Half Measures

I won’t ever say that I’m a fast writer or a good writer. Be that as it may, I now at least have some experience creating official looking content for a few different table top games. Honestly, it wasn’t generating the content that took me the most amount of time. No, it was getting my content to look anything like the official content produced by the game companies. Sure, you might be thinking, of course that took a long time. It’s not as if companies WANT any old schmuck off the street to be able to produce something that looks official! How dare I even consider wanting to do such a thing. I’m tricking the consumers and good players of these fine products!

That might be true for something that I was making for say, a Wizards of the Coast product, or Games Workshop, or White Wolf (CCP I guess?)…you know, really big game publishing places. However, I wasn’t doing something for any of those places. I was creating content for two smaller games. These games have spaces on their websites designed to serve as a repository for player generated content. In the case of Fiasco, it actually hosts the content on the site, provided you adhere to the rules they have posted, and allows people to vote on them and rewards people who produce popular playsets. Technoir doesn’t host the content, but it does have a section dedicated to websites about Technoir, and links to any player created transmissions. Both games make it quite clear, they want players to do the heavy lifting of content creation, and they want to build a community around it.

So why does their process suck?

They have half of the formula right. If you want player-generated content, you need to both solicit it and support it. Unfortunately, it stops there and doesn’t do the rest of the job. Fiasco goes so far as to provide a template page, but it’s un-formatted and poorly presented. You can take a look at it here. Now, here is a link to one of the design team generated templates, Saturday Night ’78. As you can see, it hardly resembles the basic template information that is given in the template page on the wiki. There is no font information, cover page tips, or anything else that would help you to create something that looks like the official content. The one boon here is that the Fiasco playerbase is huge and rabid, so it was easy to find information about the fonts and typesetting, but it still isn’t 100% accurate. Having the look and feel is really important to a lot of people, including me. The playerbase provided info is close enough for me, so it’s not a big deal, but if it wasn’t for the players, this wouldn’t be a possibility.

Good thing this is a popular game, right?

Otherwise, you end up like Technoir. Here’s Technoir’s Link Page. It makes me sad just looking at it. There isn’t much there, which is a shame, as the game is fantastic. It just didn’t catch on at all. You will notice nothing like a template page at the Technoir site. There are no instructions for anything, and the fan community isn’t big enough, or at least not vocal enough, to have kitbashed their own template mock-ups like the Fiasco fans. This is hardly surprising, however. Everything about Technoir was handcrafted by Jeremy Keller, a graphic designer, and while it’s all gorgeous to look at, it’s really, really hard for a non-graphic design person to reproduce. Really fucking hard. It just wasn’t created with reproduction in mind. Technoir is a game that wants there to be a lot of transmissions handy. You will go through a full transmission in two or three sessions tops, and you want to be able to have a wealth of them to call upon. Strictly speaking you don’t need a transmission, you can just make up a story, but the transmissions are great idea starters, so the more the better. Instead, you have the base ones in the book, an additional official one, and then what, two additional transmissions by fans? It’s not so great. A terrible shame, as the game is incredibly fun to play.

When you look at other media that wants player-generated content, it comes with the tools you need to create for it. Well, it at least tells you where to get them, anyway. Neverwinter Nights is a great example of this, and Neverwinter follows the same tradition. Shit, look at the history of how Left 4 Dead became a game in the first place. Look at the insane mod community of the Elder Scrolls games, or World of Warcraft, and so on. This community thrives because the tools you need are easily accessible, and the community begins to support it. You might argue that Fiasco is like this, but frankly, I disagree. The game wastes the opportunity given to it by the template page.

This needs to change as rapidly as possible. Indie games need to keep this topic in mind for the future, and work to address it. Fans will want to make things, and they will want to make things that look like the source material. People pride themselves on their craftsmanship. Give them a way to do it, and they will. Sure, the majority of the stuff won’t be professional quality, but that’s ok. There will be an awful lot of it, and if you take the time to support the good stuff, more will follow. Creativity is hard, mimicry is easier.

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