How Indie Developers Can Utilize UGC

August 9, 2021

Joost van Dreunen, author and teacher at NYU Stern School of Business, penned an article called The Creator Economy Comes for Gaming, which I found to make many interesting points regarding the relationship between developers and content creators in the video game industry.

Van Dreunen claims that “in a high-risk, high-reward industry like games, creativity scales poorly,” as it’s tough for developers with limited resources to keep up with consumers who “can burn through new content faster than the former can create it.” With the ethics of microtransactions being what they are, implementing ways for your players to create UGC (user-generated content) can really help your game succeed. It’s especially powerful when this crowdsourced-content works for you, and adds to the gameplay experience. Van Dreunen put it best when he wrote, “by opening up the creative process to players and outside developers, publishers effectively outsource innovation and de-risk their business.” While some of van Dreunen’s examples are rooted in more mainstream titles such as Roblox, the principles still apply to smaller teams of indie game developers. There are real benefits to encouraging your players to create UGC, and more importantly, providing them with the tools to do so. After all, even Roblox started somewhere.

As van Dreunen states in the article, “being part of an active community and having a constant flow of new content available for the games they like encourages players to stick around longer. That positively impacts the average game life cycle and reduces the threat of substitutes.” What van Dreunen means by this is pretty clear. When your players feel like part of your world and as if they own a stake in your game, they are more inclined to stay loyal. Roblox is a great example of this as players are able to create entire worlds within the game. These worlds have identities as unique as the users who created them. Players feel personally tied to these worlds and effectively become ambassadors for the Roblox brand.

Another way UGC benefits your game is through the publicity it garners. Enough people showing off their creations in your game means more eyeballs on your game. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to create open-source sandboxes for your game to generate UGC. In the article, Van Dreunen writes, “a large and engaged community of people that both creates and consumes — on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch — sits at the center of the ever-growing creator economy.” Looking at the popularity of streamers, publicity from Pokimane or Ludwig can send your game into certain prosperity (or doom), but many times the best audiences are the creators in your own community who love to talk about your game. Giving your fans that opportunity by creating an environment made for sharing (think about the amount of hours you could spend watching anyone play Fall Guys) is extremely important.

While developing your next game, it may be worth thinking about how to create it with shareability in mind. Are you able to implement UGC tools or features into a past or present title? Answering that question may make all the difference.