Your personal values and goals
“In order to adapt your content to local expectations, you may be required to alter aspects of your creative vision in order to be able to distribute your game in a specific market. In my experience, the majority of the time this is very surgical in nature and doesn’t affect the broader scope of the game. But there have been a few times where the entire game concept just won’t work in some markets – and you have to decide to either stay true to your creative freedom and not make changes, or choose to adapt the game for the local expectations. There is no right answer to this issue.”
Check your biases
“Every one of us has innate biases based on our geographic and cultural origin. Through education and various forms of enlightenment, most of us rise above those biases. But when you’re in the creative flow, sometimes those biases subconsciously appear in the output of your work. For example, I’ve seen very world-aware and smart people make pretty blatant mistakes with cultural and/or ethnic stereotypes.”
Seek local input
“This has been a very positive trend in recent years across many games, and that’s to seek the input and guidance from people who you’re trying to represent in the game. For example, for the game Never Alone (on which I did some consulting), the game depicts the Inuit culture of far northern Canada and it was created in direct partnership with the Inuit tribal groups. For Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft hired a consultant from the Cherokee nation to help guide the creation of the indigenous protagonist Conner Kenway in the game.”
Create with intent
“During the world-building process, one of the most dangerous activities is what I call ‘backfilling’ the game with all kinds of random content. This is when all the writers, artists, etc. on a team are doing their great work but it’s often in such a flurry of activity that no one is asking critical questions about certain depictions, or ideas, or other aspects being created. Ensure that everything that’s put into the game is done so with conscious intent, and not just ‘filler” for the story, the environment, etc.”
As Wightman adds: “How your game is perceived starts by challenging the cultural presuppositions of the design team.”
There are also technical requirements to consider, especially in emerging regions where access to consoles or high-end gaming PCs is more limited.
“There’s so many issues here that it would take a day to cover all of it,” says Wightman. “On PC there’s a surprisingly large enthusiast market with high-end specs, but when you drop to the mainstream you need to dig into video card distribution as many emerging markets rely on integrated laptop GPUs and they can be older processors as they need to hit a price point – it’s that socioeconomic topic again. With mobile, Android still has an OS fragmentation issue as cheaper handsets rarely get OS updates.
“Then there’s the network topic, if you rely on a mobile title that downloads a stub from the App store then downloads an additional data payload once installed – how this works across a poor 3G network in Vietnam might get you into a spot of bother as we’ve seen issues where it can take a day to download across a spotty network or on a limited data package.”
Digging into hardware surveys using the Steamworks portal can be a huge help in this regard. But as Homewood states, the rule of thumb at Team17 is to optimise its games as much as possible.
“The lower the spec of the machine that can run your game, the larger your potential audience becomes, regardless of region,” he says. “This is generally exaggerated in emerging markets, and so it reinforces the focus on optimisation in general.”
Releasing your game into emerging markets may be a daunting process, but it’s something you need to consider very early on in development. So deciding on which regions to focus is vitally important. Under the right circumstances, and with the right partnerships, China is obviously a very appealing prospect. However, Camilo reminds developers not to overlook the “piece of the big sums.”
“There’s this tendency to look at Europe as just one big economic block,” he says. “Same for ‘North America’, ‘South America’, ‘Asia’, ‘Middle East’ -- even Africa.
“I think publishers in particular really need to be able to target specific, sometimes smaller markets, where the relative return on investment can become really significant. Obviously there are added costs to that approach, but sometimes there might also be savings to be made.
“Say, perhaps instead of having a [single large] budget for Europe, why not really look in depth into different countries and see how to [squeeze] out the most out of each one individually. I’m saying, look into Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Portugal, Greece, wherever. After all is said and done, perhaps [that initial budget] would actually be too much, and unnecessary for the whole region.”
Doing your research and becoming aware of local government regulations and policies, cultural standards, and socioeconomic factors is vital when releasing in foreign markets. By identifying potential markets and beginning the localisation process early, UK developers can reap the benefit of a highly-connected global industry.