Some Assembly Required: How do you define player-generated content?

Some Assembly Required  How do you define playergenerated content
During a recent conversation with my fellow Some Assembly Required columnist, it became apparent that we had slightly differing opinions on the definition of player-generated content. We both agreed that it was content generated by players (obviously), but when it came to the type of content, our opinions diverged. Seeing as PGC is one of the founding premise behind SAR, I thought it would be a good idea to start the new year out by defining the term more precisely to give us a stable foundation to build on. After all, we want to be on the same page, don't we?

Of course, that gives you the chance to weigh in with your opinions as well! What is the first thing you think of when you hear the term? Let's see whether your ideas about player-generated content mesh with mine, more closely resemble Jef's, or embody something totally different.

The spark of creativity
As you might have guessed from the different topics of my previous columns, the very first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the term player-generated content is creativity. I think of various expressions of creativity and the tools in games to foster that expression. From mission generators to housing to in-game music, folks have the chance to use their imagination and skills to genuinely create something tangible inside the game to share with others. Sometimes, players can even create something permanent others can purchase. Heck, I even based an entire column on tools every game should have to allow players to express their creativity!

Players can use the various mission creators or dungeon makers to build whole quests and stories beyond anything the developers have done. They can compose music and publish books to share. They can even decorate homes for specific purposes to foster roleplay and hold different events. In some games like Xsyon, they even build the world from the ground up. And that's all using in-game features. Plenty of players in games without those features still use the world as a backdrop and gather together for story-telling nights, crafting markets, and more.

EverQuest II screenshot
While my first thought was creativity in production, the second thought that always comes to my mind focuses on experiences -- more precisely, player-organized events. Whether there are tools provided as a feature of the games to support the creation of an event or players just go at it with nothing more than their imagination, bringing together a community to participate in content that was not added to the game by devs definitely counts as PGC. The content could be anything from festivals, such as EverQuest II's Festival of Discord and Festival of Unity, competitions like the fishing event held in Lord of the Rings Online, or staging plays for others in a theater as in The Secret World. It could also be RP events in any of the games.

In a nutshell, player-generated content basically is taking creativity and using tools from the game (if available) or simply the backdrop itself to create ways to entertain yourself and/or the public. That could be why my colleague's definition rubbed me so wrong initially.

PvP as PGC
During our discussion, Jef declared that the ultimate in player-generated content was PvP. Of course, my eloquent rebuttal to that was a resounding "Nuh uh!" We butted heads for a bit on the subject, and the thought of it had me crinkling my tiny nose. But truth be told, if I look at the base definition of the term, he has a point.

EVE Online screenshot
On a fundamental level, PGC is doing something in-game that isn't reliant on the specific content installed by the devs such as quests and NPCs. It's using your own ingenuity to create something to do. In effect, it's players making the choices, not devs. I agreed that sandboxes fostered PGC in many ways, and I even agreed that a number of the sandboxes out there (like EVE Online) are based on PvP, but I stopped short of allowing the concept "PvP" a place in my hallowed realm of creativity. But after reflection, I realized that PvP is actually integral for certain content that I have not only participated in but relished, such as RP war rings, smuggling, convoys of shipped goods, and piracy.

Perhaps it was just that initial connection of PvP and "entertain yourself" that made me choke. Admittedly, the first images flitting through my mind were of people amusing themselves by repeatedly ganking others and effectively ruining the gaming experience for others. Ganking is definitely neither creative nor entertaining to the public as a whole. That's where I initially missed a very important point: PvP does not equal ganking! True, we have all seen or experienced ganking at some point, and it can definitely sour you to PvP in general, but PvP is is actually PGC. PvP is all about the player making the choices instead of the devs.

Xsyon screenshotWithout PvP, organizing a hunting party to clear your land of enemies to make it safer can only encompass mobs. Guarding your holdings and belongings, be it your home and community or your goods stashed in a caravan bound for sale elsewhere, lacks any oomph if only against predictable, scripted AI. If you want to smuggle, the thrill comes in in avoiding capture; if you want to be a pirate, you need to be able to plunder someone's cargo hold. Sure, games can have systems that allow for some of this, but to truly have the experience, you need the creativity and spontaneity of other players involved. Devs cannot possibly code for every contingency to keep things from becoming predictable and boring. And that is something else PGC brings to the table: unique and different experiences each time.

That's not to say players amuse themselves with the hunt and wanton slaughter of their fellows (although we know some do) but that they must employ creativity when developing strategies. On top of that, much of this content also involves bringing the community together as guards, raiders, or whatnot. There is no question that the content of piracy and such can be created by players. And with all the many variables attached to the players involved, that content becomes a new experience each time. New experience equals new content.

Our thoughts to your thoughts
Now you have seen different angles of the meaning of player-generated content, involving creativity, ingenuity, and bringing the community together. Although I was resistant to the idea at first, PvP in many forms does utilize these same concepts. Of course, that does not mean that all PGC is PvP, nor am I advocating that all games need PvP. But I do think it makes for some great content when in the hands of creative players.

So would you agree that PvP is PGC? How would you define player-generated content as a whole, and what embodies PGC the best for you? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments below!

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!
This article was originally published on Massively.