REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — He doesn’t know it, but a 16-year-old PlanetSide 2 fan is about to get an $8,000 check from Sony Online Entertainment. And all he had to do was contribute content to PlanetSide 2 — something gamers have done since the dawn of PC gaming.
The money is part of a program that’s designed to reward players for building high-quality content, says SOE president John Smedley. The goal is to help new games like free-to-play massively multiplayer online first-person shooter PlanetSide 2 close the content gap with competitors like World of Warcraft, which have a significant lead in terms of story content and features.
“Our belief is that we can’t stay ahead of the content curve of the players,” Smedley said during a discussion at GamesBeat 2013 covering the evolution of online gaming. “You can’t chase games like [World of Warcraft]. We need the players’ help to close the gap. It helps us stay ahead of the curve, it keeps players happy … it’s win-win.”
The program is part of Sony’s larger effect to democratize game development on both the PC and the upcoming PlayStation 4. More and more, players are interacting directly with developers, helping to build the games they love. For their efforts, they have the potential to get much more than the simple satisfaction of a job well done. For instance, user content will be available for purchase via a Reddit-like upvoting system, with the proceeds going directly to the player.
Smedley expects the new relationship between developers and players to manifest in a variety of ways. In PlanetSide 2, 16-year-olds are getting checks for $8,000. In the upcoming MMO EverQuest Next, modders will be involved from the ground floor via EverQuest Landmark, which Smedley refers to as a “social-building MMO.”
“If it’s approved, you will be able to bring your content over to EverQuest Next,” said Smedley. “Could you imagine how cool it would be if you made your own castle, and it was in the game on day one?”
Such a system takes traditional notions like player towns and player housing and takes it to the next level. Pretty soon, users won’t just be building houses on a preexisting world; they’ll be building the world itself. The best modders will have a direct hand in molding and shaping their game space, banding together to choose the best content with the guidance of the development team.
It’s already had an effect in games like PlanetSide 2. Having instituted the upvoting system for new user content, Smedley says the content being voted up and down has surprised the development team. That in turn has influenced the game’s road map in various ways, prompting the team to go in directions they wouldn’t have expected before.
And with the line between consoles and PCs becoming steadily blurrier, the PS4 is expected to reap the benefits of SOE’s new strategy as well. When Planetside 2 launches on the PS4 next year, it will include Player Studio, which will give players the opportunity to create content they can sell. In many ways, it’s the logical conclusion of a process started by LittleBigPlanet, a PlayStation-exclusive platformer that featured a similar upvoting system for user-created content when it launched in 2008. The difference is that players will now be able to reap the benefits of their hard work.
The PS4 eventually feature a large number of free-to-play games. Smedley calls the approach “hugely empowering” for gamers, giving them more of a voice than ever before.
“We’re big believers in this democratization thing,” Smedley said. “We’re in a time where there are no more rules.”