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Some Assembly Required: Issue #1

Jef Reahard

Hello folks and welcome to the preview issue of Some Assembly Required. Massively has a whole host of MMORPG-specific columns for your perusal, as well as a few general jaunts that veer off the beaten path to examine several different aspects of our crazy hobby. Some Assembly Required falls into this latter category, and every two weeks either myself or MJ Guthrie will be taking you on various deep dives into the world of player-generated content.

What's player-generated content? Well that's part of what makes this venture so exciting. Player-generated content is often seen as some sort of nebulous activity exclusive to sandbox games. Others take it to mean roleplay. Still others see it as unrestricted PvP and the metagame machinations surrounding it. For our purposes, player-generated content encompasses all of these as well as anything and everything that showcases the creativity of both individual players and entire communities.

SAR will therefore cover a wide range of topics and an even wider range of games. While player-generated content does show up more often than not in sandbox titles, it can also be found in a surprisingly large number of themeparks. For a couple of off-the-cuff examples, consider Star Trek Online and City of Heroes. They will never be confused with sandbox games, yet they boast two potent player-content generators in the form of The Foundry and Mission Architect systems.

Player-generated content isn't just limited to missions however, and we'll also be featuring the best in player housing (both systemic examinations and showcases), profiles of territorial conquest gameplay and the folks who engage in it, lots of commentary and interviews on the state of emergent gameplay, and a bunch of other stuff that we haven't even thought of at this point.

welcome to your new column
If that all sounds pretty interesting, pull up a chair because we've got more coming. Some Assembly Required is also your column, and though we already have a good idea of the games, topics, and features we'll be covering over the next few months, we also want you to participate. A player-driven column for player-driven content. Nifty, eh?

If you're a creative player, or know of any, drop us a line and let us know why our readers might like to hear about the fruits of your labor. Whether you're an empire builder in EVE Online, an in-demand guild hall decorator in EverQuest II, or one of those wonderful souls who arranges ABC music files for Lord of the Rings Online, we want to hear from you. Even if you're not a creative type, you may have coverage ideas for games that the mainstream has forgotten, and while we're planning on talking up everything from Ryzom, to Wurm, to A Tale in the Desert, chances are we'll overlook something really cool.

So what's the impetus behind a column of this type? Why do we care about player-generated content when the MMO industry at large is more concerned with killing 10 of this, delivering 20 of that, and force-feeding us pre-scripted stories? Well, emergent gameplay is what MMOs do best. You can hop on the progression treadmill in every video game ever made, and you can be swept away in a grand story featuring you as the hero in hundreds of high-quality single player RPGs.

You can't build a thriving player town, dominate a galactic economy, participate in a hundred-player siege, or become a respected merchant anywhere outside of an MMORPG, though, and Some Assembly Required aims to remind folks what is possible when you think outside the progression box.

That's not to say we'll be ranting about the evils of the dastardly themepark. On the contrary, both of us enjoy directed content on occasion, and many traditionally themepark-style games will find their way into this column. Sandbox games are always ripe for discussion though, so if you're a sandbox fan who's feeling a bit disaffected by the realities of the current MMO marketplace, check in with us every couple of weeks to have your faith restored.

a new hope
Speaking of faith, restoration, and sandbox destinations, while we were searching for a way to properly introduce the column with this first issue, SOE and LucasArts rather inconsiderately dropped the Star Wars Galaxies cancellation bomb right in the middle of our brainstorming sessions. Both of us are long-time SWG players (in fact we originally met on Starsider way back in 2004), and aside from the fact that the sunsetting of the industry's premier sandbox title caused us to momentarily reconsider our long-range plans for the column, we were also upset on a personal level.

SWG was going to factor quite heavily into some of our early coverage due to the fact that it has more player-generated content systems than many MMOs combined. After some consideration, we've decided that SWG coverage will still factor into Some Assembly Required, though not quite as prominently (particularly after the game's December encore).

Most of the sandbox and player-generated content fans we hang around with have taken the Galaxies news quite hard, and that's completely understandable. What's worth noting, though, is the fact that SWG's demise isn't the end of emergent MMORPG gameplay. In fact, it very well could be a new beginning.

When the game goes away, a very definite void will be left in the current MMO lineup. In fact, the only title that really out-SWGs SWG is Second Life. While there are many sandbox and player-generated content games on the current market, none of them manage to capture that delicate balance between directed content and player-generated content quite as masterfully as SWG does. We've heard some folks dismissively state that passionate SWG vets should simply find another game, but the reality is that there is no game like SWG to find.

This void, coupled with what appears to be a sizable number of former players who will be homeless on December 16th, could lead to the creation of a new and similar title (or at the very least, feature set expansions on top of existing titles). So, while we're as bummed about SWG's premature closing as anyone, it's also important to remember that some good can conceivably come of it.

Not only that, but as we're going to be illustrating, there are player-generated content and sandbox alternatives if you know where to look. They haven't gotten a lot of press prior to this column, and they may be scoffed at by players and developers who are unable to see past the progression paradigm, but they're nonetheless out there, and we look forward to sharing them with you in the very near future!

With that, we'll see you in a fortnight for our first proper player-generated content showcase. Until then, if you've got questions, comments, or coverage suggestions, feel free to post them below or contact either of us and we'll be happy to chat with you.

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!

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