Following are my abbreviated notes from the SXSW panel "Gamer's Games: Microcontent and User Creation
Mark Wallace 3pointD.com
Betsy Book Dir of Prod Mgmt, Makena Technologies
Raph Koster Pres, Areae Inc
Reuben Steiger CEO, Millions of Us
Corey Bridges www.multiverse.net, multiverse.net
Book- What is user-generated content in a virtual world? In There, we have a developer program that allows a user to create stuff and sell via auctions. There's a lot of emphasis on stuff at the expense of other kinds of user-created content, such as events--you don't need 3 skills to run an event, write a blog, make a photo album, run an online radio station or podcast. There are also user-created brands, which may or may not be used to sell stuff [items, I assume].
Wallace- The Second Life Herald is a form of user-created content, a type that we often miss.
Steiger- We've learned lessons from failure. We found that we don't just build corporate experiences, in one of our campaigns we might get a lot of traffic in Second Life, but lots more in the press and via blogs. Our company gets paid to cause trouble/chaos. Chaos is leaving creations open ended so that users decide where these things go. For example, Pontiac built a dealership and gave away their land to residents of Second Life for car-related businesses. That's very chaotic and unpredictable.
Wallace- There's monster truck rallies, games where you run down zombies...
Steiger- It's very unscripted, we tell corporations that they write the first half of the first scene--the audience writes the rest.
Bridges- User-generated content is an incomplete term. I prefer "indie-generated content," because an independent person created it. User-generation implies that they are in a box in a particular world, but not necessarily affecting anything else. Multiverse mandates that there are a "huge" number of multiple worlds. We don't have a social world as such, our developers are building games and social spaces. What we see is the community of developers and users doing a great many different things, not just fashion, but interfaces, experiential models, economic models. The founders of many big web sites weren't necessarily professionals when they first started.
Wallace- In Warcraft, you can't do any building, but there are small aspects where users generate content in actions and certain items. The interface, however, is modifiable--users have created thousands of interfaces for the game.
Koster- We can't lose sight of the challenges in creating a lot of this content. From a strict business point of view, even an EBay rating can require a lot of resources. The most common form of user-created content on the web is probably a Rave on MySpace. User content is everywhere, it's created unconsciously.
Wallace- [demonstrates a video from WoW, where an online funeral for a player was attacked by other players] This is an interesting mashup between the virtual and real worlds. Both the funeral and the griefing are forms of user-generated content.
Book- What's really interesting about this funeral is that there's another layer with the YouTube video--did the players create this griefing event so that it could be filmed? I think so.
Steiger- User-generated content isn't just "making" or "rendering." I've never made a single thing in Second Life, but I'm sort of responsible for some things being made. Lots of people's experiences are like that--things are appropriated, even in a commercial transaction.
Book- Member developers don't just create content for money. Reputation is important, there is also a tangible spirit of giving.
Koster- I made a quarter of a million Therebucks on clothing... Attention is the currency of the future... Underneath the giving is a desire to be seen and noticed...
Wallace- What are the incentives for user content-creation?
Koster- The real world is lousy at incentives for content-creation... rewards are crap... everyone wants to create... in Austin alone there are potentially thousands of top-40 musicians... the most successful virtual worlds are the ones that stole the reward/incentive structures from games. You need rating systems, levels, profiles, badges... when you look at There.com it has every one of those. There's a "game" in Amazon about being the most prolific reviewer.
Bridges- I don't think you need a hard, fast, rigid, level-up mechanic. It's not necessarily attention people are looking for, but achievement. Achievement does generate attention, resulting in peer recognition. We have a strong community of developers--customers--creating not just whole worlds but systems that are shared through web tools such as wikis. It was a priority goal to create a community--if you have something like that you can't have a big support staff--this is a role handled by community members. There are no direct metrics, it's an organic community. Level of achievement might be able to express it in revenue.
Books- There should be opportunities for people to contribute, even if they can't make things like objects.
Steiger- I agree with Raph--people like to have positive feedback and measure their performance. In places like Second Life, there's no objective measure of levelling, it's very much user-defined. You see trends and social ranking be very fluid, someone might become famous for social connections. We are entering a phase where we are coming out from the basement towards mainstream entertainment. Celebrity is democratized. TV is the most mainstream form of entertainment, we would identify with characters; reality TV blurred things; virtual worlds can share celebrity with people--users can be the main character of a "show" [i.e. Virtual Laguna Beach].