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Tech by VICE

Crowdsourced Video Games Are a Terrible Idea

Unsurprisingly, when you let average players decide how video games are made, they turn out super weird.

by Zack Kotzer
Jul 23 2014, 2:38pm
Image: please be nice :(

You can choose from characters like a Mudkip, a tank, a core from Portal and Nic Cage. For weapons you've got your pick of a pistol, a turtle, and what looks like a shake-weight. Every text on the option menu is written in Doge-tongue, with Doge's ghostly, wandering face fading in when you hover the cursor around.

The game I’m talking about, please be nice :( , is a messy club sandwich of a production, too drenched from memes to avoid collapsing all over your fries. But game developer Aran Koning knew this would happen, or he wouldn’t have ended the title in a frowny face.

Koning’s creation is a video game partly made by player suggestions. And when it was first posted online, there was only one winning condition: make your way from the top left corner of the screen to the bottom right. The first person to accomplish this would get to suggest the next feature of the game, which, as things began, was pretty modest. Then more winners kept suggesting more and more features.

“The first one was, ‘I’d like to see a character selection screen, with at least three options and one I’d like to play as if I were a girl,’” said Koning. “Yeah, that one was pretty doable.”

The version you can play now is not nearly as humble. There are blue cartoon birds spawning everywhere, cooing “Notice me senpai” and “Uguuuu~” flocking around you even after you die. All from the suggestions of winners. 

There are more stray bullets, obstacles, animation effects, dust ball enemies, disembodied heads than I know what to do with. In fact, while I'm playing this game, I sort of never know what I’m doing. You eat drumsticks for health, that part is pretty clear. Having to out-eat a giant angry pig head abruptly, less so. 

“That was one really weird suggestion, ‘finish before evil pig,’” says Koning. “That really didn’t make any sense to us, so we made a little mini-game where you have to out-eat a pig. That’s it. The weirdest would be ‘exploding bridge.’ It was pretty early on, at that point, we didn’t have anything that would even need a bridge. We didn’t have water, we didn’t have ridges, nothing to do with bridges. This guy just comes in and asks for exploding bridges.”

Koning subjected himself to the project after watching the calamity of Twitch Plays Pokémon, a group attempt to make it through Pokémon Red that took over two nonstop weeks and an estimated million players. The result was a hysterical, fascinating, frustrating quest, the very best Pokémon trainer of them all spinning in circles, opening and closing menus, and worshiping the Helix Fossil.

Aran knew he needed this virtual-roundtable force to channel into a game. 133 additions later to please be nice :(, and Koning’s team has only ever rejected the suggestion of ‘twerking.’

“The ideas that come from the players are always really small,” says Koning. “They’re fifteen or twenty words. We then have to figure out a way to make that work. We have to see how that suggestion fits in the game. Someone suggested a vortex-gun, which is really awesome."

According to Koning, while players make suggestions, the finer technical aspects to the new feature still rest with the game developers. Like how fast the pixel per-second the bullet for the vortex-gun will actually travel or what it looks like.

One of Koning’s previous games, Coins Doors Enemies, also bows to player preference, changing to fit which variables the user chooses. please be nice :( takes that to the next level, letting its victors decide where the game goes next in the most absurd way. While this is more experimental example of crowdsourced game development, it does reflect a thunderstorm coming towards the world of gaming.

Players and their game makers have never been closer: developer Twitch streams, Twitter and Kickstarter mean, for better or worse, game consumers can feel like their idols are on call. This could ideally include improvements, suggestions, and preferences that could make an experience more admirable. But it mostly won’t.

Crowdsourcing game making opens up the door for more whining, raging and trolling from gamers. Sometimes Nintendo acknowledges they’ve overlooked a demographic, and promises to do better, which is good. But this could become a troubling pattern for game makers. Just look at game company BioWare nervously surveying fans for their next entry of Mass Effect.

Ultimately, the studios that make the games are still the ones putting things into place, but on top of the stress of completing software, users can now also be found collectively breathing down their necks on social media platforms. It’s good when the right demands get through, but we know the voice of the Internet too well to know that isn’t always going to be the case.

So look at please be nice :( as a refreshing novelty while you still can. A nightmarish glimpse of a future that could be, our games overrun with demanded jpegs and terrible suggestions to sate the thirsty masses.

As for Koning, he said that he hopes to make a spiritual sequel to please be nice :(, one done live at events. He's keenly interested to see what the comment box fills up with when players have to show up in person to suggest changes rather than hide behind their keyboards.

“I think that would be really cool to see,” says Koning, “then you can really see a difference between certain types of events. Maybe if you’re at a game development event you’ll get a lot more serious ideas, and if you’re at something like E3, maybe something a little more crazy. The audience will reflect how the game will be.”