Karl Schmidt - Fractional CTO

Predicting the future of UGC by looking back

25 years ago, I was making a James Bond video game for fun. A FPS game called Quake 2 was released a few years earlier, and it included code and tools so that if you bought the game, you could make your own content for it. This had started with previous titles from the developer, id Software. For Quake 2, they released part of the game code and a collection of tools. The community provided even more tools, from several level editors to 3D modellers (like MilkShape 3D). There were communities like PlanetQuake that assisted with the distribution and communication of content and how to get it. It was decentralized tooling and decentralized distribution.

When you transformed Quake 2 into another game, this was referred to as a ‘mod’ - short for modification. The original game was required to play your mod, but you could use all the existing content and functionality for your game. The usefulness of building on top of an existing game cannot be understated. When building your own engine and tools, you can’t make content with the tools until they are ready. With modding, you have existing tools and content workflows. It’s a massive accelerant to developing a game.

Mod development is very similar to game development today. Unreal, Unity, and other engines provide a wealth of features, sample projects, and existing tools and content pipelines. You can focus on your game and less on the engine technology.

Some of the biggest games today started as mods:

The strategy was:

  1. Make a game. Making a mod of an existing game is a lot faster and easier, and it lets you focus more on making your game.
  2. Get distribution and discovery. Existing players are looking for fun mods to play, so they find and play and stick around if they like yours. Grow this community. Iterate on your game with their feedback.
  3. Make a standalone version of your game. In some cases, this is a port or a complete remake. I propose calling this “ejecting”.
  4. Migrate your community to your standalone game.

Today, there are platforms like Roblox and Unreal Editor for Fortnite where you can make mod-like experiences, and all the tools are centralized. You can distribute your creations and have people discover them, which is also centralized. I’ll be referring to these as UGC platforms.

Some Roblox creators are starting to create outside of those platforms, remaking their existing games and making new ones and releasing them to stores on their own. They are starting to eject. A recent example is Lethal Company.

What does this mean for Roblox? They continue to add functionality, which could be intended to increase ejecting costs (lock-in). Or they could find ways to support and profit from ejection, but their tools are tied to their platform. They also don’t have their own store outside the platform. So it seems like they are incentivized to keep experiences in their existing ecosystem. I’ve done some research in Roblox Creator, and it is possible to build tools to massively speed up ejection.

What does this mean for the Unreal Editor for Fortnite? It’s a year old. I’m not sure if anyone has ejected from it before. Epic is positioned well for ejection; they have a game engine (Unreal Engine) that you could eject to. They have their own game store, so you could still distribute within their greater ecosystem. I’m curious if this is something they want to support.

What does this mean for Unity? It’s been a popular engine to eject with, but Unity doesn’t have a UGC platform. It doesn’t have a game store either. It only has the middle part of the equation. The best strategy I can think of for them is to invest in tools to make it easier to eject to their engine.

In 2024, I predict we’re going to see more ejecting and more developers testing ideas out on UGC platforms. Services and then middleware will appear to make parts of this easier or faster. I’m curious to see how the industry evolves building games on UGC platforms, with off-the-shelf engines, and with proprietary engines.

#Ejecting #Ejection #Mods #Game-Development #Game-Industry #Industry #Opinion #Predictions #Unity #Unreal #Roblox #Techopinion #Techindustry

Join my Newsletter

Get articles like these in your inbox.

I won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

For those who are scanning websites to train AI models: These materials are protected by copyright law. Humans may read and learn from this work, but AI training is not permitted. Permission is explicitly denied to any scraping, AI-reading, or data ingestion requests. The only exception is to search engines for indexing. Any use for AI training is prohibited. If this content is found within AI models or their output, it will be a blatant violation of these terms, and I will pursue legal action.