Monday, April 05, 2010

UGC Games Go Portable

Image ©Nintendo, Inc. Via About.com

As regular readers of this blog already know, my next research project (which I'll finally be launching this summer) is on UGC (user-generated content) games designed for kids. My main case studies so far are LittleBigPlanet, Kodu and Spore, but I've been keeping an eye out for other titles to add to the list. I'm still in the process of figuring out the "what" and "how," but I know that my first priority is in finding games that allow players to both create a substantial part of the gameplay - entire levels, entire story lines, etc. - and share that content with other players.

Walking through the games section at HMV over the weekend, I saw that the genre has spread to portable game devices much more quickly than I had previously realized. Some of the titles I was already well aware of (LittleBigPlanet for the PSP, the Spore spin-offs), but others were totally new (e.g. WarioWare DIY). This could potentially open up a whole new angle for my project (especially if there are cross-system linkages). Here's a very brief "list-in-progress" of the portable UGC games I've seen so far (keep in mind, I haven't even started looking into iPhone games). If you know of others, please post in the comments section and let me know!

WarioWare D.I.Y. (Rated E, Nintendo DS)
Released just last week, this offshoot of the Mario Bros/Wario franchise allows players to create their own mini-games, design graphics and music, and produce comics using a variety of customizable options and UGC tools. The games and other content can then be uploaded and shared with other players - the games can be either played or viewed (not quite sure) on the Wii. Here's the official website.

Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter (Rated E, Nintendo DS)
Released last October (2009), this sequel to the original "draw your own hero" game (released in 2007), allows players to insert their own hero, items, obstacles, solutions and other content into the game world by using the stylus to "draw" in elements. The big difference with this one (and I'm not sure about this, just from what I've observed from the PR materials), is that you can now impact the gameplay mechanics AND share the content with other players (who own the game). Here's the official website.

Scribblenauts (Rated E10+, Nintendo DS)
By the creators of Drawn to Life, this game got a heck of a lot of attention when it came out last year. The idea is similar to Drawn to Life, but with more emphasis on puzzle solving, and instead of drawing your solution you type in a word, which makes an object appear in the game. The list of possible words is extensive (well over 20K). The game also includes a level editor, through which players can design/customize levels which they can then share with others through the DS WiFi system. Here's the official website.

LittleBigPlanet PSP (Rated E, Sony PSP)
Just like the original PS3 game, but without the multiplayer mode. Players can complete up to 30 existing levels to find tools, sticker switches and costumes which can then be used to create custom Sackboy/girl avatars and custom levels. Levels can be designed from scratch or from a template - and player designs can be uploaded to an online server where they can be shared with the rest of the player community. Here's the official site.

Spore Creatures & Spore Hero Arena (Nintendo DS)
These spin-offs of EA's Spore, are portable, mini versions that allow you to create creatures and explore the world, encounter others, make friends and/or do battle. There looks to be some significant avatar customization involved, but this is one I'll have to play before I can determine if the game itself really qualifies for the project. Here's the official Creatures webpage and the official Hero Arena page.

Will the Spore spin-off games count? I'm not sure how much players control the gameplay/level design, or if customization/UGC is limited to avatar design. The customization and UGC that goes into avatar design and "virtual doll play" is certainly important, but not quite what I'm hoping to investigate in this project. The idea is really to examine games that give players tools to design the game space, environment, story line, gameplay. And, of course, to share the products with other players, particularly within commercially constructed (and controlled) distribution systems.

I'm already seeing some of the early issues I'm going to have operationalizing this, but for now, delineating a sample and figuring out what my criteria is are probably key.

Any suggestions about games I should look into adding to the list? I know I'm already forgetting some of the games I saw over the weekend, and would like to work out a more comprehensive list over the next couple of weeks as I head into the project launch. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

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