How do we thrive in this highly competitive games industry? Developers face many challenges such as players’ discerning tastes and the fact that not every game works in every region. Gaming companies can appeal to regional audiences by culturalizing content and using certain techniques to create games with a local brand image. At Casual Connect Tel Aviv, Robert Pontow, VP Publishing at Active Gaming Media Inc, highlighted how companies can apply culturalization when releasing games in Japan as an example of a mobile gaming market which is lucrative but hard to crack for foreign developers. During this session, Robert reflected, “It is very important to really get the localization and culturalization right. Otherwise, you might not get the potential users.” See the video of Robert’s session below to learn more.
Robert Pontow has been involved with the game industry in Japan since 2009 and is currently in charge of publishing at Playism, the largest publisher of indie games in Japan. In this highly competitive industry, Robert is an expert in assisting games to enter and succeed in the Japanese market.
The Fine Art of Balancing Expectations
In Robert’s position, it has been essential to learn the fine art of balancing expectations, not only from the company for publishing, but also from clients and partners, who have their own priorities. At the same time, Robert must find the best approach to successfully release the particular game within the territory.
Often clients and partners assume a game will do well in Japan simply because it has performed well elsewhere or because they believe the Japanese market has great potential. At the same time, they are unaware of the effort and cost of adapting a game and releasing it in a different territory. There is a fine line to walk between over- and under-doing it when helping a client to recognize the challenges involved. Robert points out that it is important to understand how Japanese people live, what they like, and how they spend their free time in order to introduce a game successfully. So playing games as they do, becoming involved in the nightlife and culture of Japan is a great way to learn more. The rewards for Robert’s work come when a game they have worked on or supported comes to release and the players are enjoying it. They say, “Especially seeing the positive response from the community always makes me feel I have accomplished something.”
Developer and Publisher Doing What They Do Best
When Robert works with a developer, they recognize that it will always take longer than expected to develop the game. But unless they are allowed that time, the game will not be as good as it could be. It is just as important for the developer to understand the effort publishing takes; this is something they often underestimate. It is much more than simply throwing a game on the market with today’s increased competition. Robert emphasizes, “It’s important to concentrate on what everyone’s good at: the developer to make great games and the publisher to make sure players hear about it. But it has to be a fair partnership between both sides.”
Entering a Different Market
When working with publishers in different areas of the world, the benefits will depend on the publisher, the territory and the game. There are very large publishers with teams all over the world and the right people to make sure the game gets the attention it needs. And if it is possible to work with only one publisher, it helps to consolidate work, keeping costs lower. However, for casual and social games based on a free-to-play model that requires operation, Robert always recommends going with a local partner. Foreign developers entering a different market face the same difficulties people face when visiting a new country: the language and culture barriers. Robert points out that as players have become more sophisticated they have developed higher standards; a game that is not localized may not get much attention. So the most important principle for developers is to listen to the community and localize accordingly.
Translation, Localization and Culturalization
When localizing a game, Robert insists, “Use a native!” Although machine translation keeps improving, only a person can give the game text the right spin. “Sure you can make a character speak, but can you give it a soul and identity? Human translators are trained to catch the way characters speak and what actual meaning a thing has.” Beyond just translating the game, it is also important to consider how a local user will experience the game, including how elements other than text are displayed in the game. Without proper localization the game will lose its special character. As Robert describes, there are differences between translation, localization and culturalization. Localization goes further than translation, and culturalization further still. Translation is only finding the right equivalent in the other language Localization means adapting the text to give it a local feel. But culturalization refers to more aspects of the game than language, including such things as graphics, UI/UX, other gameplay aspects, and the marketing strategy for the game.
When trying to create a game with a local brand image, Robert insists that is important not to overdo it or you will simply create another game. Instead, look at the comments of foreign gamers who already play the game for hints of what you need to change. However, they say, “It always starts with localizing any available information of the game to show that you care for the gamer in the country. And you might want to consider giving them some exclusive content.”
Connections and Recommendations
Robert points out that marketing is always about connections and recommendations. This applies for company marketing (sales) and PR for games. “The best form of marketing is when your customers are happy with your product or service.” For a company like Playism, that means satisfying the needs of clients. The customer is not always right, but when they understand the means and see the effort, they will be satisfied. As well, Robert says, “It’s the same with the player community. If you are open with them and show you care about their opinions and gaming experience, then they will promote your game for you by telling their friends. So community management is very important.”
Changes Coming to Asian Markets
Robert has noticed recently that, even with the diversification and experimentation that has been occurring in the game industry, more and more players are enjoying retro games. And developers are excited to make games they have enjoyed in the past. Robert believes we will be seeing more and more games with a nostalgic feeling. Having discovered this trend, Playism is trying to work with creators from Japan who are employing traditional Japanese game designs. Big changes will be coming to the industry from Asia in Robert’s opinion. Many more hard- to mid-core games will be coming from China and countries like Malaysia and Thailand. Particularly China, where the console market is now open, more and more indie developers are creating games for these platforms.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.