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User Creativity in Creating Game Communities

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In searching for a job, I’ve looked at many different companies developing games for the Iphone and online social networks (and sometimes both).  What I’ve noticed is that the games that stand out as the most compelling are the games that harness user creativity to build a community.
I imagine what I’m observing is the same phenomenon that drives games like Second Life and Little Big Planet, but I think the difference here is accessibility.  Whereas those games are only accessible to the core gaming community, with more casual games, the barriers are breaking down to capturing the creativity of a much greater audience.

User Creativity

The g ames that harness user creativity are the games that tend to feel more like artist’s tools than anything else –they allow users to create images, music, stories and more.  Games like Mario Paint, Fantastic Contraption and Ocarina are all good examples.  Mario Paint allowed users to create images, music, and animations, but it was a solo experience.  Fantastic Contraption encouraged players to find unique and surprising solutions to its puzzles, then share them with a community and vote on the most interesting.  Ocarina gives the user a musical instrument and a doorway to a community of like-minded musicians.

Creative Community

Creativity is the first step, but community collaboration is really the destination.  The greatest reward of creativity is recognition; players that can share their creations and view the creations of others will develop a stronger bond with the game and create increasingly more interesting and brilliant works of art.  Community is created by opening channels to share, vote, sort, edit and collaborate.  The more channels, and the more seamless and integrated they are, the deeper the community that will grow up around them.

Creative communities may not actually be games at all , but then they may just be something better.