Tomorrow's games, designed by players as they play

User-generated content is back in vogue as games go "open source;" J Allard and Will Wright get behind personalization of games at SoCal conference.


LOS ANGELES--Game budgets are skyrocketing. Development teams are swelling almost to film-studio proportions. The only way out of this trap is to enlist players to help create their own worlds, a pair of top game creators said Thursday.

Speaking at The Entertainment Gathering conference, Sims creator Will Wright and Microsoft Xbox team head J Allard both cast a spotlight on the growing role that game players will have in creating content for the biggest games.

Wright's newest game, dubbed Spore, will populate fictional planets with animals and cities created wholly by other game players. Allard said the Xbox 360 will increasingly encourage developers to let their players add on to worlds and even sell their creations though a central Xbox store system.

"[Gaming] is the only medium where we yield control of the protagonist. Let's yield control of the director--and the producer," said Allard, a vice president at Microsoft. "We're going to take on the Wikipedia model. We're going to take on...the open-source model, if you will, for gaming."

Indeed, the idea that consumers have a virtually infinite appetite for customized entertainment and are willing to invest both time and money in tailoring their own experience is rippling through the media world far beyond gaming with deep financial consequences.

Record labels see the personalized ringtone market that brought in more than $600 million in the United States alone last year, one of the most promising bright spots in years of declining revenues. TV companies have finally adapted to the idea that consumers may want on-demand versions of their shows online, and are beginning to release shows in bulk to Apple Computer's iTunes store for sale the day after they air.

But gaming has had the most experience with the power of the consumer-director and is going much farther than any other medium in opening the process of content creation to its customers.

Players' eagerness to go beyond the conventional boundaries has been seen in almost every online game. In the first major massively multiplayer game, Ultima Online, developers saw their swords-and-sorcery stories expanded by players who opened taverns to host online friends and create theater groups to perform A Christmas Carol inside the game.

That behavior helps create new content for the game and gives players a stake in the game to keep their interest piqued longer--a critical thing for online games in which players pay a subscription fee every month.

Wright said he had learned the power of the phenomenon by watching players in his Sim City and Sims games spend hours customizing their characters and creating in-game objects that were traded online.

His new game, Spore, still under development at Electronic Arts, is built wholly around this phenomenon. Players will control a species as it evolves from a single-cell organism all the way to an interstellar space-traveling "galactic god," creating the look and personality of the species and, later on, the tools, cities, and even planets they use and inhabit.

The game is created so that simple choices on the part of the consumer--mouth shape, leg placement, and so on--will be amplified by the computer's physics and behavior models to create creatures worthy of a Pixar movie, he said.

But the real secret weapon for the game is that each player's creations will be uploaded to the company and then downloaded to other players' computers. Once a species reaches space, for example, it will visit other worlds inhabited entirely by cities full of beings created inside another player's game. "Instead of putting players in the role of Luke Skywalker, or Frodo Baggins, I'd rather put them in the role of George Lucas," Wright said.

Allard told a story of meeting a 12- or 13-year-old inner-city child last year and introducing him to a basketball game on the new Xbox 360. Instead of spending hours dunking or trash-talking with his friends, the boy spent two hours creating a pair of sneakers, saying that was what he wanted to do when he grew up.

Maybe that boy wasn't typical of every single game player, but he didn't need to be, Allard said.

"If only 1 percent of our audience that plays Halo helped construct the world around Halo, it would be more human beings than work at Microsoft corporation," Allard said. "That's how much human energy we could harness in this medium."

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Avatar image for rodrigo_br

As always EA is kissin M$'s a**(sorry moderator, i didn't say the word..)

Avatar image for Appieunited

Omg.. This sound like a dream coming true =) Like being darwin but then in control of all.. wow.. Eager to see the final version..

Avatar image for dm4544

All of you people complaining about paying for this content, you are very screwed in the head. If anyone has seen the Gameplay video recently released, then you would understand how this game works. Whenever you start a new game, the EA (or whoever is publishing the game) servers will populate your galaxy with content created by other players, and whatever default content exists. YOU ONLY PAY FOR THE GAME ITSELF! All the user-created content is free, because its required to play the game. Otherwise you'd be all alone in the galaxy, and starve to death at the cellular level. Then I'd laugh at you. And if you hate some creature that ended up in your galaxy, then take a UFO, and blow up the planet that it's on. No more creature. I think this game is gonna set a whole new standard for user created content, since EVERYTHING, yes EVERYTHING is user created. Only celestial features (stars/black holes/ nebulas) are non-user created. Planets are TECHNIQUALLY user-created because you have to Terraform and Bioform planets to be able to seed life on them. "The game is created so that simple choices on the part of the consumer--mouth shape, leg placement, and so on--will be amplified by the computer's physics and behavior models to create creatures worthy of a Pixar movie, he said. " All the creatures you create have no starting animations, because YOU make them. The game engine uses all the fetures of your creature and determines how it acts. It uses factors like: Leg placement Body Size Body Shape Leg Type Skeletal System Among other things So stop b****in about it and be happy that there is another game that allows you to make stuff for it! Otherwise the most played game on the internet wouldn't exist, Counterstrike.

Avatar image for BrainedMyDamage

written way at the top...1% of halo population...1,000,000 people. Haha...yes, 100,000,000 people play halo 2

Avatar image for Nottheking

Again, I think most people, including the folks at and even GameSpot, are missing the big picture. Really, did user-generated content ever "go out of vogue?" Modding has been "big" for over a decade; after some copyright-related screaming by Apogee for people modding Wolfenstein 3D, (PC 1992) Id Software calmly let it be known that they had nothing against people modding their games, and even designed Doom's (PC 1993) resource structure so that modders would have an easy time working with it. Heck, I'd think that the entire FPS genre might've never truly taken off were it not for moddable content; the ability to play multiplayer, and having an ever-increasing number of maps to play on really makes a game attractive. The list of games where user-created content turned into a critical part of the game's popularity is vast... Doom, (1993) Dark Forces, (1995) Descent, (1995) Quake, (1996) Jedi Knight, (1997) StarCraft (1998 ) Half-Life, (1998 ) Unreal Tournament, (1999) Neverwinter Nights, (2002) and Morrowind, (2002) Just to name a few. Many of these games were provided, by their developers, with toolkits to make content for them right out of the box! And with the movie metaphors at work here, let's not start on Speedruns and Machinima...

Avatar image for Koen-Rio

so basically it sounds as though J Allard and Will Wright have only just discovered that games can be modded? and now they r going to 'support the modding community' probably with some lame attempt to copy Nvidias 'make something unreal' contest. They dont even say how they are planning to make their games open source, not even one mention of modding tools.....

Avatar image for Gmex

i wonder how it'll turn out

Avatar image for i_love_my_ds

i didnt understand anything they said

Avatar image for dastuff4U

No, selling dev kits i think is the idea. They see the greatness and fast growing community of modders on the PC. So giving that ablity on a PC like machine to consolers could greatly increase the popularity.

Avatar image for Ortadragoon

I actually like open-source content. Counter-Strike is the perfect example. Where would we be without modders?

Avatar image for jrhawk42

Yea if it wasn't for user created content we prolly barely even know about games like Quake, morrowind, and half-life. Good to see microsoft is getting the picture, and on the other hand sony is being blind as a bat. Hopefully once sony starts loosing market share they'll start to focus on gamers again instead of profits.

Avatar image for Reetesh

Modding community is really great for PC games, But now x360 is going to SELL MODS?? and is the money from the mod download(purchase) going to the Modders? only thing I am thinking now is if the creatures in spore went to another Planet will they die if the atmosphere doesn't have the air they require:P

Avatar image for phatch

This all sounds good and could be kinda cool.....if it catches on, and if it works. If nothing else, the article raised my intrest in Spore.

Avatar image for Zorak000

but wait? what if i want to make games for a living? does this change the definition of a game designer? or does it just kill jobs?

Avatar image for molivers7

Hmmm. I like the idea of making my own game but isn't that why I pay someone else to entertain me?

Avatar image for andrewtyen

this game looks very interesting

Avatar image for dwalker

Hmm... wasn't the first real game based, in part, on this notion animal crossing DS? Your paintings, constellations, messages and influence on other characters can all end up in someone else's world by chance. This type of random redistribution of user-created content seems almost cooler than buying a "shirt" someone else made via xbox live market.

Avatar image for j14rk1n

That's awesome. Spore is awesome. Will Wright is awesome.

Avatar image for townsenda1

I'm not sure but what does this mean?

Avatar image for rbarahona

Yeah, in a kind of way, we will be doing their work without getting paid. However, if by this mean we can have cheaper software then I'm in. It's interesting that Microsoft wants to take the open-source way in their videogame division.

Avatar image for runstalker

Whateva. Microsoft takes a $lice of each micro-transaction, so they're all for modding and swapping on marketplace.

Avatar image for spr4yp4int

Haha, dwmorrows message is so absolutly ignorant. Dude, it is an oppurtunity to make the games that you have to buy better. If you don't want anything to do with it, then fine, but don't go post things like that, please :O

Avatar image for ntwining99

I don't understand why anyone would complain about free content that expands whatever virtual world you choose? I can understand a certain level of unhappiness with a charge being levied for content which was created for free by users but, even then, if the content is good enough who cares who made it. Take counterstrike, for instance. I had a blast playing Half Life but when CS came along I was thunderstruck by how much more fun it was to play online than HL. Granted the beta version had lots of problems and wasn't perfect but other people became interested. User created maps began to roll out, some of which had their own textures and sounds. Then there were remodeled weapons and re-recorded sounds. All of a sudden CS became its own game, one which was free provided you owned Half Life. People may have complained that the beta was a shoddy conterpart to Half LIfe but a year down the line proved them wrong. And, by the way, this is not an isolated event. Look at the full mod Desert Combat for Battlefield 1942. I would give examples of RPGS that allow for this but unfortunatley I never played Neverwinter Nights and know of few others. But at the end of the day, this idea needs to permeate throughout the entire industry. It's what keeps me playing pc games instead of console ones and is what makes a great game immortal. So to all you naysayers out here, fooey to you. Now why don't you get back on your console, ya cheese eating soda monkeys.

Avatar image for BetterThanLife

This is already being done... checkout 'Second Life' or 'A Tale in the Desert', the former is absolutely along the lines of what this article is talking about. I find it amazing it wasn't referenced in the article, giving all the credit to Spore. Furthermore, any modding of games could be considered along the same grounds so Neverwinter Nights, or Operatio:n Flashpoint are good examples.

Avatar image for decebal

P.S. And games like Legend of Zelda or Resident Evil would simply suck from that model. That's great for Sims, BattleField 2, and similar games like that, but for imersive single player experiences it would totally suck. Why do you think there is only ONE director for a movie! Why doesn' t the audience add to the movie? Because it would become a sad soap opera maybe? Do you want that in your games?

Avatar image for decebal

The whole thing is just marketing propaganda. Whatever Will Wright is saying is backed up imidiatelly by Allard with a sentence that contains 360 in it. While that may acctually be Will Wright's opinion... it's nothing new. His games, like Sims, benefit from player created content. Similarly there are mods and there have been mods for ages for pretty much every PC game. Nothing new.... Just Allard trying to make it sound like a revolution.... all because of the "amazing" capabilities of Xbox Live. While PC gamers discovered internet more than 10 years ago, Microsoft wants introduce console noobs to the experience, while charging an additional fee on top of their conexion: XBOX LIVe ~ the biggest marketing made up product in history.

Avatar image for chrisdojo

kind of a cool concept..... a chose your own adventure? i'm sure it won't be pulled off though.

Avatar image for DelphiDevil

The way of the future. :P

Avatar image for soulknight63133

I admit this may some drawbacks, but at least it's just another feature you can do with Xbox Live which is a GOOD thing. The more it does, the more it will appeal to different types of people, especially those who not necessarily hardcore gamers.

Avatar image for stfcrz

How disappointing. This has nothing to do with open source. This is about games becoming more like Adobe Photoshop or Visual Studio, in principle. This means the game itself is actually a development environment. And like all IDEs you will probably need a licence if you want to sell any content you produce. Harnessing other people's hard work and creativity to make money is not new at all. How dare they use the term "open source", to draw people in.

Avatar image for Nand617

I want a cut of the profits.

Avatar image for hittin

Um ok.

Avatar image for cyprus646

It could be just like RPG maker 3 except not suck and also not confuse me.

Avatar image for jxrandall

Hmm... NeverwinterNights has been doing this for three years now. Persistant Online worlds created by players. Custom Content created by players. Single player modules created by players. Customizable items etc. created by players And all this for free once you purchase the game. Glad somebody finally noticed....

Avatar image for flavin

i always new this would happen. thats y i want to work with computer componets not making computer games. i used to think about the kinda kick ass games id make if it was that easy.

Avatar image for vaejas

J Allard a Big Brother? There's hope yet...

Avatar image for Vamptech

unfortunately, when i think open source i think free. having m$ sell a game and then collect even more profit on user created content is just greedy. is anyone thinking dungeon seige: Legends of Arianna. Freelly available mods have been out there for quite a while, m$ is just jumping on this band wagon to make a little $

Avatar image for TryMe01

"Allard told a story of meeting a 12- or 13-year-old inner-city child last year" lol!!!

Avatar image for andrewtyen

sounds interesting

Avatar image for samekila

a very good idea sorry if you dont have imagination but having a voice in a game you love whuts better then that

Avatar image for coreyb42

...or is this just a prelude to MS co-opting the modding community and setting the stage for us having to pay for something that is currently free?

Avatar image for pie4u

I want. It sounds like a good idea. Mainly cause Im tired of all the norm.

Avatar image for grayoldwolf

I think this is a great idea. I used to take a great deal of pleasure from making Doom 2 maps when I was a kid, then swapping them on the web with people who had done the same thing. And as for the "most people will produce crap" argument, I agree. Most people will produce maps or whatever that are not up to the standard that gamers expect. However, if MS offers a store to sell these things in, then free market economy will kick in - nobody will buy the dross and skilled game/map designers will make a name for themselves and be successful in selling what they have created. One of the things that I got really excited about when the 360 was announced was the possibility of downloadable minigames or games with episodic content available over Xbox Live and this is one more step towards it. This provides a system for both large and small developers to put out original ideas at relatively low costs to themselves and consumers - some will fail and some will succeed, like with pilot episodes of new TV shows. In any case, new ideas are getting into the public domain, and that has to be a good thing for gamers who are rapidly getting sick of sports franchises, generic first person shooters and endless sequels.

Avatar image for regulesblade

Something that I would definately be interested in

Avatar image for Mofudos

Inner city....meaning black?

Avatar image for mrimkeit

Go join Second Life if you want control of game content. Really, go join.

Avatar image for redxwarriorxxx

I'm afraid Microsoft will use are human energy to power a weapon to take over the world. Stay away from my energy, it costs $25.95 a gallon and, wait, what, I could make stuff and sell it on market place. Ok I'll give some energy.

Avatar image for soulknight63133

Sounds like a great idea! M$ is really trying be cost-effective and give gamers a chance to show off their creative talents...genius

Avatar image for daqua_99

I'm gonna get Spore ...

Avatar image for jakeboudville

sounds like a new way to attract gamers

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