Bigpoint producer Bigpoint producer Jonathan Lindsay discusses how Western developers can improve their chances in the world's most elusive markets
It would be wrong to describe Asia as a “rising market” for games. It’s already worth billions of dollars.
Its riches have seen numerous Western developers and publishers look to make it big in the region, but few have succeeded. Notable triumphs include Riot Games’ League of Legends and Blizzard’s StarCraft series. And these are now two of the biggest companies in the world.
German games developer Bigpoint is the latest Western company to target the Asia market. It has partnered with media and telecoms giant Tencent to bring Drakensang Online to China, and has completely redesigned its star performer to adapt it to local tastes.
Drakensang Online producer Jonathan Lindsay tells Develop that the Asia games industries are still enjoying rapid growth. And being home to more than half of the world’s population, there’s a huge audience for the right games. He warns however that it’s not a market without competition.
“It’s easy for a successful Western company to fail hard in Asia,” he states.
There are obvious cultural differences between European countries and those in Asia, right down to gameplay preferences.
“In terms of gameplay, the main difference that I’ve noticed is the different level of player guidance,” he says.
“German players in particular, tend not to want to be interrupted with hints, whereas Chinese players would much rather be closely guided and have more gameplay automation features.”
Lindsay says another key difference to keep in mind is user interface design. While many Western developers try to keep the interface as clean and clutter-free as possible, it’s perhaps surprising to hear that the reverse is true for China.
“Chinese games tend to have very heavy UIs with a lot of text onscreen, since the gamers there want to have as complete an overview as possible without having to click any buttons,” he explains.
“With regard to gameplay mechanics, the most obvious one that won’t work in some Asian markets are games of chance, since these features are actually illegal in some countries. With regard to Drakensang Online, we had to redo several exploration quests as this type of gameplay is not prevalent in Asia like it is in the West.”
Bigpoint has invested heavily in researching local gaming tastes in the Chinese market, and re-developing its existing browser game, Drakensang Online, around them.
The studio has completely redone the monster difficulty and reward balancing, along with implementing a new quest guidance system – in fitting with his earlier comments that Chinese players like to be guided through the experience.
It has also had to rethink and adjust the real currency economy due to the need to have several automation features in the game, that he says would otherwise make grinding real currency too easy. But that’s not all.
“Re-worked quest giver portraits and some other graphical changes are also in the pipeline, though Tencent is very keen to keep the European aesthetic of Drakensang Online intact, as it’s something that sets the game apart,” says Lindsay.
“Localisation of the story text and all other texts is also a very large area of work, as bad localisation can be very harmful to a game’s success.”
Partnering with Tencent has also been a key step in preparing Drakensang Online for its China launch, Lindsay says, adding that the key to success in Asia markets is who you partner with and who you hire.
“Recruiting local talent is critical In China,” says Lindsay. “We’ve partnered with Tencent, and in South Korea we’ve built our own local office and recruited industry veterans such as Derek Oh, who previously worked with Blizzard and Riot in the South Korean market.
“The performance of the game in South Korea after its launch last month is extremely encouraging and most of that is thanks to the feedback we got from Derek and his team. The other critical area is a simple one that’s easy to forget – be humble and listen to the local feedback. Some features might seem harmful to the game from a Western perspective, but they are simply required features in some markets.”
Drakensang Online recently launched in South Korea under the name Dragon Rise, and Lindsay says it has “exceeded expectations”.
It seems that preparing for launch in Asia markets is not for the faint-hearted. But those with the resources, combined with the right preparation and understanding of local markets, can find a way to success. ν