Challenges and Potentials of User Involvement in the Process of Creating Games

As you might remember, I posted some ideas about how to involve users into the process of creating games some weeks ago. Now the journal article is online an can be downloaded as a PDF file (find my article at the very end of the journal).

A colleague and I are working on a follow-up topic so stay tuned for more. I am also interested in your feedback regarding this topic, so feel free to comment or mail me.

User involvement in the application area of games

Yesterday I gave a talk about the “Challenges and potentials of user involvement in the process of digital games” at the ODS-Workshop at EUD’09. A full journal paper based on the talk will be published in a few months online – I`ll post the link to the full paper here in my blog when it`s available.

Back to topic. User involvement is not a unique feature of the games industry – nearly everyone has it: Car builders, food producers and health care companies. So what is so special about the user involvement in the application area of games? No idea? Check these numbers:

4,500 interface mods and extensions for ‘World of Warcraft’. 12,000 modifications for ‘Doom’ back in 1993. 120,000 stories of fan fiction for ‘The Sims’. 300,000 level designs for ‘Little Big Planet’ a few months after its release. 2,500,000 creatures for ‘Spore’ (generated before its release!). 10,000,000 games sold with the ‘Counter-Strike’ IP. 

Given these numbers, games are doing quite well when it comes to the user involvement and the user innovation. The examples already show that there are different possibilities of users to get involved. In my talk I proposed a categorization of activities according to their degree of participation. Here is a short-form of my table (full version will appear in the paper):

This table shows the different degrees of participation in the area of games.

But, again, why are games so successful in the involvement of the gamers? Here are some possible criteria for success I identified:

- Some games have intuitive toolkits (BUT majority of tools still is very complex).

- Community staff supports users. Developers show interest for user creations, comment on them etc.

- There are benefits for the companies (e.g. sales, recruitment), the users (e.g. bring life to their visions) and the community (e.g. consume user-generated content).

- User involvement challenges the creative potential and technical skills of gamers.

- Gamers can realize their own ideas and visions.

- Different types of incentives are offered which serve as motivating factors.

This picture shows some ‘real-world incentives’ for gamers which are not easy transferable to other application areas. What about a ‘Karl Klammer’ action figure?

Incentives and gratification models serve as important motivating factors for the participating users. Just to cite a few: Convince a friend to reactivate his ‘World of Warcraft’ account and you will get a virtual ingame incentive: a zebra-like mount. Interesting deal: You`ll get the cool mount, Blizzard gets the monthly fees. Another example: A bonus item in a forthcoming game gets named after a player who found a lot of issues in the beta. But there is even more. Real-world incentives like merchandise (action figures, shirts, art books). Community reputation through user ranks or achievements. Even getting recruited by the games company is possible.

The only way to get the virtual incentive ‘zhevra mount’ is to convince a friend to reactivate his WoW-account. Well done, Blizzard!

At the workshop we had interesting talks and discussions and I got a lot of interesting feedback on my talk which I really appreciated. Prof. Mary Shaw (Carnegie Mellon University) pointed out that ‘games with a purpose’ (games that matter) and serious games will be an interesting application area for further research in the area of user involvement (what about a multi-purpose game with user-generated goals and levels?). Prof. Yvonne Dittrich (IT University of Copenhagen) emphasized that technology matters a lot when it comes to the success of user involvement in the area of games: Games do often provide a better software architecture and tools to produce additional and independent content. Prof. Mary Beth Rosson (Penn State University) and Asbjorn Folstad (Sintef) pronounced the importance of the engagement and the motivation through incentives. Prof. Pelle Ehn (Malmö Högskola) gave a talk about “A thing formerly known as participatory design” and highlighted the significance of the controversial discussion in a group and recommended not to overrate the technical platforms and tools for user involvement. Furthermore, several other workshop attendees pointed to the need for more research in the area of incentives to learn more about the potentials of gratification models. 

Based upon the feedback I am currently preparing the camera-ready version of the paper but I am also interested in YOUR feedback: What incentives for user involvement and user innovation in games do you know? Which could be transfered to other application areas? Or do you now incentives and gratification models from areas like software engineering that will work for games as well?

I am looking forward to your comments!