Although it has only been a month since I officially started working as a Senior Game Designer at RingZero Game Studios; there is already plenty to share and I thought it would be best, if not at least insightful, to write and share about it. RingZero is looking to get its name out there... and it seems like there is not that many designers in Thailand that write about their experience.
Before I start, there is one question that I am sure sane and lesser sane people would ask is: “If you are so interested in Asia, why Thailand? Why not Japan, Korea or China?” China seemed like a good place to try, but I was told that American McGee had the exclusive rights on the “designer lost in foreign country who writes about the quirks of his life” so I was turned away at the customs on those reasons. But to keep that matter short, I’ve been to several places in South-Eastern Asia, I even landed at an orphanage once and I wanted to continue that kind of extra-curricular help, just not as a tourist but a resident of the area. Although Bangkok has a different reputation in the West, having never stepped in a bar or drank alcohol for as long as I can remember, that is not something I partake in.
How much trouble are they giving you?
The first assumption about a foreigner going into a company that has not too many expats (or barely any) is whether it’s A) actually useful to everyone B) the act of become a living punching bag. People sometimes cower in fear with the prospects of being the “foreigner.” Assuming that everyone will blame it on the new guy who does not understand our language, culture and way of life, but Thailand is not the case.
“How can you tell?”
The Thai are normally non-confrontational and the amount of dialogues they have behind your back is directly proportional to your own insecurity and paranoia. People seem to have horror stories about working in a Japanese environment and although some of them can be true, it will inevitably depend on how you are as a person that will make you or shatter you in a thousand pieces. I am sure Dylan Cuthbert of Q-Games would be able to nod at this (or shake his head) but the fact that he is alive is a proof that it can be done there; and I am pretty sure it is even easier here.
The gaming companies in Thailand, I believe, can be integrated much easier, simply with the fact that they are at a very early state in their evolution. They may hold cultural ways of working, but they are more than willing to hear about how North-American companies work.
And thus, a Savior complex?
I have to believe that I came with good intentions (unless I am indoctrinated in which case I should complain to Bioware until they release a version of me that explains my indoctrination,) but as the Thai gaming companies expand (the Thailand Game Show has been slowly but stealthily growing for the last three years) and more foreigners come to work here, I do believe that it will be extremely easily to fall into the trap of “I am foreigner, I know truth! Hear me roar!” and the Thai, well they rarely say no. Even their yes is most often said through a “no-yes” sentence structure… But the bigger the ego of the person who comes here, the more he will have to adapt and the higher he will have to fall from. Although the Thai are non-confrontational, they are neither idiots nor puppets; they do not respond well to egoistic boasting and their work will suffer when faced with such.
This finally brings me to the sort-of question that I had to answer:
The Levine/Jaffe Illustration
“So you’re saying Ken Levine could do it but what about David Jaffe!” which… really is not a question to begin with, comes with the concept that David Jaffe of the Twisted Metal, God of War (and Calling all Cars too) fame is some sort of tyrannical foul-mouthed minotaur-like man while Ken Levine is more the type of guy who, when you first encounter him, you just feel like pinching his cheek while saying: “who’s the good designer, yes you are, yes you are!” (This is also how I imagine the later part.)
But the question… or statement is not really a comparison. The views on Ken Levine are petty unanimous that he is the “cool guy to hang out with” which for the sake of this, can probably be true… so there’s not much to say on that part, yes I am sure that a persona like Mr. Levine would fit well in a Thai-company. Jaffe, however, is being looked at through two different lenses. The first one, mostly bloggers and non-developers see him as I just presented, however, I would speak for myself and many other developers when I say that Jaffe is probably the closest to reality that the non-developers are able to see. What makes him an amazing speaker (watch any of his speeches, do it!) is not the occasional swears or how he reacts to every comments, but rather that he does not have (or seems to have) to go through a PR/HR person that blanks everything he says. David Jaffe is as similar to other great designers as anyone; he’s just way more direct. When he announced his collaboration with Jenova Chen, blogs went “whaa?” and we all went “nice!”
The point being… that coming to a Thai company with a “Jaffe” approach rather than a “Levine” one will definitely still work. They may blush at the directness of a “Jaffe” approach, but I can bet you that if the approach yields good results, they will respect it.
What I am trying to illustrate is simply that you cannot be the guy who says: “Oh I couldn’t work with the locals, because MY way would be too harsh for them!” If you think like that, don’t come, but if you are genuinely hesitant that your approach will be too direct or too off-putting then don’t underestimate them either. You can work here if you’re shy, outgoing, direct, polite, male, female, etc. but do not try to fake your way here either. Whatever conceptions you may have about the Land of Smiles, gaming companies will not hire a slacker simple because he comes from the West.
The Land of IPs
The additional savory point that I would like to end with is also one that might interest you in making the jump. Although the expenses of life will vary greatly whether you want to drive a Lamborghini or eat cafeteria food (both available within feet of each other) it is true that cost of life here is lower than Canada and much lower than the United States or Europe, as such the cost of making games are as well… as such again, taking the time to craft original IPs are much less of a risk here; in fact they are encouraged. I cannot speak for all companies in Thailand, but many have minimal porting projects to maximize the potential for revenues through IPs.
And that concludes one story of Thailand and videogames. I’ll gouge how interesting this article seems after it is published and see if there is enough to continue the cavalcade (cavalcade is a funny word) of articles. I am normally someone who vouches for clear documents with tables, bullet points and headlines... and I see that I have done very few of those here...
In the meantime if you have questions, comments or inquiries, throw them my way on twitter at @brunorous where I am still trying to appreciate its use.