Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Name It! and the potential of player-generated content in social games

A couple days ago I mentioned that SGN had launched a new game and that I was going to write about it. Well, today is the the day.

The game, Name It, is a port of Scattergories, the party game where you get a list of ten categories and a letter of the alphabet, and you have to think of a word for each category and starts with that letter, in less than a minute. If I butchered that explanation, check out Wikipedia for a more detailed explanation.

However, unlike Scattergories, new categories can be added to Name It by players. Scattergories has 192 categories, Name It, in its second week since launch, has over a thousand, ranging from lunch meat to porn stars. Of course, when you let anybody add categories, you end up with a lot of crap, which is why Wikipedia has admins. Name It is in desperate need of admins. Categories such as "abcdef", and "!!!" bruise the playing experience. They don't kill it, though, the core gameplay is still fun even if you happen on a bad category.

Putting the management problems aside, allowing players to generate the game content is a Holy Grail of the gaming industry. Content creation is the most labor intensive and costly part of game production. Imagine if World of Warcraft could outsource their content creation to its players. Blizzard, the company behind WoW, would save 10s of millions of dollars a year. I believe that's what Raph Koster's company, Areae is trying to accomplish with Metaplace, an MMOG created by the players.

Social gaming offers a very fertile environment for player-generated games, particularly if you can tap into the desire for players to create content for their friends. The early Facebook app, Quizzes, did this very well, and was extremely popular.

User-generated trivia has also done well on social networks. Thousands of people have created movie trivia quizzes on Flixster's very popular Movies app. Off Facebook, the U.S. version of Cyworld has incorporated the trivia creation engine from the site and seen a marked increase in engagement. I believe strongly that a user-generated trivia app could succeed quite well on Facebook, in fact, it was the last project we were working on at Tenuki before I shut down the company. By we, I should say Brett Harris, an awesome developer who recently started blogging about developing for Facebook and single-handedly built Tenuki Trivia.

SGN is calling Name It a wiki-game, borrowing the moniker from wikis under the premise that the content is user-generated. What really intrigues me is the potential to apply user-generated content to machine learning. Yes, I just went all geeky on you.

I'll explain. Categorization is difficult for computers. Try the example of a chair. Chairs come in countless shapes and sizes and yet you know instantly a chair when you see one. Computers can't. Chairness has to be defined for them. They are provided the schema for a chair and then they apply this schema to objects and determine if the object matches the schema of a chair.

A game like Name It provides the possibility of creating thousands of schema that can be used to teach computer how to recognize countless objects, for free. That's making games useful. If you're interested in this geeky aspect of games, check out the work of Luis von Ahn, creator of the CAPTCHA, among other things.

That's all, folks!