User-created content: pitfalls and success factors

User-created content
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The idea to let the player design content for other players sounds almost too good to be true. However, only a few games master this high art. So let´s look at the pitfalls of user-created content.

Table of contents

Barriers to content creation

Too complicated

Almost nobody has time and motivation to work his way into an editing tool in a game. Having a complex, powerful editor is not enough. Most people are scared off by complex tools.

Therefore, try hard to create a straightforward, foolproof tool. Content creation should be a fun game by itself. It must be integrated into the game like any other game element.

No attribution

A strong motivation is a social acknowledgment. Therefore, it is important to protect the authorship of user-created content. Try to find an appropriate solution for user-created content. You can read how to do this for player-created dungeons here.

No feedback

Having feedback from other players can be a strong motivation to create and improve content. It would help build mechanics that encourage player feedback to the content creator.

No gain for the creator

A strong motivation is the prospect of material reward or, even better, instant gratification. Try to build game mechanics that allow players to trade their creations in the game.

Not connected with the game

When content creation is done with special editing software outside the game, it is only half the fun. Definitely, it feels like a different game at best. At worst, it feels like work, and many players won´t do it.

Content creation should happen in the game itself with the game’s interface. Ideally, the player isn´t even aware that he is creating content.

Use the opportunity content creation gives. Let plans, blueprints, materials, and the user-created content itself be an essential part of your game economy.

Content creation should feel like a way of character progression. Maybe, there is even a skill for certain related tasks. However, don´t overdo this. Don´t limit access to creation tools or comfort functions. Rather limit access to skin content and use it as game rewards.

Inappropriate content

Dull content creation options

When you look at what players can modify or create, you find almost everywhere the same dull ideas:

  • character name, gender, body, description
  • item color, transmogrification
  • guild name, guild description

Only a few MMORPGs allow creating or modification of:

  • items
  • quests
  • dungeons
  • creatures
  • location names
  • relevant landscape characteristics like flight-points, bridges, and respawn points
  • form of government
  • character animation
  • instanced or persistent housing

Especially housing is a game mechanic so important to players that you can find it on almost every MMORPG feature wishlist.

Let players combine presets

When you let users create content, expect pornography, violence, and racism. Well, that´s the smallest problem you can get. The intrusion of malignant software into other players’ systems or your server hardware is even more serious.

So never, ever let players upload raw data of any kind. Not even images, not even text. You don´t want to pay game masters to moderate player content because you want a game with minimal operating costs.

Therefore, the only option is to let users combine content from presets. When done right, this can even feel more comfortable than creating anything from scratch.

The player is used to content presets. The most common one is the character creation process. Other common examples are the guild heraldry, item visuals, and ultimately, class mechanics, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Limits of presets

Some games don´t allow chat. Instead, there is the opportunity to express basic emotions. While this may be appropriate for some games, it isn´t for an MMORPG.

MMORPGs are about player interaction, and chat is a basic interaction. A better option to enforce polite behavior is social control, described here.

You might limit player names and guild names to select from a list. Therefore, you might even enforce roleplay compatible names. However, remember that player identity is mobile. Many players carry their identity through their games. So denying a certain name might scare players off.

Barriers to content consumption

Insufficient filtering and sorting

Players drown in an overwhelming mass of content. The best content is worthless if it cannot be found. Therefore, access to player-created content must be designed conveniently with meaningful options to filter and search.

Build a system that includes favorites, notes, comments, and many sorting possibilities.

No content rating

Users are not game designers. Probably, 99 percent of user-created content will be unimaginative and derivative garbage. However, you want that 1 percent that isn´t. When enough users participate in content creation, you will have a substantial amount of high-quality user-created content.

However, you need to separate the wheat from the chaff. That is why you need to implement mechanisms to rate content.

No gain for the consumer

Player-created content must give rewards equivalent to the time investment of players. Remember what the MMORPG core is. Many games fail at this point. Why is that so?

Players are constantly looking to find dominant strategies. That´s the way to play a game, after all. Therefore, you must avoid that players can create content that gives an unfair advantage over other game activities. Otherwise, your game is overrun by Monty Haul dungeons.

Design the content creation process in a way that enforces the result with the same cost-benefit ratio as the rest of your game. Ideally, use the same tools to create content.

When you cannot enforce this and cannot validate user-created content in a bullet-proof manner, you are doomed. Then your only option is not to reward the consumption of user-created content.


To sum everything up, let´s look at a checklist for good user-created content:

  • so easy and fun to create that it is a game itself
  • an attribution system shows the creator
  • the creator can get feedback from others
  • can be traded in the game
  • creation feels like an integral part of the game
  • exciting and game relevant like housing
  • created by combining presets
  • searchable and can be filtered
  • rateable
  • a relevant and rewarding part of the game

Stay to this checklist as close as possible and prepare to be flooded with user-created content.

Game design considerations.
Design Doris

User-created content must be relevant, rewarding, searchable, filterable, rateable, and tradeable. Creating it must feel like a fun and intrinsic part of the game.

(Last Updated on May 1, 2021)

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