Monday, August 15, 2011

Creator-centric Games

There's been a fair amount of chatter recently about Namaste's upcoming game/system, Storybricks. The tech they are talking about looks very cool.

But here's the problem I have with these types of games:

Where is the audience?

Creators need an audience for their work. A writer needs readers. A director needs movie-goers. A machinima maker needs YouTube viewers. And a game designer needs players.

So what is the hook that will get people that will play the stories that others make with Storybricks?

When I think of the most robust add-on/amateur communities, they tend to be for games which stand on their own, which throw in mod-tools as more of an extra than anything else. Quake, Civ mods, the WoW mod community.

And I don't think this is coincidence. I think that the audience, that group of non-creators, is essential to the growth of a creator community. It provides the feedback loop and the sense that people are using your creation because it is useful or provides enjoyment.

This is the part where the creator-centric or building games always seem to stumble for me. I just don't see what will draw the audience. And without the audience, I don't think a creator-centric game can thrive.


  1. I think this was the issue that Metaplace had and their eventual solution -- build their own Facebook game using the technology and then get bought out by a bigger company.

  2. What would your comments be on something like Neverwinter Nights? It had a ridiculous amount of awesome user created content.

  3. Neverwinter Nights IS a standalone game, and exactly what he was naming as exceptions to the rule. Mods and adaptations to already awesome games DO tend to do well because the game itself builds up an audience first.

  4. I think Neverwinter Nights' "hook" was that it was from Bioware, and it implicitly traded on the lineage of Baulder's Gate I and II.

    I think a lot of the audience for Neverwinter Nights was attracted to the game as a potential "Baulder's Gate III" more than anything.

  5. I think one of the largest user generated content games is the Sims too... which is nuts because that's largely played by people who are not traditional gamers. Most of the people I know making content for the sims are self taught and their stuff is VERY sophisitcated.

    It's an interesting topic to think about for sure.

  6. This is the online equivalent of letting all the DMs in the world go and hammer out their own modifications to Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk, and then publishing online so that more people can expand upon the new base layer.

    For a DM, this sounds like an awesome idea.

    For a player, it could become pretty darned 'meh', depending on the quality of the DM doing the worldbuilding.

    As for Neverwinter, there was also the lure of Forgotten Realms and modeling a game on D&D 3E. Some people, myself included, were approaching Neverwinter Nights as the ability to create game modules so that friends could play their D&D campaigns online. Of course, things never quite materialized that way, but you can with slightly lower tech tools better suited for that sort of online play.

    I'll withhold judgement on this, merely because the creativity of DMs can be an awesome thing to behold.

  7. I suppose the hype will draw the audience. I mean you are writing about it, as are several other people in the blogosphere. The idea has merit and it is clearly well-thought-out (regardless of how confusing it may seem at the outset).

    That being said I suppose all of this is speculation. Some of the greatest surprises I have had in my personal gaming history and storytelling therein, has come from the most unexpected sources.

  8. Allow me to give some insight into what we're doing with Storybricks.

    As you point out, the best content comes from games that are actual games. We've taken a long, hard look at other games that had content creation as part of it. We've certainly seen that the "if you build it they will come" business model isn't a recipe for success. Plus, we aren't relying on people to create the content for us. As I posted over on my own blog, I think that's not a good plan at all. But, allowing people to tell stories is potentially very interesting; as Redbeard says, the creativity of DMs is not to be underestimated. (This is why we went to Gen Con earlier this month to show off Storybricks, too.)

    It's important to keep in mind that Storybricks is just a toolset. However, it is the foundation of what will make our game different from all the other WoW wannabes. Basically, you can think of it as a way to make fan fiction for a world that we create. But, really, if we don't get the tool right then the rest of our work will be moot.

    So, we're showing off this tool and getting it out there, getting feedback from people who are interested, and make sure we get something useful. That's been one of the big problems with other toolsets, where they just haven't been user-friendly. So, right now, we're focusing 100% on getting the tool useful for people to use. Eventually we'll build something else around it, but until we get this first part right, that's not worth talking about. Although, I will say I'm about as excited about our current discussions about the world design as I am about the tool. And, the game world we make after the generic setting we're using to test the tool won't be yet another derivative fantasy setting.

    I'm genuinely excited about the possibility of brining real evolution to online games. I think our work will be a big step toward online games realizing the potential that many of us think is missing.