Learning Online Lessons from Asia
Understanding the online requirements is the first step. Implementing them is the second. Implementing in each market is the third. If we were to add a fourth key learning point, it would be to keep up with the speed of change and delivery within the online mechanism.
Do not underestimate the online expertise that is currently established and evolving across all of Asia.
Examples of the key features are:
- Online distribution. The console retail facings across the western markets continue to squeeze PC out. The ability to have large and focused PC launches is getting more difficult. The Asian model of free client and beta trials must be understood as being critical to success and future distribution of PC gaming.
- Gaming social networks. We all know about social networks like Facebook. However, the Asian majors have been dealing with very large numbers of gamers coming in to play specific games for many years. It is critical to manage them not only as gamers, but also as a group of people with community needs before and after they enter the game. As an online operator you want to hold that community within your game environment, not let them float to other companies' games. The community socialization, particularly in some casual games, can be more important than the game itself.
- Monetization. You have large numbers of people entering trying the game for free, but how do you make money from them? Western single player download games typically have a conversion (purchase) rate of 2-3%. Think about how many people you have brought into the game only to leave without recognizing revenue. The Asian model of item selling is very exciting for many reasons; it puts more control into the hands of the gamer, and lessens the barriers to entry.
The need for leveling can be done through items - buying your way in the game. However, allowing consumers to buy their way into a game can be potentially damaging to the gameplay. The operators dynamically watch the game and will manipulate areas like:
- Functional items (power enhancing items that may be purchased)
- Resource items, creating more or less to stimulate activity
- Creation of bonus items to encourage development in certain areas
- Purchase items, unique cosmetic items focused on increasing operator revenue
The item system is not set in form, and needs to be flexible. Advertising in-game is emerging rapidly as another revenue model for online game communities.
- Server Design. Large numbers of people means large numbers of servers. They need to be considered in game design not only to optimize numbers but also to address hacking, macros, gold mining, item trading, auctions, and more. The technology quickly becomes a critical factor in bringing a game into service. Payment systems, database management, and chat are all part of the equation. How will the local partner integrate their systems into your game? They will add these costs onto the license fees and marketing costs -- making the whole launch process more expensive than it first looks.
- Game Controls. Using the WASD keys as an example of typical Asian game controls. In Asia the gamers want to have their right hand free to answer the mobile phone, smoke or drink while playing. Forcing the use of function keys and complex UI creates a new learning process for players.
What is more important is that it is familiar, particularly if the content is unusual (western). You need the Asian player to enter the game with ease; if you make the controls complex and unfamiliar then acceptance will be that much harder.
- Character Design: Generally speaking western characters are very real to the game setting. They can be hard and harsh. Asian players prefer fantasy-based characters, which are both different to the real world and part of the fun of the game. The point being that you need to be prepared to change to the market style. It is unlikely you can design a suitable character for Asia; the in-market partner will always be the best guide.