The User-Generated Content Landscape (and What Drives It)
by Andrew Haak
Successful user-generated content platforms have long tails.
Take a look at the concept illustration to the right. There are a few big-budget content creators, and many more content creators with relatively low budgets. User-generated content platforms empower the lower-budget producers, spanning a huge variety of passions.
There’s YouTube for video, Machinima.com for video-game cinema, WattPad for literature, Quora for Q&A, Epinions for consumer product reviews, Instagram for photos, DeviantArt for amateur art and many more. Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention ROBLOX for video games.
When you look at the numbers for some of these platforms, you see just how well user-generated content engages people – both the content creators and the consumers. In this article, we’ll look at several popular user-generated content platforms across a variety of media and offer ideas as to what makes them thrive.
The user-generated content landscape
There are a lot of user-generated content platforms out there. Pick a hobby – a niche of some sort – and you’ll find people expressing themselves with the intent of reaching a likeminded and potentially large audience.
YouTube is the poster child of user-generated content; the holy grail of video sharing. It boasts over 4 billion hours of video watched each month. For our purposes, though, the most meaningful statistic, according to YouTube’s website, is “72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.” With a little number crunching, that’s about 3.1 million hours uploaded per month.
3.1 million hours uploaded pales in comparison to the 4 billion hours watched in a YouTube month, but it represents the millions of people participating in user-generated video content.
Machinima.com is a place where individuals can share their “machinima”: video content created using video game engines. The term machinima came to be in the 90s, particularly when games like Doom and Quake started to let players record footage of their play sessions, and today it has become an entertainment and promotional phenomenon.
Machinima.com acts as a distributor for user-generated machinima. They take the highest-quality submissions and publish them to their channel. They receive 14.5 billion annual video views and logged 2.1 billion video views in July, 2012. While the site’s yearly figure is dwarfed by YouTube’s 1 trillion views in 2011, Machinima.com represents a video niche.
In July, 2012, ROBLOX users spent 29 million hours in-game. Going back to 2011, our community logged more than 250 million game hours on the year. This game-time is powered by the millions of games our users create, including 5.4 million in 2011 and 3.8 million during the first six months of 2012 (landing the average at upwards of 500,000 per month).
WattPad focuses on something very different from videos and video games – that something being literature – but uses a similar model of creation, sharing and discovery. Some of the website’s most popular titles have been read over 10 million times, while visitors log over 1.7 billion minutes on the site each month. It’s fueled by users, who post more than 500,000 stories per month.
Why do these user-generated content platforms thrive?
These user-generated content platforms draw some big numbers. Why? It’s a confluence of factors.
There’s an ease of use to content creation in the 21st century. If you’re creating video content, it can be as easy as a few touches to your phone screen. Even if you’re going for higher production values, you can now produce a professional-looking video with a hardware and software budget between $1,000 and $2,000.
At ROBLOX, we’re continually tuning and improving the content-creation experience. As many of our users know, game development is not inherently easy. It’s actually hard, and it takes practice. One of our goals is to make it as easy as possible to practice and develop good games by fine-tuning our technology – in particular, ROBLOX Studio.
Under traditional models, a buyer would review video games, movies and other media, and decide what products would make it to retail. User-generated content platforms see such a large volume of content that the traditional buyer is replaced by a huge audience of users. The audience decides what’s popular and worthwhile, so higher-quality content naturally rises to the top.
You can see this effect on ROBLOX’s Games page, where popular games rise to the top.
They remove traditional gatekeepers
While it’s long been technologically easy to write, websites like WattPad remove one of the challenging parts of the writing equation: distribution. You don’t need a book deal to publish stories and find an attentive audience. The same concept applies to video, video games, art, music and other media, thanks to web distribution.
Take a look at our recent article about what happens when a ROBLOX user publishes a game. There’s a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes, but what you see as a user is a working game on Roblox.com in seconds. It’s out there, waiting to be discovered. If it’s good enough, someone’s discovery of it might take you somewhere.
Learning through creation
User-generated content serves different purposes for different people. You may be creating content to help launch your career, to gain recognition or because you find it fun. In the end, you learn by doing something about which you’re passionate.
ROBLOX requires more innovation and creativity out of its players than other video games. Advancing up in the ROBLOX community means mastering the skills that would be necessary to launch your own web company: development, marketing, PR, design, economics, etc. User-generated content on our platform teaches users life skills that may be essential in their future.
Those are a few reasons we think user-generated content platforms have a long tail. We’d love to know your perspective. What platforms do you use to create content, and what do you get out of it?