One of the major announcements from Sony at Gamescom last month was that of LittleBigPlanet HUB, a free-to-play entry in the eminently charming sticky-tape-and-string series. If you saw our predictions article prior to the event, you likely saw that we included the announcement of LittleBigPlanet 3. What you wouldn’t know is that, while discussing what to incorporate, I initially floated the idea of a game in the vein of HUB, but eventually settled on what seemed the safer bet. But that’s enough self-aggrandisement for one article. So, why is the concept of LittleBigPlanet HUB so brilliant?
Before answering that question, it might be prudent to detail what the game is offering out of the gate. The initial download will provide players with free access to the first worlds of both previously released console games – amounting to 16 levels – as well as one entirely new level, along with all of the items that can be found in those levels. This is important because it also gives users access to the complete creation suite of LittleBigPlanet 2, whose items form the building blocks for user-generated content.
With that, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that Sony will make the entirety of the campaign of the two games available at a fee for each world. Given that those levels will be up to five years old, some may be miffed at having to pay for them, however considering that they expand the options available to the end-user the creative individual should have few qualms with the idea, so long as they are justifiably priced. No-one wants to be asked to pay $5 for a world pack, in spite of the plethora of content it contains, if it is ripped directly from the original releases. At five dollars a pop, users would wind up paying more than the retail releases can be picked up for. That price for entirely new content, on the other hand, would be more likely to be accepted.
Speaking of, one of the benefits of the free-to-play setup is that the developers could introduce fresh ideas without users questioning whether it was culled from the original release in an attempt to gouge them later. And LittleBigPlanet is particularly given to such expansion. The original game was expansive and gave rise to many community creations, but the additions and alterations made in its DLC and the sequel were nothing short of game-changers. From new hazards that reacted in different ways to the game’s physics engines to tools like the Paintinator, DLC additions fundamentally altered the way that levels could be constructed. Similarly, new materials could also expand the horizons in terms of what can be made.
More important than what the game offers, however, is what the community offers. As of August 2012, over 7 million levels had been created, a figure which has certainly grown in the year since, while cumulative sales of the console iterations total over 8 million. Exactly what percentage of PS3 owners that equates to is difficult to determine, as many of the second game’s sales likely derived from those that enjoyed the first, and there’s no way of knowing how many of the consoles sold were not repeat buys. For the purposes of the argument, it’s easiest to take the numbers at face value, so let us approximate that 10% of all current PS3 owners have dabbled with LittleBigPlanet. Removing the initial paywall means that an immense number of new users will get the chance to flex their creative muscles, increasing the possibilities of even more exemplary creations being uploaded.
With more people involved in creating content, it can only serve to drive competition as the best are forced to become even better and more imaginative if they want to stand out from the crowd. With some of mind-blowing levels that are already available, this is not an idea to be sneezed at. But the expansion of the community has greater ramifications than this. A huge number of new players will also have access to the user-generated levels. The upshot of this is that potential discoverability will be driven skyward, allowing the cream to rise to the top far more easily, bringing a certain level of acclaim and prestige to those that most deserve it. And this could bring reward; let us not forget that several members of Media Molecule’s team have been drafted from those that showed excellence in creation. This, however, is not the only potential avenue of reward.
Dormant within the creative community atmosphere of a game like LittleBigPlanet lies the promise of a revolution. The creation aspect as a free enterprise is heady, but this isn’t going to make it appeal to a whole new audience. Imagine, if you will, if Sony elected to incentivise excellence. Imagine if creators were able to charge a monetary fee to grant other users access to their levels.
It would not be a simple undertaking on the company’s part. It would require a system of moderation and quality appraisal beyond the capability of Media Molecule. This would be best offloaded to the community, with moderators hand-picked for their trustworthiness in the rating of others’ levels. Without this, anyone would be trying to charge top dollar for the simplest, lowest quality production in an attempt to earn some free money. Finding such people would, likely, not be a difficult proposition as the nature of the LBP community really speaks to such as them.
In addition to this, the price cap would need to be relatively low, or people simply wouldn’t be likely to pay for them. Now, Sony and Media Molecule would, naturally, want to get in on the action and skim – let’s assume a quarter – from whatever the end user charges. Even so, a level that costs 40 cents would net the creator $300 with only a thousand purchasers. The easiest way for that to be paid would be directly into a PSN wallet. It may not be the most useful method of payment to you or me, but with digital distribution becoming the norm, a great creator might never need to spend a single cent on their hobby.
I’ll freely admit that this is a bit of a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it, beyond all else, is the reason that LittleBigPlanet HUB is a fantastic concept. The series is one of the few that draws people in by engendering friendly play. Without community, the games would be nothing. There wouldn’t have been 7 million levels created. There, very likely, would not be Media Molecule. Sony understands this. To take that community, leverage it, trust and reward it is a move that would truly elevate LittleBigPlanet to the position of a killer app.