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China and the Asian markets are a lucrative opportunity for games publishers and developers, but it’s complicated. Services giant PTW discuss how to get it right in an interview with Gamesindustry.biz
You can’t escape talk of China in the games industry right now.
The country, plus other big Asian territories such as Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, is frequently discussed on financial calls or in business interviews.
From AAA giants like EA, to indie specialists like Team17, it would appear these markets are paved with gold.
The opportunities are clear, particularly for those operating in the PC, online and mobile spaces. The sheer number of gamers in these markets is impossible to ignore.
Yet these markets remain a scary, confusing and complicated world for any aspiring games creator. If you want to see how easily things can go awry, just look at Devotion from developer Red Candle Games. The title featured a piece of placeholder art deemed offensive in China, and the backlash has been severe, with the game removed from the Steam store.
“Culturally, the language, the art-style, player behaviour… there is quite a gulf between East and West. Regulatory, again look at China with everything that has happened in the last six months or so. We are now in a position where you’ve got three separate departments involved in game approvals in China, and no comprehensive guide exists on what is actually permissible. So you’re really into the zone of needing local insight.
“There is always some uncertainty about new markets to some degree, but last year’s freeze in certifications really underlined how things can change really quickly.”
So what can developers do to maximise their chance of success in Asia?
1. "Don’t Google translate and cross your fingers."
Bad translations are noticed and, what’s more, can lead to a backlash from local gamers.
This can be quite tricky for some Asian markets, which often feature multiple versions of the same language.
“So having translators from different regions, reflecting those different elements in terms of how people might speak, or might understand some variations of languages… all that is even more important with a country like China.”
Using local translators is key, as this often leads to a higher quality of translator.
This extends to voice work, too. Currently, most developers simply use subtitles, but as the competition becomes more fierce, some developers have taken to incorporating voice over work. Once again, native actors will prove vital.
“You do get a situation of developers using a pool of talent who might not be appropriate, but ‘it’ll do’,” Emery says. “And that’s where comments about accents not being quite correct are made. Especially if it’s done out of Taiwan instead of China, for example. What’s happening now with the maturity in that market, is that it’s noticed when it is a professional voice over dub, and it’s noticed when it is comparable to the sort of dubs happening in the movie world.”
2. Be prepared to redesign
Localisation for these markets goes beyond simply translating the text and hiring the right voice actors. In some instances, you might be required to make adjustments to the game itself because of cultural sensitivities.
“There are classic issues around who your villains and bad guys are,” Emery explains. “Even if your game is subtitled, your villains can’t have Chinese accents. It’s a bit of a minefield, and a minefield that’s not particularly noted in a structured capacity anywhere.”
Deslandes adds: Sometimes things need to be localised the other way. So make the villain's accents American or English, so it doesn’t hurt local sensibilities.
“Some themes around death and representation of death can be a big pitfall around what you can display in markets like China. It can surprise you what might prove problematic.”
3. Take your time
These changes in order to satisfy local tastes, or even to deal with the rules and regulations of the various territories, can prove to be a real headache if not enough time has been factored in.
It’s not uncommon when releasing in Asia for a developer to not fully understand a suggested change, and for that to get overlooked until the very last minute. So when it comes to releasing your game in China, make sure to build in a buffer to ensure any emergency alterations, or more complex design changes, can be made in a timely matter. And be thoroughly tested afterwards.
4. Think about the marketing (and monetisation)
The gamers in territories like China have different preferences, interests, holidays and sensitivities. And it can prove lucrative if you consider these when you are releasing your product.
“It is good to run marketing campaigns sensitive to local cultures, such as timing of game releases,” says Winston Wong, president of Asia for Pole To Win International.
“For example, not many games from overseas currently release their games before the lunar New Year festive seasons in Asia. Also, if you can do co-release of localized versions of the game with the international versions, gamers in this region will feel appreciated and more likely to try out the game at launch. Doing localisation one step further, such as designing local specific character designs or skins, may also contribute to the success of the games.”
Beyond the marketing, culturalisation and localisation, it’s vital to consider monetisation, too. Free-to-play mechanics tend to be far more successful in Asian territories, for instance.
5. Don’t skimp on the final test
At the start of the article we discussed the game Devotion, which left in culturally insensitive material, and this is precisely why localisation QA can be the difference between success and failure in Asian territories.
“Do not miss out that localisation QA, peer review element,” Emery insists. “That testing of all the text, all the audio, all the visual content, and making sure that is correct and appropriate. It’s important that final pass actually takes place.”
Wong concurs: “Localisation testing is essential to make sure that the translated texts fit the in-game scenarios and that scenarios within the games are properly screened through for censorship and cultural sensitivity reasons.”
6. Look for a partner with a local presence
Launching in Asia can seem overwhelming with all the political, cultural, financial and language differences - sometimes within the same country - to consider.
The key for most developers and publishers looking to make the most of the Asian markets is to find a good, reliable localisation and services partner.
“It is important to work with localisation partners with proven quality and track record, with local offices that the game is to be released in,” Wong says. “Locals usually knows best what tone of translation your games need to be in and how best to culturalize your game.
“Also, as there are many different attitudes against information security and piracy across Asia, work with a partner who is tight on security so as to ensure that your contents will not be leaked ahead of schedule or even copied.”
Emery continues: “For me, it’s a combination of things. It’s definitely someone who has a strong understanding of the local market. And that’s about having an actual presence on the ground, and experience in doing it.
“And then the other part is a comprehensive service delivery in each of those territories. Because that will reduce the complexity of working with multiple partners, in what is already a complex region.”
It’s not all about having a partner that understands these Asian markets, but one that understands your business, too.
“It’s all well and good knowing the target market, but you also need someone who understands what you as a developer or publisher is looking to do,” Deslandes says. “You might have a decent partner in terms of what they can produce, but working with them is painful because they don’t necessarily understand where you are coming from, or how things are in the West.”
For more information on PTW’s services, including how it can help you launch games in Asian markets, please contact us