How Dreams Early Access Cultivated A Positive And Collaborative Community

How Dreams Early Access Cultivated A Positive And Collaborative Community

Last year at PAX Australia  the WellPlayed team sat down with game designer and programmer Daniel Kidney to talk about Dreams. At the time, MediaMolecule’s next big foray into make-it-yourself gaming was still just out of the public reach, having undergone Alpha testing in select groups, but nothing more. We spent a good chunk of time with Kidney as he treated us to a live demonstration of Dreams and we probed him with questions about the ins and outs of the game/tool. We also spoke at length about MediaMolecule’s hopes and dreams (heh) for the future community and how the developer would ensure it became the collaborative and positive space they wanted it to be.

I’m pretty certain I came out of that session with more new questions than before, but in the time that’s passed, Dreams has released as an Early Access product on the PlayStation Store. What that means is the public now has access to the entire creative side of Dreams, missing only the MediaMolecule-produced main ‘campaign’. It also means that any further questions I had about that side of Dreams last year have been all but answered, as I can jump into it any time and find out for myself. Due to my own failures as a person though, the one thing I maybe hadn’t kept enough of an eye on was that community that we talked about – how it’s come along since Early Access launch, if it’s gone the way that MediaMolecule was banking on and if the developers themselves have learned anything along the way. Those are the questions that I took to PAX Aus 2019, along with beloved WellPlayed contributor Dylan Blereau, as we spoke once again with Daniel Kidney as well as Dreams’ Senior Principal Programmer Liam de Valmency.

Almost right away, Kidney announces proudly, “I have very exciting news. We have a clothes hanger maker.”

Some creators push the boundaries of what Dreams is capable of (Ultra realistic FPS prototype by VirtuallyVain)

One of the things that I was most excited about since last year’s talk with Daniel Kidney was the idea that people don’t have to make whole levels or games to be creative in Dreams. Players can take on specific roles such as modelling, programming logic, making sounds and music, or even just curating content made by others into handy groups or themes. That was the goal, anyway, and if the above comment is anything to go by then it’s clear that it’s worked out – people are getting very, very specific.

“Our community’s gotten to a point where there’s almost names that bubble to the top of people that are known for certain things. We’ve got people like Disarmed, who is one of our creators who makes these really high quality ‘How did they make this with Dreams?’ style things where we look at it and we’re not even really sure how they made it in Dreams,” de Valmency explains.

“Another one is Codi Bear, who makes these really cute characters”, Kidney adds

“They made this fox character and made it remixable and so everyone’s just making houses and stuff for it. This really cute, fluffy fox character has all these people just using it for inspiration to create a scene around it.

“And then Codi Bear can go through and like, search their own creation and see their notifications and be like ‘Who’s used my character and what they have done with it today?’ and see all these beautiful sceneries and houses and barns and stuff.”

Aside from those solo creators and curators, another big part of making the Dreams community successful has been collaboration. It’s clear that a lot of players have taken to ‘remixing’ other people’s creations and sharing their own to be remixed (complete with a really nifty system that automatically credits the right people and directs players to their other creations). That’s one huge component of the collaborative Dreams experience, but there are also plenty of actual groups forming and coming together to make large-scale projects in Dreams. Kidney and de Valmency reference one particular game called Ruckus, that was made as a direct collaboration between a few community members and actually gained some media coverage for being an incredibly polished Dreams creation.

Ruckus: Just Another Natural Disaster’ by morishiro1935

It’s this thing where they’re just, like, sitting in their living room with their PS4 effectively playing a game, and suddenly they’re featured on all these famous websites. That’s a lovely thing to see.

The topic of the Dreams online forums comes up as well, with Kidney explaining that not only is the online community around Dreams positively buzzing, it’s almost created a kind of self-sustaining support network for players with questions, feedback and advice to share them amongst each other.

“In the Beta we were constantly answering forums. In Early Access, before we can even answer anything a community member’s already doing it, and it means that people are going in there because they’re invested in the idea of creation and getting given as much support as possible to become creators. And then because of that we’re learning more about how to encourage people to become creators – learning what they need, what they struggle with and getting that feedback loop”.

It all goes a long way towards making Dreams the kind of accessible and approachable platform that can bring these really unique and creative projects out of people that maybe never would’ve given them a go otherwise. de Valmency is particularly enthused about the way that social and online media can really boost the visibility of a particular creation and the positivity and sense of achievement that can bring to players who’ve never been exposed to this stuff in the past.

“One of the things I really like, and I’ve seen it a few times, is people that have made something for the first time in Dreams, like Ruckus and some other stuff, have seen their creations picked up by press or other games media. And so people who don’t necessarily consider themselves game developers are suddenly seeing the thing they’ve made on major gaming outlets and being really excited and I just love that. It’s this thing where they’re just, like, sitting in their living room with their PS4 effectively playing a game, and suddenly they’re featured on all these famous websites. That’s a lovely thing to see.”

Also, sometimes people just make weird homages to things (Death Stranding by Nanahalka)

Behind all of the warm and fuzzy that Dreams embodies, it’s apparent that there’s definitely been a series of calculated moves to build it into a product with a positive and engaged community. Kidney and de Valmency both agree that slowly building up the player base through the ultra-exclusive Alpha and Beta, and now the buy-in Early Access release, has really helped them set the tone for the community that MediaMolecule wants to cultivate. Though not without some element of risk, it’s an admirable plan that seems to have so far gone off without a hitch, and that’s equally to the credit of the development team and the players. Dreams is an incredibly exciting project with near-limitless potential, and it’s heartening to sit with two of its talented developers and hear first-hand and just how effective the whole endeavour has been.

“Until we launched the Beta, and Early Access, we didn’t really know,” says de Valmency.

“We speculated but we didn’t have this large community of players and we were designing this whole concept around what they might do. So the great thing about Early Access is it’s shown a lot of what we had hoped people would do, they are doing.”

Now that entry into the Dreams Early Access build is officially closed, it falls on Media Molecule to take everything that they’ve learned from the community they’ve helped shape and start putting together the final product. From the outside looking in, it certainly seems like the team have achieved everything they set out to do in building a positive and collaborative legion of creators. Time will tell how successfully that translates to the game when it finally launches (at some point) as a finished title, but the groundwork has been laid and it’s looking mighty promising.

Dream on, Dreamers <3


Title image made using ‘Dreams Alphabet’ by Avril4iZ

Kieron started gaming on the SEGA Master System, with Sonic the Hedgehog, Alex Kidd and Wonder Boy. The 20-odd years of his life since have not seen his love for platformers falter even slightly. A separate love affair, this time with JRPGs, developed soon after being introduced to Final Fantasy VIII (ie, the best in the series). Further romantic subplots soon blossomed with quirky Japanese games, the occasional flashy AAA action adventure, and an unhealthy number of indie gems. To say that Kieron lies at the center of a tangled, labyrinthine web of sexy video game love would be an understatement.