User generated content is currently something of a media darling in the game industry. Of course, it’s actually nothing new - gamers on open platforms like PC and the home computers before it have been creating mods and new content for their games for a couple of decades now. What’s different now with the advent of yet another acronym to remember (UGC) is that the concept has finally come to the home consoles, those friendly ‘turn on and play’ devices.
On paper, it sounds great - finally, people using consumer-friendly boxes can be creative without having to hunt down FAQs on the internet and learn how to tame often esoteric toolsets (although many people, me included, find this part of the fun of course). All the tools you need are presented in the box, together with a way to distribute them to your friends and the wider internet. But, as ever, the downside is related to the fiefdoms of control the consoles always operate within.
Guitar Hero : World Tour and Little Big Planet are the two most recognised sources of console UGC right now, and both are subject to many media reports of users’ carefully crafted content being deleted by moderators, due to copyright concerns. Any cover of a commercial song, or even a game tune, is summarily removed from GH:WT (as was widely predicted), and now levels which are in homage of titles like Mario are getting removed from Little Big Planet too. It’s perfectly understandable of course; the companies running the servers on which the content sits cannot afford to be sued over it, so are taking the cautious route and pre-empting any problems. But it also shows that centrally controlling content is capable of stunting the otherwise grand promise of user generated content.
The Internet is as successful as it is because control is distributed. For better or worse, you can find publish pretty much anything, and that makes it what it is - a sea of dubious quality data from which search indexes, linking and recommendations turn into a usable, ever mutating wonderland. UGC has this potential in the gaming space, but it can never fully realise it while content is regulated at a central source. It’s similar to the way fanfic and fanart are always popular, but organised publishers of it get sued these days, so the place to really find it is on smaller, distributed fan sites, not central corporate ones. Console UGC is certainly good fun, and better than no UGC at all, but the fact that it may only be published in one place means Big Brother is always controlling what can and cannot be published, and that is the antithesis of the principle of personal creativity. Creativity wants to be free, not penned in by what a central source says it can and cannot express; if I want to create a LBP level where Link and Mario belch a cover version of Bohemian Rhapsody, I damn well should be able to. 😀But, that won’t happen in the control-obsessed world of the console any time soon I’m sure.