What the west can share with Asia?
There are certain areas of expertise that western content can still offer Asia if it is delivered in the right method.
- Market segmentation. In Korea and China the online markets are growing and they will start to mature and segment. As the developers in Asia still tend to repeat styles they find it increasingly difficult to stand out. The gamers, within time, will seek other styles and the operators need to provide that. This provides content opportunities for western IP owners.
- Top quality. Western game design and technology development is still leading the world. The creative approach to game design and the disciplines of timelines, management of developers are still in advance of Asian standards.
- Setting and delivering achievable milestones. We have seen many Asian games not reach the required outcome as features are cut due to unrealistic planning.
- International business requirements. These are wide, but very important in setting standards in support for local partners.
- Tapping markets. Casual game design versus hard core positioning.
- New creative IP. Within the game Granado Espada (USA name Sword of the New World) published by Hanbitsoft Korea, the multi character control (MCC) was presented as a new gaming feature. From a western perspective RPGs have used this for many years. Classic games like Baldurs Gate used party control as a critical part of play.
- Cinematic skill. Theatrical elements like music, camera angles and lighting are better implemented by western developers at present.
Why Consoles Won't Be Successful in Asia
As consoles dominate the west, and consoles are moving online, it is important to address issues also facing the console market in Asia. Why PC dominates in Asia, and not console, is also a learning process in understanding success factors for Asia.
Importantly, markets like China and Korea have governmental controls on the distribution of certain electronics, specifically consoles.
Like PC, it is not only a question of great games and IP, but one of how it is delivered. If we use Japan as a possibility for the rest of Asia in the future, then it is quite conceivable the console market could succeed elsewhere. But today, the simple demographic profile prevents wide success outside Japan. Many other factors come into the success equation - but let us consider this in a generic example.
In the simplest of concepts consider two significant demographic features:
- The markets of greater China, South East Asia and India. People generally live in smaller homes (compared against the west) and, in the major cities, within small apartments. Disposable incomes are typically low; most households would see a television as a luxury. Physical space is limited.
Not many households would allow their one TV (if they had one) to be dominated by a console, let alone allow their children to spend their household money the console hardware and games.
- Socially, look at the wide spread use of internet cafes. These are places where young friends can socialize within a different environment to home. They can enjoy gaming entertainment within a group environment. They can spend money on games without directly being seen by other household members. They can play fantasy games with their friends to provide some escapism.
In this context it is not the content as the major issue, but the delivery for each market and currently console hardware is limited in many ways. Perhaps the Nintendo DS is more a step towards a suitable direction; however it now needs to also develop for a large mobile social network interaction and communication. And then free play and item transactions.
Entering The Asian Market
Brands and development reputation will play a key part in opening the doors in Asia. The western MMO developer needs to remember they are seeking to compete with local experts. As a visitor to their market you need to be respectful of the local products and online innovations.
What are the key success factors?
- IP, part one. Major licenses may be easier but be aware of the localization and culturalization challenges. Major brands do carry significant weight in Asia, but not all western brands will succeed there.
- IP, part two. Original IP needs great design and technology. Using proven engines and middleware would be an option worth considering.
- Experienced development teams. If you're not from Asia, then allow Asian companies and players to be involved in early testing. Listen and understand their comments.
- Funding. You must allow enough money for changes to the game later on. Incorporating Asian MMO traits will make the game ultimately better for the western markets too.
- Great Asian contacts. Look for contacts across multiple markets. There are different elements and requirements to be learned from each major market.
- Partnering in Asia. Find companies you can have shared goals with and trust. The ongoing support of the market partner for beta testing, updates and specific changes is absolutely critical. Support and listen to them.
- Openness and local help. The ability to communicate across different languages and cultures is critical. Unlike single player games, you do not walk away from them after launch. The development and support needs to be market focused and ongoing.
- Time. Unfortunately funding can direct launch timing. As with most games there is no second chance.
There are great opportunities in Asia for 2008 and onwards, for those who are willing to accept Asia in terms of its own unique requirements. If you do that, a lot of hard work and great partners will be a strong step in the right direction.
Even though the divide between Asia and the west is wide, there are ways to combine the best elements of both together. There is no substitute for experience, meaning employ and partner with people who have experience.
Going through that hard work and actually having successful content in Asia will not only be one of the most rewarding experiences but also a learning process that will lead to more global design strength for future online titles.