Why is user-generated content on the rise, and what makes it so popular?

Whether it’s Minecraft, Fortnite or Roblox, letting players have fun seems to be the future, but why?

It seems only a short while ago that the word on everyone’s lips was ‘metaverse‘. While that concept seems to have receded from the lofty promises it initially offered, one aspect has remained at the forefront of gaming: user-generated content.

UGC is on the rise across the gaming landscape, whether in Fortnite, Roblox, or a myriad of other games. It has become the calling card of the now-defunct ‘metaverse’, the silver bullet for keeping games fresh, and even a source of income for developers and creators alike.

What is ‘User-generated content’?

The simplest definition of user-generated content is naturally content generated by users for users on a given platform rather than by the platform’s creators or caretakers themselves. Tweets are user-generated content, YouTube videos are user-generated content, and yes, video game mods, fan games, and Roblox games are user-generated content.

User-generated content has often been inextricably tied to the concept of the ‘metaverse‘. The argument being that it is inherent to the functioning of this mystical digital land (alongside other hot topics like AI and blockchain, of course). But while the metaverse has stalled, user-generated content has exploded. Just not perhaps in the way that people had previously expected it to.

The fact is, despite statements to the contrary, user-generated content is not specific to the metaverse. Nor is it really inseparable from it. Even as far back as the earliest days of PC gaming, modifying or ‘modding’ games to include new content was commonplace, perhaps influenced by how many table-top roleplaying games – on which early PC games were often based – approved if not outright encouraged modifying the base ruleset players would purchase.

Why is UGC growing?

Alright, and now to the meat of the issue. Why is UGC on the rise? Put simply, because the industry has taken notice. We dug into the recent study on the State of UGC Games by Naavik, and as they note, there are some key events that pushed user-generated content forward last year which continue to affect 2024.

Epic Games committed to investing over $1bn to an engagement pool for Fortnite creators. Meanwhile Roblox, arguably the premiere gaming platform for UGC, has continued to grow 20% year-over-year in many metrics. And in terms of actual in-game content there are now over 40 million games on the platform by some estimates.

Roblox is undeniably the titan of user-generated content

Competing battle royale titles Fall Guys and Stumble Guys have both debuted tools to encourage players to create their own content. Meanwhile, the launch of the Unreal Editor for Fortnite has put in-depth tools into the hands of the average player, and even been leveraged by top brands like Skybound to create their own professional-quality experiences.

Even outside of massive multiplayer titles, UGC, in terms of mod use, has seen a rise. Global mega-hit and surprise success Baldur’s Gate 3 recently announced the long-awaited debut of modification tools, further fuelling an already potent user-generated content community.

There’s also the fact that UGC is simply popular with users anyway. It’s seen, in many ways, as more authentic and organic. There’s also the added factor content being made ‘by users, for users’ and thus being able to satisfy a wide range of consumer tastes.

As we noted above, Facebook’s metaverse push prompted many developers to pursue the same concept. Roblox, in 2019 would introduce their new user-generated content standards, and suddenly UGC exploded. Roblox users, it seemed, were hungry for the opportunity to make their passion projects into a viable living or side-hustle.

While the metaverse may have been too much, too early, the idea of user-generated content proved to be far more enduring. It just so happened that pursuing that vision of something like Ready Player One instead led developers like Roblox and Epic Games to a new way of monetizing player creations while letting said players make money back too.

The Benefits

The biggest positive of user-generated content is that it is, arguably, self-sustaining. UGC helps to fill in the long gaps that audiences may experience between official content drops, and a healthy user community means that they’re encouraged to throw their hat into the ring and participate.

For users they’re able to take more ownership of their gaming experience and engage with content that is created by players, for players. For developers and publishers, these are, effectively, free updates. By simply making the tools available for players to create their own content, the lifespan and user-engagement for a game increase exponentially.

For example, Bethesda – the creators of Fallout and the Elder Scrolls – have continuously followed the debut of their games with the release of their ‘Creation Kit‘ tools, which make it far easier for fans to create their own mods for the game. As noted in fan discourse, the ease of use of these tools has helped fuel thousands of mods, eclipsing many other – just as popular – titles in the RPG genre.

In Bethesda’s case the Creation Kit, it could be argued, has dramatically lengthened the lifespan of their games, and encouraged some players to pick up new versions of the game as they come out, thanks to the new features and modernisation updates that allow for more complex mods.

The Risks

Of course there are problems with UGC. The biggest of which is moderation; content created solely for users means it’s subject to the whims of said users. One needs to only look as far as the infamous incident during a Street Fighter 6 tournament held on Twitch that briefly displayed a character in their birthday suit.

Even if this is received in relative good humour by fans and users, it can generate heat back at home and force a sudden about-face by developers and publishers that is much less well-received. But then, this is an exceptional example, surely not the norm?

Well, we need only look as far as UGC super-heavyweight Roblox and the continuous problems faced by them regarding moderation. Thanks to a userbase heavily weighted towards younger players, but with a not-insignificant amount of older players, content with adult themes like graphic violence can – without proper moderation – end up in front of an audience it’s not appropriate for.

The TTRPG & UGC connection

The connection between video games and tabletop roleplaying gamins is immutable. And it also offers us a glimpse of the severe risk over-zealous moderation and the attempt to capitalise on user-generated content can be.

Wizards of the Coast, the owners and publishers of Dungeons & Dragons attempt to alter OGL licencing agreements (that allowed fans to make their own supplements that were compatible with D&D’s official rules) was met with furor. And eventually, the company was forced to relent.

What we see here, in the abstract, is a textbook example of policing user-generated content and user backlash forcing a climbdown. WotC may still be assessing the damage this decision caused, and it has arguably helped kill a cottage industry of D&D 5e supplements.

“But I’m a serious developer/publisher! Why do I care about silly dice games?” Well, because this is the risk and benefit of user-generated content. It is a symbiotic relationship, which is something WotC failed to understand.

Photo by Clint Bustrillos on Unsplash

Customers bought Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition for the promise of both official content and the ability to integrate player-created supplements. People play Roblox because of the free user-generated content; the experiences. This benefits the original develope-slash-publisher and the creator of user-generated content, creating a reciprocative cycle.

What we see here is a another cautionary tale, and a demonstration of that social contract between developer and content creator. Imagine if Roblox started charging entry, (or a monthly fee) for individual experiences rather than relying on organic income, and you can see how other industries struggle to understand and engage with UGC and the pitfalls gaming UGC must avoid. These are the possible long-term risks, and it’s important to temper excitement with the growth of UGC with the understanding of how it works.

User-generated content or developer-made mods?

Of course, the growth of UGC needs to be further defined, and we need to look at the possible futures. After all, at the moment the metaverse hangover is still there, and for many publishers and developers, the impetus is to know how to monetise UGC. Once again, Bethesda has committed, but struggled, to market its curated Creation Club mods to an audience used to free modifications.

The Creation Club allows content creators to officially monetise their mods

Mods are almost an entirely different beast to UGC, while still being quite similar. They are community, rather than developer-driven, and often exist independent of tools to facilitate them (note the BG3 community had already been working on mods before the existence of official tools).

In many ways what Bethesda tried to do was arguably the wrong way to go about it. Trying to charge money for modifications and user-generated content conflicts with the desire for free, community-driven content. And while the Creation Club still has a solid niche, it still pales in comparison to unofficial mods.

Why does this then work for platforms like Roblox? Because the content is free, it’s everything around it, like in-app or in-game purchases, where the business side of things are done. Payment is voluntary, in this case. Much like how a mod developer may have a Patreon for fans to supplement their income, a player purchasing something like Robux is doing so voluntarily, because the core experiences are already free.


So, why is UGC growing? Well, from what we’ve gathered in this article the simplest judgement would be that after years of pushback or just ‘not getting it’, publishers and developers are finally realising the potential of user-generated content. The metaverse, whatever else you can say about it, finally had companies like Roblox realise the potential of UGC.

Consider, if you will, long-term live-service games like World of Warcraft. What do they require? Years if not decades of continuous support, high-quality updates and incremental additions to satisfy player demand. That puts a huge burden on developers, and all it takes is a period of inactivity or lower-quality additions to quickly kill off player numbers.

Games like Minecraft reached the pinnacle of interactive media and changed the public perception of gaming as a whole. But if you lay out the actual content in the game, it’s far less than most titles which have still sold far less. User-generated content, even solely for the consumption of a single player, catapulted this game to super stardom.

It seems that the future of gaming is what users will make of it.

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