One thing that we have taken a deeper look at user this week is user-generated content (UGC), in particular the increasing trend of player ‘mods’, which are simply modifications to an existing game that can range from changing the appearance of things in the game to creating whole new levels/worlds. Some of these mods become so successful that people do not realise how they started: for example, Counter Strike was a mod of Half Life. These can be silly, like introducing dragons in GTA V, but they can also provide endless new content, and even update the graphics of older games to keep up with the latest expectations, as we have seen happen in Skyrim. To underline how much of an impact mods can have, Rockstar Games, the makers of GTA V, recently announced that it bought the maker of two multiplayer customisation mods, which saw more than double the peak number of concurrent players compared to the unmodded game. Whilst mods are free and only possible on PC, if the talent is acquired by the game’s developer they can then port the mods to be used on consoles and can charge to release the update as PDLC. UGC is becoming more and more of a feature, especially in role playing games (RPG), whilst companies like Roblox have built their business model around UGC. We discuss below our take on what influence GenAI could have on this part of the gaming industry.
The ‘Laymanisation’ of Gaming Mods
In the opening passage I have described Mods and what they can do, and how they are a form of user-generated content (UGC). From a commercial perspective this can work two ways, though regardless of the commercialisation model mods keep the appeal of a game lasting for much longer and build brand loyalty. With the traditional point of sale and ancillary PDLC/DLC model, mods can provide a simple route for the developer to select successful new features, trialed on PC, acquire them, port them onto consoles, and offer the features as a paid update to console users. If the gaming platform is subscription based, the increased lifespan of the game should keep more users engaged and thus increase subscription revenues. Roblox is following this latter strategy, and recently announced it is developing its own GenAI tool that should help expand UGC. Our opinion is that this will open up content creation, which is effectively modding, to the lay person. The goal is for word-based prompts to create characters/object/images. To take the example I quoted in the opening passage, with the right GenAI program I could just type “create a dragon I can ride” into GTA V and it would effectively come up with the dragon mod, which currently only a developer could create. This makes a huge amount of sense, as it effectively unlocks the creativity of the vast majority of players, ie those who do not have a development background. This should undoubtedly increase the scale and quality of content and thus make the games more attractive.
One negative that is worth considering is that often developers want to manage their game’s lifecycle, with additional content added at later stages in order to maximise revenue. If mods come out that include some of these features, then the company loses this potential revenue and it has to take action to get the mod banned. This can be a cause of tension between modders and game developers. However, in general it seems that the benefits of modding and UGC are overwhelmingly positive and will continue to have a growing influence in the gaming sector.
Unlocking the Power of AI in Gaming
The president of Create at Unity, Mark Witten, gave an insightful interview on how he thinks gaming can unlock the power of AI. It’s well worth a watch in full if you have the time. The 3 key points to pull out were as follows:
1) Unity’s belief is that AI will impact every aspect of gaming, both in create time and run time and Unity is continually developing its Muse and Sentis tools with this in mind.
2) Different AI systems are likely to be needed to overcome specific challenges in different aspects of gaming, and Unity aims to create a platform that can amalgamate all these systems. The example he gave of a specific complex problem was that of character facial animation, which used to involve the hand rigging of animatable points. This can be achieved in 10 minutes using its system vs months of work for a developer. However, Mark noted that, in keeping with our underlying thesis about Video Games being a race to the top, this would actually increase development times, as currently most games do not bother with the process, as it is too time consuming. Thus quality should go up but not necessarily the time to produce, though Mark did say productivity gains would be found elsewhere.
3) That every game is becoming a live ops game, which ties nicely into our UGC theme, and he emphasised how he wanted to make content creation easier using AI, and fervently believes the number or creators will go up, not down, as AI becomes more prevalent.
Netflix to make its games playable on more devices
Netflix is continuing to expand on its venture into the gaming space and recently announced it is starting a small beta trial to make game more accessible through different platforms. The company is initially trialling this on a small number of select TVs, Macs and PCs, which signifies its first movements away from mobile-only gaming. Netflix said games on TV would operate on select devices from initial partners Amazon Fire TV Streaming Media Players, Chromecast with Google TV, and Roku devices, among others. We noted in our review of Netflix’s latest results that it expects to release another 40 games this year, with 70 more under development. Netflix’s management has continually been able to stay at the cutting edge of popular entertainment ever since it revolutionised the industry with its streaming service, and we think it bodes well for gaming that it has taken such an interest.
In other news...
- Take-Two shuts down AI GTA 5 mod over copyright fears
- Microsoft to shut down Xbox 360 Store in July 2024
- NetEase launches new US studio T-Minus Zero Entertainment.
- EA loses minor FIFA loot box legal case in Austria
- Zynga announces first blockchain game
- Krafton commits to massive US$150m investment in Indian