Space Engineers Fishes For Community Ships

This is a ship.

Space Engineers. I haven’t been back since I accidentally broke Craig’s space shark and sent a gigantic Han Solo hurtling into the distant reaches of space but there are now exploration-based plans afoot.

The plans talk a lot about ships and stations in the game. Marek Rosa of developers Keen Software House said in a blog post earlier in December, “The exploration feature will add a practically infinite number of ships and stations to the game world, so there will always be something new to discover, explore, acquire and conquer.”

A practically infinite number of ships and stations is a big ask. As part of the blog post, Rosa was asking the community how the developers should handle it. Three options were presented. One was procedural generation (according to Rosa: “this would require a lot of additional work and the result will never be as good as what creative humans can create”). The other options were hiring designers or – as you’ve probably guessed – using creations from the community.

According to Rosa’s blog post, the Steam Subscriber Agreement meant the developers could just incorporate the workshop creations into the game without asking but they didn’t want to do that and risk annoying everyone, hence the poll.

With regard to the SSA point, I was curious so I re-read it and I think he’s talking about section 6.B which states “In some cases, Workshop Contributions may be considered for incorporation by Valve or a third-party developer into a game or into a Subscription Marketplace,” although I must say my interpretation of that clause is very different to Rosa’s. I wouldn’t have thought it would allow the developer carte blanche to take workshop creations and make them part of the core game without permission. There’s also a provision in section 6.A which does grant the right for the workshop contributions to be used, reproduced, modified and so on but it applies to the operation and promotion of Steam and grants those rights to “Valve and its affiliates”, not third-party developers.

This is a tunnel. Look. I am suffering from alt-text fatigue, to be honest with you. The entire act of crafting alt-text feels like a terrifying competition with xkcd where you can never win, only achieve adequacy. I mean I could start adding in a few maths jokes of my own here and there but they might seem jarring and weirdly out of place. They don't even go over well on twitter. Here's one. Why is it impossible to work out how much pastry you need to cover a circular pie? Because PIE ARE SQUARED! Did you laugh? Please say you laughed :(

Aaaaanyway. The poll swung massively in favour of the community inclusion which is no great surprise as the survey’s wording is heavily biased against the other two options, making them sound unreasonable or undesirable. There was also no option in the poll to reject the idea of using community contributions as a major source of content in a game for which you are charging money or to suggest Keen use the community bits but try to figure out a way to reward the community for said work beyond a name in the game credits.

Some players reacted enthusiastically, but the issue was mentioned in the comments in various forms. The upshot of the discussion seems to be that Keen will still source the ships from the community but not treat the workshop as a content bank to be mined out as and when they fancy. Submissions are instead solicited via the official forum, presumably so that only people who wanted their creations used in that manner would offer them up. Further rounds of submissions are expected, and a recent video outlined a number of rules, suggestions and encouragements to further guide the community in terms of their contributions.

The submissions process is a lot better than the initial proposal seemed to suggest but it’s a system which still makes me feel uneasy. The free-of-charge contributions of the community are becoming a significant part of the base game which is earning the developers money. This isn’t a nice extra to reward the community, this is a sizeable contribution to a feature of the game which is saving the developers time and cash.

I’m interested to know how you feel about developers using community creations in this way – what say you?

20 Comments

  1. tehsid says:

    I’m ok with this, within reason. If they pull 100 or 200 ship designs in, then I’m not ok with it. If they pick 10 or so really excellent ships that fit will with the gameplay they are looking for and credit the builders, then I’m fine with it.

    I’m sure there is a happy middle ground that people can agree on, but I’m not sure what that would be.

    • Brian says:

      They most certainly are going to be including 200+ ships and bases, probably more than 1000+. That’s the point of this. If it was just 10 or so they would just build the ships themselves.

      Either way though, when you upload blueprints to the workshop you have the option to tag it for “Exploration”, so this entire process certainly does look completely voluntary.

      It isn’t as simple as just using any ship from the workshop, they need to be designed with Exploration in mind. They need ammo added, feeder systems so turrets reload and fire, fuel added, and ideally random booby traps, and other surprises for players.

      This seems to be a click-bait article written by someone who jumped to alarmist conclusions without researching all the facts.

      • Premium User Badge

        Philippa Warr says:

        The article explains that what appeared to be just a blanket “we want to use the workshop contents” in Rosa’s original post ended up taking the form of a submissions process.

        • Otterski says:

          Philippa Warr says:
          “The article explains that what appeared to be just a blanket ‘we want to use the workshop contents’ in Rosa’s original post ended up taking the form of a submissions process.”

          To use your own words, “I must say my interpretation of that [article] is very different…”

          Philippa Warr says:
          “I replied above too, but I explained in the article that what was presented as potentially using anything from the workshop became a selection process.”

          Again, just to remind you of what you wrote, “…the survey’s wording is heavily biased against the other two options, making them sound unreasonable or undesirable.”

          While your comments do state the truth, they only explain a very small portion of “what was explained in the article.” A half-truth is still dishonest. I don’t believe your readers are speaking to whether you detailed the evolution of an idea issued by a game studio. That occurs with most ideas issued by game studios. They evolve. Your readers are speaking to why you’ve painted Keen a bad guy, and the possible justification for viewing an empirically typical inclusion of community content in such a negative light.

          The article that you, yourself have written, is heavily biased against the option elected by the majority. There is a precedent for the model described by Rosa. That’s how the world works, in science and in politics. The world is literally governed by precedent. The community model is an accepted model, or in other words, it is a typically inoffensive and frequent business practice within the industry. Not to mention that what you observed to be bias was in actuality thoughtful and entirely plausible reasoning. You can interpret it how you will, and share your thoughts, but that won’t change the true nature of the situation.

          Perhaps I can offer some possible justification for the actions behind your other complaints.

          Philippa Warr says:
          “There was also no option in the poll to reject the idea of using community contributions as a major source of content in a game…”

          Aside from the humorous, categories that are not projected to have statistic significance are not typically added to polls. If equal representation was included for every individual opinion that encompassed the lower percentile, the poll would be a survey, and said survey would take hours to complete.

          Philippa Warr says:
          “…section 6.B… …section 6.A… [quick, baseless analysis of legality].”

          Here you may be getting a bit deep. This is not to say you’re not qualified to give a deposition on the matter, but I’d expect you to at least have an LSAT score to lend some weight to your opinion. Unless I’m mistaken, you were speaking about legal obligations, were you not?

          Anyhow, you have the right to freely share whatever opinions you desire, or whatever opinions you may have been told to share by your superiors. Thank goodness, too! For I’m entitled to the right to point out the hypocrisy in your fallacy laden writing.

          • jtgibson says:

            I didn’t personally find anything particularly *misleading* about her article. The squick from the initial wording of the blog post bugged the heck out of me too. I do think this deserves a PC Gamer style “Update”, but otherwise it’s pretty much bang on to how I felt when I read Rosa’s blog post — the poll options were so incredibly loaded that it begged the question why there was even a poll at all, although I will agree that community opinion seems all for it. Which is good!

            As for society being ruled by precedent, this is true, but only sort of. Legally, nothing about stare decisis is binding on equivalent levels. As the Supreme Court of Canada once pointed out, nothing about precedent forces someone to persist in repeating a mistake — and indeed, fundamental justice often goes above and beyond what popular opinion wants in order to avoid the tyranny of the majority. Obviously “whether or not Keen should use content that people submitted for free download” isn’t a category where the full-on legal standard of precedent is necessary, but there’s a point in there that consensus and precedent are not always *right*. For one perspective, even if society flagrantly disobeys the law, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the law is unsound, merely that its current application is (e.g., marijuana may not be physically harmful, but can be socially harmful). For the opposite, even if a law exists doesn’t mean that it’s a morally acceptable law (e.g., people should not be ostracised and sent to be exposed to serious criminals just because of simple possession of marijuana). Either option is missing the subtle shades of grey — what’s probably most right is somewhere in the frequency range, and not necessarily in the middle.

            That all said, having defended her original intention, I *do* agree that it comes off as a bit unnecessarily alarmist since it appeared *after the fact*. If it was posted in the form of “oh geez, this isn’t right!” (as I felt) and then was updated with an “oh okay, the compromise was purely voluntary opt-in so it’s not as bad as it sounded” (as I also felt) it’d be a lot more understandable, but instead it was posted like “oh crap, my poll option wasn’t chosen and the developers are taking the easy way out and this is why their original intention sucked even though that’s not really relevant anymore”.

            Really, this article is just one of those things that points out a genuine concern in the wrong way. Making a poll where you guide people to select the option you want is *never* cool — it’s bad science and worse politics. Whenever you get a poll with results this heavily skewed into significance it tells you that it was a bad design.

            They could simply have said 1) “develop a procedural ship/station generator”, 2) “focus in-house on new ship designs”, or 3) “allow community members to include their designs” — value-neutral and fair. Instead we have, cited for the record with my emphasis added, 1) “Develop a procedural ship/station generator (which can take months of programmer work)“, 2) “Hire dozens of designers who will design these ships (while not working on new scenarios/missions), or 3) “Use what the SE community has already created (more than 50,000 creations)”. This kind of loading is a valid concern, and it’s good to see them called out on it — but bad that they were also then called out on non-issues because the writer’s opinions were coloured too much by the original concern.

            TL/DR: Original blog post was biased, which is bad, but article did overreact, so there’s a meet halfway, kinda.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Craig Pearson says:

    I am ready to return to Space Engineers whenever you are, Pip.

  3. plaYer2k says:

    Well as someone who dumped well over 1000h in this game aswell as grew up in the Half-Life-Mod-Era where 99.99% of the half life related contributions where community creations, i may be strongly biased already, but lets see.

    Space Engineers itself was always about the creations. You show off what you could achieve within the games limites. Initially it was just a few small ships that increasingly looked stylish. Though over the time with more complex components like the rotors and much later pistons, we did build very interesting mechanical constructions and even automated facilities.

    In SE it became more a thing of “hey i discovered a new technique” and suddenly people were using that new technique in a fashion not seen before.
    Quite like technological advancements in the real world where new things like an electric engine, LEDs, the internet got invented/discovered (“discovered” beceause essentially they have always been possible and we just discovered how to do it ourself and utilize it).
    As example i would like to use (of course) one of my older discoveries about how the game handles a structures integrity: link to youtube.com
    Such a simple discovery later on led to developments of decoy torpedos that are meant to overload an enemies defense in order to either strike with a payload link to youtube.com + link to youtube.com or to simply distract fire for as long as possible link to youtube.com

    There have been many very interesting and complex designs the community came up with and everyone was keen to share so others could not just admire (well we are humans, we seem to need it) but also learn from those methods and utilize them themself so they on the other hand could come up with alternative approaches unique to what was there before.
    That said, for me as creative player, the game is a huge functional testbed for a minimalistic CAD.

    Furthermore on the topic of “can you embed a feature that is highly based on community content?” i could only argue about modding support on its own. Almost all mods are community driven. Rarely a developer releases own mods, and even more rare so developed with company money (working hours). That means that the same question about wether such a feature is “morally right” or not had to be an old question as many games made community content so easily available. Just think about the good old Counter-Strike 1.6 where on connect you download a new map, a variation of sound effects and models, all what is not part of the original game but accessible to everyone without doing anything but launch and connect the game.

    Sure one could answer that the case in SE would be different as they want to directly include the files in their game, but imo there are options to work around that entirely by adding:
    – a better and more upload tags for those creations so you can assign your builds to factions, roles and scenarios
    – a community based votings/evaluation on uploads so people can judge if a certain upload is appropriate for that description or not and even suggest changes to both the design aswell as the description
    – a valued world builder for their procedural universe generation that accounts the “quality”, as decided by the community through votings, to add them into the world on the go

    With such a system you could give your community the tools to create a living universe where you can venture through a dark sector suddenly finding the creations of your own, your friends and those of everyone else without the developers doing so. One of the key features many did want a long time already … an MMO-like experience that simply feels like a “living universe” where you are not alone anymore.

    But lets see how they really implement that feature. The above is simply my own perception and hope for the future, and i know how far from reality i can be by experience :D

  4. aleander says:

    I laughed. Twice.

  5. ZombieJ says:

    So it’s as if Minecraft implemented a feature where if you travelled long enough you’d start to see other people’s creations? Given that SE is a creative game I’m ok with that, sounds like a pretty cool idea tbh, though I’d still like to see the game world fleshed out with a little more than endlessly drifting ghost ships.

  6. Madster says:

    If you dont want your creasion in the game then dont put the blueprint in the workshop shop. And sure keen gets the money but i reather put mye creations up for free then waiting a long time to get the openworld updaten. I have some builds that i am not putting out becaus i dont feel like sharing my build but ther ar pictures in the web Just not the blue print.

  7. Brian says:

    This article is totally wrong. You have to flag your creation with an “Exploration” tag when you upload it to the workshop if you want it included for exploration.

    • Premium User Badge

      Philippa Warr says:

      I replied above too, but I explained in the article that what was presented as potentially using anything from the workshop became a selection process.

  8. vecordae says:

    I’ve never played Space Engineers, but I did rather fancy the similar-sounding Starmade, with all its complex systems and the ability to build ships that could strip-mine worlds within seconds.

    • Smashbox says:

      Pretty fun, but not fully baked.

      Just like Space Engineers.

      Here’s hoping for more robust featuresets next year!

  9. greener says:

    I think Space Engineers is a great (albeit simple) game. I’ve happily recommended it on various sites. I was also delighted by the announcement that they were working on this new aspect of the game.

    But I’ll admit to sharing Philippa’s reservations about using players as unpaid developers. Sales for Space Engineers have been VERY good. So they’re not small or struggling indie developers. With the amount of money they’ve made I am surprised that we haven’t seen much faster development. And I’m not alone in that view. There’s growing discontent on this score.

    I’m still a fan of the game but having seen SOE try to do something similar and seemingly fail with Landmark and EQN, I am not convinced this scheme will pay off. Developers creating mod tools and allowing players to share them is great for players and something which can massively boost sales (eg. the Elder Scrolls games). But actually taking (or asking for) that content and incorporating it into the product is moving into different territory.

    Possibly they should have taken the same road as Spore. They didn’t rely on user-created content. They had developer and procedurally created content – i.e. their product was ‘complete’ – and on top of that allowed for users to share content they had created with each other.

  10. bogwedgle says:

    Personally, I think it’s a great idea, The community spends hours and hours building and creating, and to be able to gt those creations into the game, to be able to share them with the whole community, not just those who go trawling through the workshop, is fantastic, it gives those hundreds of hours a real purpose. I mean sure they’re making money off the game, but they’re hardly making us program it for them, they’re asking for voluntary contributions to a game we love, for which we get our name in the credits. I am perfectly happy to help support this game, I lose nothing whatsoever by tagging my ships for the exploration mode, especially if I was going to make the ships anyway, and I get to feel like all that building was worth it.

  11. DasBlob says:

    I find the article overly negative, beginning with the choice of words (“fishes”) in the headline. The first half describes at length a path of action that would indeed have been fishy, *but that the developers in the end did not take*. The upshot is: So far, you could voluntarily share your own desings in the workshop. Now, you can voluntarily have your designs included in the game (and get your name in the end credits as a thank you). In a game where designing ships and showing your designs appeals to so many players, I think it’s great to have this option. Yes, this adds content to a game that is sold for money. But isn’t that the case with all games which sell better because of an active modding community or dedicated player base? Does the existence of mods not help the Arma series sell better? Do customers not factor the additional value from mods in, when they decide wether to buy an entry in the Elder Scrolls series? I think the line that some people feel is crossed here is the direct incorporation of the community content into the game. But what is really the difference between that and me including that same community content in the workshop – aside from checking a lot of individual boxes? As long as contributing content is equally voluntary, I think this is just not that different.

  12. grazazel says:

    I think it is a big plus too that they chose to ask the community. Unllike some other games for example minecraft where the developers of that keep ripping off mod ideas to add to the game instead of coming up witht there own ideas, so this is a big positive for me

  13. Rindan says:

    Snagging folks creations without asking is a bit dickish, but letting them offer them up? What is the harm? The article fails to articulate what the harm could possibly be. Community involvement is the landmark of many of my favorite games.

    It kind of reminds me of Burning Man. If you ever go to Burning Man, stand near the center, and do a 360 degree twirl. You will see vastly more crazy and creative outdoor art than what most humans will see in a lifetime in that quick spin. Disney, with all of its cash and creative folks, couldn’t replicate insane diversity and grandeur of Burning Man if they blew a billion dollars trying to do it. Disney simply doesn’t have the collective creativity of a few thousand people all doing their own thing unfettered by a corporate structure. It isn’t about money or time, it is about diversity of views.

    The modding community is kind of like its own little minnie Burning Man. It is a bunch of people with wildly different expectations that through sheer number of and diversity of perspectives create stuff that is far greater than what a developer could do on their own. I really can’t fault a developer for wanting to tap into this pipe line. They already do this when they offer up modding hookups. Taking it one step further and letting folks voluntarily submit their work for inclusion is just another step forward on this path. People do this because they want to share, and as a consumer, I want to experience it. There are no losers. The only people to complain are those you wanted to be paid for doing the work. That, alas, is the complaint of every single person trying to make a living in the creative field since roughly the dawn of time.