An aspect of online creation that separates it from "mere game play" is that online creation systems can generally be used to create new content — new objects, new locations, new creatures — rather than simply creating instances of predefined items in the game world. Some have observed that certain forms of online creation — notably those associated with creating new commands — can threaten the stability of the server.
The first publicly available mud that featured in-game creation of the game world was Monster.
"Monster allows players to do something that very few, if any, other games allow: the players themselves create the fantasy world as part of the game. Players can create objects, make locations, and set up puzzles for other players to solve. Game mechanisms allow players to:
- Create and describe new objects and locations
- Specify how game objects function
- Provide text descriptions for events that may happen
Further modifications could made via the menu-based Customize command.
For rooms, the name, primary and secondary descriptions could be changed. A mystery message could be added to a room that would be displayed when a magic object was brought into a room by a player. Trapdoors could be created to bounce players to a named exit (triggered by a random chance) or for bouncing dropped objects to another room.
For exits, one could set multiple aliases (i.e. n|north|road) as well as extended descriptions. Player traversal of exits could be blocked or allowed if a magic object was defined on the exit. Success and failure messages for attempted traversal could be defined as well as the messages other players saw when a player entered or came out of an exit. Exits could be marked concealed and/or flagged as doors to require the player to attempt to open a door or search the room for concealed exits.
For objects, one could edit the description, the article to be used with it (i.e. 'a', 'an', 'some'), and an extended description shown upon closer examination. A magic object or magic room could be defined that would allow or prevent an object from being picked up or used unless inside a specific place. Like exits, success and failure messages could be defined for 'getting' or 'using' an object. An object's type could be set which allowed pre-programmed behavior.
Other MUD-like systems that allow creation of online content have followed. Some of these are simply alternative implementations, and others provide significant new features.
Monster heavily influenced the design of TinyMUD. TinyMUD was an attempt to create a "stripped-down" version of Monster with just object creation and locking. As time went on some of the functionality that was deliberately left out was reinvented.
TinyMUD itself inspired an entire family of MUDs based entirely on the premise of allowing users to build online. Among those subsequent MUDs are TinyMUCK and TinyMUSH.
TinyMUCK added the following features to the "online building" interface: the ability to write and modify multi-user Forth programs online, the ability to attach these programs to things — such as objects, rooms and players — and the ability to delete objects online. TinyMUSH's online creation language is more Lisp-like in nature.
For example, LPMud tries to avoid the stability risks by abstracting the system into a virtual machine which is protected from mistakes made in objects written in the game's LPC programming language. Other MUDs that shipped with online creation features include LambdaMOO, and CoolMUD.
Diku and Merc MUDs did not originally support online creation capabilities — DikuMUD was specifically designed to be a better AberMUD, which was notorious for having a hard-coded world. A number of different packages were created to add online creation capabilities, the first of these was Armageddon for DikuMUD by Dan Brumleve, Nasri Hajj, and Santiago Zorzopulos, which allowed builders to create zones, rooms, exits, objects, and mobiles interactively through a VT100 menu, or command line driven, interface. Their online creation system was added to the DikuMUD derived SillyMUD codebase, released in 1993. The in 1994 released Merc derived codebase The Isles featured online creation, written by Christopher Woodward, and dubbed OLC by co-developer Herb Gilliland. SMAUG, a descendant of the Diku and Merc branches, included a feature called Online Building.
Online creation does not only exist in the text-based MUD context. For example, A Tale in the Desert is a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game. From within the game's client, players can engage in certain limited forms of creation (such as the development of fireworks, sculptures, or games for other players to play).. Similarly, Second Life is a 3-D virtual world which provides its users with tools to modify the game world and participate in an economy, trading user content created via online creation for virtual currency.
According to an article at The Guardian:
It's an emerging rule of thumb that suggests that if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will "interact" with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it.
The principals of Second Life have indicated that over 60% of their users are active content creators.