As the definition of user-generated content (UGC) expands, dedicated platforms are emerging to support this new type of creator. These nascent platforms are more than just places to create and share user-generated content: rather, they combine elements of talent management, venture capital and marketing to help UGC creators turn a profit.
Search Google for “UGC,” and you’ll find the term has been used to describe just about every form of content generated primarily by individuals. YouTube videos and Twitch streams are UGC. So are the in-game applications or modification packs used by Roblox or Minecraft players. Cosplayers are sometimes described as UGC creators, as are writers and photographers. Memes? Those are UGC, too.
Shahar Sorek, CMO of UGC platform Overwolf, believes this wide umbrella has its benefits. Overwolf specifically supports creators of in-game content — that is, content that overlays or exists entirely within pre-existing titles, such as Roblox mini-games or Minecraft “modpacks” that users can download to make their graphics cleaner or tools more efficient. “Once there’s this huge banner of the word ‘creator,’ it allows everybody to come underneath,” Sorek said.
Overwolf is one of several startups that hope to capitalize on the rise of user-generated content. In August, the company launched a $50 million “Creator Fund” to help in-game content creators monetize their hobby. The monetary aid provided by Overwolf, in addition to its support in marketing and distribution, has helped some participating game modification developers turn their hobbies into revenue-generating businesses.
Launched in August, the UGC platform Infinite Canvas similarly provides both monetary and logistical support to in-game UGC creators, distributing over $1 million to participating creators thus far. Both companies take a share of their creators’ revenues from sales of, and subscriptions to, their content to get a return on their investment — in Overwolf’s case, the split is 75–25, with the larger share going to the creator. “When we’re working with a developer, we’re providing them with tools to make their game bigger and richer and monetize better,” said Infinite Canvas CEO Tal Shachar. “And then, when that game doubles, triples or quadruples in revenue, we’re getting a cut of that.”
The rise of UGC platforms is not limited to in-game content, nor to the startup world. On September 7, EA announced the launch of its Creator Network, a platform that the game developer hopes to use to more directly support and create opportunities for UGC creators within EA titles. EA’s definition of UGC includes in-game creators, but its Creator Network casts a wider net than Overwolf or Infinite Canvas. “We have talented artists in our Apex community, cosplayers in our Mass Effect community and amazing screenshot artists in our Battlefield and Need for Speed communities, just to name a few,” said EA CMO David Tinson. “To us, they are all creators.” Anyone who is part of Game Changers, EA’s pre-existing community partnership program, is eligible for the Creator Network, which is expanding its ranks to include 10 distinct disciplines, including new categories such as cosplayers, writers and in-game content creators.
EA’s Creator Network doesn’t provide direct funding to its wide range of creators, but it does form a direct pipeline connecting independent creators to opportunities such as “Spark’d,” a 2020 reality show that featured Sims YouTubers. Much like the aforementioned UGC platforms, the Creator Network will also provide advice and logistical support to affiliated creators. “The Creator Network is about working directly with creators versus through formal talent management,” Tinson said. “It’s a partnership built on trust and openness with each other. We want to offer them opportunities to create the kind of content they love and empower them to build their brands.”
To some extent, pre-existing services such as YouTube and Twitch already act as platforms for UGC creators. After all, subscriptions and ad revenue have long been viable pathways for creators to monetize their work. But much like Substack is intended to help writers monetize their work independently, UGC platforms are designed to give creators the support they need to become businesses in their own right — not just independent contractors. YouTubers and Twitch streamers rely on their platforms for income; on the other hand, Overwolf and Infinite Canvas hope to become reliant on their creators. “When one of these platforms gets it right, it’s going to have most of the features of what you see in YouTube or Twitch,” said Doug Petkanics, CEO of Livepeer, a streaming infrastructure company that hopes to give streamers more direct ownership of their content. “But it’s going to come with the superpower of controlling your economic identity.”
With the term “influencer” rapidly giving way to the rise of the creator, consumers and the brands trying to reach them have drawn a line in the sand between UGC and more curated corporate content — 93% of marketers believe that consumers trust UGC more than brand-created content, according to TINT’s State of User-Generated Content 2021 Report.
In 1996, Bill Gates infamously stated that “content is king”. In 2021, it might make sense to append “user-generated” at the beginning of that statement. It’s only natural that dedicated platforms have arrived to help users generate their own content in a sustainable way.
“There’s no gatekeepers, right?” Overwolf’s Sorek said. “There’s no traditional execs in some room deciding who gets to make what. And partially because of that, that means that there are not some of the traditional artificial barriers to that diversity. And so we want to be a force to amplify that change and empower those folks as well.”
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