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Some Assembly Required: How EverQuest Next Landmark could redefine PGC

MJ Guthrie

PGC means Players Got Creativity! OK, no it doesn't really, but it could (and it's better than Pungent Goat Cheese!). As you know, in our MMOverse, the acronym stands for Player-Generated Content, which is not only the backbone of Some Assembly Required but easily my favorite part of gaming. And what is player-generated content if not a demonstration of player creativity? Unfortunately, for several years, my favorite part of games seemed to be the least important focus for MMO developers. PGC, if it is brought in at all, is relegated to the back seat (or locked away in the trunk). Luckily, times are a-changing.

Just a glance over the past year shows that the aversion-to-PGC attitude is shifting; more sandboxes have gone into development with more and more features than in the last few years. But one game, above them all, is going beyond adding a few features. EverQuest Next Landmark is not just letting PGC into the car; it's plunking it in the driver's seat and handing over the keys, and in doing so could potentially redefine PGC as we know it. And that's a good thing! Instead of being treated as non-essential fluff, PGC could be seen as a vital ingredient to any MMO.

What is EQN Landmark doing that is so different? How about everything? No, I don't mean everything is different; many of the features being put together for the new fantasy game have been used elsewhere. Building and decorating? Done that. Harvesting and crafting? Yup, a few times. Even mission creation? Yes, that too. What I'm talking about is that players are getting everything, not just getting a few bones tossed their way. As franchise director Dave Georgeson explained, players will have access to all the dev tools that the devs themselves are using, from AI to scenarios to NPCs. This is unprecedented. It's telling all those arm-chair developers out there, "Go ahead. Have at it. Let's see what you can do." Just thinking about having all these tools at my disposal instantly makes the opening line to that Annie Get Your Gun song start looping in my head. Anything you can do, I can do better! (OK, maybe not better, but we'll address that in a bit.)

Additionally, where many games tuck player-created content away safely out of view behind special interfaces, instances, and the like, Landmark's will be front and center throughout the entire world. Instead of being sequestered from the "real" meat of the game, PGC is the meat, the potatoes, the veggie, and the dessert. This game doesn't just have some PGC; it is PGC. It's one giant ball of player creation. Folks will be tripping over content designed by their fellows instead of having to skulk about, seeking some morsel of it in the hidden shadows of private instances. There will be none of this hide-and-seek business, hunting for hidden PGC when you aren't busy with the rest of the game. You just can't put PGC in the spotlight better than that. And that's precisely how Landmark can to make or break the PGC bandwagon.

I have my fingers crossed for the success of EQN Landmark not just so I can have a great game to play but because I think the fate of the game will have a big impact on PGC in the future. Right now, player-generated content is simply too often ignored by mainstream MMOs.

SOE provided screenshotsMaking PGC so front and center signals to the rest of the game development community that player-generated content isn't just some back-alley extra that can be ignored in favor of "real" features. It's saying that these types of features that celebrate creativity and get the community involved are not just valid but an integral part of the gaming experience. SOE is saying quite boldly that it believes that PGC is viable enough that an entire game can be based on it. That's a big deal! If the game succeeds, then the rest of the developers out there can stop dismissing PGC features as a waste of time and start making them more readily available in games.

Conversely, if Landmark flops, it's going to be a huge setback for player-created content -- a flashing neon sign warning devs away. Who wouldn't stop to think twice about offering such things when it no one is really interested? Sure, players can say they want these features all they want on game forums and sites, but the language the studios hear loudest is the one players speak with their wallets. Even with Kickstarter and crowdfunding, would you blame devs from shying away from something if it belly-flopped and sank in the pool of player preference?

With such a focus on all player-created content all the time, it is understandable that some people are actually more wary of Landmark than if the game were just minimally involved in PGC. Some of the first comments that sprang up when the building tools were announced were concerns about whole vistas of phallic symbols and other inappropriate creations dotting the landscape. Even without stooping to the vulgar, there were concerns about immersion in a game where players can build anything. Now while we haven't seen the solutions in action yet, SOE has addressed both these issues.

For one, building will be policed by the devs and the community. Players will be able to report inappropriate creations, and the studio will investigate and take action. If you see something suspect, then speak up. That goes not only for highly inappropriate creations but ones that are immersion-breaking on the Norrath-enforced continent. You see, the studio has found a way to give both types of folks what they want -- the immersion lovers and those who just want to build anything. There will be a Norrath only continent in each world for folks to build on and stay within the EQ theme, and then there will be other continents where anything (appropriate) goes. So players don't have to worry about a spaceship of Orcs ruining their ability to get lost in a fantasy world. SOE is even giving players a way to search for their preferred content!

SOE provided screenshots
Earlier, I mentioned a catchy little tune running through my head, and that brings up another concern that people have expressed -- namely, that they don't want to wade through substandard content. Nothing can be as big a turn off to a game than shoddy content. Heck, one of the reasons I think some developers turn their backs on PGC is that they don't want to put a ton of effort, time, and talent into a game and then have some yahoos come along and muck it all up.

While it is true that not all content that players make is going to be better than -- or even equal to -- what devs can make, some of it can and will be. There are tons of creative people out there who have talents to share. Just because they aren't employed by a game company (those are limited spots, remember) doesn't invalidate their genuine talent. Even the EQN devs recognize that some fantastic stuff will come out of the community, and they have plans in place for contests to utilize those talents for inclusion in that game. To help negate the worry about sifting through the coal to find the diamonds, SOE will be implementing a system to tag, rate, and search for properties that fit your criteria.

Once again, putting this much power in the hands of players is ultimately a gamble, one I hope pays off big time. Currently, PGC is still on the fringe, though it is moving closer to mainstream; by putting only a couple creation tools in the hands of players (or leaving them out altogether), the devs can feel assured that the majority of the content will be experienced as they want it to be. I can understand wanting to protect your vision, but at some point someone has to remember that games need to be something that the players want to play, not just the devs. And we need a reason to keep playing! PGC is a great way to offer more content, thereby boosting retention. Isn't that what devs really want?

If Landmark wins, all of PGC wins, and I think we will see even more of it. Player-generated content will be on the map, in the big leagues, wearing its big-boy pants. If the experiment, however, goes the other way, I worry about the message that others will take away from a flop.

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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