Often the success of a game in different markets depends on quality localization, but besides it there is another element that is almost always not mentioned, but it exists. Developers always need to understand who their players are, how they play, and how they understand the game and its context. This is where the culture of games comes from.
What is game culture and how is it different from localization? This question is answered by Gamasutra. We supplemented the material with our reflections.
Localization focuses only on how to adapt content to a specific country audience through translation. On the other hand, culturing involves additional efforts not only to provide local players with culturally appropriate and meaningful content, but also to learn how to better communicate with them and provide them with a good experience.
“What we've learned about international markets is that it's not enough to just localize content by simply translating it. Instead, we should be bodybuilding it, ”says Craig Alexander, VP of Product Development for Game Studio Turbine.
When it comes to culturing games, it's all about three questions: Where to start? What to search? Who to attract?
There are three levels of culture. They show the breadth of customization that a publisher can learn and apply. This model can be used as a reference guide for companies in their core businesses to ensure that they provide an experience suitable for players in different countries.
Level One: Approval
Approval is the foundation for building relationships between the game and the players. Imagine a new neighbor from another country who has just moved to your area. Before you decide if you want to chat with him, you may need a quick conversation or some interaction with him to gauge the level of trust and respect. If you find that you have nothing in common with him in terms of your culture, customs, religion or belief, it is probably safe to say that there will be no relationship between you and him.
It's the same between the game and the players. If games "accidentally" offend their players, for example, by design, this indicates a lack of respect or understanding from the audience. This can not only damage the relationship between the publisher, developer and a specific audience, but also damage business and reputation, both at the individual and government level. In some cases, even when bugs have been fixed, an apology has been made, it can still be difficult for the game to recover from this.
For example, Hearts of Iron was one of many games that were banned in the People's Republic of China based on content. The game depicts Taiwan under Japanese control, while Tibet, Xinjiang and Manchuria are independent countries. As a result, the game was not released to the public in China.
Horror Devotion, dubbed the second Silent Hill, was suddenly drowned in negative comments from Chinese players. It turned out that it criticized the leader of the PRC Xi Jinping, where he was compared to Winnie the Pooh. There was a drawing with hieroglyphs which translated as Xi Jinping Winnie-the-Pooh moron [Xi Jinping Winnie the Pooh asshole]. As a result, the game was taken off the market, and the developers apologized.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Warfare 3 were not banned, but received many complaints from residents of Islamic countries after players noticed that the bathroom on the popular Favella level has a photo frame with Islamic text [which is translated from English means "Allah is beautiful, and He loves beauty"].
In the Islamic religion, Muslims are forbidden to pronounce the name of Allah in the toilet or carry books / papers with his name written on them. The presence of Islamic text in the bathroom showed disrespect for the religion and traditions of Muslim gamers. Call of Duty publisher Activision quickly apologized and removed the texture from the game.
Gaming culture is not a new topic. This has been talked about for many years. However, it mainly focuses on this level [eg geopolitical issues]. Understanding this in time is the right thing to do, but there is something else that will make games successful in different markets. This takes us to the second level.
Level two: cultural expectations
It's about building a gaming ecosystem that works in the context of local players. Providing a comfortable experience for players is key. However, what German gamers define as a “good or comfortable experience” may differ slightly [or significantly] from the views of USA or South Korean players. What they are familiar with, expect, and love may be different.
This can include design elements, the use of signs or button layouts, the social media channels they use to discuss games, the payment methods they often use to buy games or in-app purchases, which platforms they use to find and download new games ... Players need to be provided with a complete and comprehensive experience, starting from the moment they discover the game so they can play it and then share their experience with others.
A successful example is Honor of Kings, a 3v3 LoL mobile clone released in China. Two things happened after launch - the game was redesigned to 5v5, and the location function was integrated into the social network. This made the game go viral because the location nearby was integrated with WeChat [it had 1 billion users back then] and it was easy to quickly connect and enter the match. Chinese players could play it with anyone nearby using the local quick team feature, where you can instantly team up with players near you. The game has over 80 million daily active users. In April 2018, she brought in approximately $ 185 million a month.
Take ZeptoLab as another example. When ZeptoLab decided to launch Pudding Monsters in China through their local partner, developers learned that Chinese users were used to receiving digital content for free. Developers are monetizing the game in China through in-app purchases or advertising. They changed their payment strategy a few weeks before launch.
In addition, to combat rampant app piracy, ZeptoLab decided to distribute authorized versions of the app on forums and other free download sites like AppChina or Wandoujia, where they knew Chinese consumers would come there to play. Thanks to these strategies, they have more daily active users in China than, for example, in the US.
Level 3: Experience Improvement
The first level of game cultivation allows you to gain the trust of players and build a fundamental relationship of trust with them. The correct second level provides players in a specific market with a hassle-free and comfortable approach to play experience. The third and final level is how developers can differentiate their games from others in the country, enhancing the gaming experience for their players.
Let's talk about Pixar's Puzzle movie. It's not a game, but it does a great job of illustrating the formula in action. In one scene, Riley's father struggled to feed her broccoli. Like most toddlers, she was disgusted with the vegetable, refusing to eat it. However, in the Japanese version of the film, broccoli was replaced with bell peppers. Why?
In a statement released by Disney / Pixar, “We learned that some of our content would not make sense in other countries. For example, in Japan, broccoli is not considered unpleasant. Children love to eat them. So we asked them, "What do you dislike about healthy food?" They said it was green bell peppers, so we redid three separate scenes, replacing broccoli with green peppers.
Another local adaptation Pixar made for this movie is the sport that Riley's dad played in his dream at the dinner table. Depending on the country in which the film was shown, for nations not familiar with hockey, it was replaced by football.
According to Pixar, a total of 28 graphics were re-rendered in 45 different separate frames, which were culturally processed.
“It makes sense - empathy matters in all films, but especially when it comes to a film about emotions,” says Pete Docter, Director of Pixar's Inside Out
This also applies to games.
This level of culture requires a deep understanding of the players in their local context. Consequently, this often involves connecting with players in the markets that publishers focus on to gather information through observation and communication with them. It's a powerful way to get a holistic view of your players globally.
Experience enhancement can be applied to a variety of gameplay elements, from game graphics to characters and story design, from sound design to partnerships. This is where developers unleash the potential to reach and maintain a large player base around the world.
Culture analysis can be carried out at all stages of game development - from concept to the moment of its launch, including each stage: vertical slice, preparation, production, open / closed public testing before launch. There really is no excuse for not including game culture in the development process.
The Topic of Article: Culturing Games.