Behind these bare figures lies a whole-scale sociocultural and economical diffusion between the East and the West. Because just a few years ago online games were firmly associated with some kind of life-style entertainment for South Korean, Chinese and Japanese weirdoes. Now it’s bright clear that being a product of high cultural significance MMO games are not only about technologies. You can easily distinct those represented by Asian developers from western MMO titles due to their rather differing visual design, gameplay etc.
But under conditions of soaring worldwide user interest to online games companies have an urging need of becoming global and therein inevitably run across cultural specific hindrances in both business and game development subjects. Perhaps this article should have started with the quote from Kipling’s “The Ballad of East and West” but online games market is no place for the writer’s pessimism because here we can sometimes see interethnic issues resolved.
It takes hardly a blink of an eye to recognize what kind of an MMO game you are dealing with — mostly due to an in-game art and visual design. In spite of mutual tendency of western games to easternize and eastern games to westernize it’s still possible to pry through the veil of visual stylization and see the title’s origin.
And there is nothing wrong about that: the global standards of fuzzy visual art are not meant to entirely deprive the game of its national identity. The goal actually is to shift the “threshold of cultural rejection” as far as it is possible.
For example, Blizzard had to reconsider the design of the Undead fraction in the Chinese version of World of Warcraft. Although this game was originally intended for global distribution — you can see that warrior characters are more western-looking while all the mages and sorcerers bear a noticeable eastern touch. At the same time most up-to-date Korean and Chinese MMOs (Karos Online, TERA, Guild Wars 2) have nothing strictly eastern about them — there you can see Asian artists’ vision of western folklore. The pure blended games remain niche products both in East (9Dragons) and West (Warhammer Online).
Business Behind the Game
Talking of business behind the game, it is necessary to consider at least two aspects — in-game economy and actually running the project in multiple countries. Initially eastern and western games utilized absolutely different business models.
Today subscription more common for western developers significantly cedes to free-to-play monetization strategies. Even the games originally set up on the basis of subscription scheme often adapt to F2P and it turns out to be worth the risk.
But sometimes flexibility alone is not enough. Yes we all got used to some standard legal frameworks, but the thing difficult to hush up is that in many countries there are off-stage laws more familiar to natives.
Of course, Chinese government performing sometimes crude protectionism and “guanxi” are those filters meant for prominent foreigners. But almost every country has national specific features to its business environment more familiar to natives. In fact strong local partnership is probably the most reasonable alternative.