Easy Player-Made Content

[I’m still working on bugs, polish, and a bit more content for the next playable pre-alpha. I just got the camera controls fixed! I also added sliders and settings so people can tweak the camera behavior. Next up: redoing the Quest and Crafting GUIs so you can tell what’s going on.

But while I work on mundane stuff, let’s look far ahead… way ahead by like six months or so… and look at some features I want to add eventually.]

Player-Made Dungeons: Meh

I have mixed feelings about player-generated content in traditional MMOs. Generally, players aren’t very good at making content, so you have lots of trouble sorting wheat from chaff. This is very difficult because players don’t grade based on how awesome content is, they grade based on the difficulty-to-reward ratio of the content.

And when MMO developers think about this idea, what they usually come up with is a full suite of dungeon-creation tools that let players remix existing dungeons in new ways. This is a ton of work, and is generally pretty dull. After a few years of updates, MMO developers have usually already attempted all the obvious things that can be done with these dungeon pieces. So usually all you’re getting is a custom story script. That’s not worthless — I like quests with good stories — but it’s also not worth all the effort it takes to make a dungeon-creation tool!

I have lots of ideas about how to make player-made dungeons more exciting. But… that’s for a different game. Project Gorgon isn’t going to be able to support user-made dungeons. Maybe the next MMO…

But let’s leave aside the creation of entire custom dungeons. There are still some great simple ways to let users create content for other users.

In fact, these features will be very easy to add to almost any MMO. They play “within the rules” of the game, and require only minimal new GUI interfaces and database tables. If you’re reading this and you’re an MMO developer, feel free to use these ideas!

Treasure Maps: Geo-Caching for MMOs

First up is the easiest one to code: treasure maps. All you do is go to a certain spot in the world, “bury” an item in the ground, and receive a “treasure map” for that item. You can now give that treasure map to a friend, and they can go hunt for the treasure you placed.

How do they find it? Well first, you can write a message on the map to give them clues. (It’s a tweet-length message, maybe a riddle or some general info about where it’s hidden.) Second, whenever they activate the map, it will tell them if they are getting “hotter” or “colder” compared to the last time they used the map. Tada! A very simple way to give your friends something to do.

I can implement this in a couple hours. The way it works is that the map actually stores the info about the “treasure” it contains. So internally, the map itself has the treasure “inside” itself all the time, but only gives you the treasure if you’re in the right spot. That way it doesn’t require any special world-state variables… just a couple of extra IDs stored in the item. Easy.

But we can do better…

Legendary Treasure

If we’re willing to spend more than a couple hours on the task, we can make it a lot more interesting. Legendary Treasure works basically the same way: you go some place in the world and “bury” one or more items. But this time you don’t get a treasure map. Instead, you write a “legend” (a tweet-length message).

These legends automatically show up in taverns and message boards around the world.  Players can read your legend and see the reward item they’ll get if they go there, along with how many rewards are left in the treasure hoard. When all the treasure has been given out, the legend disappears from the message boards.

Now players can propose simple riddles to the entire server shard, with an automatically-given reward. And again, this is very easy to implement. Maybe two or three days of work for the basics.

Lady of the Lake

Here’s a different riff on the same idea. The Lady of the Lake is an NPC in a special location. High-level players can give her items to give out to others if a certain key item is shown. For instance, “if a player presents a red ruby, give them this hypno-gem.” (The guessing player doesn’t lose their item, so there’s no penalty to guessing wrong.)

You can also create “legends” for these, as above, which gives hints about what item is needed and see how many rewards are left.

And I have a half-dozen other mechanics in the same vein (pseudo-programmable “golems”, “bounties” you can place on specific boss monsters, etc.) By combining these simple systems together, you can create some really interesting content, like multi-step scavenger hunts, or guided tours of rarely-visited dungeons, or complex ciphers for players to decode.

Paying the Price

All these systems require generosity: the person creating the content has to pony up the reward! This way there’s never a problem with balance. It also means the content is always temporary: even if you bury 1000 items in the ground, only 1000 players will ever be able to experience your content. But that’s not such a bad thing. It means you get to create a new better version later.

Does requiring generosity sound like a deal-breaker? I doubt it will be. I remember when I was a high-level AC1 player, creating “quests” for newbies was one of the most fun things I did. (“Bring me Tibri’s Fire Spear and I will give you a Peerless Atlan Claw!”). And if the game helped to manage these quests, I bet there would be a whole lot of high-level people who enjoyed giving away items creatively like this. And think of the guild events!

Bottom line is that players already do this. They just don’t get any support from the game to let them take it to the next level. And there’s no good reason why not.

Easy to Code… and Maybe Even Better Overall

These systems will need a bit of polish and fleshing out: profanity-reporting, a rating system (for content creators, so you can sort legends by most-popular creators), and a way to give feedback to the creator. But this is all pretty easy stuff, and most of it can be added incrementally over time.

Most importantly, because of the transitory and un-abusable game mechanics involved, I won’t need administrators to examine content and see if it’s “fair”. It’s always going to be fair: it’s just players giving each other items. Admin intervention will only be needed in cases of profanity and similar abuse — which I already have to handle for profane chat.

And the crazy thing is that I suspect these simple tools will give us more interesting content than Yet Another Player Made Dungeon Where Every Room Has Bosses In It And The Monsters All Quote My Little Pony.


[Also: thanks to MMO Melting Pot for giving me the 2011 Piggie Award for Most Charming Games Company Employee! Though I do think that category is rigged against big-company employees who have to filter everything they say, and often have to announce commandments from on high which they don’t agree with. And sometimes, they just have to be the bad guy. When I was working on AC2, I was always the Bad Cop so that the rest of the team could be the Good Cops. Hmm for Gorgon, I need to remember to hire a Bad Cop. I ain’t doing that thankless job again…]

[Sandra says: Not it!]

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11 Responses to Easy Player-Made Content

  1. Gabriel says:

    More and more I think you are from like 20 years in the future and are just copying the ideas of successful indie MMOs from then. The Geo-caching idea sounds excellent. I really can’t wait to play this game.

  2. omeg says:

    This reminds me of treasure maps in UO, just more interactive. Great idea! Can probably be extended to other activities as well.

  3. kleer says:

    The bounties idea makes me think of guild quests….

    Bounties would tie together nicely if the person putting the bounty out had an extra incentive too… Maybe a higher level quest that calls for clearing some low-level dungeon but you get better XP overall if you delegate it to a guild underling. Or maybe the high level player just cannot access that dungeon because .

    Maybe the monarch or officers can accept posted quests and delegate them out to guild members of the appropriate level. Maybe there is bonus XP to the whole guild for cooperation when the pool of quests are all completed?

    Or maybe some epic quests where the monarch or random members are captured/castaway to a far-off island/parallel dimension and the guildmates have to do some big questline to save them. (Maybe they are in ‘limbo’ and turned to ghosts or cursed so it doesn’t affect their gaming experience? But doom awaits if nothing is done about it.) Maybe with the focus being teamwork, like separate groups of the guild have to accomplish separate tasks at the same time, in the right order, etc?

    Could probably go on and on with these ideas so I’ll just stop :P

  4. kleer says:

    damn html tags…

    Or maybe the high level player just cannot access that dungeon because [insert reason].

  5. Love the ideas. Wish I was more of a designer. My one thought on it though is that these will enable gold farmers. I’ve designed my economy to prevent direct player-player trades. If players cannot trade directly with each other, gold farmers can’t easily pass off their product.

  6. Rauxis says:

    do you really expect gold farmers in a game like that?Maybe I’m just looking through rose tinted glasses

  7. Kiryn says:

    That reminds me of a treasure map quest I saw in a game once. You had to collect a certain number of items, and arrange their icons like a jigsaw puzzle in your bag and figure out what area it was a map of, and where the X was located. Once you had them all, if you stood in the right spot, a quest would automatically pop up and reward you with an item. I think it was a daily quest, but I haven’t played that game in years.

  8. kdansky says:

    Player-generated content is problematic, right. But on the other hand, look at Minecraft. There are probably hundreds of great “levels” people have designed in Minecraft, and I myself have spent a considerable amount of time on a server where my objective was to create a puzzle: I medium sized themed dungeon with “hidden” rooms: no digging or building required to reach them, use of light sources, hidden holes, unlikely camera angles, swimming, jumping, and general trickery (hiding a room “badly” to get people to drop their guard, then hiding the entrance to another room inside that very room (you can’t believe how well that worked)).

    I still want to harness that creative energy so many people have bundled up, but quality control is a huge issue. My current project (see signature blog) also goes in that direction, but the editor seems to be too hard to use for most people still.

  9. David Bowman says:

    I’ll be your bad cop.

  10. Pingback: True to Design: What I’m Reading « Managing the Game

  11. Eric says:

    @Dave Bowman – that is the best comment ever and I wish I could think of something to top it. You still haven’t gotten tired of bad cop!? :)