February 6, 2006
Microsoft To Draw On User-Generated Content

(Via Joystiq)

Cnet reports that in a joint announcement at the entertainment gathering conference, Microsoft's J. Allard and Will Wright of Maxis (the designer of the Sims & Sim City) highlighted the role that user-generated content is expected to play in the next generation of games. While Wright's devotion to user-generated content is clear (Maxis allows Sims players to sell each other modified content, and his new game, Spore, will create a database of user-created creatures with which it will populate its universe), Microsoft's support for user-created content is a new (and welcome) development.

Allard said the Xbox 360 will increasingly encourage developers to let their players add on to worlds, and even sell their creations though a central Xbox store system.

"(Gaming) is the only medium where we yield control of the protagonist. Let's yield control of the director--and the producer," said Allard, a vice president at Microsoft. "We're going to take on the Wikipedia model. We're going to take on...the open-source model, if you will, for gaming."

Indeed, the idea that consumers have a virtually infinite appetite for customized entertainment and are willing to invest both time and money in tailoring their own experience is rippling through the media world far beyond gaming with deep financial consequences.

Sadly, that last paragraph leads into a paragraph about the $600 million ringtone market. IPTV is touched on too, but it's sad to see that the media hasn't quite caught on to the fact that these trends, in aggregate, are about more than just a customized user experience. Still, even if Cnet doesn't get it, Microsoft seems to have embraced the game's industry's consensus that encouraging modding and user-created content extends the lifespan and increases the sales of games. With game budgets skyrocketing (next-generation games, with their HDTV-quality graphics, can be expected to cost between $10-$25 million to produce), encouraging one's playerbase to help expand your game's content base may shift from just a really good idea to a vital component of any next-gen game's business plan.

More relevant quotes from Allard in extended.

Update: Csven notes in comments that the development of tools which can rip textures and 3D models from a videostream threaten the long-term viability of e-content markets. This may well impact Microsoft's ability to rake in a commission on sales of user generated content (and has an immediate impact on the sale of virtual services in Second Life). Still, the larger points regarding the value of user-generated content remain valid, since even if it's being given away for free, it still extends the shelf life of a game.

Allard told a story of meeting a 12- or 13-year-old inner-city child last year and introducing him to a basketball game on the new Xbox 360. Instead of spending hours dunking or trash-talking with his friends, the boy spent two hours creating a pair of sneakers, saying that was what he wanted to do when he grew up.

Maybe that boy wasn't typical of every single game player, but he didn't need to be, Allard said.

"If only 1 percent of our audience that plays Halo helped construct the world around Halo, it would be more human beings than work at Microsoft corporation," Allard said. "That's how much human energy we could harness in this medium."

Word up.



A problem here is that tools like OGLE put some markets for virtual content in peril. Wright's procedural approach might be more resistant, but whether all content can be procedural and succeed is an unanswered question.

You might want to read some of the comments on a recent entry of mine: http://blog.rebang.com/?p=616


Still, the larger points regarding the value of user-generated content remain valid, since even if it's being given away for free, it still extends the shelf life of a game.

True except for a major problem: with the jump in videogame quality, community content (which has been responsible for many of the "shelf-life extension" examples) has taken a steep drop. While still possible, the likelihood of a one-man total conversion ala "Counter-strike" (the #1 example of game shelf-life extensions) is pretty bleak.

Having been in the "mod" scene for a number of years, my favorite game level site is now closing down due to lack of activity. Long gone are the days of 200-triangle monsters and 62x64 skins. Game models are moving increasingly toward a process in which a "low" polygon model (at around 8000 triangles) is used in conjunction with a "high" quality level model (good enough for manufacturing). The low-quality model is hard enough for many. The high-quality model is next to impossible.

And it's not just time, it's talent. In the old days, the content was so limited anyone could participate and not be concerned about comments from the cheap seats. Now, if someone wants to put in the effort, they need to have thicker skins because their talent - or lack of talent - is more apparent; unfair, but then so are comments made by armchair quarterbacks. The game, in short, isn't the same. Free content may or may not be forthcoming.

In any event, at present, rippers like OGLE are limited to videogames using OpenGL. Games using only MS's Direct X are safe... for now. And games on consoles are safer... but also just for now.