The Ins and Outs of User-Generated Game Content

User-generated content (UGC) has become major force in entertainment and media. The Internet has empowered this movement more than any other media vehicle, providing distribution for creators and access for millions of consumers.

A renaissance of expression has occurred, thanks to the Internet and access to tools, information, collaboration platforms, and limitless distribution channels.

We’ve all had conversations in which an argument is closed or a view is reinforced with one of two adages: content is king, or the consumer is king. Today, the Internet melds these two viewpoints, offering a very powerful position: consumer content is king.

Consider Wikipedia’s definition of UGC:

    User generated content (UGC, often hyphenated), also known as Consumer Generated Media (CGM) The active, participatory and creative audience is prevailing today with relatively accessible media, tools and applications, and its culture is in turn impacting mass media corporations and global audiences.

With this as our backdrop, let’s delve into user-generated game content (UGGC), the impact these forms of expressions have on the game industry, and the opportunities for marketers.

People

Online communities of programmers, designers, and artists are collaborating to shape the games we play and game-related content we consume. These communities offer editorial, tools, best practices, and tips that assist the development of UGGC. More important, they help creators identify and recruit talent for development. Through these communities, new forms of expression are emerging.

Products

The most impressive expressions resulting from these communities are modifications (mods and add-ons), machinima, and independent (or indie) games:

  • Modifications. Mods and add-ons are consumer-created variations of a commercially available game. They include new items, weapons, characters, models, modes, textures, levels, landscapes, maps, and story lines. Innovative game publishers and developers enable the creation of add-ons and mods by releasing the tools and documentation (SDKs (define)) that enable consumers to add to the original game. The resulting mods and add-ons are then made available on the Internet for gamers to download as long as they own the original game. Example: Mod DB.

  • Machinima. This is filmmaking within a real-time, 3-D virtual environment, often using video games. In essence, creators use a video game, its characters, landscapes, sets, and effects to create vignettes and movies by filming scripted scenes taking place within a game. Although still in its infancy, this form of expression is gaining momentum as the quality and availability increases. Example: Machinima.com.
  • Independent games. These are just like they sound. They’re new games independently created apart from major studios. Unlike mods, they aren’t extensions or conversion of a released game. Rather, they’re completely new game experiences. Like mods, however, they can be built on an existing game engine, like Unreal Engine 3. In purest form, an indie game is a new game built on an independently created game engine. Example: IGF.

Impact on the Game Industry

  • Mods. Mod teams are groups of emerging developers and designers who come together to develop a mod, usually without the prospect of compensation. They do it for love of the game or the hope of being discovered and hired by major studios. Mods extend a game’s life cycle by offering new experiences that are free to download and integrate into the original game.

    Popular mods increase sales of the game they were built on, because you can only download and play the mod if you own the original game. For established studios, the mod community can serve as both a pool of recruits and a testing ground.

  • Machinima. Machinima films are short-form videos that can be accessed and enjoyed by gamers and general consumers alike. Machinima films drives awareness of the games that were used to create them. Through increased awareness and natural association with the game title from which the film was created, machinima films serve as promotional pieces that drive game sales.
  • Independent games. Indie games offer gamers completely new games, often at a discounted fee or for free. They also offer developers and publishers an opportunity to acquire proven games they can enhance and commercialize.

Reinforcing the value of UGGC, Cliff Bleszinski, lead designer for “Gears of War,” said, “For a PC title that expects any sort of longevity in sales, playability, and online time, a mod community can be extremely important. Having thousands of fans of the game purchase and then modify the title while exchanging the fruits of their labor can turn a simple game into its own gaming platform.”

Marketer Opportunities

  • The mod, machinima, and indie game sectors offer communities of leaders and early adopters.

  • Through association or integration, UGGC’s viral potential affords marketers a low-cost opportunity to disseminate a message to millions of consumers.
  • Mods, machinima, and independent games can be utilized to deliver a product message while offering studio-quality entertainment that’s worth playing or watching. It’s an incredibly powerful way for a marketer to get in the game while avoiding the pitfalls of integration into the original game.
  • Sponsorship and underwriting expresses a marketer’s commitment to consumer empowerment.
  • Commissioning of top mod teams, indie game developers, and machinima producers will usher an age of advergames played by millions.
  • Effective marketing strategies that leverage UGGC garners attention from mainstream and game industry journalists, ultimately driving tremendous awareness and exposure for the marketer.

In sum, user-generated game content offers both the game industry and marketers an unparalleled way to connect with valuable consumers, influencers, early adopters, today’s top talent, and tomorrow’s top developers who influence the purchase decisions of millions within their communities.

Thanks for your mindshare.

–KC

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