In 2008 I was introduced to something amazing. Something that cemented my love of making games forever. I think it was a Saturday, so I went to hang out with my friends as usual. We booted up Halo 3 and played multiplayer where I had my butt kicked. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed fighting off alien scum and others as a preteen boy. But then my friend showed me something new, a game mode in Halo called “Forge” mode. This mode allowed the player to freely move around as an omnipresent ball known as a Monitor. When in this form, the player was able to create, move, and destroy from a library of various objects from the game. It was an incredibly sophisticated map maker for the time.
Forge mode, to put it lightly, blew my mind. In an instant, my perception of a fun first person shooter changed into one of awe. Here I was, 11 years old and suddenly this game allowed me Create Worlds. I had never wielded such power. Everything in my life had been dictated: go to school, eat your vegetables, do your homework. But now, I was Michelangelo, and this abandoned warehouse was my Sistine Chapel. Me and my friend played around in this mode for almost the entire day, until I had to go home for dinner. I couldn’t stop thinking about it that night, dozens of ideas were racing through my head. The possibilities were endless! I think I even tried to sketch some map ideas out on paper.
This was my first introduction to the wonderful world of User Created Content. It had called out to me, touched my creative core, and begged me to build. And I’m not the only one. UCC has breathed life into millions of players. It can change a game from good or great into being an Unforgettable Experience. It is an overwhelmingly positive force of good in the industry that embodies the values of open source software and enables anybody to express their creativity.
The most obvious benefit of UCC is the community building. It’s one thing to have a player base who want to compete with each other, but having them build something together can unite them as a whole. Halo 3 has become my favorite game of all time because it harbored an incredible community. Late night custom game nights are some of my fondest video game memories. It’s not like some group project where the team is forced: give players the tools to create and they will seek each other out to collaborate on amazing things.
Beyond the union of players, UCC builds a stronger relationship between the players and the developers. Nothing shows the player more reverence than releasing a level editor or mod tools. The developers are passing their baby that they’ve spent years on and telling the player “I trust you to make something cool with this.” It’s like being invited to a table with the cool kids.
User Created Content is the life support of a video game. Give the community the tools to build, and that community is going to stick around for a while. It’s why at the time of writing, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 has over twice as many peak daily players on Steam as Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, despite BO3 being released a year earlier. BO3 has the mod tools. It’s part of why The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim remains in the top 50 steam games daily, despite being a 5-year-old game.1
Content Creation tools add perpetual value to your game. It’s why Steep players can always find more challenges to complete, why DOOM players will always have new maps to fight on, why SpeedRunners players can keep playing new races with their friends, and so much more. If UCC was a stock, it would never depreciate.
In 2014, League Of Legends earned $624 million USD.2 That is an insane amount of money. League was one of the first commercial MOBAs. A genre that spawned from a Starcrafta custom map known as Aeon of Strife. The map evolved into DOTA, which spawned DOTA 2, SMITE, STRIFE, and Blizzard’s own Heroes of The Storm. MOBAs are an integral part of the huge esports boom. All this from a single custom map. Infection, one of the most popular game modes in the Halo franchise originated from a popular user mode in Halo 2 where players would manually switch teams to simulate zombies.
Simply put, UCC is fun. It allows players to take risks with the game that developers can’t gamble on. It enables players to try the same game but flipped upside down and morphed into a completely new experience. It can modernize old games and turn modern games into intuitive new experiences. Developers can learn from what their players make.
Mod tools and level editors are some of the best recruitment software there is. When your creation framework is already out in the open, potential employees will train themselves. There is no better way to create employees who have day one value.
Above all else, content creation tools engage in the open source philosophy without bankrupting your company in the way releasing the entire game library would. It celebrates the industry as a whole.
With these overwhelming benefits, it’s important to look at potential cons as well. The first is the initial development cost. These tools can be expensive to build and lengthen the development cycle. This can be offset if the tools are used in house to create level and content, which they generally are. By building an editor in engine rather than using the engine to make levels, not only are you giving players tools to build with, but you streamline the process for your own studio.
Some developers may worry that by releasing such tools they are cannibalizing their own content. If users can make their own levels, then the ones they put out as DLC may lose value. In all likelihood, developer made content will be leagues ahead of what the playerbase creates, at least initially. The developers have the experience, systems, and processes in place to produce higher quality content at a higher pace. But an even better solution is to synergize your content creation tools with your own content releases. By releasing new assets to use in these tools in addition to developer created content, the competition is reduced. In the worst case scenario, the release of creation tools can simply be delayed to the end of the content development cycle.
Another concern may be splitting your own playerbase. Hypothetically, if users are still busy playing an old game with new content still being made by others, perhaps they won’t be as interested in buying your new game. Realistically, annually released franchises are an outlier. Most developers are not releasing a new game in the same franchise every year. Even in this case, it still works for the developer. UCC builds trust between developers and players: those who are still playing the same game 3 years after launch are likely among the first to preorder the new entry in that franchise. Especially if those tools have been expanded on.
User Created Content is one of the best aspects of the entire video games industry. It gave life to my creativity. It contributes to your game and the platform itself. So next time you are considering putting a level editor in your game, or releasing your in-house asset editor, instead of asking yourself “Is it worth it?” ask yourself “Is it worth it not to?”