User-Generated Content: Not Without Obligations

The 2005 Second Life Game Developer Contest, intended to generate positive PR and fun new in-game content, appears to have generated some serious controversy as well. Jeffrey Gomez, the contest winner, recently discovered that a system-wide software patch had rendered his 1st place entry non-functional.

Linden Lab has argued that Gomez could have used their test servers to identify and troubleshoot the problem before it was too late. Gomez has responded that he (and other users) shouldn’t be forced to adopt a patch before they are good and ready.

I chatted with my friend Sameer Ajmani, PhD graduate of MIT’s computer science program (and a systems specialist) about this debate. His words:

It can be very difficult to enable users running different versions to coexist in a game. But even if they could coexist, this would force users to choose between features of the different versions. Most MMOGs require that users upgrade to the latest version specifically to avoid this problem. However, since Second Life depends on its users for content, Linden Labs ought to make every effort to make API changes backwards-compatible. If users have no guarantee that their content will work after the next upgrade, then they will be demotivated to create new things.

Someone who makes content for Second Life doesn’t necessarily want to maintain it for the rest of their (real) lives. Users don’t have the same persistent (and/or consistent) committment to a game that the game’s developers do. If users can’t be certain that their efforts will retain value for a significant period of time, without significant upkeep, their motivation to produce will diminish. A business that is reliant upon user-generated content cannot afford this.

PS. While we’re on the subject, check out this cool business simulation Second Life competition. The Apprentice meets MMOG. 🙂

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