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User-Led Innovation: The Case of Crytek

The next speaker at Challenge Social Innovation is Birgit Blättel-Mink, who focusses on the case of German games developer Crytek (which developed Far Cry, Crysis, and other games), based in Frankfurt, which engages with its users as innovators. The company has some 600 employees distributed across five international studios and two distribution centres; its core product is the Cry games engine.

Crytek’s user community includes casual gamers (on social networks), hardcore gamers (in the Crytek Mycrisis community and other online communities), and modders who generate modified games modules and take part in various specialist communities. Casual gamers are engaged with for marketing and promotion, hardcore gamers participate in quality control, bug reports, and bug fixing, and modders drive user-led innovation.

Why would gamers participate voluntarily in such processes, without payment? Crytek provides a range of virtual design toolkits which allow them to create their own products; this turns them from passive consumers (players) to active problem solvers, and enables them to share their designs and have them produced and distributed by the company. Such toolkits can have positive effects for the users, who can individualise their products, gain pride of authorship, and also simply enjoy the process; for the production company, this speeds up innovation processes, increases positive identification of users with the company, and increases customers’ willingness to spend more on these games.

This follows a produsage model: a collaborative and continuous development of content which is never finished and always provides further opportunities for development. Clearly defined roles of producer and user break down, and produsers become active editors and users at the same time. For the company, this is also a process of what’s been called interactive value creation: this relies on voluntarism and reciprocity, on the self-selection and self-organisation of users who are motivated by their own usage as well as various other in- and extrinsic motivations, and on open innovation as well as mass customisation. This is useful to identify information on user needs and potential solutions to address them.

Crytek can be seen as an open collaborative innovation project: a process of open problem solving by volunteer, non-competitive actors where innovation processes are modularised and based on the free revealing of new ideas. Are modders motivated more by intrinsic than extrinsic motives? Do open structures enable a collaborative value creation process for the company?

Birgit and her team conducted a survey of modders, and semi-structured interviews with designers, to study this. Users responding were all male, 60% below 20 years of age and 90% below 29; 59% were still in school, and 30% had a high school degree. The 195 respondents came from 39 countries. They had three types of motives – intrinsic (satisfied by the action itself), extrinsic (by the effects of the action), or social (by the actions of others). Creative aspects were an important driver, and soft skills (giving and accepting criticism) were valued over competitive elements. Indeed, social, intrinsic, and extrinsic motivations all turned out to contribute importantly to participant motivations.

This especially also includes career motivations, by the way, and indeed, the company has hired staff from the modding community on a number of occasions (some 30-40 people so far). The company also saw this as a win-win situation benefitting both sides; modders were seen as highly experienced and knowledgeable, thus also shortening development times. Modders were seen as really understanding community and products inside and out.

There also was a high identification between company staff and the community, and a sense of mutual support – a substantial level of coherence between the company and the community of modders (which are also actively rewarded by the company). There is a relationship of trust and ethical behaviour: the company would never just copy modder developments without acknowledging or rewarding the community (or even hiring the developers concerned).

Produsers, then, have a mixture of intrinsic, extrinsic, and social motivations, and especially a hope to become professional designers; for the company, the openness of the product enables the development of the product through collaborative and cooperative processes. How much this is typical only for the games industry, or can also be transferred to other industries, remains to be seen, however.

But for whom are the community of users working, then: for themselves or for the company? Who sets the rules of participation and collaboration, and what are their intentions? How is active involvement of the company in the community managed? Is this a strategic and planned process (and planned by whom), and who regulates this process? Finally, are such innovations successful, and how are they diffused further? To what extent are we also dealing with the commercial exploitation of a volunteer community here?