Monday, 3 August 2009

Loser Generated

Part 2 of my things vaguely related to both computer games and advertising.

Ever since John Internet invented Web 2.0, there have been competitions based around Youtube videos. They're all good fun and there's usually entertainment in watching the winners, but its not really that inclusive.

The trouble with user generated content as competitions is that there's a lot of people using the internet, and only one of those I would like to win. If people had to create a film each week just to enter the lottery then no-one would do it and this is sometimes how these competitions can feel for me. A lot of effort, for no reward.

So, the question is, how do you get people to take part in a challenge which for most people is far too tough for them to win? Who knows... but there are a few interesting examples of ways computer games have tackled this issue.

The first example is quite simply just breaking the challenge down into chunks. The Xbox does this using achievements - little celebrations that appear periodically to reward you for each major step you make in the game. So if someone never makes it to the big boss on level 10, they still have little medals saying they've conquered the game right up to level 9.

Now achievements are a big success story in gaming, but there's not much point having a level 9 badge if there's no-one to compare it to. This is where rivals come in.

In the old days a rival was probably a friend playing at your side, but with the internet there can be millions of people you've never met, doing better than you at a game. This is where a music game called Audiosurf has done some great work. First of all it splits scoreboards by songs, so there'll always be one track in your iTunes list that's obscure enough for you to top the leaderboard with.

Secondly, it sends you an email when someone beats your score and knocks off your crown. I recently received one saying someone had beaten my score at 'The Groove' by Muse, and despite having not played the game for several months, I am now wholly focused on crushing my nemesis. A rival, out of nowhere! It's genius and has exactly the same effect it does in sports - it makes you try harder and play more.

Finally, there's Spore, perhaps the most closely related to my Youtube ramble at the start, as it too is essentially a tool for user generated content. For those who don't know, you essentially use the game to build all manner of creatures and then construct your own designs for their houses etc.

This could have quite easily ended in the usual problem of a few superhumans creating work better than everyone one else, so the average Joe's work is forgotten. However, the twist is that it places other people's work into your game at all times, so you will always see new creatures and buildings created by someone, somewhere in the world.

There are still options to pick from the best of the bunch, but by default, the work of anyone in the world can be used to populate your planet. This leads to not only enjoyment at other peoples creations, but also extra work on your own, because you know that far far away someone has just been clawed to death by your incredible Dr Zoidberg look-a-like.

Now for me those first two examples can be put into practice straight away, but I think the final idea opens up an interesting area about how promotions based around user generated content can have people's work integrated right through the experience, and become part of the interaction, not just as something you passively view at the end.

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