Monday, August 27, 2007

ITIAA: The Myth of Cultural Differences

In the gaming world’s talk about Asia, the term “localization” or the even better coinage, “culturalization” are thrown around a lot. With the former term, people normally just meant translation. The latter, however, could mean almost anything. For example, when Sony Online Entertainment tried to bring Everquest 2 to Asia, they manga’d all the character models to more closely conform with what most Asian games' graphics looked like.

What was clear was that many Western games people were unwilling to believe that Asian consumers might be quite like their American and European counterparts. I have heard the opinion espoused by high level Western games people that Asian players had an especial taste for massively multiplayer online games because they allowed them a degree of individuality that was lacking in Asian cultures.

The myth of “cultural differences” had strong backers. Companies from Asia had all the incentive in the world to keep Western companies from believing that their local customers could be understood. Western companies who had games fail wanted excuses beyond their own execution. It was just easier for everyone to believe that Asian gamers just didn’t want Western games and genres.

There were signs that this wasn’t the case. Most prominently, the most popular pirated games on the streets were the most popular games sold at retail around the world. Shooting, racing, sports, and fighting games were being played by kids all over the world, officially or unofficially.

What was holding back the introduction of legal games in these genres into the Korean and Chinese markets was the lack of a business model that made sense. Massively multiplayer games are inherently piracy resistant because the actual software product is given away. Players pay for the massively multiplayer service, which requires significant infrastructure investment. Online games that feature only a few players are almost as easy to pirate as standalone games.

Enter the virtual item business model. It was famously popularized in the Korean market via Nexon’s Kart Rider, a kart racing game quite like Mario Kart. By allowing players to both download the game software and use the service for free, Nexon reduced the incentive to pirate the game. Then, the company counted on the human desire to win at games by selling users items that enhanced their chances.

It became a smash success and the business model became standard. Now, it’s hard to find a successful MMO launch in Korea because players have shifted their time and money into sports, racing, fighting, music, and shooting games. What appeared to be cultural differences vanished as soon as a business model came into focus that allowed high-quality products to be produced.

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At August 31, 2007 at 11:18 AM , Blogger Clark County Diva said...


Wow, my head is still trying to grasp it all...

Cool, cool site!

Clark County Diva


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