During last week's DICE conference in London, Oddworld co-founder and president Lorne Lanning touched on the idea on having players co-create content. In his talk, he gave the example of polling players for the name of 'Abe's Oddysee HD' - now Oddworld New 'n' Tasty. The quality of the responses he received inspired him to ask fans to provide art and even credits music for the game.
Speaking to Lanning after, I learned how his hopes for involving the Oddworld audience in content creation extend far beyond polls and art. While he was quick to note how far away any of this was from being decided or announced, he told me how he admired what games like Minecraft are doing. That's not to say Lanning is formulating plans for Oddworld-craft, but the veteran designer is certainly interested in how to adapt the Oddworld property to make the audience more involved.
"First I'm speaking pie in the sky, but I love the model of being able to provide clay to an audience, and they provide back sculptures," Lanning told me. "That would be a great thing. I think that's what Minecraft did and in that way they did it more probably uniquely than most."
"When you put the power of creativity in someone's hands, just like great designers we all like working within limited constraints," he added. "The wider the page, the more open the possibilities, the harder for the writer to write, the same with designers. That being said, I think the future is all about that, is all about people having a co-creative participation. The question is, with what you're doing, how adaptable is your property to be able to facilitate that to the audience. We're exploring that in different ways, and right now I think we have more questions than we do answers."
That said, Oddworld Inhabitants has clearly given the idea plenty of thought. Lanning told me how he sees content co-creation as a means of providing a "conversation" between creators and players, as opposed to the "old world gaming" monologue model like a traditional story-based game. Creating a conversation extends a game's longevity: "What I really want to do is get to a point where we're malleable within the product."
"Now there's a game property that I've designed that I'm hoping, I'm not sure... it's difficult, it's going to be expensive, but it's all about the audience. It's all about personalization, and it's all about fighting over issues and causes you care about. So I want to take you know, smokers versus non-smokers, let's have a tournament. Nikon versus Canon lovers, let's have a war, who's better? Really stepping up the ideas of why are we fighting and make that more relevant to people's lives. So that's one thing outside of the Oddworld property.
"Within the Oddworld property, the more that you have a brand that is an IP to a universe then you have to stick to certain rules in the universe to retain believability as to why people like the brand. We're exploring ways to let people to have more of a nurturing ability within the brand, but right now we're exploring more the costs of that, because it can work in different ways, right? But one of the things about Oddworld is that it was always a brand of quality, high visual fidelity, high art direction, and high creative [quality].
"So we don't want to drop any of those standards, of course we want to increase them with new stuff. But, I'm looking at ideas like how do I give people property to nurture - not Second Life - but real property to nurture, where what they do will become unique, and everyone's [property] will be different and yet it will still have a signature within that universe, it will still make sense."
Lanning admits his goal of "clay" is a challenge with a story-driven property like Oddworld, but he believes his studio has solutions. Right now it's evaluating the technical aspects, costs, and feasibility of thsese solutions, but Lanning certainly sees the value in them.
"It's one thing to say, 'Look at this picture of this beautiful baby.' It's another thing to say, 'Look at this picture of my beautiful baby.' There's a whole different depth of connection and ownership," he concluded.