User Generated Quests and the Ruby Slippers

Do you remember this part from the Wizard of Oz movie? It’s my favorite part:

		You don't need to be helped any longer.
		You've always had the power to go back to

		I have?

		Then why didn't you tell her before?

		Because she wouldn't have believed me. She
		had to learn it for herself.

It turns out that Dorothy could have gone home at any time during the movie! But if Glinda had just told her that clicking her ruby slippers together would teleport her home, Dorothy would have been unable to believe it. She had to learn it for herself or she could never learn it.

We’ve all been there plenty of times, right? The Ruby Slippers Phenomenon is part of human nature. Of course I had to date that girl even though everyone told me it would end badly. Of course I had to make an indie casual game even though everyone said it would be a flop. No amount of talking would ever convince me.

In my professional life, I’ve made conscious effort to avoid this problem — that is, I’ve tried very hard to learn from the experiences of others. And I’ve had, eh… sub-par results. It’s really hard to believe in the slippers if you didn’t figure it out for yourself. So I’m not pointing fingers at other people who have the same issue. But we do need to try to avoid learning every lesson the hard way.

The #1 reason we dismiss other people’s lessons is by pretending that they “aren’t applicable here.” User-created quests are a great example. No achievement-oriented MMORPG has ever had user-created quests before, so there’s “no possible way anybody could know if it would work”. (Let’s pretend that Anarchy Online didn’t have a simple custom mission generator … remember, most game developers burn out within 5 years, so very few working designers were around for AO!)

When designers would bring up this feature (and yes, it’s been brought up on every game I’ve worked on), the veteran designers would tell them, “That’s going to backfire tremendously. People will exploit it to make the easiest possible missions, and you won’t like the results.” This is always countered by some variety of “you can’t possibly know that for sure!” But actually, working on a live team teaches that lesson very quickly. From AC2, I learned:

  • Players subconsciously calculate the cost-to-benefit ratio of content when deciding if it’s fun. For most MMO players, more reward = more fun. (This is a bitch of a lesson to learn, too. “My custom-scripted quest was so incredibly cool! Why aren’t players doing the quest? Well, yes, the reward was a little sub-par, but so what? You’re telling me they aren’t playing it because of THAT? Players can’t be THAT shallow!” Ha ha, newb.)
  • Players aren’t objective reviewers. If you ask them to grade content, they will grade more rewarding content higher than other content even if it isn’t as good by other metrics (like plot, writing, annoyance factor, or originality).
  • Many players spend incredible amounts of time finding ways to min-max the system so they can get more power for less effort. That’s part of the fun for many players. So there are tens of thousands of people actively looking for mistakes, loopholes, and gray areas in your game. All the time.

“Yes yes,” the other designers would say, “those lessons from the live team are interesting, but that isn’t exactly the same situation as user-created content, is it? Nobody can say for sure if user-created quests are problematic.” Maybe, just maybe, users could be convinced to grade content fairly. Maybe they would discover how fun it is to run really well-plotted quests instead of just trying to level up as fast as possible. Maybe players can change their stripes. Nope. MMORPG players are as predictable as the sunrise.

When City of Heroes released its user-created mission generator, it was mere hours before highly exploitative missions existed. Players quickly found the way to min-max the system, and started making quests that gave huge rewards for little effort. These are by far the most popular missions. Actually, from what I can tell, they are nearly the only missions that get used. Aside from a few “developer’s favorite” quests, it’s very hard to find the “fun but not exploitative” missions, because they get rated poorly by users and disappear into the miasma of mediocrity.

This was not what the designers hoped for. Somehow they had convinced themselves that the number of exploiters would be relatively low — certainly not the vast majority of the users. But they were wrong, and now they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. They feel they must counteract these abusive quests, “for the sake of balance”. But how? Well the first step is to ban people who make cheaty content. But what’s cheaty? Do they explicitly list every possible exploit condition? What if they miss one? Nah, then the problem would start all over again. Instead, how about if they just issue blanket threats that they’ll ban missions that seem “exploitative”, without actually explaining what is and isn’t “exploitative”? They went with the latter.

So now, any user-created mission that is “exploitative” will get deleted, and users who played it will get their XP retroactively lowered, or even lose their character. So what counts as exploitative? One or two of the “exploits” are pretty obvious, but it’s really unclear where the line is drawn. Their forums are struggling with this very problem:

Are all-boss maps ok? Are all-AV maps ok? Are custom enemy groups with only one mob ok? Two mobs? Three? Five, but with no minions?

Or do we not get to know before they sack us?

Bingo. You don’t know if you’re breaking the rules until you get punished. So the developers are creating a chilling effect on their own content generator. Now it’s risky for players to even use user-created quests. What if some customer service rep decides the quest is exploitative? You’d retroactively lose your XP. It’s best to just to stick to the old dev-made quests, the ones you know won’t get you punished.

They made the wrong call here. Without some guidelines about what’s legit and what isn’t, I would certainly keep away from most user missions. Their lead designer reinforced that they won’t be giving useful guidelines out, saying:

I would say that a good interpretation of abuse is “Disregard for the risk and/or time to reward ratio”.

This is startlingly unhelpful to people trying to figure out how to make ban-safe, but fun, content. To keep this fiasco from chilling the buzz, they need to publish guidelines about what is and isn’t “fair”, or better yet, code this fairness into their tools. As I write this, pick-up groups are running user-generated quests consisting of nothing but max-level boss monsters, so that doesn’t seem to be “unfair”… of course, since there’s no guidelines, who knows if those quests are about to get banned? Since deletion only happens after an “abusive” quest is reported to customer service, it could just be a matter of time before any quest you play gets banned and your hard work gets reversed. Worse yet, since the rules are secret and enforced by numerous people, it is very likely that they will be enforced semi-arbitrarily, and will tend to become more aggressive over time.

But the thing is, even if they make the rules explicit, it’s not going to help the “power-leveling problem” which is ostensibly the reason for all of this grief. Unless they remove all difficulty options from the system, there will always be easier and harder ways to level. And remember what I said above: users tend to prefer easier content with better rewards. This isn’t limited to user-created content — it’s true for designer-made content, also. But designer-made quests don’t get graded by the players. Player-voted content like this will always gravitate towards easy. And pick-up groups will always be picking the most rewarding content with the least annoyance. And the game devs will keep being unhappy about it.

I hope they can find a compromise that makes this all worthwhile, but even when they do, the costs will be huge. All the tweaking, pleading, balancing, and customer service time involved is hard to imagine. Man, the customer service costs alone are tremendous! Think about it: CoH now has customer service personnel evaluating tons of content and deciding if it’s “fair” or not. Plus they have to deal with “incorrectly flagged” content, plus handling the thousands of additional complaint calls … unless they make clever decisions quickly, the labor and maintenance costs of their system will be in the millions of dollars over the next few years. This is not what game owners like to hear. And to add insult to injury, what started out as a PR win seems to be turning into a PR failure almost overnight. Personally, I think the most tragic cost is that their developers will have to continue to tweak this system for months or years to come. They could be adding other features, but instead, they have to try to bandage this system over and over again. Even if they win the battle, they may lose the resource war.

I’m not saying CoH is doomed — this won’t kill them or anything, even if their user-content tools aren’t a success in the long run. I’m not even saying they were dumb for trying this. Every game has “proven the ruby slippers” about a few things. These are missteps that seem really obvious in hindsight, and were pretty obvious beforehand, too, but somebody had to try them… because they couldn’t quite believe it if they didn’t learn it for themselves. So I’m really happy that CoH added this. They’re proving the ruby slippers by showing that this sort of system takes tremendous effort — Herculean effort — to be successful. And I’m pretty sure the CoH team will never be happy with the level of “exploitation” that happens with the system.

Now maybe we won’t have to debate whether user-created quests in an achievement-oriented game are a good idea or not. Oh, who am I kidding? In just a few years all the designers will be new again and nobody will remember CoH’s hard-earned lessons. Sigh…

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39 Responses to User Generated Quests and the Ruby Slippers

  1. Longasc says:

    You pointed out 3 lessons, and also the flaws with exploitation of the CoH mission architect and the issues with customer service having to sort out the tons of bad apples, as well as the annoyance caused to the players.

    Yeah, user created content is a bad idea… until someone tries again and… fails again?

    I say, do not stop people from trying. I am pretty sure that “mission architects” and similar player generated content is not going to work. Never.
    But I really need someone to prove me wrong that user generated content is a VERY VERY BAD IDEA… :)

    The real question is, how can disillusioned designers come up with anything else than achievement-systems and virtual carrot rewards for players. Because I honestly doubt that this is the end-all of game design. What do you make of the 3 lessons learned?

  2. Mavis says:

    That’s crazy….

    The first thing that popped into my head on hearing about the creation system was that clearly as a well advanced MMORPG they had decided to move there player base off the levelling treadmill and just allow players to easily leap up from level 0 to max level (since the number of new players must be 0)….

  3. Aetius says:

    The mistake the CoH developers made was allowing user-generated content through without filtering. Do your designer’s missions make it into the game without some sort of filter, review, or QA? Of course not, and neither should user-generated content.

    Also, the devs picking and choosing content is fine. The way to handle this is to vet the user-generated content, and then allow players to utilize the content that is approved for play. That way, everyone knows where they stand – the devs won’t have to retract xp or anything, because the content is marked as officially approved. You can even leverage your player base to run through beta missions to find the ones that easily exploitable.

    The real question is: is (filtered) user-generated content of better quality and quantity than your closed development cycle? The cost comparison isn’t a simple matter of adding up the cost of dealing with the user content, it’s a cost-benefit analysis of the user-generated system versus the developer-generated system.

  4. Loredena says:

    So none of the devs ever played a moddable single player game? Never checked out the popular mods for, say Never Winter Nights? Sure, sometimes the really interesting ones are what get popular, and in strategy games like Civ ‘make the UI smarter’ mods are often quite popular too – but the run of the mill ones that everyone runs with are the ones that give you a nice reward for not too much effort…..

  5. Vargen says:

    I’d never heard the “Ruby Slippers” term, but I’m familiar with the process. The most common term I’ve heard for that is “learn the hard way.” Then there’s what my Dad calls it: “learn the easy way.” The logic here being that people have a much harder time learning from other people’s mistakes than they do from their own. Screwing up for yourself might make the entire process more difficult, but it’s the easy way to get the actual learning part.

    On filtering user generated content: the question in my mind is this: what do you do with crappy stuff that’s not broken? Do you release it so that the author can have the satisfaction of having their work published? Or do you stop publication because it increases the amount of crap that people have to sort through? Do you give it an official “poor” rating, or do you lump all the 1,2, and 3 star stuff together and release it without comment (I’m assuming here that you’d want to flag the 4 and 5 star stuff regardless).

  6. Kendricke says:


    Flying Labs already utilizes a vetting/filtering/approval process for the player created content within Pirates of the Burning Sea. For ship designs (which anyone can produce using the tools they’ve provided), there’s a player council to help with the initial approval and then developers have the final say. For flags and sails, they use a similar player council to developer approval process.

  7. Michael Kujawa says:

    Dev filtering: If the user generated content takes off like the devs surely hope it will, there’s not 1/10th of the “official” man-power needed to filter the content. dev filtering can be a part of the solution, but it’s not viable on its own.

    Modded Single-player games: Who cares if you god mode in a single-player game? The recent “Martin Fury” flap that hit WoW would be a non-issue in a single-player game.

  8. Jacey says:

    Maybe there’s an underlying lesson here that ‘experienced’ developpers themselves refuse to acknowledge: a large portion of MMO players don’t care much for the levelling process.

    Perhaps if players didn’t have to worry about the rewards, they’d focus on maximizing the quality aspects of their gameplay experience. But then you have to operate under the assumption that they’ll keep coming back to check out new and exciting ways of enjoying themselves, instead of to pick up where they left off the eternal grind. We used to believe that once.

    Of course, it takes a competent team to pull of a Starcraft or Counterstrike (lol one man job), I guess it’s easier for the average game developper to just slap together a carrot-on-a-stick grindfest. More profitable, too.

  9. paniq says:

    If players love to exploit stuff, why don’t you make that a central part of the game?

    An MMO focusing on hackery and exploitation sounds awesome to me.

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  11. iondot says:

    To some extent, Little Big Planet suffered from this for a while, but because there is far less focus on advancement and ability it is less of an issue.

    Nevertheless, there were a huge number of “trophy levels” early on. So many that the front pages were clogged with dozens of uninteresting choices for all the same reasons innumerated in the article above.

    This has died down in part due to filtering and in part because once the rewards were all handed out, the trophy levels became completely uninteresting.

    However, something interesting has replaced this phenomenon, and it isn’t quality. Rather, the majority of popular levels are parody or tribute levels of well-known properties – movies, other games, etc.

    What’s more, once a level becomes VERY popular, other people pop into the system and name their level’s with a similar or identical title and they find instant mini-fame from people using the search engine.

    This isn’t to say there have not been some amazing levels produced, but the lure of the easy reward and people’s apparently inherent laziness can be frustrating.

    Finally, it is worth noting that when a user generated level is very challenging, it can be difficult for the user to have faith that the level is, in fact, possible. What effect this has on ratings or people’s willingness to complete a challenging user-generated level is unknown.

  12. Pingback: Lessons from Mission Architect | Blog of Heroes

  13. Zergonapal says:

    This is dumb, everyone’s dumb, the developers are dumb and the players are dumb.
    Players are playing dumb pretending they don’t know whats exploitative, well here is an epic yardstick for you- if its too good to be true its an exploit. End of story.
    Except it isn’t the developers are dumb for going about this arse backwards. Instead of just letting people develop a level and then set it out there they should submit it for consideration and then the developers or hell even a jury of peers could judge the level for content, reward and possible exploits and then rate the level accordingly.
    It is so blindingly obvious I can’t see why it isn’t already implemented.

  14. dgl says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Jacey on this one. You’re assuming that the problem is exploitation. As iondot points out, “Monty Haul” levels disappear from content popularity once the arbitrary rewards have been passed out.

    Developers (especially developers of MMOs) constantly assume that generated rarity is a selling point. “People really want that new mount, we’d better make it impossible to get. People love to wear capes, so they’ll need to put in days of ingame playtime to earn them.” Etc. Etc. Etc.

    Gamers, on the other hand ~tolerate~ grinds. They don’t enjoy the grind, they hate it. They’re just trying to get past the grind so that they can get to the actual fun bits. Give them the power to bypass leveling, and they’ll bypass it. This isn’t shocking, they didn’t like leveling to begin with.

    Yes yes, handing them everything on a silver platter will eventually lead to boredom and player flight. It’s a balancing act. All the same, some elements of MMOs are really obviously hated by everyone who plays. If you have a game where everyone bitches about one single feature during beta, do you listen to them and eliminate the feature? Or do you ignore them?

    NCSoft gave the players the power to bypass that one hated feature, and then they’re shocked ~shocked~ when all the popular levels are about bypassing it.

    Really? What’s the surprise here?

    Still, since no one’s going to eliminate the grind, you can at least deal with the problem of broken content by implementing a filtering system. A small cadre of dedicated players can suggest “good” levels to the Devs, who can then polish and rebalance the good levels and drop them into the game. Content and quality both go through the roof, all content is dev checked, and exploits become no more problematic than they’ve always been. Problem solved, and the devs get what they secretly want: A relief from actually having to develop anything. Aetius, Kendricke, and Zergonapal all point this out in different ways.

  15. Laurence Brothers says:

    Very insightful. This got picked up by BoingBoing, in case you notice the traffic bounce.

    Yeah, I remember on AC2 there were certain quests that we didn’t realize had a particularly good reward for the effort. On the launch group, the Moarsman quest was obviously one, and I was certainly responsible for a couple of others over the course of the live team’s tenure, including, as I recall, one of my silly SHRETH quests, and that big chaos boss fight.

    Anyhow, it’s interesting to consider theoretical approaches to allowing unmoderated user-generated content in a game-structured MMO like CoX. Some kind of MM variant of “you cut the cake, and I’ll choose the slice” kind of thing, perhaps. Even so, any kind of zero-sum or fixed-sum game has to consider that single players can have multiple accounts with mules, and guilds can also redistribute benefits from one member to another. So as long as players are allowed any control over contributed content difficulty, there may be issues.

    To Zergonapal@13 — of course content could be moderated, but with many thousands of eager level designers, I think there’s just no way this can be practical in the CoX context, anyway. So it would be far preferable to come up with some mechanism by which a) no moderation is required, and b) players can still have some reasonable design freedom, not just choosing a few parameters for otherwise automatically generated levels.

  16. Rennec says:

    Ok, first step: Ditch levels, replace with skill based system.
    Second step: Ditch loot centric economy, replace with player based crafting economy.
    Third step: Make balancing points system X points of danger will provide Y points of reward. (whatever reward is being used in your crafting economy)
    Fourth step: Make sure tool is easy to use, versitile and as self balancing as possible. When the tool is tweaked previous player generated content should be tweaked alongside it.

    But basically, get rid of DIKU-style MMO:s because the won’t lead us to the next generation.

  17. Dan says:

    No one’s mentioned that the exploitive missions were great from level 1-25ish, then suffered extreme diminishing returns. It happens that levels 1-20 are the most frustrating – no access to several quality of life powers.

    I’d love to see the datamining – I used the the farms to get one character from level 1 to ‘playable without tearing my hair out’ (level 22), and then stopped the exploit missions. I suspect many others did as well. I think rather than go nuts over ‘everyone’s exploiting’ they should examine what levels people were trying to blow past, and figure out how to make them fun.

    CoH is famous for players having many, many characters (“alts”). When you’re a 2+ year vet rolling up your 8th character, slogging through the first 20 levels for the 8th time is very frustrating.

  18. blahger says:

    I think the underlying disconnect for developers is the MMORPGs are NOT the same as RPGs. RPG players may favor well scripted, interesting missions over other content, but they aren’t the even close to the majority of players. The vast majority of players are more interested in the leveling grind and gaining powerful items. Replaying missions many times trying to attain rare items, so how much does the story matter on those replays? That grind is at the heart of this style of game for the most players, not an interest in role-playing or identifying with their characters.

    Much has been written comparing this style of games to slot machines, where the experience or items gained are the reward to the player for repeated play. Developers seem to forget that players don’t view the story as a reward; it’s just an artifice that has been put in their way to get to the reward. Much the same way lab mice don’t appreciate a well-designed maze, instead focusing on the treat at the end of it. Developers, tasked with creating these mazes, make the mistake of thinking that’s the part everyone is interested in.

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  20. Proletarian says:

    The developer team shot themselves in the foot with their Mission Architect system. First, they failed to test it properly after changing their beta-invite procedures a couple of issues ago. Then all they needed to do was one simple change and they could have avoided all further tweaking of the system and threats of retroactive punishments. The change: make the Mission Architect’s reward tickets (for running user-generated content) redeemable for all other game rewards, including experience and influence (the game currency), and remove all other rewards except tickets from the user-generated material.

    That one change would’ve restored the developer’s control over the risk/reward ratio they love as they could set the redemption ratio at whatever they wanted, and alter it as needed. Players could keep running easy high-ticket missions and not gain levels faster than the fastest of developer-provided content, and the developers wouldn’t be locked into a cycle of whack-a-mole trying to keep up with the latest player power-leveling mission designs. They could even have tickets issue on a sliding scale depending on how many you had redeemed in the last 24 hours, similar to their mechanism for rewarding merits for completion of developer arcs.

    I suggested this via the usual channels and was roundly ignored. If other CoH players agree with the idea and read it here, maybe you can pass it along as well?

  21. DewiMorgan says:

    People are right: MMORPGs don’t have to be about achievement. Which is why the original post said “No achievement-oriented MMORPG has ever had user-created quests before.”

    Social text mucks, and social graphical MMOs, have relied heavily on user-created content for decades. Furcadia wouldn’t still be going strong and growing after a dozen years if it weren’t for the fact that user created content is core to the game. SecondLife wouldn’t be nearly as popular either.

    But… I’m wrong to say that they don’t have to be about achievement. When you remove the grind, two other things take over: socialising and creativity. In both of those, the game is only fun if there’s achievement.

    Socialising achievement is where you wanna become a god, an admin, a higher-up, a beekin, a wizard. You want to become one of the “known names” of the game. If you play for socialising, then when you become as well-known as you can become, you have mastered the game at that point: you “won”. I personally notice a huge cooling in my interest in a community once I start getting public acclaim.

    Creativity achievement is similar: you want to achieve mastery at the creative avenues the system offers. This is the truly “sticky” one, because stuff that takes genuine skill can take a long time to master: art, programming. But again, I notice my interest levels plummet once people start looking to me as an authority in the creativity the game offers. If I’m the “go-to guy”, then I’ve prettymuch scraped the game of all the interest it can give, so it’s time to move on.

    Social games beat the churn by offering social events (contests, festivals, etc) and by introducing better and better content creation tools.

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  23. @Tatterdamalion says:

    I’ve been playing the Mission Architect (User Content Creation Interface) stuff since the Closed Beta, and have yet to go on an exploitive mission let alone power level any of my characters with it.
    I’m not really sure where you’ve been getting your data, but there are a lot of missions with plot and challange. If anything, it’s easy (almost too easy actually) to create a mission that is far far harder than anything the developers have created.

  24. Andrew Mayer says:

    From where I’m standing they issue is not that the users did what they did, it’s that they didn’t put any value into the system for the creators *not* to do it.

    Imagine if they had added in a vested interest for the level creators to make harder levels:
    Let’s say the designer recives 1% of all treasure that remained uncollected by players going through the level.

    Suddenly you have a totally different set of min/max parameters. You want people to play, but you don’t want them to win… That’s only one possible idea, but it’s better than determining an arbitrary set of morals, and then complaining when your audience isn’t “ethical”.

    Users will always play to gain maximum exploit based on the rewards defined by the designers. To assume that they’ll “rise above” that instinct is to basically deny the fundamental tension that makes games entertaining in the first place.

  25. Darrin West says:

    Game “balancing” in one sense is about making *all content* be used evenly. If the characters aren’t balanced everyone goes with one class. If one mission is super rewarding they go with that.

    So here’s an idea that has been rattling around in various forms: make the reward dynamic based on how popular the content is. Super-popular stuff gets played more, so lower the reward. That raises the relative reward of all the other content, and it gets used more. The economy then finds a balance where irritating content exists, but at a discount to enjoyable content. And slightly poorly balanced content gets its rewards tweaked automatically until it is experienced in an appropriate amount.

    How? Dial the experience gained. And allow it to go negative. Maybe there is an uber weapon. But after “everyone” plays that mission, it comes with a huge negative experience “reward”.

    The downside of this approach is that the great miasma of crap content suddenly has “some” value, because it has been 6 months since anyone played it. Maybe that would be OK. Maybe there was a patch.

    Bottom line: if it gets exploited, make it so expensive players eventually stop.

  26. MollyHackett says:

    @23: I haven’t seen any official numbers for which missions are preferred, but my personal experience from playing on Freedom is that the mission architect has killed the game. Or, less dramatically, it has radically changed the game experience from what it was prior to that release. Before this issue, power-levelling and farming was largely limited to the max-level zones (not exclusively, of course, but largely.) Farm spam and unwanted PL requests could be avoided by avoiding those zones. Post-I14, the farming population is spread out across zones, and broadcast is filled with requests for AE farms and fillers for said farms. To the extent that, if it wasn’t for my SG-mates, I would be hard-pressed to find a team for anything other than AE missions. Farming is no longer an avoidable annoyance.

    @20: I like the idea of getting only tickets for AE content. It’s a shame that option was ignored.

  27. Tesh says:

    I’m with Jacey and dgl on this one. People found a way to get past the parts of the game they found “unfun” (the leveling grind) and dig into the part they found “fun” (whether it’s just tinkering at the higher levels or earning easy loot). That’s a heavy and critically important lesson in game design, not something to blame on the players. If anything, NCSoft should be *thanking* them for showing them the parts of the game that people will naturally gravitate to, given the choice. If players are just power-leveling and then leaving because they are bored, that’s another lesson learned: your game isn’t all that much fun to actually *keep playing*. When an MMO is stripped of its treadmills and slot machine mechanics, what is still there to keep people interested? If it’s not even as interesting as Counterstrike or some other free to play game, a subscription is a very hard sell.

    The DIKU mold (and concurrent subscription model) is indeed way past its expiration date, and understanding why this sort of thing happens is the only way to make the next step in “elder game” design. Trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle (push players back onto the DIKU treadmill at $X/month) isn’t going to work.

  28. You say here that they fell into the age-old trap of trying to use user-generated content, and that with some more experience they would have understood the reasons why it is impossible for that to succeed. I am GLAD they didn’t know it was impossible, because it was a really important thing to do. Think about it: if I were an investor in a game company, I would rather that they took a 10% chance at building the next World of Warcraft (runaway success; massive moneymaking machine) even if the cost were a 90% chance of setting their development back a bit and pissing off the community somewhat. And I firmly believe that whoever DOES manage to figure out how to SUCCESSFULLY capture and utilize user-generated content for this sort of MMORPG will have a RUNAWAY success which is sustained for YEARS via strong network effects. Yes, it’s a hard problem (otherwise someone else would have done it!) and no one has really succeeded (there are some games out there with popular mods, but I don’t know of anything more recent than a MOO where the average player spends most of their time exploring user-generated content). But anyone who DOES succeed will be sitting on a gold mine… so it is worth taking the risk and trying it.

  29. Grim says:

    As a CoH player, I’d like to say one thing. Mission architect does what it was supposed to do. It allows people to create missions they want. Which, in story heavy game (and coh belongs to this category, leaving grind of wow far behind) is a good idea.

    To get rid of the problem mentioned in this article you need to do only one thing: remove character experience gain while on architect missions. Other reward, that is redeemable tickets gained in the missions are ok, as long as they can’t be redeemed for experience. Problem solved.

    Grinders leave the architect alone, and people can enjoy missions for what they are supposed to provide: fun based on story, not mechanical process of clicking on pixels.

  30. Objulen says:

    User created content is fine in theory, but what I don’t understand is how the developers thought it was a bright idea to not implement built-in difficulty guidelines and other tools in their user created content. While I haven’t used the system yet, it seems obvious that having guidelines like one AV every 3 missions, A-B bosses, C-D lts, and E-F minions just makes sense. Given the existing difficulty system of the game, it would make more sense to simply drop spawns of varying sizes and difficulties that can be adjusted based on what the user has set their personal difficulty level to in the first place, i.e. Spawn 1 has 5 minions, while Spawn 2 has 4 minions and 2 lts on difficulty X, and more or less depending on on what the player has their specific settings adjusted to. I find it hard to believe that in-house guidelines like these don’t exist for in-house content generators; transferring them to the content generation tools available to players would be a big step in the right direction

    Hopefully this system will get pulled out of the fire; it wouldn’t be that difficult to implement in a balanced fashion if it had proper controls in the first place, but the devs are going to have a much harder time on their hands now. IMHO releasing a patch to overhaul the system seems like the best step to take, and leave their faces relatively egg-free, as long as the fixes work appropriately. Otherwise the devs are going to spend an agonizing amount of time fixing the system (and alienating many players in the process) or simply scrap it all together, neither of which is good for the game in the long-run.

  31. Acyl says:

    Positron, CoH’s lead dev, DID threaten to remove access to characters who were levelled through this exploit. But I haven’t seen ANY reports of players who’ve actually lost their stuff.

    Granted, my information sources are the game itself and the official forums; it may simply be that the offenders are so effectively silenced that I’m not seeing them at all.

    However, I think it’s more likely…they haven’t really done anything. Or if they have, it’s to so few people there’s barely a ripple. Positron claimed “the worst of the worst, exploitive, powerlevelled characters will be removed from the game”. So far this appears to be true.

  32. Tesh says:

    Tangentially, this is one more reason for a reputable outside source to maintain game design history and criticism. The industry is way too inbred and cloistered, and everyone winds up making the same dumb mistakes.

  33. Granite says:

    Call me crazy, but doesn’t professional gambling already have a great way of leveling out the reward to risk curve over time?

    Force players to play the level with no benefit before rating it(leveraging your players who DO value content, as they’ll be the ones willing to do it), and then determine the reward structure based on the number of players who play it for it’s rating level. If people find an exploit and start swarming it? Reduce the award proportionally. Crappy levels drop value faster than the true epics, and exploitive content self-identifies. Win-Win

    (I know it’s been mentioned in various forms previously, so my apologies to them)

  34. Pingback: Kellie Parker » City of Heroes: The Intersection of Gaming and User Generated Content

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  36. Melf_Himself says:

    There are many ways that the user-generated content in CoX could have *not failed*, not least of which would be removing the bug that allows the entire level to be boss monsters. Also, making the XP awarded scale somewhat with number of powers that the monster has would be handy.

    Instead of blanketly saying that user-generated content won’t work, what designers should be doing is looking at the ways in which it failed and seeking to rectify the problems. This is how evolution works.

  37. nano says:

    User generated content is plausible. Just let the users create the areas and story and leave the spawning of mobs and loot to the system. Take the balancing problem out of the hands of the users. I’m sure there are other approaches which could be fruitful, just because CoH stuffed it up doesn’t mean the concept is impossible to implement well.

  38. frosticus says:

    @29 – I can assure you very few people would end up using MA if no xp was awarded. Think pvp population small.

    @31 – the bans and deletions started rolling in a day or so ago. No idea how many, but I’ve heard a fair number. Sadly, people that legitimately and without exploitation who used the level pacting system implemented a short while ago have been experiencing some deletes as well. Basically a CS nightmare over there right now.

  39. Constantine says:

    well.. Blizzard has this implemented better than anyone else – look at maps for StarCraft/Warcraft3, some of them were so good that they spawned new genres like Tower Defence or DotA maps. Also this was proven to be doable for major FPS games like Quake or UT.

    How to make it in MMORPG ? Easy:

    1. Give players good tools to create missions/levels/quests – but do not reward or punish players for anything they are doing inside. Aka – “unranked games”.
    2. Let other player have fun and rate the levels depending on their experience.
    3. If a level / quest / mission is highly ranked by community – devs should check it, maybe polish, set up rewards and level/class requirements – and put in the game as “certified content”.

    ps: 90% of user created content is crap, unless your game is Spore – then 90% of user created content are penis monsters ;)