Steam Dev Days – Embracing User-Generated Content

Embracing User-Generated Content by Tom Bui, Valve


  • Why User Generated Content (UGC) is important
  • Examples from the Steam Workshop
  • How to get started
  • Rewarding your content creators

What is UGC?

Content created by the community for the purpose of personalize or adding value to your product. [Duh.] Two axis for characterizing UGC:
* Aesthetics vs.Behavior
* Parameterization vs. Creation

UGC is a service

  • Provides ongoing value to customers
  • Exposes new ways to play your game
  • Gives customers a voice
    Supported by both you and your community. A vision of your game not bounded by just your resources.

You need UGC

  • The community will make your game better
  • Beat the competition
  • Customers will experiment
  • See what works
  • Change direction if necessary
    Games that embrace UGC will do better than ones which don’t.

Example – DayZ

  • Started as a mod of ARMA 2
  • ARMA 2 sales skyrocketed
  • Officially became a standalone game

Any game can benefit

  • Multiplayer & Single-player
  • Big & Small
  • All Genres
    Examples: TF2, Skyrim, DOTA2, Don’t Starve, Dungeon Defenders, Prison Architect, Drunken Robot, Duke Nukem 3D. If the customer’s love your game – they’re going to mod it.

Example #1 – TF2

* In-game cosmetic items

Order of operations:
1. Content creators upload their files to Steam Workshop
2. Community reviews & votes.
3. TF2 Dev team vets.
4. Made available by purchasing or by playing the game.
One of the main reasons Valve built the Steam Workshop was so the community could review the items before Valve did.


  • 25% revenue share: Content creators receive 25% of the revenue from the direct sales of an item.
  • 7,850 items in Steam Workshop.
  • 514 items in TF2.
    The compensation has improved quality dramatically.

Example #2 – Skyrim

* New Weapons
* Custom Quests
* Gameplay Modifications
* Texture Updates
Centralized mod distribution and made it easy. [Man, no kidding.]


Holy Camoly!

Are they counting Bethesda DLC purchasers in that number? Seems really high. Shockingly so.]

Example #3 – Don’t Starve

* Language Packs & Tutorials
* Unique Characters
* New Items
* Gameplay Modifications
* UI Mods
Particularly good support for game personalization.

Example #4 – Counter-Strike:Global Offensive

* Maps
* In-game Items.
Solved centralized place for map distribution problem. The Steam Workshop integration is on the Game Server side with guaranteed auto-updating.

Items follow the same model as TF2 with community moderation. Over 20k skins.

Example #5 – Killing Floor

* Maps
* Characters
* Weapons
Used a top-rated content strategy but bundled into specific DLC.

Example #6 – Red Orchestra 2

* Custom maps
* Mods
Used a contest with a $35,000 prize pool – twice.

Example #7 – Portal 2

* Custom maps
Super easy map editor has resulted in over 381,000 maps. Over 3.5 years of non-stop gameplay. Interesting many top rated maps were not created by the easy-to-use tool. [Hmm…]

Example #8 – Source Filmmaker

* Maps
* Models
* Animations
* Effects
Makes posters, movies, and comics. Used to promote other UGC

Example #9 – Garry’s Mod

* Unique Characters
* New Items
* Gameplay Modifications
* Language Packs
* UI Mods
It’s seemly sole purchase is to create more UGC to share with other players.

72 products integrated with Steam Workshop as of 2/11/14

Getting Started

You should start right now

Steam Workshop

  • Searchable, centralized repository
  • Hosting, infrastructure & management
  • Rating, favoriting, sharing, etc.
  • Continual support & new features
    [The hosting thing is a big deal. Interesting, the revenue split is much more akin to Amazon’s Kindle revenue share rather than Apple’s App Store one. There’s a HUGE difference between 25% & 70%. Yet aren’t both “stores” doing basically the same thing? Is the API add-on & Steam client that much of a value add? (Now granted search in the App Store – Oy vey.)

Start with what you have

  • Start small
  • Keep it simple
  • Iterate
    Focus on one type of UGC and expand from there. Swallow your pride and get started.

Don’t limit opportunities

  • Dynamic range > ease of use
    Buttressed by the fact that the best Portal maps are done in the more complex and rough Hammer editor instead of the easy-to-use one. More power in the hands of the user is the right choice.
  • Allow free form submissions
    Allow users to tell you what they want in the game
  • Embrace external tools
    Examples: Java MD3 Model Viewer. SimPE Editor (Sims Package Editor).

Share Your Resources

  • Assets
  • Source Code for Tools
  • Data
  • Documentation
    [Can this be “safely” done in the App Store? They’re likely to do it anyway – but that just makes it faster.]

No Documentation?

  • Set up a wiki or point to Steam Guides
  • Let creators help you
    Centralize and support it as much as possible. [I like this.]

Iterate and Improve – Incorporate feedback

Learn from your customers

  • What are they trying to do?
  • How do they want to play your game?
  • Which tools need the most work?

Iterate Deliberately

  • Improve your tools where necessary
  • Or, support community that is doing it for you
  • Expand to new types of content
    The opportunity cost of letting the users give you UGC early is worth it.

Feature mods in-game

Make the lives of your UGC consumers easier. Ask users to vote and use that to figure out what the best content is. Make it all seem like one seamless experience.

Rewarding Creators

Encouraging top quality content

Build toward money

  • Financial compensation for creators is critical to ongoing quality content.
    [How can you do with code changes to tools?]

Run contents

  • Offer prize money to top-rated content
  • Ship winning content to all customers
    Works well on an intermittent basis

Release as DLC

  • Bundle up some top content
  • Polish/Optimize and sell as DLC
  • Pay the creators a share of the sales or flat fee
    [This would work in the App Store as an IAP. Is there some reason why this isn’t already happening because of the ToS?]

In-game sales

  • If you have an in-game economy
  • Accept items created by users
  • Sell them in-game
  • Pay the creators for a share of sales
    Steam Workshop does the creator pay-outs for you. Customers tell the developer AND the creators which one they like best with their dollars.

Service Providers

  • Tool vendors support TF2 item creators
  • Communities support item creators
  • It’s in everyone’s interest to support those vendors and communities
    [Blizzard is falling down on this. Why?] 5% of Steams share of the revenue go to tool vendors (i.e. Service Providers.) Examples: Polycount, Handplane, Blender. [O_o. Did not know… This further cements Valve as the games to build your portfolio in.]

Just the Start of UGC

Everything that users create that adds value to your product [sic]

UGS is everything


  • UGC makes your game more valuable
  • Steam Workshop can help
  • Start now and grow your community
  • Think outside the box

Question: How do you protect yourself from theft?
Valve doesn’t worry about that. Source code itself isn’t the value, it’s the developers. Used HL2’s source code release as an example. The people provide the value. Your execution.

Question: Do “unofficial” servers which bypass item rarity restrictions damage value?
No. The value is derived from the community on the “official” servers. Aka Monty Haul syndrome.

Question: Different Steam Workshop integrations – one with revenue share and one without.
Documentation isn’t done yet.

Question: How do you verify copyright for UGC?
Valve has a DCMA process. The community does a fairly good job of moderating the content themselves via down-voting and reporting.

Question: How do you deal with multiple play locations – not just on Steam?
Skyrim does already support this. There’s no Steam restriction on play here. [Non-answer.]

Question: What do you do to prevent backward compatibility breaks of UGC?
Some “partners” use beta branches of their games. They’ve invited those top moders to test them. [Pretty weak answer really. A more complete answer is you have to design your game to not do BC breaks unless absolutely necessary. Welcome to legacy software support – aka software as a service – aka online games. But that’s not something “game” developers want to hear and he was in partial sales mode.]

Question: How do you get internal artists to buy into UGC more?
[Got him to laugh, so clearly this has arisen.] They had this exactly problem on DOTA2. The community proved that it could do it. As artists, they loved that, so they took more of a Art Director role instead.

Question: Aren’t you giving up control over your art aesthetic?
They did have that concern for TF2 and DOTA2. That’s why they have a curated model for the Workshop. They maintain veto authority. [Duh.] It is giving up control, but that’s OK. [It’s right on that point which Blizzard has the most resistance, even though they support mods. They do not incorporate UGC into the shipping product. Allowing users to add it into their game via StarCraft2 Arcade is really as close as it comes. Even then, that only just got “turned” on for everyone just recently. Curious to see how that works out long term. Also note, no shared financial renumeration at this time.]

Question: How do you handle the security aspects from a malware perspective?
Give nodders as much control as possible but sandbox them in such a way that they can’t affect other players. Example: Lua can be sandboxed to project the base-OS. Another approach is up-vote/down-vote as another (suboptimal) approach.

Question: Long term concern, how does this scale to 1,000 games with a more diffuse contributor/creator-base? DOTA2/TF2 has a bit of a gold rush at the moment.
Not concerned because there’s a lot of great content creators out there. Only tapping a tiny portion of them. Follow up question, using Pinball Construction Set as an example where nodders got burned out. [Steam, and other centralized locations on the Internet, address that issue. It’s really a non-sequitur to bring up a game from before the Internet, especially in todays market.] They gained more artists as they add more Workshop games. They’re not seeing (many) artists migrate from one game to the next, because they have a favorite game. Professionals will optimize for their own personal revenue, but there are many who do it because they love it.

Question: How do you monetize maps without segmenting the community?
CS:GO took community maps and put them on official servers which cost money to play on. They gave 100% of the proceeds to the map creators.