[Mining his Lego-filled childhood, game designer Marek Bronstring describes four kinds of "player creators" -- Builders, Imaginers, Experimenters, and Destructors -- and shares how game developers can tailor user-generated content opportunities to them.]

User-generated content is playing an increasing role in gaming. Gamers are not just able to customize aspects of the experience, but many games now feature rich and deeply integrated authoring tools. As more games become at least partially reliant on player creativity, it's useful to think about the different kinds of players who create and share content.

It's agreed upon amongst game designers, as well as Web 2.0 developers, that not all users want to be creators. The so-called 90-9-1 rule says that generally 90 percent of the userbase consumes, 9 percent creates from time to time (or engages in low-level participation, such as tagging or commenting), and only 1 percent are heavy contributors.

The numbers may be different for games that make it exceptionally easy to be creative, but in any case, it's widely understood that not everyone will want to create, and most games are designed around that understanding.

That's generally where the thinking stops, though. We make distinctions between "creators" and "consumers" and take those two groups into account, but what happens when we zoom in on the creators? Are they all the same? Actually, not everyone wants to create in quite the same way. Inspired by the Bartle types of MMO players, I wondered if it was possible to determine different types of player-creators.

Searching For A Creator Typology

What set off my train of thought was recalling my experiences with Lego, the granddaddy of user-generated content (well, kind of). I absolutely loved playing with Lego as a kid. I played with Lego bricks in a specific way, and was often surprised by the completely different styles of playing that other kids had.

n696655915_1011423_3583I always thought about what I wanted to build with Lego. Was it going to be a spaceship? Or the Eiffel tower? Or a medieval castle (like the one I built in the picture)? I conceptualized what I was going to make, and then set about to do it.

When I constructed, say, a wall of a building, I used same-colored bricks. That was always a huge point for me. A wall could be any color, but I never mixed the colors together, because that looked messy and unrealistic. I took a fairly structured approach to Lego building, and I think that put me in a particular category.

When friends came around to play, they would often just build something without a pre-conceived plan, mixing all kinds of bricks together. They'd grab random pieces from the box one by one, pieces that they thought were cool, and then decided where to stick them on.

These were the kids who'd not aim to build a spaceship or a castle, but who'd end up constructing "something that kinda looks like a house with trees on the roof that can also fly... but it's hard to tell."

Instead of building something specific, they looked for new combinations of bricks, and then figured out what it meant to them later, using their imagination along the way. Their creations could mutate dramatically throughout this process.

Sometimes, I'd play with a friend who'd instead come up with random challenges. For instance, one time we tried to build stairs out of Lego bricks without support columns and see how far we could get. Why? Just because!

Or he'd want to see if we could get the electric train to fly off a ramp and crash, or maybe if we could create some kind of lift for the parking garage so that cars could get to the different levels.

Finally, one time I played with this kid who only just built really high towers and then randomly smashed them, running around and giggling like a girl. This left me utterly confounded. What on earth was he doing? Is that what happens when you eat too much candy?

The Four Types Of Player-Creators

When I recalled all these different ways of playing with Lego, I realized they may be representative of four distinctly different types of creators. I tried to come up with labels that most accurately reflect their tendencies.

Builders

Builders, or architects, tend to pre-conceptualize their creations. They create in ways that seems sensible or structured to them. They build step-by-step, looking for the best version of what they envisioned.

A Builder might say, "I'm going to create an Indiana Jones level!" Or "I'm going to make a character who really means business, like Jack Bauer, except he's also an alien and has a cool laser gun." Then they'll look for the tools and options that will best enable them to do this.

Imaginers

Imaginers are more like the jazz musicians. They improvise with the tools, grab different elements, and see where it leads them. Imaginers tend to pre-conceptualize less. Instead they roll their Katamari ball through the creative landscape and see what sticks, then imagine afterwards what their creation is or how it works.

Imaginers don't mind creating things that don't make perfect sense, or mixing different themes together, or creating a bit of a mess.

Experimenters

Like mad scientists, Experimenters are driven by a desire to test the limits of the tools or game world (or perhaps alternatively the limits of their abilities). The experimenter wonders if you can create an animal with 50 legs. He wonders how fast you can make the cart catapult itself through the level.

Like Builders, they pre-conceptualize their experiment, but like Imaginers, they take a more free-flowing approach to implementing them.

Destructors

The Michael Bays of user creativity, Destructors build things mostly thinking about how cool it'll look when you blow it up. They're not to be confused with griefers; Destructors don't just want to mess things up, they want to construct things first and then mess them up. They like explosions.

Destructors might build a huge stack of crates (or preferably melons or ragdolls or anything) just to see it blow up or collapse in the most spectacular way possible.

Not Mutually Exclusive

These types should not be seen as mutually exclusive. Players can be one or more of these types at the same time, or switch between them.

For instance, I believe that most players who are not primarily Destructors will become one sometimes, especially when they're fed up with a slow creative process and want to see some dramatic effects. A common behavior in SimCity is to save your city and then unleash countless tornadoes and earthquakes just to see the city crumble and burn.

When I played with Lego, I was most comfortable being a Builder, but would frequently slip into Imaginer mode. While I enjoyed playing alone, because then I could just stick to my default creation mode, it was refreshing to play with other kids sometimes, because they forced me to create in different ways that I wasn't familiar with, and often the output would be really cool.

Using The Four Creator Types In Game Design

I believe that these four player-creator types can be used as a mental checklist for any game that involves player-created content. They can trigger specific questions about your game, such as:

- Which types of creators does the game hope to attract?
- Which types of creators does a feature appeal to?
- Does the game encourage switching between creator modes and if so, how?

Much like you probably don't want to create an MMO just for Achiever types or just for Explorer types (referring back to Bartle's types here), creative tools shouldn't be geared towards supporting only one type of creator.

When certain creator types are under-served, the designer may decide to add more features that will appeal to them. A "give me a random object" button will appeal to Imaginers, while an achievement for highest object velocity will be exciting to Experimenters.

Destructors will be highly attracted to games with some form of physics simulation or pyrotechnics, as without them there's very little else to enable what they want to see.

By providing specific goals or achievements, a game can also encourage players to explore different styles of creation. Sometimes players may want to try creating in a different way than they're used to.

Of course not all games that include some form of player-created content can foster all kinds of creativity, but by being conscious of the different types of creators, we can design games that are more inclusive, more engaging and hopefully more fun.

[Marek Bronstring is a game designer specializing in online and browser-based games. He most recently worked at NCsoft Europe on an unannounced project. Currently he is freelancing and blogging at Gameslol.]