User-generated Content as Sustainability

July 24th, 2010


From Adventure Construction Set to WADs, mods, community tools and those RPG maker games, user-generated content has been a long-running staple of video game continuity. Nowadays, with the infrastructure of the internet and possible global networking, games like LittleBigPlanetWario Ware DIYFlipnote and Mod Nation Racers are overtly orientating their systems around a model of community tools and user-generated content. In a sense, games of this nature have formed a pseudo genre of networked user-generated-orientated games. 

Currently in the games industry, when a game developer creates a worthwhile gameplay system which proves to be successful (Guitar HeroMadden, for instance), publishers often capitalize on the success and sequalize the gameplay out of existence. User-generated content, I think, offers a fantastic opportunity for developers of these tried and true gameplay systems to establish a self-sustaining environment for content and community, effectively consolidating a franchise in the one place as opposed to killing interest by burning out sequels to an annual business model. 

To prove my case, I’ll use the Tony Hawk series as an example. We’re all pretty down on Mr Hawk after each yearly iteration of the Pro Skater series added new mechanics to the point where the franchise became unrecognizable to the mainstream and alienated everyone else. Let’s not even begin on Tony Hawk Ride

Despite the disdain we may carry for Activision and the Hawkster, Tony Hawk’s Proskater 2 is still awesome, is it not? That game and the systems contained within it will always remain good, regardless of how Activision drive the later games into the ground. Theoretically speaking, if Neversoft reclaimed the mantle, streamlined all of the needless complexity of the later releases, packed in a meaty ‘best of’ selection of levels from THPS-THP8 and centered the experience around accessible construction tools and a networked community of level creators, I figure that the Tony Hawk games of yesteryear would have a respectful place to roost and the brand would gain some credibility back. I enjoyed playing and making levels for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, as did millions of other players, and there’s no reason why we wouldn’t want to revisit this franchise if it were given the proper treatment and allowed to grow. Appeasing fans by recognizing the significance of prior titles is a good idea at this point for Activision. Reworking these games in a HD format and creating an environment which will keep this type of game alive, is a step beyond that. 

As we’ve discovered through downloadable services like Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network and Steam, old gameplay systems don’t have to fade into obscurity, particularly when they’re still fun. This generation has taught us that well designed games like Mega Man can live forever while those which are a little archaic, like Bionic Commando Rearmed, can adopt modern design sensibilities and start anew. Self-sustaining systems of content like user-generated content – if viable – are an even better means of not only preserving the past, but keeping it fresh and relevant for a contemporary audience.