The games market is a global market, and once again, the progress of the internet and digital distribution now allow companies with lower resources to reach an international audience that they could not before. But to reach a true global public, one needs to learn about the local public.
Communication doesn't work the same way in France and Germany, and is further more different in South Korea or Japan, and the same methods shouldn't be applied to each of these countries. So how to maintain the consistency of a global communication plan while adapting to the cultural particularities of your target audience? Here are a few advices to do so without losing your mind:
Translation isn't localization. Getting something really localized requires changes to more than just text. As an example, the MMORPG Rappelz has recently been the first ever MMORPG launched in a fully localised Arabic version, which required changes in the text of course -- but also in the clothing of the characters, in some areas of the game, etc.
Images can shock people more than text, and to achieve a real localization, all the elements of a game and its communication have to be studied in the light of each culture.
Get local talent. Whether your choose to hire people with perfect understanding of different territories, or just outsource to local agencies, you can't really reach various local markets without dedicated people to handle your communication.
Think global from the very beginning. Don't wait until you're halfway through your communication plan to wonder about cultural differences. Ask yourself the question from the first stages of your planning if you don't want your operations to be cancelled at the last minute or have a negative impact.
Don't do things by halves. Over the past years, I've seen important games companies releasing press releases translated from English to French with grammatical mistakes in each sentence, and other language mistakes, even in their ads. Not only is it less successful, but it gives a bad image to the company itself. If you can spend several hundreds of thousands of euros in a marketing campaign, you can surely spare a budget to get local people to localize your communication and proofread it.
Despite all the education and information we have nowadays, ethnocentrism is still a plague affecting many people in our industry -- leading to poor treatment for territories that could otherwise bring much benefit. A game that doesn't perform well in the U.S. or UK could be a real success in Eastern Europe or in Asia, and vice versa. Local expertise in a global plan could well be the key to a true global success.
In a world where most companies think with only numbers in mind, one might think that every possible means to achieve better sales are used. That would be forgetting the impact of the public image on the company in the long term. The image of a company, sometimes called "Public Image" or "Corporate Image" is a very important factor on long-term success. Why does image matter? Here are some answers:
A good public image gets you closer to your community. Even though less than 1% of your actual customers will know all the history of your company and everything you did right, these people are the base on which you can build your empire. They are the leaders who will spread your words, and they shouldn't be forgotten.
A good public image helps secure more attention from the media. Of course, a big scandal can create very important (and negative) publicity on the short term, but if you have a good image and a long-term relationship with your community, it can help secure more attention and coverage from the media.
Like everyone else, editors are people, and they like to cover people who believe in the same things that they do. If you have a good story and a good reputation, you have more chances to secure coverage than a competitor with a good story and a bad reputation. Even if it sounds very simple, it is very true -- and has an impact on the success of a release.
Public image has a impact on customer loyalty. I'm not saying that the power of your brand's image will force a customer to buy all your games even if they are not appealing to him, just because he likes what you do, but if you focus some efforts on your image, it will be one more argument in favor of buying your games more than your competitors'.
Good corporate image influences recruitment. HR issues are very common in the games industry, because of the lack of experienced talent, and a lot of demand for jobs. Of course, we've heard (or lived) all these creepy stories about managers forcing their staff to work overnight, hurting family lives with no remorse. In the contrary, when in April 2009 Realtime Worlds announced that it was offering paid overtime to their developers, it didn't only offer more income to potential new recruits, it also created the image of a developer who cares more about the well- being of its employees. This was a good move in many ways, for a developer looking to recruit massively.
Of course, corporate image impacts other parts of a developer or publisher's daily work, but it remains hard to prove and measure, so I will stick to the four factors listed above for the needs of this feature. Many good books can explain more about this topic, as well as how to actually build a brand image.