but never got around publishing. I think Valve's recent paid mod move makes it relevant.

       Very soon User Generated Content is going to explode. If you've been paying attention to developers on Twitter after Dev-Days, or maybe you've read the blogs covering the topics of it, you've seen that Valve told people how to make their game into a platform, and the benefits of doing so. With the exception of the devs where that sort of game isn't their thing, almost every developer is going to jump and make their game into a platform.    

        Think about it for two seconds - the benefits of employing this strategy are insane. It’s another way for people playing the game to interact with friends by producing content for one another; it’s a way for people to try their hand at creating value for others - a way to contribute to the world they enjoy. To the developer, it means less work since the players create content for you. Heck, you could pull a Garry's Mod and make a game that initially has no point and let the users contribute the gameplay themselves. The only flaw to the user generated content system was that there was little to no reward for high quality content, so there wasn't much incentive to produce it outside of prestige and fame. Valve took it upon themselves to set it straight.

          In a move that's obvious in hindsight, Valve changed the game by rewarding these value givers with actual things like money or in-game items. This drives up the quality of the content and commits people to the platform even more. This higher quality content in turn pulls in more users, enhances the experiences of the existing ones, and raises the bar for future content. The bar is soon raised again, everyone gets more value, and the cycle continues forever until the game becomes the digital manifestation of your choice of deity.

        Creating a positive feedback loop to drive content like that is just the tip of the iceberg. Instead of seeing game assets or mechanics as the sole content of your platform, what if you viewed your very users as content themselves? For many games, the people you play with are as important if not more important to the quality of your experience. You could try to identify and reward these non-asset value givers, and make more loops that drive the quality of your platform even higher. For example, while a modder could be said to generate game asset/mechanics value, a nice player could be said to generate social value. A good teammate could be said to generate general game experience value, and a player who teaches others how to play could add teaching value.

        A developer could somehow monitor the players and identify those who add value of any kind, and reward them in some way. To take it a step further, the platform could identify "trend-setters" (that guy in your friends list who finds new things first and shares them to you) and reward them, creating another positive value loop - and I'm absolutely sure Valve is working on setting up all these value loops as we speak.

        At some point during all this I assume Valve asked an important question to itself: "Why only make games into platforms?" Take a look at Steam - everything is a platform now, even Guides and Reviews. In fact when you think about it almost anything can be a platform. For example Unity is a game development tool and a platform where people create and sell assets/code to other devs, driving the value it offers through the roof. I'd bet that even Microsoft Word could become a platform, where people could sell custom menu layouts/themes/fonts they create.

         With the proper use of value loops to reward value givers, thinking in terms of platforms is going to be a distinct part of the future as we go forward, since it just makes too much sense.

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