Emerging market success in three difficult steps

Emerging market success in three difficult steps

By Oliver Jones, Moonfrog Labs

October 10th 2014 at 11:27AM

Moonfrog Labs co-founder Oliver Jones looks at how developers can find success in regions such as Brazil, Russia, India and China

Hello, I am a Welshman and last year I co-founded ‘Moonfrog’ a gaming company in India.

Only a few months ago we released Teen Patti Gold a game that is now firmly ranked top 10 grossing in the region on iOS and Android. I’m writing here to share my views on how a game developer can find success these in ever scary and mysterious emerging markets.

How long now has the world been the anticipating the rise of Russia, China, India & Brazil? Truthfully this rhetoric has been going on forever, but not without good reason. These markets can always be seen as rising, rising on the wake of each new technological wave. Right now it’s the smartphone tsunami that’s getting everyone excited. 

But what does this mean for games?

Previous advances in tech like IT, mobile phones and the internet have not come anywhere close to putting games into the hands of the masses the same way smartphones do. But how can a developer work to serve this new gaming audience? Here are three difficult steps to achieve just that.

Step 1: Understand who BRIC generation gamers are

A developer aiming to find success in an emerging market needs to make themselves familiar with ‘BRIC generation gamers’. I define this generation by the following:

Mobile-first players
Born in another country, BRIC generation gamers would have grown up exposed to the same interactive media as Gen X or Y. However due to their countries' economic or political climate the majority of BRIC gen has rarely touched a game console. The result is more than 500 million potential gamers missing out on a decade worth of games sporting increasingly complex designs.

As tech softens its blow on our wallets the BRIC generation are discovering the joy of gaming for the first time through their newly purchased smartphones. Therefore this segment can be broadly regarded as ‘mobile-first players’.

Second in line
This year a large chunk of all new smartphones have come online in cities classified as ‘Tier 2’ or lower. These cities individually may not be metropolitan but can account for over 80 per cent of the population in BRIC countries. Prior to mobile data plans, these populations were not as exposed to western media but are now becoming increasingly globalised.

Students, Strivers and Jobbers
BRIC generation gamers have a very broad age group. I personally think of this group as gamers born anytime between 1980 and 2000. They are either still at school, started work or are currently working with an income anywhere between $0 and $5,000 a year (varies from country to country).

Even if you and your game studio are based in an emerging market you are unlikely to be a good representation of BRIC generation gamers. At the time of writing, gamers of emerging markets have few established preconceptions of how genres are defined or what game systems are generally accepted. Concepts as basic as experience points or turn based combat are still becoming popularised. A designer can take the current state of affairs as ether a challenge or an opportunity.

In an attempt to test the theory earlier this year I ran a small survey with 30 mobile gamers in the Tier 2 city of Surat, India. As part of this survey I asked about the kinds of games they like to play in various genres. Below are the answers.

As expected, few of the gamers surveyed where familiar with genres and all games mentioned as a response where mobile titles. The survey also included footage of 40 gamers, pictures of whom I will share in this article.

Step 2: Avoid Dumb Skinning and Foreign Stereotypes

By understanding the gamers (see Step 1) you can avoid the biggest googly of game design in the emerging world. A googly that I bluntly to refer to as ‘Dumb Skinning’. It is common because it follows a perfectly logical thought process.

Dumb Skinning involves taking a proven or successful game and inserting ethnic or culturally relevant motifs and objects. Logic follows that that as a Russian, Indian or Brazilian I would be more attracted to a game that has familiar-looking content.

This thought process becomes deeply flawed once you realise that the BRIC generation of gamers are people who aspire to do mostly the same things as regular gamers. Indians do not aspire to race auto rickshaws around the streets of Mumbai waving the national flag while avoiding livestock. They want to drive Ferraris in Miami. To believe otherwise puts you out of touch with today’s increasingly global generation.

If there is still any doubt, ask yourself the following:

  • Would French Nationals prefer Candy Crush with croissants and crêpes?
  • Would America appreciate the Angry Birds more if they were bald eagles?
  • Was Slumdog Millionaire ever a popular movie in India?

Stereotypes

If you are company or person working outside of your target market you are at risk of projecting your own foreign understanding of a country into a game. Which at best will prove ineffective, at worst outright offensive.

Bizarrely it’s not only foreign developers who fall prey to stereotyping a country and its people too generally in the process of localizing content. I have witnessed local developers fall into the same trap.  Although I imagine if I had been asked to make a game for the British audience before my work in emerging markets my mind may also have considered bulldogs and English breakfast as a viable theme.

Be creative

Approach the problem of localization with a mind-set that themed aesthetics only take a game go so far toward success. A creative designer can localize more effectively by putting more consideration towards their target countries languages, history and culture.

Stereotypes can even be effective if they are considered from the national’s perspective. Consider the Bollywood hero or a lean Brazilian Footballer both characters are specific and relevant enough to resonate locally.

Step 3: Get intimate

Understanding your audience and designing intelligently for them will help you find success. However, getting into bed with you audience will guarantee success.

This is the step that will bring you up close and personal with players. You may read all of the metrics, reports and reviews, but how much do you really know about how your players feel? There is a relationship between gamers and game designers that is runs high with emotion. If you are not understanding and catering to your player needs, they will leave. While a player is engaged in a game the designer is figuratively dating them.  

In current games-as-a-service, the relationship between game designer and gamer has its channels of communication. In BRIC games as a service many of channels are cut off due to language barriers. Furthermore language fragmentation in Asian regions can further obfuscate this issue to the point where a designer can feel like the person they are supposed to be dating is a BRIC wall.

But this BRIC wall can be brought down. All it takes is some bravery and probably a plane ticket. What a designer needs to do is to step into gamers homes, communities and colleges to observe. I go so far as using a technique that I call PoVA (point of view analysis). The technique involves meeting players, strapping cameras to their heads and leaving them well alone.

PoVA can help solve problems that may not be immediately obvious though data. Observation allows you to get a clear guess at the players thought process. Below is an example of a player going through a first time user experience and encountering some problems.

Conditions

In addition to identifying specific game related problems such as the one above, intimacy with your players involves learning about the social, cultural and economic context your games are played in. Exploring these broader aspects of gaming may sound like a purely academic endeavour but does serve a very practical purpose for designers. 

Social

  • Does your game need to be discreet?
  • Where are games played?
  • Do gamers play alone or in groups?
  • How do people communicate on-line?

Social factors can inform a designer on playing habits and how best to cater to them. If players communicate Via WhatsApp more than Facebook why not leverage that channel? If gamers prefer to play in large groups how can you facilitate social play?

Cultural

  • How is the attitude toward gaming in the community?
  • How do seasons correlate to sports and games?
  • Do any festivals or rituals feature games?

Through monitoring the cultural pulse you can ride the wave of relevance. In a live game your content can even coincide with local festivals and events. Currently hardly anyone is servicing their players with regular local content.

Economic

  • Is there a secondary market for game currency?
  • How do these markets function?

Secondary markets are more common than one would expect as in emerging territories. If trade is possible (whether it be by design or not) trading amongst players is likely. A developer can only make a judgement as to whether this activity is permissible or not by first understanding how their aftermarket functions.

In Conclusion

By getting to know your gamers, designing intelligently for them all the while taking the time to show them some measure of intimacy you will find success in emerging markets. But be warned, if all of this were an easy task then everyone will be doing it! And good luck!