The rise in user-led storytelling in the online space has breathed fresh air into some games. Anton Wegenast looks at the phenomenon
How would you like to direct your own story in a video game? You choose the characters, the actions they take, and the conflicts they face. Recent trends show that game developers are leaning towards just that, letting gamers dictate their gameplay experience.
Cryptic Studios is a developer with some MMO game experience. With its recently launched open beta for Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter, Cryptic has included The Foundry. This set of tools allows players to create maps, and populate them with characters and monsters alike. On top of typical map editor features, The Foundry expands into game direction and writing. Players will be able to create quests and storylines to explore in the content they create.
The Foundry isn’t a new feature for Cryptic, the developer included it previously in Star Trek Online. The user-generated content has become a well developed part of Federation Space since the Foundry launched back in 2010, with a big overhaul occurring last year. Not only is Cryptic interested in letting players make content for others, the developer is actively expanding and improving the capabilities of the Foundry toolset.
In a galaxy far, far away also lies the world of EVE Online. CCP Games has notoriously had a hands-off approach when it comes to its spacefaring MMO. Players are left to fend for themselves in a largely anarchistic universe. Issues such as loyalty and responsibility are left for players to dictate. EVE has operated without much developer interference for ten years!
Naturally, as hundreds of thousands of players log in and contribute to the narrative tapestry of EVE, some fantastic stories will come out of it. CCP has recently announced projects aimed at representing players and their exploits for all to see. The EVE: True Stories from the First Decade project is currently collecting stories written by players about their adventures in the game. Users logging into the site can read all the submissions, and even vote for their favorite content. CCP has partnered with a filmmaker, and Dark Horse Comics to extend these stories into other media. A TV series based on the True Stories will be going into development, and Dark Horse will be releasing a free digital comics series.
In the same vein of giving players freedom and choice, it looks as though GTA V will be splitting the difference. While not entirely handing over the reins of narrative to players, Rockstar is looking to expand the appeal of the story by having three very different protagonists. If a player doesn’t particularly identify or like the story of one character, the game stands a better chance for their enjoyment if there are others to keep them interested.
As developers experiment with narrative style, and hand over creative control to players, games take on a more collaborative nature. In this way, the term ‘sandbox’ really starts to take after its namesake. Players are given a defined space to play, and some tools to have fun with. With gamers generating content for each other, the sheer variety of experiences available is a recipe for satisfaction. If a story arc isn’t popular with the fanbase, players may have the tools to literally rewrite the game. While not all developers are as committed as that, there’s a clear trend towards opening story development to appease and represent an ever-diversifying playerbase.
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