City of Heroes User-Created Content
Posted by Ben Zeigler on May 3, 2008
This week, the lead designer of City of Heroes announced the future addition of user-created content. I don’t have any insider information (since CoH got sold to NCSoft, Cryptic has nothing to do with it), but it’s definitely still a story worth talking about. Based on the one paragraph description and my knowledge of the mission system in CoH, basically what they’re talking about is a way for users to create and share the kind of missions that City of Heroes shipped with. So, I would expect full control over things like enemy types, general map tileset, and flavor text of all kinds. This is pure speculation, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect much in the way of complicated mission behavior or custom map layouts. You might be able to make a map entirely out of that horrible 6 level cave tile piece, but if you do no one will want to play it.
This is a limited, but essential, first step towards a fully user-created MMO. This should satisfy most of the desire to create interesting story and narrative, and I fully expect users to fill out the fiction of the CoH universe, as well as create their own crazy parralel narrative spaces. The most exciting part of this for me is that it’s kind of like fully integrated, officially sponsored fan fiction within the community context of an MMO. I thought some of the writing in CoH was superb, but some of these missions will certainly reach or exceed that level. However, most of them will be useless dreck.
There are a bunch of problems that need to be solved for user-content in an MMO to be a viable and worthwhile endeavor. The first one is content guidelines. Since this is basically fan fiction, it will be about 10 seconds before someone makes a mission involving Statesman having sex with Miss Liberty or something. What will NCSoft’s response to this be? Are they planning on manually screening all content, or depending on community policing? Manual screening has huge manpower requirements that I doubt NCSoft really wants to sign up for, and community policing suffers from the problem that, hey, maybe the community really does want to see Statesman/Miss Liberty. How will the designers and managers of CoH deal with a community that doesn’t necessarily agree with them on what is acceptable or desired? The history of CoH is about this conflict between community and creator, and I’m very curious how the new management will handle it.
Beyond that, the two other major problems are exploits and the issue of content quality rating. There’s a continuum between freedom (which leads to easily exploitable gameplay that could break the rest of the game) and control (where the user’s creative urges are restricted too much and dramatically reduce fun. ie, Supergroup Bases). The current Dev team is headed much more in the direction of freedom, so I’m curious where they’re going to end up when it comes to user missions. I think the concept is cool enough that they should really just live with the fact that someone might be able to make a power-levelling mission. As for user content quality rating, I imagine they’re just going to copy YouTube. Seems to work well enough, but there’s a lot of complication in the details, and if they screw that up, the 99% of crap that is all user content will overwhelm and destroy the good 1%. There has to be a way to get a reliably good mission experience, or else most users will never try it and the system will be a failure.
This is the first step towards a new (well, or just renewed) vision of MMOs. Because of budgetary and creative reasons (competing directly with WoW is a guaranteed losing proposition), the future of MMOs is in dynamic, changing content. What the CoH team proposed won’t get us all the way there, but I’m VERY curious as to how this limited experiment works out.
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