After tugging at my heartstrings for a while, that experience made me reflect on how much our communities are really a cornerstone of player-generated content. How often have you attended or participated in an event or run a mission created by someone other than yourself? And yet, when discussing important tools and elements needed to support player-generated content, we often overlook the necessity of a vibrant community. It's like trying to bake a cake without adding the flour. Or how about this analogy: You can give folks a giant tool box full of a shiny implements and tell them to build a house, but not much will happen without the actual wood and materials! So to foster PGC, games need to foster building communities.
So along with tools for creating content, games can't forget to focus on building and maintaining a community. And doing that is much more than just getting more people into game.
The most common PGC is not created on a server- or game-wide level or for individuals but for groups. Be they members of clans, guilds, legions, fleets, cabals, or whatever your game's specific designation (we'll just stick with guilds here for continuity), players create content for those closest to them to help enhance the group's gameplay. So wouldn't it make sense that having good tools for building and running guilds would be of paramount importance?
Looking back at EQII again, we can see a great example of a guild interface. It's a one-stop shop for guilds to customize their organization -- from rank names to individual permissions for ranks -- and keep tabs on what's going on. (Lineage II, however, has a leg up here; it allows leaders to assign actual individuals' permissions!) Leaders can easily disseminate information to members using a MOTD (Message of the Day) as well as monitor and manage the guild bank. The game even records notable guild member achievements for all to see! The one thing it is missing is an attached calendar.
Now EQII does have an in-game calendar that you an add guild events to, but it isn't on the guild interface. OK, so no real big deal to have to go click a couple of other buttons, but it would be nice to have it all together. Even better, however, is to have a guild calendar more like Warhammer Online's. In Warhammer, not only can guilds create events for themselves and their alliances, but members can sign up for events right from the same interface! Yes, I know that there are special guild websites that do all this as well, but why can't we have these tools in-game? The more time you can have your players in the game rather than managing the guild from outside of the game, the better. And that benefits the bottom line in the end.
One of the things I actually miss from Lineage II is the alliance system. You could maintain a clan (guild) with its own leadership while still having a convenient chat channel connecting you with other folks for socialization, group finding, etc. Sure, players find workarounds by creating custom chat channels in games when possible and special areas on forums and such, but again, why force people out of game to connect or make it more difficult? Often times those special chat channels close or people can't easily find them. All games should have an alliance system in place; this system could be little more than a dedicated chat channel and interactive calendar, but even that would allow smaller groups greater connectivity, which forges stronger bonds.
In the end, regardless of the tools that are put in game, communities find ways to create content. So even before putting those content-generating tools into game, devs should lay a foundation by implementing good community building tools. But don't just do it for us, the gamers -- do it for you! Focusing on community is also beneficial to a game's bottom line. A strong, vibrant community will actually bring in and retain population. And more players always equates to more revenue, even for free-to-play games.
There is no good reason to not have the tools in game to help foster community growth and plenty of good reasons to have it. So hopefully moving forward, we will see more games implement robust community tools. And better communities will lead to more player-generated content to enjoy!
Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!