Monetizing fan-made content: let's make it fair
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Introducing: the Fair Game concept
We're now entering an era where video games with user-generated content are not just a way to extend games' lives anymore. They are conceived in their core design to be creator-friendly. It is believed that it's now a general orientation taken by our society, that the consumer is integrated in the conception process, so they can be more satisfied by it. Indeed, how a Game Designer, even a very good one, could be better than 10 000 demanding players who really know their favorite game and are willing to spend hours, maybe days, or even weeks in creating stuff? For nothing?
The thing is, it doesn't seem fair to us that, those creators just stay players, especially when a player takes 800 hours to conceive a map that will be enjoyed by the worldwide community. Sometimes, they invent gameplays that will become whole new game designs in successful AAA games, and they get nothing out of it, not even fame.
Back in times, game editing, mostly in strategy games such as Age of Empires II, was just a way to make sure the game would be enjoyed at its full potential. It allowed the continuous entertainment of the community and consequently the multiplayer aspect, with a little more than just randomly generated maps. The game lifetime started to be a problem in the 90s. But already, we could perceive that the players community had some amazing ideas… Even by hacking the game a bit. Age of Empire II wasn't just expanded with custom maps, but also whole new graphics.
AoE II : The Last Battle mod. Have you ever seen those units in vanilla AoE? Me neither.
In games without editors, such as Doom, the community didn't wait for the authorization to hack it and mod it. Since 1997, the game is open source. It is their game now! In 2012, 20 years after Doom, came out Brutal Doom, a mod that transfigured the genre, some times after the very calm and dark survival horror Doom 3. And so, what happened? Doom 2016 was inspired by Brutal Doom. This is a whole new level of fan based creativity. As it is kind of recognized that the authors of Brutal Doom are godlike for imposing their street cred style to a AAA license, they still did it for free.
Some modders, on the other hand, signed a contract with the owner of the game their mod was based on. This is the case of Garry's mod, which was just an experience for a fresh new developer named Garry Newman on Half Life 2 engine. It was so successful amongst the community that Garry signed with Valve to sell it on Steam! Garry's mod is now a whole game out of Half Life 2 build up by the creativity of a fan.
Last, but not least, the Elder Scrolls community is a huge cluster of emerging talents (I did learn a hell lot on the Morrowind Construction Set myself), and those single player games still grow and live and don't seem to be about to stop, even the older ones. Players build their own stories based on numerous speculations about the lore, inner political debates of the storylines, mod gameplays, graphics, musics, and they even correct bugs. In the end, projects such as Tamriel Rebuilt are infinitely more vast than the original game. Not even talking about all the mods put together for each game in terms of playtime. There is no bottom to it.
Developers learned quickly that editing the game was an essential part of it. How many of us have said out loud, about games without editors:"oh damn, I'd love to change this, add that"? Back in time, they shared their tools for level design. Now, games are more and more "tools to make games", and licenses that wouldn't share their map-making features offer a player-friendly one now.
"This feels like a totally quintessential part to the game right now. I couldn't play Skyrim without those mods anymore."
Now, GTA Online, like many other licenses, have a content creator feature. Without even talking about hack or modding, developers that would make static, AAA games, try to add more and more community-based functionalities, especially allowing creativity, which is mandatory in a sandbox game such as GTA. Talking about sandbox, we must at least mention the Godwin's law of indie game development, right? Minecraft is a sandbox game, with an infinite level design thanks to its procedural generation, and based on crafting and in-game level making which you can share with the community. It gives players amazing possibilities that developers would never do in their studios. And thanks to the famous redstone system, players are able to create incredible engines right in the game. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUJ8UmtaUOc
Notch, the original developer of the game was an indie! The editors bought back the game in the AAA sphere, though. Which is okay, for Notch I guess — the players though, even the most creative and hard-worker of them, stay players, even if they are the ones that make the game live.
In regard to this situation, we released our first game last year: Crazy Dreamz: MagiCats Edition on Steam. More than 15 000 players poured into our sandbox platformer and create outstanding levels every day. The game is community-oriented and encourage fan made creations in its core design.
But we felt that it was not enough. We wanted our game to be kind of owned by its community. As we have seen, there seems to be only two economic models for such a content: when a mod is exceptional it is bought or copied from its original creator and a new game is made out of it. Or it stays free, which means only the original developers of the game make money with it since it makes the game live. So we wondered: how can players pass the economic barrier in order to get rewarded for their participation to the game's life, without becoming those very rare developers who actually sign with a huge studio?
Valve's attempt to monetize Skyrim mods
There was an actual attempt to monetize player-made ingame content three years ago. Valve, which appears to have spot the vein, tried to let Skyrim modders the possibility to sell their mods to the community, taking a percentage of the revenues for themselves. This was of course a notable scandal back then, for a certain number of reasons.
- The community felt like it was unfair to suddenly pay for something that was free, or for some kind of unprofessional DLC on a game that was already expensive.
- There was apparently no reason for a percentage that felt unfair since the community members managed modding by themselves.
- The modders still had no actual right on the creations.
- There was a potential general censorship on modding, since Valve would have taken the mods in charge.
We can see that a strong feeling of authorship is indeed applied to those creations. Nevertheless, some creators liked the idea for this exact same reason, even if, with the pressure, Valve abandoned the project. This debate let us have a preview of what content player creators think of monetizing their work. There is different kind of creators:
- Some are pure passionate and want to do it for free, which is amazing.
- Some are actual future game makers, which is amazing.
- Some wouldn't spit on having it as a side job, since it's what they already love to do!
For the last two of them, there is definitely something to do that would be fair for them, the player, and the developer for the original game. We believe this is just a matter of finding the right formula to make everyone happy. And we want to try one we believe could really do the trick!
The Fair Game concept
Inspired by the Fair Trade, it's a way to reward players' talent with consistent, concrete, shiny money by making ourselves the editor of the game they will make with our editor tool!
No microtransaction, no obligation to pay: this is a new game, made both by the studio and the players. This is, like, a crowd-developed game. In other words, we'll make a whole new game out of the 100 selected levels among the ones they will submit to us, and we will share 50% of the revenues with them, and keep the other 50% for our team to achieve a sustainable development, release the game, and communicate about it. The player will just have to enjoy the level editor!
There will be no form of obligation to participate in the Best Of for any of our players, and they will still be able to create for free on the MagiCats Edition. The choice is theirs! Unselected levels will be available for free on MagiCats Edition, and selected levels will be displayed there, but locked. Players will be redirected to the "Best Of" if they want to play them.
We'll call our first Fair Game: the Crazy Dreamz: Best Of
Jump in if you want to participate in the Best Of and let us see what's in your guts! You see, Millennials are often criticized for not doing anything seriously. Maybe we're just unable to see what they actually are doing. Valuing it is as much important as the work itself for making it "serious". We have an opportunity to transform actual work time and passion into a viable economic model. This is HUGE, guys. The "Best Of" is just the start! If it works, we may push the experience to a new step! But we will keep the surprise until then. ;)
Thank you for reading. We hope the concept looks as viable to you than it is to us, and we hope the Fair Game concept will be relevant in a lot of games. Long life to Fair Games!
(By Léonard Bertos for Crazy Dreamz) :p