Online Games in Russia: Localizing Global Trends
A Stepan Zotov | 15 August 2012
Stepan Zotov

Online Games in Russia: Localizing Global Trends

Recently Psychology Today published an article observing the studies of so called “the dullest culture on Earth” — the Baining. Its representatives come from the group of rural dwellers in Papua New Guinea and believe that humans are predestined for hard and sweaty labor while recreation and playing are viewed as animals’ domain. Their spread of interests is literally down-to-earth and encircles only the things one can sow and reap.

Now let’s get to the question — is following global tendencies of online games market enough to turn these workaholic farmers into gamers?
Of course it is an exaggeration but the one that clearly depicts the situation when you need to consider local specific on the way of performing some global business efforts. 
 
Today every company on global online games market has to compete in at least three related but still different areas of business activity. First of all, acquisition and retaining customers in order to increase user base and maximize revenue. Then it comes to fighting against the companies providing alternate forms of entertainment (TV, movies, single player games etc.) That is actually the battle for the customers’ interest. And the last field of efforts is promotion of MMO gaming in whole to extend the market and gain new sources of income.
Basically here is the reality that sets global online games market tendencies. At various points this reality differs from country to country so you can’t just blindly follow every trend — there must be some local-sensitive correction in you bleeding-edge business policy. What global trends are necessary to consider if operating in Russia and what local adjustments do they need? 
 
1. Getting more user-friendly

Modern MMO games are moving towards user concerning both game design conventions and business models. In comparison with the earlier ones they are becoming less demanding in terms of efforts required from users to progress through the game. The entrance bar has been lowered to broaden the range of target groups and thus to significantly increase the audience.
Applying free-to-play monetization also serves to this purpose. F2P allows the user to decide how he or she wants to spend their money while the game itself is actually free of charge. This undoubtedly makes some welcoming appeal to the gamers.
As the Russian saying has it “free cheese can only be found in a mousetrap”. But Russian gamers quickly learnt that there is nothing tricky about free-to-play— this model is considered more convenient than subscription. Today you don’t have to introduce F2P to the audience because it is already well-recognized. Only few years ago there could be some minor problems but the green light for F2P is set. 

2. More fun, less addiction 

The global implementation of free-to-play brought up a certain contradiction: in order to attract newcomers the game has to be fun but it also must be addictive to stimulate current users to buy virtual goods. In earlier days of free-to-play MMOG developers were mostly concerned about paying gamers so the games tended to be rather addictive. Such a straightforward approach made the online gaming look like some kind of geek subculture phenomena in the past. “Past” is a key word — now MMO games seek to dramatically increase their audience becoming a conventional form of entertainment.
Russian online games market is still hot and hungry so the users here are less demanding and more multi-tasted. But soon this will inevitably change. The number of high-quality MMO games grows constantly. Yet, it is actually all about your purposes. Want some quick money? Go ahead with addictive games — there are plenty of those. Aimed at strategic positioning and long-term business flow? Then it would be better to focus on quality and fun. 
 
3. Precise targeting 

Revealing free-to-play monetization policies was like finding a gold mine which later resulted in a growing number of closely resembling game titles. So making the game look and feel different is a hot topic for MMOG developers. Unique features are a top-priority for a successful game. Some developers go even deeper and create a whole new niche for their products. If the chosen niche is wide enough it would be a total success no matter what. EVE Online is a good example.
Due to its youth Russian online games market is less structured than for instance Korean or American. Launching a niche product here is a strategic investment. Until consumers’ hunger is satisfied mainstream projects will generate the most revenues. 
 
4. Cross-communication 

The developer can effectively reach even those gamers who don’t actually run the game at the moment. There is a variety of different tools and communication channels by the means of which it is possible to broaden the user’s gaming experience thus retaining the game’s audience. The easiest one would be to set up the game’s blog, website and forum.
Creating mobile applications allowing, for example, to manage the characters inventory and view in-game statistics is a next step. Just like in Blizzard’s Armory application for World of Warcraft.
According to J’son & Partners Consulting survey there are 39 million of mobile internet users in Russia. Analysts predict that by the end of the year their number will reach 43 million. 61% of them are male users, 68% come from 18-34 age group. In terms of demography they match the largest groups of online gamers — our own research found out that the most gamers are male (72%) and 69% of them represent the 19-39 age cohort. There are no doubts that cross-communicating your game can be very effective. The effect of newness is also on your side. 

5. Excluding the exclusion 

There must be no second-class citizens in the game — running MMO title is all about inclusion. But creating a user-friendly environment is not that simple — it is like building an ideal society where everyone is happy and nobody hurts no one. There are at least a few things any developer can do:
- Decrease Regional Restrictions — many gamers are rightfully pissed when some game owners prevent them from using the game in full scale just because this territory is considered to be crowded with cyber-criminals. What about presumption of innocence after all? Stop trembling and find a responsible local partner;
- Fight the in-game bullying — game administrators and moderators have no less importance than programmers. Their field of responsibility is a healthy in-game climate;
- Temper your aggression in monetizing the users — ruthless monetization policies put gamers into unequal state when those who pay own the world. What is so bad about it? Well, the aggressively monetizing game quickly burns out and it is really hard to reanimate it because of the existing reputation. It can happen so fast that the game won’t even turn into a profitable business. In Russia hucksters are traditionally despised and hardly anybody wants to have such a mark on him. Once again — F2P monetization is about delicate balance.