2017 Summer Trip across China: Chinese Indie Games, Publishers, E-sports, VR & More!

This article will talk about interesting game industry topics (RPG, Strategy Games, MOBA, Game License Number, Publishing in China, IP, monetization, art, risks, etc.) LAI encountered during our summer business trip (May to early August 2017) in China. 

Heading to China

Watching San Francisco’s summertime fog rolling in from the ocean, bringing continuous waves of cold, we decided to celebrate summer in a proper (red hot) way. Across the Pacific, with so many exciting events and lined-up meetings covering hot topics such as new publishing regulations and the rise of indie games in Greater China area, we packed our bags and headed East.

On the way to China, we had a short stop at Singapore, where our CEO gave a presentation, Free Tools and Strategies for Publishing Your Games Globally at Casual Connect Asia 2017. After a short flight, we continued our conversations in major cities in China, the world’s biggest consumer of games.

(Graphic from LAI’s Game Market Analyzer app)

Why China?

China has always been a focus for LAI Global Game Services, as we continue to grow from a game localization provider to a next-generation global publisher. In 2012, LAI had localized Perfect World’s titles for the Brazilian market. The following year, we had our first booth at Chinajoy – this must-attend event is the largest annual game expo in China. Since then, we started working directly with game developers and publishers like Renren games, Longtu, Gaea, Firevale, and SteamyRice from China, helping them expand their territories across the globe. We also worked to bring games back the other way with western titles like SuperHot, Hovercraft, and Aviation Empire, titles that we helped to test, localize and launch in the Greater China area.

During this trip, we attended industry gatherings, visited clients and partners in their offices, built close relationships over dinner, and concluded the tour with Chinajoy (which we actually prefer to call “Sauna-joy” because of both the unavoidable summer heat and humidity, and the passionate but sweaty crowds). Flows of information, interesting thoughts and new ideas were exchanged between the East and the West. We’d love to share some of the most relevant notes to our global game community as part of LAI’s mission to help excellent games become known worldwide.

First Stop: Shanghai

Keywords: Nijigen (二次元), Asymmetrical Server (变态服)

It’s my second time coming to IC Cafe located in Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park (上海张江科技园) for this kind of smaller-sized industry gathering. Hosted by one of the industry news channels called Game Tea House (游戏茶馆), publishers, distribution channels and developers were asked to pre-register to request a special invitation to get in. Even though it was seen as a small-sized gathering, at least 200 companies registered for the event. Tables were reserved for developers who wanted to demo their projects and get feedback. Most games were mobile projects, but there were a small number of PC games; for example, a PC soccer game developed by a small team from Hangzhou.

Japanese Influence: Nijigen

One of the most exciting mobile games was a “二次元” (nijigen) style RPG game. Nijigen, the Japan-inspired subculture has been spreading like wildfire among Chinese young adults. Nijigen literally means two dimensions. It refers to a type of fictitious setting in books, manga and anime and used in ACG (Anime, Cartoon and Games) subculture. This is in contrast to the real world we live in, called “三次元” (sanjigen) , which literally means three dimensions. After the successful launch of Netease’s Onmyoji game (《阴阳师》),the Nijigen style has brought a lot of attention to both the developers and its young gamers.

(Do an image search  for “二次元” and you’ll get some visual clues about the art style like above result.)

(Under this YouTube video titled “Which one you would choose: Three Dimensional or Two Dimensional?”, almost all comments replied they would choose Two Dimensional.)

A New Trend in China

It is also a great place to network. Among the huge crowd, I spotted many familiar faces. It’s always great to reconnect with industry friends to chat about the market climate and learn about any new trends, regulations, business models and market requirements. For example, during the conversation, I learned “变态服”, or “BT服”[1] (“Asymmetrical Server”) is becoming popular among smaller development teams in China nowadays. When a game comes to the end of its product lifecycle, to attract more users and maximize the ROI, the developer puts their game “on sale” on their official server (usually) by giving the gamers VIP status for free or with huge discounts, or modifying the numbers that control game balance. This brute force approach is intended to revamp asymmetric balance to give the gamers an overwhelmingly satisfying (or shall we call it “overpowering”) experience.

At the event, I was also able to put names and faces together for industry friends who I have conversed or worked with online but never seen in person. (Later on, I am informed that there is a nickname for this type of industry meetup – “meeting your online date” (“见网友”).) Even though a mutual friend’s introduction was always preferable, I enjoyed the open atmosphere while making acquaintances with other professionals on my own and marketing our global publishing and localization service.

Second Stop: Beijing

Keywords: SLG, 玛丽苏(Mary Sue)

Winning western markets is not easy for Asian game companies. But in recent years, a few Chinese companies like Elex (HQ in Beijing) and IGG (HQ and registered in Singapore) made themselves notable in western markets by publishing western style games. To be specific, they’ve generated significant revenue all due to one specific genre: Strategy Games.

One thing to point out is that when referring to “策略游戏” (“strategy games”) in China, people like to use the acronym “SLG”. [2] It is confusing because in western terminology, SLG usually stands for Simulation Game.

Bringing Chinese Games West

In Beijing, we connected with developers that hope to achieve success in western markets with various game genres and approaches[3]: from mid-core SLG to story-mode casual games. There is a 20-person development team that just got their SLG game featured on Google Play; they hope to become the next Elex or Kabam. Much like Silicon Valley, these former colleagues started their own venture when they saw a better way to work on a project together with a leaner and flatter structure.

On the other side of the array, some developers hope to win western gamers with their unique content utilizing fun and young Asian culture. One challenge to face is content localization. It is a battle between keeping a more authentic style or massaging the content with more local flavor. It is no easy job to tell a foreign-setting story in another language while keeping the original cultural elements. It is tricky to handle translating non-equivalent concepts, and economical and cultural values. The talented and creative localizers have to figure out a way to convey the message that makes sense to users in the most natural way. As a localizer myself, the whole process of struggling to produce amazing cultural products is a true form of performing art. If you are interested in reading more about visual adaptation, check out the transcription of Game Art Internationalization and Localization – An “East Meet West” interview by LAI.

The Race to Purchase IPs

Sitting in a conference room called “玛丽苏“ (“Mary Sue”) next to the famous Xi’erqi (西二旗) Station [4]in Beijing, we were invited to discuss the localization and publishing issues for a Chinese company that targets the teenager/young female market. They hosted a community-based AVG (Adventure) game site where everyone could make their own story mode game. Even though it came from a niche market idea, its 1940,000+ members have created 5370,000 projects with 750,000 under review and 30,000 published after audit, as of Oct. 2016. Its 1200 professional contractors also authored 8500 story-mode games. Unlike many Chinese game companies that need to purchase a IP license from well-known movies or manga series to attract user traffic, this platform has a fan-based community and has already generated many well-known IPs themselves. They’ve reversed the order that a game is an after-film product by owning their own IPs and producing films based on them for additional revenue.

Innovative Monetization

I was also quite amazed at how they’ve innovated the monetization, using not just one method, but many. For example, the gamers can pay tributes (flowers) to authors to encourage them to speed up and upload the next episodes; the authors can launch an auction allowing the highest bidder to  make decisions about where the plot will go; the gamers can pay for a feature called “God’s View” which unlocks extra content and allows the gamers to see the future or obtain a high-level understanding about the plot; the gamers can purchase extra tokens to get a hi-res poster with amazing details and fine art of the game with their favorite character…

However, the risk to consider when exporting this model is whether the game will generate enough interest and attract a large enough user base. The solutions we have come up with are a combination of PR campaigns, special interest forums, and building an English community base with both new IP content from local writers and existing Chinese games that are well-localized.

Third Stop: Chengdu

Keywords: CP, Game license (版号)

The article How to Be A B2B Pro When Working with Chinese Mobile Game Companies I wrote will give some pointers if you’re interested in navigating the market yourself. It also talks about the major game hubs in China. Chengdu is one of them. In the article, I also explained an often-used acronym which defines most companies in Chengdu:

CP = Content Provider = Game Developer

Chengdu, Strategic City of Game Industry on Hardcore Gamers published in June 2016 gives a good overall description of Chengdu. Most game companies are located in Tianfu Software Park (天府软件园). Game Tea House (located there as well) published an article with a map covering this in August 2017.

For instance, the development team TiMi-L1 (天美) studio behind the most famous mobile game in China nowadays, Strike of King (《王者荣耀》,also called King of Honor), is located here. (We will also talk more about this game later in this article.) In the recent GamesIndustry.biz podcast, you may also find content about Ubisoft’s Chengdu office. (However, China is not part of SE Asia. So Chengdu should not be considered as part of Southeast Asia market.)

I want to circle back to my B2B article which was written in 2014. Back then, the Chinese government didn’t require the licensing approval process. Thus, partnership with local Chinese publishers was not a must on the list at that time. You can find a lot of buzz on the internet nowadays talking about this. Basically, a game must have a game license number in order to be published in China. In order to get the license, the publisher or press and publishing houses must meet the qualification standards to apply for licenses. LAI is very knowledgeable about this situation and connected with the local game publishing community. Should you need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us @ info@lai.com.

On August 12, 2017, GameLook’s official WeChat account posted an article saying that no South Korean companies (NCsoft, Netmarble) have been able to get any game licenses approved for publishing in China because of the political situation (THAAD deployment) since March, according to Yonhap News Agency, South Korea’s largest News Agency.

Fourth Stop: Shenzhen

Keywords: Tencent, Indie Games

On July 1, as Hong Kong commemorated the 20th anniversary of its return to China, President Xi witnessed signing of Greater Bay Area development agreement. Clustered with tech companies, and home to Tencent the largest video game company in the world (though it makes most of its money domestically), Shenzhen is the stop we wouldn’t want to miss. This article Can China’s “Greater Bay Area” Match Its New Year and San Francisco Counterparts? gives some good information about Guangdong – Hong Kong – Macau Greater Bay Area.

Tencent

According to DFC Intelligence’s report on mobile game companies released in July 2017, “China has become the world leader in games and Tencent is far and away the leading player in China.” Many believe that Tencent’s distribution coverage of WeChat and QQ has contributed heavily to its success in games with user acquisition and profiling advantages. At LAI, we used WeChat on a daily basis when in China – for instance, messaging with our clients, calling a DiDi taxi, using WeChat Pay to pay vendors on the street. Here is an article from the Economist which gives a good overview of WeChat.

One Tencent game I personally like to play is Strike of Kings. It is a MOBA game that was launched in 2015 and has many similar features to Riot Games’ League of Legends (Riot Games is also owned by Tencent). Compared to LoL, it has shorter sessions, smaller maps and simpler controls. Therefore, it also attracts many casual gamers (especially young female users) that had never played this type of game before. It is so popular that it has become a socializing phenomenon among students – if you don’t play the game and talk about which heroes you like or not, you will feel left out at school. However, its addictive gameplay also concerns a lot of parents. After People’s Daily published an article echoing these parents’ voices, reports say Tencent lost $17.5 billion in market value. Tencent has responded to the social issue by adding a daily time limit of one hour for players under the age of 12, banning them from logging into the game after 9pm, and a daily limit of two hours for players between the ages of 12 and 18.

(Strike of Kings’ login page)

Growing Popularity of E-Sports

I remember before I kicked off my summer trip, one early morning I was awakened by my parents’ “urgent” WeChat messages sent from China (their afternoon). They took photos about an E-sports scene with young crowds in their favorite shopping mall. The message said “We saw a large crowd – mostly young people- applauding and cheering in front of a big screen. We wanted to share their excitement, so sat down for half an hour to watch. But we failed to understand what was going on and felt left out. The world is developing so fast and we need your help to follow up!” It turned out that Strike of King ’s championship was hosted in this mall. The spacious hall area near the entrance of the mall used to be the retailer’s battlefield to do special promotions showcasing their newest products. But nowadays, E-sports is taking over the foot traffic audience.

With other news like “E-sports major offered by Chinese universities”, “creating an entire town dedicated to E-sports ”, and “15 billion Esports investment in the next 5 years” , I couldn’t wait to catch up with my friend who works as a project manager for E-sports promotions at Tencent IEG when I was in Shenzhen. Before the visit, I asked if I could come later in the day because of the summer heat. She answered of course, because her normal days wouldn’t end until 11pm (sometimes even between 1-3am). There were many takeaways from the 5 hour conversation, from hot topics like how live streaming on most popular channels becomes one of the most illuminating PR and marketing efforts for Strike of Kings, to high-level questions like how Tencent keeps scaling up in games as a giant by being vigilant of the market and encouraging its internal and external partners with inter-team competition.

The Rise of Indie Developers in China

Many industry friends joke about the current market situation. “There are only two game companies in China now: Tencent and Others.” To battle against a winner-takes-all situation, the concept of “indie games” is starting to spread around in China. Though only within one short year, it has shifted its meaning from a game that is created by a small group of developers without the financial support of a publisher to a game that has a unique art style and creative gameplay that does not normally follow the tried-and-true formula of “IP + market-proven code + changed art/skin”, so common with bigger investment games. It’s the publishers that are often in the “Others” category who want to be a part of the movement and are investing heavily in this trend.

We met with two companies in Shenzhen who have similar needs. They hoped to import westernindie games” to China, and asked for LAI’s help. They are not alone. Other Chinese publishers from Chengdu, Beijing and Shanghai have also signed partner agreements with LAI. They each have a unique specialty in genre and attribution channels. If you are a developer that is interested in checking out China’s market, we can match you up with one of these publishers who are eager for creative western style games.

(A western developer talks about their experience as their game was taken down by the Chinese government without a proper game license in China at this year’s Chinajoy. )

Teaming up with DFC Intelligence, LAI developed a free tool GMA (Game Market Analyzer) app for iOS to support the global game community powered by actual global market data and match-making service on the app. Here is the Press Release for more info. We are always adding regional publishers and partners to our free app. To support this initiative, our team is running an official GMA contest with free game localization as the price.

Last Stop: Shanghai (Chinajoy)

Keywords: VR
Chinajoy is the largest annual game show in China and Asia. It is held in Shanghai New International Expo Center each year around the end of July, usually 3 days for B2B exhibition area and 4 days for B2C. There are also conferences with different themes (CDEC/CGBC/CGDC/WMGC) going on at the same time, and an area for Cosplay competition. It is the busiest time for BD (business development) professionals during the year. Industry organizations and large companies will also sponsor events in the afternoon or for after-event parties in the night. It is very common for a BD to attend 4 or 5 parties or private gatherings each day to meet as many industry friends as possible. At least one of the dinner gatherings will be spicy crayfish.

VR

A big difference I noticed this year compared to last year is the intensity of VR. Last year, VR sessions had the largest ballroom and were packed with excited people at the CGDC conference. Well, this year, it was in the corner room at the very end of the hall. William, one of the speakers for the VR session started his speech with “only the real VR fans are in the room now”.  At VR sessions, most of the speakers gave a good overview on their target gamers and platforms from their perspectives. Besides choosing a good theme and storyline, user behavior seems to be the center of game design consideration. For instance, as HTC has invested heavily in China for its VR experience stores, HTC Vive is usually considered by developers presented in Chinajoy as an experience-oriented device generating big movements (when standing up) and exhilaration in a short period of time for first time VR users, like shooting games. PSVR is considered as a home device that hardcore gamers play sitting down and are more comfortable spending a longer time on a more immersive story mode game.

Here are some additional information from Tencent about VR market consumer profiling in China.

(Source from: https://virtualrealitypop.com/6-things-you-need-to-know-about-chinese-vr-market-ccd8a5c5b85c)

In conclusion, it was a very rewarding trip, reconnecting with industry friends while getting updates on the biggest game market on the planet and establishing new partnerships.

If you’re interested in knowing more about any of the topics I’ve touched on in this article, or if you have any other questions about terms I’ve used, or anything about global publishing or China publishing, feel free to shoot me an e-mail (michelle@lai.com) or LAI (info@lai.com). We may be able to help out.

About LAI Global Game Services

LAI Global Game Services is a full service game localization, marketing, and publishing company with 25 years of experience in the video game industry.

LAI opened its doors in 1993, back when the original Doom was released!

The company’s free iOS app, the Game Market Analyzer (GMA), is available on the App Store. GMA helps developers and publishers easily assess the best global markets for their games.

Feedback submitted about GMA to info@lai.com can qualify you for a chance to win free game localization! (Read contest details for more information.)


[1] Later on, I found an interesting article by Game House’s CEO Jialun Wang about the popularity of BT服 among smaller developers who have difficulty applying for a game license. It is only available in Chinese though: https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/27577381

[2] Reference from Baidu Zhidao (Baidu knowledge): https://zhidao.baidu.com/question/5019620.html)

[3] There is a four-character saying in Chinese: 殊途同归 (reach the same goal with different approaches).

[4] Xi’erqi Station is next to Zhongguancun Science Park – many people consider it as China’s Silicon Valley. Xi’erqi is also famous for being crowded in rush hour. Business Insider featured it back in 2013 with a video.

Want to Release Your Game in China? Find Yourself a Quality Partner!


By Karin Skoog (@KarinESkoog) & Michelle Zhao (@MengxueZhao)

We frequently see articles about Chinese regulations on Gamasutra and across industry sites, with talk of consoles being banned and then reintroduced. The Chinese games
market is a complicated space, particularly if you don’t have local ties to China.

If you’re a mobile games developer, you may have noticed that the market became even more complicated this past year.

Yet another regulation introduced will prohibit your mobile game from being released in China unless you navigate very carefully.

Market Opportunity in China

China represents a huge market potential, but it is likely most mobile game developers who try to enter the Chinese market in the near future will fail.

  • China is currently the “most valuable [mobile games market] in the world” according to GamesIndustry.biz.

  • A recent report from Niko Partners estimates 465 million mobile players in China by the end of 2016, generating $1.3 billion from mobile game exports, nearly doubling to $2.1 billion by 2020.

  • Just yesterday, TechCrunch posted an article stating China has surpassed the US in iOS App Store revenue, with Chinese mobile games consumption far exceeding the US (driving 75% of App Store revenue!).

Graphic from TechCrunch’s “China overtakes the U.S. in iOS App Store revenue.

An Overview of Video Games in China

To understand the new regulations, it helps to take a look at the evolution of video games in China:

Although Mario games were widely played in China beginning in the 1980s, it was World of Warcraft that kicked off computer games with its beta in 2005.

It took time for computer games to take off in China due to slow internet connections, but when they did, they quickly drew the attention of Chinese authorities, causing a number to be censored or banned. As creative products (like video games) gain in popularity in China, Chinese authorities crack down and regulate.

Now that mobile games have exploded in popularity – even surpassing PC game popularity in China – we are starting to see the repercussions. (See the graph below from our partner, DFC Intelligence, showing the rise of mobile gamers in China vs. PC gamers.)

Mobile games snuck up on Chinese authorities at an even greater rate than PC games of the prior decade – suddenly appearing and then rapidly spreading to the masses. To the government, games seemed to come with a host of problems due to their widespread popularity, including an influx of lawsuits and IP issues with international entities.

As with PC games from decades before, mobile games have entered a period of careful scrutiny, which brings us to new, present-day regulations.

New Chinese Regulations

China’s governing body of creative media (the State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film, and Television) is the organization responsible for bans on select books and movies, game consoles (in prior years), excessive gore in games, and now, mobile games.

According to this new regulation, any game perceived as being a “story-based game” is subject to review by the State Administration. The approval process can be time consuming due to the limited number of people currently reviewing submissions.

This is big news because this approval process is the biggest barrier ever imposed on video game developers looking to enter China. The vast number of mobile games flooding the marketplace quickly drew the attention of Chinese authorities and led to the biggest crackdown on games in China to date.

The new regulation was put into effect in July, and since the start of 2016, only 22 non-Chinese mobile games have been released in China (according to a list updated by the State Administration on August 29th).

Among the foreign games approved and released this year, the majority were MAJOR foreign IPs, such as Temple Run, Candy Soda Legend, Angry Birds, Subway Surfers, Fruit Ninja, and Monument Valley.

When The New Regulation Comes into Effect

If you go to China and check out the App Store now, you will find thousands of unapproved games. The original plan was to pull unapproved games from the marketplace October 1st (but the deadline was extended to December 31st), meaning that any games released in China before this year are likely to be pulled if they don’t attain approval from Chinese authorities.

There has been speculation over whether China’s State Administration has the resources and time to pull so many games from the marketplace. However, the new regulation made such big news this summer because many believe China will follow through on this regulation.

It may take some time for unapproved games to be pulled (possibly longer than the anticipated end of year deadline), but it is something developers should take note of, to ensure their own games aren’t at risk of being pulled from the Chinese market.

Submission Process

There are currently two types of approval processes – an expedited approval process for games without a storyline and an extensive approval process for games with any kind of a storyline.

- Simplified/Expedited Approval Process: Non-Story Based Games

Here is a brief look at what is required for the simplified approval process:

  • No storyline or an extremely simple storyline.

  • Regulations currently state that the copyright must be owned by a Chinese individual or entity.

This means you absolutely must have a Chinese publisher to assist in bringing your game to the Chinese marketplace.

  • No political, military, nationalities, or religious content.

- Extensive Approval Process: Story Based Games

All other games must undergo an extensive approval process, often taking 2-4 months for approval (in some cases, approval can even take up to 6 months!). If the studio has a good relationship with the government, it is possible to get approval within 40 days.

Here is what’s required for the approval of story-based games:

  • Submit games 20 days before launch.

  • Submit an extensive amount of paperwork.

  • Send a smartphone to Chinese authorities with a build of the game, functioning SIM card, and data plan for each version of the game (i.e. Android and iPhone).

  • Within one week of launch, submit additional paperwork and details to Chinese authorities.

Where Does this Leave Indie Devs?

Based on the games released in China this past year, many publishers in China are focused on bringing over games they know will be a hit – games that already made it big and are guaranteed to bring in the big bucks.

This means that it is increasingly more difficult for mobile game developers without an already established IP to launch a mobile game within the Chinese market. This isn’t to say it can’t be done or that developers shouldn’t target China – the Chinese mobile market alone brings in more revenue than the US!

China has already surpassed US revenue from mobile games!

This simply means that foreign developers looking to release mobile games in China must find a reputable local partner interested in publishing their games.

It is now essential for mobile game developers to work with local partners, as foreign entities are no longer allowed to publish in China. With larger Chinese publishers appearing to support only well-established IPs (i.e. Candy Crush), it may take some time to find a partner willing to publish your game, but quality partners do exist.

A Few Words of Caution

It can be difficult to conduct business in China as a foreigner. It isn’t uncommon encounter scams and to receive false information from people who claim to be looking out for your best interest.

We want to provide you with a few words of caution:

  • Be wary of scams – there are many scam artist “publishers” or “agents” who are more than willing to take your money.

  • Some people may try to convince you they are an “authorized agent” who can take care of the review process for you. This is not the case! These kinds of scams are a known problem for foreign developers trying to enter the Chinese market. Chinese authorities already released an official answer to clarify that no such “authorized agents” exist.

  • Some developers claim this entire process is one big ruse for corruption, forcing developers to share revenue with already large, local publishers. As with any part of business, don’t enter into any deals you don’t feel comfortable with!

Why is a Partner Key to Success in China?

 

China is a country where personal relationships (guan-xi) hold an incredibly amount of importance. Without going through ‘relationship-based channels,’ it is very possible the game you spent so much time and effort developing (and even localizing) for the Chinese market may end up never being released in China.

Find Yourself a Quality Partner

It can be challenging, to say the least, to know which companies you can trust. We would like to take the time to introduce our company – LAI Global Games Services – as we have been helping game developers navigate the global marketplace for decades. LAI has long-standing roots in China and thorough knowledge of the marketplace, as well as localization considerations for the region.

LAI’s office in China.

LAI has decades of experience in the Asian games market. We started out localizing content for Japanese companies back in 1993, and today, we have offices in China, Japan, and the San Francisco Bay Area, offering game publishing services and 35+ languages for game localization.

Due to our long-standing relationship with companies in China, LAI is in the unique position to offer game developers advice on entry into the Chinese market, as well as the best opportunity to actually launch your game in China.

How LAI Global Game Services Can Help You!

We work directly with local authorities and experts in the Chinese market to ensure games have the best opportunity to succeed. This includes:

  1. Helping your company understand the rules within the Chinese marketplace and localization considerations (such as eliminating ALL English characters in the game to diminish the possibility of rejection by Chinese authorities);

  1. Navigating the local market to help you find the most suitable Chinese publishers to match YOUR NEEDS, saving you time and money;

  1. Working as a liaison with the publisher in China to oversee and assist with any operations as needed, including:

  1. B2B business tips in China.

  2. Process interpretation.

  3. Assistance to help avoid misunderstandings, errors resulting from miscommunication/culture shock.

Reach Out to LAI!

We are always more than happy to assist with any questions you might have about current regulations or partnerships in China.

You can reach out to us @LAIGlobalGame or info@lai.com, or better yet, you can contact our CEO, David Lakritz, directly at dave@lai.com! We look forward to your questions and comments!

Visit www.lai.com for more information.

关注主机游戏:中国上海自贸区文化市场开放细则

1月初,中国政府解除了长达13年的游戏主机生产和销售禁令,给中国游戏市场未来注入一支新的兴奋剂。4月21日,上海市政府公布了《中国(上海)自由贸易试验区文化市场开放项目实施细则》。LAI在此转载,内容摘自上海市政府网站:

http://www.shanghai.gov.cn/shanghai/node2314/node2319/node12344/u26ai38861.html

英文版请查看:

Detailed Implementation Rules for Cultural Market Opening in the China (Shanghai) Free Trade Zone

 

市政府办公厅印发市文广影视局等制订的《中国(上海)自由贸易试验区文化市场开放项目实施细则》

沪府办发〔2014〕18号
上海市人民政府办公厅关于印发市文广影视局等五部门制订的《中国(上海)自由贸易试验区文化市场开放项目实施细则》的通知

各区、县人民政府,市政府各委、办、局:
市文广影视局、市工商局、市质量技监局、上海海关、中国(上海)自由贸易试验区管委会制订的《中国(上海)自由贸易试验区文化市场开放项目实施细则》已经市政府同意,现印发给你们,请认真按照执行。
上海市人民政府办公厅
2014年4月10日
中国(上海)自由贸易试验区文化市场开放项目实施细则


根据《国务院关于印发中国(上海)自由贸易试验区总体方案的通知》(国发〔2013〕38号)、《国务院关于在中国(上海)自由贸易试验区内暂时调整有关行政法规和国务院文件规定的行政审批或者准入特别管理措施的决定》(国发〔2013〕51号)和《文化部关于实施中国(上海)自由贸易试验区文化市场管理政策的通知》(文市发〔2013〕47号),制定本实施细则。
一、允许外资企业从事游戏游艺设备的生产和销售,通过文化主管部门内容审查的游戏游艺设备可面向国内市场销售。
(一)中国(上海)自由贸易试验区(以下简称“自贸试验区”)内取得工商部门核发的营业执照且营业执照经营范围载明“生产游戏游艺设备及销售其产品”的外商投资企业,可向市文广影视局申请内容审查。
(二)向国内市场销售的游戏游艺设备,应当具有合法知识产权,有利于传播科学、艺术、人文知识,有益于青少年健康成长。不得含有《娱乐场所管理条例》(国令〔2006〕458号)第十三条的禁止内容,不得含有押分、退币、退钢珠等赌博功能。设备外观、游戏内容、游戏方法说明应当使用我国通用语言文字。
(三)从事游戏游艺设备的生产和销售的外商投资企业申请内容审查时,应当提交预装游戏内容的游戏游艺设备和以下材料:

 


1.《游戏游艺机市场准入机型机种内容审核申请表》和《游戏游艺机产品内容审核材料登记表》;
2.企业营业执照复印件;
3.与游戏游艺内容相关的知识产权证明材料,包括该游戏游艺产品的知识产权证明文件或者该游戏游艺产品的知识产权授权文件;
4.游戏游艺设备中内容全过程的视频文件或者游戏游艺软件的视频演示(DEMO)文件,视频文件或者视频演示文件是指游戏游艺设备最终上市版本中的所有游戏游艺内容,包括不会在正常游戏进行过程中出现的内容的视频文件(以CD-ROM或DVD光盘为载体);
5.能够反映产品整体外观并与实际销售产品一致的电子图片,其中,一张正面图,两张侧面图,格式统一为“*.JPG”,图片分辨率不低于800×600;
6.游戏游艺使用的音频文件、名称列表和歌词的电子文本,电子文本应当是游戏游艺设备中使用的全部背景音乐、歌曲的名称列表、音频文件和歌词的中外文对照文本;
7.游戏游艺内容中全部对白、旁白、描述性文字以及操作说明的中外文电子文本;
8.为游戏游艺设备提供游戏游艺内容的方案,其中,在网络上为游戏游艺设备提供游戏内容的,应当提交提供游戏内容的企业的《网络文化经营许可证》。


(四)市文广影视局应当自受理申请之日起20个工作日内作出审批决定。符合规定条件的,出具《游戏游艺设备内容审核确认单》,并报文化部备案;不符合规定条件的,书面说明理由。
(五)外商投资企业取得《游戏游艺设备内容审核确认单》后,可以向国内市场销售其游戏游艺设备。游戏游艺设备的游戏游艺内容、机型、机种有升级、改版等实质性变更的,应当重新向市文广影视局申请内容审查。
(六)外商投资企业应当对其生产及销售的游戏游艺设备的产品质量负责,产品应当符合国家和本市有关标准和规定。在向国内市场销售的产品及其包装上,应当用中文标明产品名称、生产厂厂名和地址。
(七)向国内销售其游戏游艺设备的外商投资企业在办理游戏游艺设备内销手续时,除按照正常管理规定办理海关手续外,还应当向海关部门一并提交市文广影视局出具的《游戏游艺设备内容审核确认单》。
(八)在网络上为游戏游艺设备提供游戏内容的企业应当遵守文化部发布的《互联网文化管理暂行规定》、《网络游戏管理暂行办法》规定,取得《网络文化经营许可证》;游戏产品应当取得文化部的批准文件。通过其他途径为游戏游艺设备提供内容的按照国家有关规定执行。
(九)工商部门、质量技监部门和海关按照各自职能,行使相关管理职责。自贸试验区管理委员会(以下简称“自贸试验区管委会”)负责有关外资企业的日常监管。


二、取消外资演出经纪机构的股比限制,允许设立外商独资演出经纪机构,在上海市行政区域内提供服务。
(一)自贸试验区内取得工商部门核发的营业执照的外商投资企业,可向市文广影视局申请演出经纪机构《营业性演出许可证》和演出场所经营单位备案证明。其中,设立合资、合作演出经纪机构和演出场所,不受外国投资者的外资股比限制。
(二)外商投资演出经纪机构申请《营业性演出许可证》的,应当提交以下材料:
1.《设立演出经纪机构申请登记表》;
2.企业营业执照复印件;
3.3名以上专职演出经纪人员的资格证书。
(三)市文广影视局自受理申请之日起20个工作日内作出审批决定。准予许可的,核发《营业性演出许可证》;不予许可的,书面说明理由。
(四)外商投资企业在自贸试验区服务贸易区域内设立演出场所的,应当自取得营业执照之日起20个工作日内,向市文广影视局申请备案,并提交以下材料:
1.《演出场所经营单位备案表》;
2.企业营业执照复印件;
3.消防、卫生等行政管理部门的批准文件复印件;
4.演出场所的方位图与内部平面图。
(五)自贸试验区内依法设立的演出经纪机构举办营业性演出活动的,按照下列规定办理:
1.在自贸试验区内举办营业性演出的,应当向自贸试验区管委会提出申请。其中,对举办国内文艺表演团体与演员参加的营业性演出的,自贸试验区管委会应当自受理申请之日起3个工作日内作出决定。对举办涉外及涉港澳台营业性演出的,自贸试验区管委会应当自受理申请之日起20个工作日内作出决定。
2.在自贸试验区外、上海市行政区域内举办涉外或涉港澳台营业性演出的,应当向市文广影视局提出申请,市文广影视局应当自受理申请之日起20个工作日内作出决定。举办国内文艺表演团体与演员参加的营业性演出的,应当向演出举办所在地的区(县)文化行政部门提出申请,区(县)文化行政部门应当自受理申请之日起3个工作日内作出决定。
(六)自贸试验区内依法设立的演出场所在本场所内举办营业性演出的,应当向自贸试验区管委会提出申请,自贸试验区管委会应当自受理申请之日起3个工作日内作出决定。
三、允许设立外商独资的娱乐场所,在自贸试验区内提供服务。
(一)自贸试验区内取得工商部门核发的营业执照的外商投资企业,可向自贸试验区管委会申请《娱乐经营许可证》。外商投资娱乐场所在筹建阶段,可向自贸试验区管委会咨询,自贸试验区管委会应当依法为外资企业提供指导。
(二)外商投资企业在自贸试验区服务贸易区域内设立娱乐场所的,应当符合《娱乐场所管理条例》(国令〔2006〕458号)、《娱乐场所管理办法》(文化部令〔2013〕55号)等法规、规章规定的设立条件,并向自贸试验区管委会提交相关申请材料。自贸试验区管委会自受理申请之日起20个工作日内作出决定。准予许可的,核发《娱乐经营许可证》;不予许可的,书面说明理由。


四、外商投资企业从事游戏游艺设备生产和销售情况、外商投资演出经纪机构、演出场所、娱乐场所的经营活动情况,纳入上海文化市场经营主体诚信管理体系。
五、香港特别行政区、澳门特别行政区、台湾地区投资者和在国外居住的中国公民在自贸试验区内设立企业从事游戏游艺设备生产和销售、设立演出经纪机构、演出场所和娱乐场所的,适用本实施细则。
六、本实施细则自印发之日起施行。
上海市文化广播影视管理局
上海市工商行政管理局
上海市质量技术监督局
中华人民共和国上海海关
中国(上海)自由贸易试验区管理委员会
2014年3月31日

How To Be A B2B Pro When Working With Chinese Mobile Game Companies

How To Be A B2B Pro When Working With Chinese Mobile Game Companies

By Michelle Zhao, Managing Director – Greater China, LAI Global Game Services

Before we get into the data, let’s take a look around China:

Waiting in queues

In the subway car

The lucrative market

By the end of 2013, China had a $13 billion revenue game industry and 490 million players according to GPC, the China Game Publishers Association Publications Committee. Accounting for $1.8 billion, with 310 million mobile gamers, the mobile gaming market has been especially hot, seeing the largest growth in 2013 after rising 246.9% from the previous year. With the open policy of 4G license issuing (Dec. 2013) and economic growth in 2nd and 3rd tier cities, more people are expected to play mobile games. It is estimated that hardcore mobile games will be taking over half of the mobile game market in 2014. (Hardcore game mobile growth: 8% in 2008, 42% in 2013, 52% est. in 2014[1])

(From Newzoo’s report on Chinese Video Game Market 2013)

Though a business partner is not required for mobile games (according to Chinese law, foreign companies must partner with a Chinese service provider to run their online games in the country), the complex and highly fragmented market structure raises the bar extremely high for foreign companies to enter. Many times, local partners and 3rd party agencies are necessary to assist you with localization and publishing.

Characteristics of the market

 The Chinese mobile game market shows different characteristics from western markets:

 

  • Most Chinese mobile gamers started playing online games first, so they are more into games with interactive modes (playing with groups, or pvp fighting).

 

  • There are over 200 publishing and distribution platforms and stores in China. Since Google Play is not widely available in China and the Android market has captured over half of the market, major app stores like 360 Mobile Assistant, Tencent MyApp, Wandoujia, UC AppStore, Gfan Market, the Baidu app store, Anzhi Market, and Alibaba are considered the key to the market.

  • Android stores operated by the three main mobile carriers (China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom) have a very significant market share (up to 30% by some estimates[2]); carrier billing is the dominant billing channel for Android apps.

 

  • Revenue share doesn’t favor game developers (just last year it was between 90/10 and 50/50 publisher/developer) but it is getting better for developers.

 

  • Preloading by handset manufacturers plays an important role in distribution.

 

How to approach developers and publishers

 

Mobile game developers in China often work in teams of 10-15, or sometimes even smaller. With limited capital and unfavorable revenue share, they seek publishers to put up all the money (revenue share and a minimum distribution guarantee) so they are often passive during negotiations.

 

As mentioned earlier, publishing a mobile game in China is more complex than in the West due in part to the number of app stores, overlapping roles of publisher/app store/3rd party companies, and multiple revenue shares. Publishers usually lead the marketing campaigns, and perform other necessary adaptations and efforts.

 

Talk the talk

 

The most frequent word you will hear spoken by industry people at industry gatherings is “distribution channel” (“Qudao” or“渠道”). Compared to its neighbor Japan, China has more variety in terms of marketing and distribution channels. In Japan, the marketing approach is more straightforward: 3 to 4 marketing companies and ads on TV (6 channels). Game quality speaks more than distribution. However, in China, the big players show their own prowess to sell their games: Punchbox (Chukong) will seek money from VCs and make huge investments on ads; Tencent uses its platform to get all the consumers’ attention; Shanda puts more effort on branding their games.

 

English acronyms are often used in China as industry jargon. However, be aware of the differences– they might not mean what you think. Here are a few examples: At a game show event in the B2B area, you will often hear lots of BDs (business development folks) say they’re looking for “CP”. “CP” here stands for “content provider”. However, it is actually equivalent to “game developer” in English-speaking markets.

 

Another common term is “SP” (service provider), which refers to companies who offer B2B services such as monetization, app store optimization, and in-game ads.

Also, some famous mobile game titles are often referred to by acronyms like “COC” for “Clash of Clans”. Similar acronyms are often used when referring to game genre.

 

Cities

 

  • Beijing: This is where more established companies and many indie gamers are located. Zhongguan Village is considered to be the next Silicon Valley by many international investors.
  • Shanghai and surrounding area: Also has more established companies.  Usually companies have their marketing office in Shanghai and R&D in neighboring cities, Suzhou and Hangzhou.
  • Chengdu: Tianfu Software Park is where most video game companies reside. Bigger companies like Perfect World, Tencent, Ubisoft and Shanda have their R&D center or development team here. This area also has many smaller, newer companies, many with an overseas market focus.
  • Guangzhou and Shengzhen: This area has many game developers who were originally in the online game business, and are now shifting focus into mobile gaming.
  • Nanjing: Big carrier companies have their gaming operations here.
  • Dalian: Many video game and software parks with a long outsourcing history are located here (a large percentage are devoted to IT outsourcing for Japan).

Major conferences/shows and inside-circle parties

 

Shanghai: ChinaJoy (largest, national), Game Connection Asia, GDC-Asia

Beijing: GMIC, GMGC, TFC

Chengdu: GMGDC

Guangzhou: Guangzhou Game Show

 

Inside-circle parties are usually hosted by large publishing companies during a conference or show week. Sometimes they are closed-door events. You often need to get an invite from a connection/friend in the industry and pre-register, as the seats are limited. Be prepared for a huge crowd and bring a few hundred business cards and a happy face. Usually there are no rules about formal dress, and most attendees come dressed in business casual. Some events are hosted in a casual atmosphere: a huge café shop, a roof club, or even in nightclubs. As a well-connected industry BD (business developer) during a major conference week, it’s common to attend several parties in one night. For example, last GMGDC (Nov. 2013 in Chengdu), there were 20 inside-circle parties in 4 nights. A well-connected BD in China knows who is the key contact of your potential partner/clients to talk to and always follows the market trends and their competitors’ next move.

 

Social Media

 

WeChat groups (US equivalent: WhatsApp): you can register a few local game community groups and add friends here. Each day you can monitor what is going on by reading their posts.

QQ group chat (US equivalent: skype): Some event organizers will invite you to join their chat group too, e.g.: ChinaJoy.

Weibo (US equivalent: Twitter)

Doubai/Renren (US equivalent: Google+/Facebook)

Buzz.com (US equivalent: Meetup)

(Social Media Marketing Channels in China in 2014)

 

Know how to follow up

 

Chinese B2B contacts appreciate more direct communication compared to the West. Many of them prefer to keep in contact with you via phone and WeChat.

 

The video game industry is a young industry in China, and so is the average age of its industry professionals (born in 1980s and 1990s). It is not hard to start a conversation as almost everyone in the industry carries a passion for games and an open mind to new things. However, one thing you often find is that these highly mobile professionals won’t stay with one company for too long. I know of a few cases where people changed their email address after only 3 months – because they had already changed employers! At a party, someone once told me they considered themselves to be an industry veteran because they stayed with one company for a surprisingly long time – two entire years(!)

 

When making contacts at Chinese game companies, the BD is the first person you’ll talk to. Once they understand your purpose to engage with their company (or say they are convinced that your service provides potential value to them), they will refer you to the director of the internal department you are interested in talking to.

 

Though most industry professionals are from the younger generation and many have studied overseas, you still can’t ignore the importance of Guanxi (connections) when you are doing business in China. It is a unique skill to have – it is a combination of art and techniques of building your network with real work, friendship, trust, favors, dinners, and parties.

 

Final remarks

 

Chinese companies view western companies as prestigious but they tend to worry that foreigners do not understand the business culture necessary to get work done in China. Larger companies or some small companies whose founders have overseas experience should be able to communicate with English-speaking companies adequately, but for deeper engagement and networking, it is necessary that you have some employees who are proficient in Chinese. If that’s not feasible, you should consider working through 3rd party companies who have the expertise and the necessary language skills.

 

LAI Global Game Services (a unit of Language Automation, Inc.) can help you navigate the complex business climate and marketing and publishing challenges needed to achieve success in the China market.

 

Feel free to contact me directly (michelle@lai.com) and I’ll be happy to provide assistance and guidance.

 

 



[1] Data from App Operation Group (App运营之家, A Chinese industry WeChat group)

[2] Reference: Newzoo’s  2014 China Games Market Trend Report

Video Games & Global Valentine’s Day Traditions, Part 1

A Brief History of Valentine’s Day

 

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,

All in the morning betime,

And I a maid at your window,

To be your Valentine.

Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,

And dupp’d the chamber-door;

Let in the maid, that out a maid

Never departed more.

-          Hamlet

 

Valentine’s Day is already here! To some people, it means doing something romantic for a loved one. And to some game developers, it means adding holiday-themed content to their games. This may mean adding hearts, Cupid arrows, and pink items, such as in Angry Birds Seasons, or it may mean letter and gift deliveries depending on relationships with in-game characters, such as in Animal Crossing.

 

The holiday, as we know it today, is said to have its roots in 14th century England. According to scholars, February 14th first became associated with love and romance thanks to Geoffrey Chaucer, the “Father of English literature” and notable poet of the Middle Ages. Chaucer’s writing supposedly incorporates the first written record of Valentine’s Day:

 

For this was on seynt Volantynys day

              Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

-          Parlement of Foules (1382)

 

There are many legends and stories associated with the birth of this holiday, including feasts that gave rise to courtly love and the belief in the Middle Ages that birds actually paired couples together. Over the centuries, Valentine’s Day evolved into a day to express love to others via flowers, candies, and cards, spreading from Medieval England to other parts of Europe and, more recently, to Asia, which is often attributed to the spread of American pop culture, as some Valentine’s Day celebrations didn’t begin until just a couple decades ago.

 

Although this holiday is now in many countries around the world, it certainly doesn’t mean the day is celebrated uniformly throughout. While many people globally are familiar with the way Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day, that doesn’t mean gamers in every country know of American Valentine traditions or would even appreciate the integration of these customs in local video games.

 

In this multi-part article, we will cover the different ways Valentine’s Day is celebrated internationally and how game content based on real-world traditions necessitates adaption (or localization) for each given market:

 

 

Age-Old Tradition of Romance – China

China’s equivalent of Valentine’s Day stretches back many centuries to the Han Dynasty (a dynasty lasting from 206BC to 220AD). This celebration is known as the Qi Xi Festival, and it takes place on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar (this year on August 2nd). (It is also called the Magpie or Double Seventh Festival.)

 

There are multiple legends surrounding this holiday. These legends speak of two lovers, the Cowherd (Niu Lang) and Weaver Maid (Zhi Nu), who are only able to cross the Milky Way once a year in order to be together. One legend says that the Weaver Girl came down from heaven to marry the Cowherd and have children with him, but when the God of Heaven realized this had happened, he ordered Queen Mother of the Western Heavens to return Zhi Nu back to the heavens. Another legend says that Niu Lang and Zhi Nu were fairies on the opposite sides of the Milky Way, and when they were together, they would neglect their work, so the Jade Emperor of Heaven only permitted them to meet once a year.

 

Game Examples

There are many aspects of Chinese legend and history that game developers can draw upon when creating game content for the Chinese market, and Chinese gamers respond positively to this cultural content. Thus, numerous games have been created for the Qi Xi Festival. Perhaps a more well-known game example is from Google. Last year, Google released a Google Doodle game for the Qi Xi Festival, where users create a bridge of magpies so the two lovers can meet.

 

Larger games, like MMOs, also work to incorporate local content when possible. There is an MMO set in ancient China, Conquer Online, that had a Qi Xi quest a couple years ago, where players gathered items and summoned the magpies to bring “happiness to the Herd-boy and the Weaving-girl.” This kind of culturally-focused content tends to have positive effects on sales, as gamers appreciate game content that incorporates local traditions.

 

While it is now common for women to receive chocolate or flowers on White Day, in some parts of China, traditional aspects of the Qi Xi festival are still celebrated, with girls displaying their domestic skills. Common celebrations in the past for girls included competitions for threading needles under low light conditions, praying to Zhi Nu for wisdoms, reciting prayers, and wishing for a good future husband. In addition to competitions for young girls, the Qi Xi Festival was also a time of celebration for newlyweds. Young women would also place fruit, flowers, tea, and face powder out for Niu Lang and Zhi Nu, throwing half of the face powder onto the roof and using the other half amongst themselves, signifying shared beauty with Zhi Nu.

 

 

Beware! – Not Everyone Celebrates Valentine’s Day

When bringing Valentine’s Day-themed content to other countries, it is crucial to keep in mind that there are a number of countries that do not permit Valentine’s Day celebrations, due to religious beliefs and/or political parties. This is because some people believe Valentine’s Day has associations with Christianity or is symbolic of the penetration of Western culture.

 

It is important to keep this in mind and to learn which countries do not allow the celebration of Valentine’s Day, as often the sale of red items, romantic cards, flowers, and other such gifts is banned (such as in Saudi Arabia). There have even been reports of protesters and volunteers in some countries attacking couples and burning Valentine’s Day cards (such as in India). Despite the widespread animosity toward the holiday in some areas of the world, some couples in these countries may celebrate Valentine’s Day in the privacy of their homes, buying flowers and gifts on the black market or vacationing in a country like Dubai in order to celebrate the day.

 

It follows that Valentine-related content would not go over well in countries where there is unrest surrounding the holiday. Instead, game developers that typically create holiday-themed game content (such as Rovio) find other ways to stay relevant across global markets. It was reported last year by IGN that Rovio is studying the Middle East in order to effectively communicate stories from the region. As Rovio’s COO, Harri Koponen said, “There is a long Arabic history and lots of interesting stories that need to be told in the region, like One Thousand and One Nights. We are always developing more local content – we have been focusing on themes recently.”

 

While Valentine content could cause intense problems when released in certain parts of the world, there are ways to pay homage to historical traditions without unintentionally making a cultural or political statement with the inclusion of the Western version of the holiday in games. For example, game developers looking to integrate local traditions related to love and romance may look to ancient India, where the Kamadeva, the Lord of Love, was celebrated.

 

 

In the next part of this article, we will take a closer look at other global traditions surrounding love, romance, and Valentine’s Day.

从游戏本地化视角看新兴的中国游戏机市场

从游本地化角看新的中国游机市

作者:赵梦雪,美国LAI(Language Automation, Inc.)大中华区执行长

Rory Schussler, 特别通讯员

译者:赵梦雪

 

一月初,中国政府解除了长达13年的游戏主机生产和销售禁令,给中国游戏市场未来注入一支新的兴奋剂。然而, 面对这个机会,要想知道大型游戏主机厂商是否能成功把握,还时机尚早。(任天堂表示至今未有进入中国市场的计划,索尼雄心勃勃,计划在2014年3月出售500万台PS4 。)政策的修改细节还未颁布。内容限制会对游戏设计造成问题。盗版和水货市场也令人担忧。摆在我们面前的最大的挑战,是如果适应独特的中国市场。

让我们把镜头转向13年前,任天堂的马里奥给中国的小朋友们带来诸多欢乐,这一点和美国的情形毫无差异。但当中国向主机游戏市场关掉大门时起,世界的其他地方却进入了被称为第六代游戏机时代。索尼的Playstation 2 ,微软的Xbox和任天堂GameCube成三国鼎力之势。游戏行业自始而来,游戏大多都针对男性(青年和大龄儿童)开发。目标受众,也就是如今所称的“铁杆(hardcore)玩家” 要求复杂且具有挑战性的游戏,同时画面感也要极好。尽管在行业拥有最久的历史,并有知名的专营连锁,任天堂在当时却落后于它的竞争对手。2005年,当业界继续将相同的设计理念应用于新一代游戏机时,任天堂却用了一条不同的策略。Wii的开发与传统制造智慧背道而驰,让任天堂发现了一个曾经被忽略的全新的市场。与Xbox 360和PlayStation 3相比,任天堂发布了一个不那么强大的主机与一个完全不同的运动控制系统。简单而直观的游戏一炮打响了家庭和大龄市场。任天堂在硬件上节约了成本, 其销售更胜过了它的竞争对手,其结果是索尼和微软在几年后都纷纷效仿,推出了自己的运动控制系统 。

 

类似的情形再次重现。一个14亿人口市场向我们开放。根据IDC分析认为,一旦禁令被完全解除,在未来几年,中国将称为最大的游戏机市场。摆在我们面前的问题是,怎样的创新和策略能用来获取这曾被忽略的玩家市场。要赢得中国玩家,优质的本地化是必要的。做好优质的本地化游戏产品, 可以从以下几个方面来考虑:文化调节,法律问题,商业化和技术。

文化调节

除画面感外,最能让游戏玩家投入游戏的是UI界面,当然,它必须是玩家自己的语言。好的翻译就是在讲游戏里的故事,风趣生动,用语符合玩家口味,并根据游戏不同时期的背景译出符合其时代特点的语言风格,达到浸入式的游戏体验。同时,游戏的语音对话应提供字幕或配音。在许多情况下,人物形象和情节改编是必要的,对当地的文化更具吸引力。如果游戏故事中涉及历史事件,一定要检查涉及的游戏内容是否属实。在游戏测试阶段,让当地玩家来验证符号和宗教元素在当地的正确使用往往是非常重要的。

(台湾游戏展showgirl)

 

(ChinaJoy showgirl)

对大多数游戏开发者来说,很难辨清哪些是文化观念的差异。就拿颜色来说,当中国人见红色,一般象征吉祥,给人幸福和欢乐的感觉。可在大多数西方文化中却似乎完全相反 – 让人联想到暴力和鲜血。但是,不要以为“红色就意味着吉祥”适用于所有情况。比如说在餐厅结帐时递过来一只红笔来签字,就让中国人很恼火(这是我在美国经常遇见的情况…) 这一忌讳是从死刑问斩的历史演故而来的:犯人名字是用红笔写在押号上,以候处决。所以用红笔写自己的名字是相当不吉利的一件事!

小浣熊在中国是多么可爱的一个形象,还是一个干脆面的品牌代言。但在美国确像老鼠一样人人喊打。东西方龙的形象又是一个例子。调整文化概念和理解上的不同,还有很多值得考究的地方:某些数字的象征含义,日期和时间的表达法,不同历律的节假日等。想要保证所有细节都没错,最好办法是咨询有经验的游戏国际化和本地化专家。他们可以帮助你避开忌讳的风俗和习惯,并给游戏添彩,让你的游戏在全球大卖。

如今,游戏的营销少不了社交媒体的帮忙。尽管Facebook, Youtube和Twitter风靡全世界,但在中国大陆却并非流行。中国国内有一套自己完整的社交生态圈(见下图),基本每个工具都和国外的功能相对应。在LAI公司,我们经常帮助客户寻找正确的营销和发行渠道,尤其在大中华地区和美洲,我们有很多游戏平台和社区的合作伙伴。

营销时机在各地也有所不同。台湾游戏同行很关注台风季,这时玩家都宅在家,有更多时间来玩游戏。中国新年前,也是最忙的时节。在美国,圣诞节是玩家得到最多游戏礼物的时间。

法律问题

相比文化意识,政府法规对游戏的发行要求更苛刻。我们在前面的文化部分谈到了红色。在德国,游戏中红色的鲜血被规定替换成绿色或蓝色。很多其他国家也有自己的游戏评级标准 (如澳大利亚常被认为有很严格的评审),为适合的特定年龄群体进行游戏分类。

虽然中国没有年龄评级系统,但政府的审查却并不松代。一个月前,战地4遭中国封杀,因为政府认为它对国家安全构成威胁。据中国电子游戏信息门户网站17173.com报道,超过40家外国游戏都没有被允许在中国销售 。

 

中国游戏产业网上有游戏在中国发行的相关政策。有几点值得开发商注意的是:

1. 内容限制 – 被禁止的:淫秽,色情,赌博,暴力,迷信,民族歧视,危害国家安全,等等。

2. 所有的进口网络游戏(包括台湾/香港/澳门)需要找一个中国本土游戏公司发布:要么合作出版或自行发布。

3. 保护未成年防止沉迷网络游戏,并对18岁以下的玩家游戏销售有更严厉的规定,如实名登录等。

主机游戏现有的商业模式不适合中国市场。目前存在的主机市场,游戏往往要花费2000-3000万美元制作,单价售出60美金 。较便宜和老款游戏虽然只有其1/3的价格,但一下子让中国玩家拿出120元还是很高的。泛滥的盗版问题和中国玩家的支付模式偏好,启迪了中国游戏商家大多采用free-to-play模式。 而主机游戏玩家也大部分在水货市场购买了游戏机,习惯了买盗版游戏光盘。很难想象中国游戏消费者会支付同样价格购买正版主机游戏。

(国内的盗版机)

值得注意的是,主机游戏行业里已经开始有不同的计价模式,并越来越受欢迎。所有的当代游戏机都有网上在线市场,可以下载购买经典游戏、小游戏、低价游戏。大预算的主机游戏也开始流行可下载内容的销售,尽管它和目前中国游戏市场运作有所不同。(虽然free-to-play模式已在美国休闲和手机游戏玩家中取得一定的成功,但铁杆玩家不喜欢游戏内存在用支付手段取得竞争优势。 )重要的是,市场已经开始向新的方向移动,结构都已到位,可以为新兴的游戏机市场制定独特的定价模式。

对中国市场来讲,游戏和可下载内容的数字销售前景客观。在线系统越来越多地应用于防止盗版。中研普华的研究显示,2012年,在主机游戏解禁前,水货市场销售了约4百万台主机(包括掌机)。然而,这些游戏机无法和其他游戏机联机,一同在线玩游戏。建立主机游戏的官方网络能阻止用水货和盗版的玩家进行游戏,不让他们进入游戏网络。游戏机的数字销售也消除了物流成本,避免了中间商和游戏转售。

 

科技

主机游戏解禁几天后,华为在拉斯维加斯的消费电子展上推出了其首款安卓系统游戏机Tron。TCL也发布了制造其自己的游戏主机计划。国内公司开始在主机游戏市场初露端倪,但微软、任天堂和索尼电脑娱乐公司被许多人认为是游戏机解禁中最能受益的赢家。主机游戏需要巨大的投资和长时间的制作,而没有成熟的技术和行业知识的公司很容易就会失败。

一旦AAA游戏广泛进入中国市场,游戏市场格局将转向对视听效果更高科技的要求,游戏玩法也会要求更复杂多样。10年前,3D游戏在世界各地开始盛行,而如今2D/2.5D游戏开发在中国还是最常见(Cocos2D pk Unity 3D)。在不同的平台发布游戏时,技术兼容性的困难时经常发生。国内企业通常只有有限的主机游戏设计和发行资源。

国内公司对游戏玩家喜好(题材风格、情景设计、流行趋势)和游戏度量(metrics)有更好的把握。对进口游戏的改编也有更多经验。在2013年9月,微软第一个与中国公司百视通组建合资企业。主机游戏市场的未来给这样取长补短的中外合资公司提供优势,使双方从合作关系的协同效应中获利。而给不希望形成这种深度合作伙伴公司的公司提供了另一种解决方案,是与经验丰富的本地化和出版机构合作。

中国游戏机市场的开放给游戏开发者和主机制造商带来了很多的挑战,但同样带来了巨大商机。最先进入中国市场获得绝对竞争优势的公司将是那些最先找到针对中国玩家的成功营销方案、并能在中国市场立足的公司。

在LAI,自1993年以来,我们一直与索尼及国际上许多其他成功的电子游戏公司合作 。我们拥有齐全的游戏本地化和海外出版解决方案。用我们的经验助你走过所有发行步骤, 让你的产品推向市场。

 

Perspectives on Game Localization for the Emerging Chinese Console Game Market

Perspectives on Game Localization for the Emerging Chinese Console Game Market

By Michelle Zhao, LAI’s Managing Director for Greater China and Rory Schussler, Special Correspondent

Earlier this January, China lifted a 13 year ban on the sale and manufacture of gaming consoles. This has generated great excitement about the future of the video game industry in China, but it is still too early to know how successful the big console players will be in taking advantage of this opportunity. (Nintendo has said they have no plans so far for entering the Chinese market; Sony is making ambitious plans to sell 5 million PS4s by March, 2014.)

We’re still waiting on more details from the government on how the change in regulation is going to work. Restrictions on content are an issue for game designers. Piracy and the grey market are major concerns. The biggest challenge is how to adapt to the differences of the Chinese market.

Let’s go back in time 13 years. Nintendo’s Mario was almost as much of an iconic presence to Chinese children as he was to Americans. While China was closing its doors to consoles, in the rest of the world gaming was entering what is known as the sixth generation of consoles, where the major competitors were the Sony Playstation 2, the Microsoft Xbox, and the Nintendo Gamecube. From the beginning of the video game industry, games were targeted towards an audience that was mostly male and aged child to young adult. The target audience (a group which is now referred to as “hardcore gamers”) demanded more complicated and challenging games with better graphics. Despite having the longest history in the industry and a line of well-known franchises, Nintendo was falling behind its competitors. When the industry continued with the same design philosophy working on a new generation of consoles in 2005, Nintendo went with a different strategy. With the Nintendo Wii, the company went against the conventional wisdom and discovered an entire new market that had been ignored before. In contrast to the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, Nintendo released a less powerful console with a radically different motion control system. The simple and intuitive games were a hit with families and older generations. By saving money on cheaper hardware, Nintendo’s sales outdid its competition so well that Sony and Microsoft both came out with their own motion control systems a few years afterward.

What’s going on now is a similar situation. A market of over 1.4 billion people has opened up. According to IDC analysts, in the next few years, China is going to be the largest console game market once the ban is lifted completely. The big question is what kind of innovation or strategy can be used to capture the formerly ignored population. Quality localization is necessary to win Chinese gamers. There are a few aspects of localization to consider: culturalization, legal issues, monetization, and technology.

Culturalization

Besides artwork, the first thing to get gamers connected and immersed in your game is the UI that is written in their own language. When talking about the language “Chinese”, many people get confused by a few terms: Cantonese, Mandarin, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Cantonese and Mandarin usually refer to dialects.

There are actually many different dialects in China. Cantonese is spoken by people from the Canton area which is in the very south of China (many early immigrants in the US are from Canton.) Mandarin is the national/official language, originating from Beijing and the Northeast of China. People from Taiwan and Singapore also speak Mandarin.

Simplified and traditional are usually referring to writing systems. Simplified is used in Mainland China and Singapore, while traditional is used in Hongkong and Taiwan. Many people who understand traditional may not read simplified very well, and vice versa. The good news is that since the language is concise, most of the time you don’t have to worry about the maximum length of the characters for UI design.

A good translation offers vivid story-telling and period-accurate language, which is essential to a great gameplay experience. Providing subtitles or voice-overs in the targeted market are necessary for dialogue. In many circumstances, character and plot adaptation are preferred in order to appeal to the local culture. It is always necessary to fact check, if historic events are included in the game. Asking local gamers to verify the correct use of symbols and religious elements is often important during the testing phase.

 (showgirl @ Taipei Game Show)

(Showgirls @ ChinaJoy – China’s largest video game exhibition)

Differences on cultural notions are not always obvious for game developers. Take colors for example – when Chinese people see red, generally they relate it to auspicious, happy and festive feelings. Its usage seems quite opposite in most western cultures – it is associated with violence and blood. However, don’t assume that “Red is good luck” in all situations. A Chinese person could feel quite offended if offered a red pen to sign the bill in a restaurant – in historic times, only prisoners who were sentenced to death had their names written in red ink. Many Chinese people still believe it will bring them bad luck.

Raccoons are cute and used as a mascot in branding in China, but are considered pests in America. Dragons are another well-known example. There are plenty of other things to be aware of in culturalization: superstition surrounding numbers, display of dates, and Chinese holidays under the lunar calendar, etc. The best way to make sure you’ll get it right is to consult with an experienced internationalization/localization professional working in the game industry. They will be able to make sure all the taboos are untouched and give you better alternatives to boost your game sales in China.

Social media are very helpful and trendy tools to support game marketing, but Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are not available in Mainland China, even though they may be used widely throughout the rest of the world. China has a totally separate social media ecosystem, but it can be confusing at times (see the following chart showing the correspondence with other platforms). At LAI, we are experts at navigating China’s social media ecosystem and frequently help our clients with marketing initiatives in China.

Marketing opportunities can vary in each area. In Taiwan, the game industry takes advantage of typhoon seasons since everyone stays at home and plays games. In mainland China, the busiest period is before Chinese New Year.

Legal Issues

Compared to cultural awareness, government regulations are even harsher. We talked about the color red in the cultural section earlier. In Germany, gore is replaced by green or blue in games. Many other countries also have their ratings boards to classify games as appropriate for certain age groups.

Though China does not have a system for age rating, its censorship is also very strict. A month ago, Battlefield 4 was banned in China because the government viewed it as a threat to national security. According to Chinese video game information portal 17173.com, more than 40 foreign games have not been allowed to be sold in China over the years.

This Chinese game industry official website provides video game publishing rules and regulations in China.

A few things for developers to note:

  1. Content restriction- these are forbidden: obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, superstition, illegal trade enrichment and endangering national security, etc.
  2. All imported online games (including from Taiwan/Hongkong/Macau) need to find a Chinese local game company to publish: either co-publish or self-publish.
  3. There are strict rules on selling games to gamers under 18. Often, real name log-ins are required to play certain types of games.

Monetization

The current business model for console games doesn’t fit China very well. In the existing console market, a game tends to cost around $20-$30 million to make, and sells to consumers at $60. Even cheaper and older games only drop to about a third of that, and 120 RMB is still very high for a Chinese gamer. The majority of Chinese gaming works on the free-to-play model due to the high degree of piracy. Most gamers who are interested in consoles have already purchased illegally imported systems, and are accustomed to playing bootlegged games. Consumers would refuse to pay the same prices that people do elsewhere in the world.

(copycat consoles)

Different pricing models have already taken root though, and are becoming more popular. All of the current-generation consoles have online marketplaces where classic games or smaller and less expensive games can be purchased and downloaded digitally. The sale of downloadable content is becoming increasingly prevalent in big-budget console titles, although it is different from how the present Chinese market works. (While the free-to-play model has had some success with American casual and mobile gamers, hardcore gamers tend to reject any game where players can pay for a competitive advantage.) What is important is that the market has started to move in new directions, and structures are already in place to accommodate a unique pricing model for the emerging console market.

Digital sales of games and content is promising for the Chinese market. Online systems are increasingly used to prevent piracy. (Shenzhen) Zero Power Intelligence’s research shows about 4 million consoles (including handheld) were bought in China from the grey market before the ban lifted in 2012. However, such consoles are unable to play anything other than local multiplayer, and cannot connect to other players. Establishing an official network for a console can prevent anyone from playing on an illegally modified console or game disk, and ban them from the network. Digital sales on consoles also avoids the physical costs of shipping to retail stores, eliminates the middleman, and prevents resale of games.

Technology

Huawei unveiled its first Android powered game console Tron at CES in LV, only a few days after the government’s policy change. TCL also has plans on manufacturing its own console.

(Huawei’s Tron)

Domestic companies are making their debut in the console field, though Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony Computer Entertainment are considered by many as the best poised to benefit from the lifting of the ban on consoles. Console games require huge investments and long production times; companies without mature technology and industry know-how will easily fail.

Once AAA games become widely available, the landscape of the market will shift and the demand for high-tech visuals, sound and gameplay will increase. Ten years ago, 3D gaming became prevalent in the rest of the world, while 2D/2.5D is still the most common technology used among Chinese game developers (Cocos2D instead of Unity3D). Technology compatibility difficulties often occur when publishing on different platforms. Domestic companies usually have limited resources and talents in experienced console game design and publishing.

Domestic companies have advantages on user preference (stylistic, plot and trend) and game metrics. They also have more experience in modifying gameplay of an imported game. Microsoft took the first step to form a joint venture with Chinese company BesTV in Sep. 2013. The future of the market should give an advantage to similar partnerships between established foreign companies and domestic designers, allowing both to profit from the synergy of the relationship. An alternative solution for companies that do not want to undertake such an extensive partnership is to work with experienced localization and publishing agencies.

Conclusion

The opening of the Chinese market to consoles brings plenty of challenges to ambitious game designers and console manufacturers, but the potential for rewards is commensurate. The first companies that work out a successful formula for marketing to Chinese gamers and establish themselves will gain a solid competitive advantage by getting in on the ground floor.

At LAI, we have worked closely with Sony and many other successful video game companies worldwide since 1993. With a complete range of game localization and overseas publishing solutions, we can help you get the experience you need to work through the necessary steps of publication and get your product to market.

 

Episode 3 – LAIzer & Gaijin Goombah in China!

What kind of difficulties will LAIzer and Gaijin Goombah face in China? Beware – the Fumon are reeking havoc!

 

[youtube 7_5E4ufk8Fw&feature=share&list=UUxNcCtPqqGIMEDwDACPVoHg nolink]

When to Forgo the Culturalization of Video Games: Contextualizing Globalization within the Mobile Marketplace

* A featured article on Gamasutra. *

Written by LAI’s Game Localization Marketing Specialist Karin Skoog in collaboration with LAI’s CEO David Lakritz.

 

Localization is the adaptation of video games for regional markets, to include changing components such as graphics and cultural references.  Localization is important so gamers within specific regions can enjoy the game as if it were the original, by integrating key aspects of local culture while also adhering to legal and regulatory requirements.  (It is necessary to censor certain components of games in order for governments or organizations to approve a game’s release or rating.)  The ultimate goal of localization is to ensure the game makes sense for natives while maintaining the original feel of the game.  Localization can occur in the absence of text or audio translation.  For example, no translation is necessary in manipulating images like eliminating skeletons and exposed bone in Chinese versions of games to accommodate for country restrictions.

For the purposes of this article, we will define localization in the broadest sense to mean adapting any and all aspects of a game for the local market.  This can include text, graphics, audio, and even elements of story design and gameplay.  Within this context, we define three degrees of localization, each a deeper dive into the adaptation process and each associated with increasing time and cost of implementation.  We call these degrees “Simple Localization,” “Partial Culturalization,” and “Full Culturalization.”  These are depicted in the diagram below along with examples of typical activities associated with each.  Note that these divisions are somewhat arbitrary and were chosen to make it easy to conceptualize the overall process; the horizontal axis represents a continuum and the question of which activities belong to which degree is just a question of semantics.  The main point being that as you engage in deeper culturalization of your game, the greater the cost will be in terms of time and money.

 

*          *          *          *          *

“Culturalization is going a step further beyond [simple] localization as it takes a deeper look into a game’s fundamental assumptions and content choices, and then gauges the viability in both the broad, multicultural marketplace as well as in specific geographic locales.  [Simple] localization helps gamers simply comprehend the game’s content (primarily through translation), but culturalization helps gamers to potentially engage with the game’s content at a much deeper, more meaningful level.”

~    The Game Localization Handbook, 2nd edition, page 26

Heather Maxwell Chandler & Stephanie O’Malley Deming

*          *          *          *          *

It is no secret that the popularity of Facebook and other social media platforms together with the accessibility of development tools have created a perfect storm that has enabled the explosive growth of social gaming apps.  Companies looking to increase their market share in this highly fragmented space must expand their global reach, given that over 50% of worldwide game revenue comes from markets outside the US.  In a world of rapid internationalization, game developers realize it is important not only to translate games but to localize (or culturalize) as well.  Yet, the app store is a rapidly evolving space with thousands of new apps submitted every month and over 100 games submitted every day.  With the culturalization process adding valuable time to the translation of games, when is it important to delve deeper into culturalization, and when does it make sense to forgo certain aspects of culturalization for faster time to market?

Language Automation, Inc. (LAI, @LanguageAutoInc) was at the Mobile Gaming USA (#MGUSA) conference in San Francisco last month, where we heard important players in the social gaming space both here and in Asian markets speak about what it means to “take your games global” and what this means for culturalizing games in the mobile market.  Among the presenters were Paul Chen, Vice President of Developer Relations at PapayaMobile (an open mobile social network for casual Android gamers, headquartered in Beijing with an office here in Menlo Park); Kyu Lee, Vice President of GAMEVIL (an award-winning mobile game publisher with offices in Seoul and Los Angeles); and Randy Lee, Director of Business Development at CrowdStar (a top social gaming company based in the Bay Area and a major player in the Japanese market).  Although each of these social gaming professionals recognizes the need for culturalizing games, they also speak to the importance of rapidly publishing games for the mobile market.

 

To Culturalize, or Not to Culturalize, That is the Question

There are some cases in which it is critical to culturalize at least particular aspects of games in order to adhere to the strict game regulations of Asia.  The Japanese market already saw a sudden decline in social gaming due to gambling laws and a pending lawsuit for the sale of social gaming items through compugacha (similar to real life gashapon machines in which customers must find complete sets of rare items for even rarer items, often resulting in thousands of dollars spent by a single consumer in one month).   A panelist at the Social Gaming USA conference referenced a game where it was necessary to change briefly shown flesh-colored parts of a female changing clothes to resemble a colored tank top.  Since failure to comply with local game regulations can cause a dramatic loss in profits and market share, it is in a company’s best interest to culturalize not only currently regulated aspects of gaming but to also foresee problems like compugacha and gambling laws in Japan.

Due to the panelists’ extensive experience in the North American and Asian mobile gaming markets, each recognizes the need for culturalizing mobile games in certain instances – ex. making games harder for the Korean market than the American market.  Yet, they also understand the importance of sometimes eliminating the culturalization process, citing the “hunger” in China for Western games and the tendency to merely translate games for China as opposed to culturalizing them.  The need to eliminate culturalization is even greater when it comes to the mobile gaming space.

 

Differences between Console-Based Games and Mobile Games – Implications for Culturalization

It is of course important to contextualize games for different regional markets (for example, using a soccer ball for other markets when an original American version includes a football), yet it is equally critical to recognize the unique market of mobile gaming when juxtaposed against the traditional console space.  While it is common place for console-based game developers to spend many extra months translating and culturalizing games for foreign markets, mobile games often do not have the luxury of time.

Mobile gamers expect fast results, even faster than Facebook’s social gamers.  Jason Loia, COO of Digital Chocolate, says that although Facebook players don’t mind waiting hours for a tree to grow in order to harvest fruit, mobile players may have only a few minutes to play and therefore expect faster methods of gameplay and tutorials.  Since the mobile market space is highly fragmented, mobile users can quickly and easily download competitors’ games.  According to the Mobile Gaming USA’s panel “Taking Your Games Global,” this could mean lost opportunity for capitalization if an extra 6+ months is spent culturalizing a game that turns out to be a “flop.”

When assessing the need to culturalize, it is critical to assess the specific segment of the marketplace – social vs. console-based and mobile vs. online gaming – in conjunction with cultural market expectations (such as the commonplace practice of forgoing culturalization for the Chinese social gaming market).  Although hardcore gamers expect delays in the translation and localization (culturalization) of console-based games and will wait long periods of time for the superb translation of a major title, the social gaming space is vastly different, particularly when it comes to mobile games.  The games of mobile users are easily substitutable, except in the case of true brand loyalty such as diehard fans of Rovio’s Angry Birds.  The lifecycle of mobile games is also significantly shorter than other games.  Therefore, a company that chooses to spend an extra half a year or so culturalizing a game may miss out on a social gaming trend critical to their game’s success.

 

Back to the main question – when to forgo culturalization?  Look at the trends and stats for the marketplace and determine whether it makes sense to immediately take your product to market.  You certainly don’t want your game or the authority of your company to diminish by ignoring the importance of culturalization, but you also don’t want to miss out on a market opportunity in the mobile gaming space by spending too much time on culturalization.  It may make sense to partially culturalize a game as opposed to fully culturalizing.  It is important to strike a balance – culturalize where relevant but be wary of time to market.

Mistranslations in Practice – A Short Story

This blog post is a little different than the others.  In this entry, you will read the tale of a gamer embarking upon an adventure, an adventure through a game unlike any other…a game riddled with odd happenings and strange occurrences, a game that takes you back to games of ancient times, a game that transforms the gamer’s entire gaming experience, a game that…well, you’ll see…

 

Soda – check.  Chips – check.  Controller – That’s a given.  Shoot, where are the batteries…“Mom!!!”

Okay, now I’m ready.

The start menu pops up – a fantasy world unfolds before you, complete with elves in a wooded, magical land.  (You know it’s magical because of the fairy dust shimmering through unfurling fog.)  A white, Asian-style dragon soars across the landscape, small in the distance.  The music is a symphonic masterpiece, beautifully constructed to convey a sense of serene majesty, with the rich sound of violins and the lilting melody of flutes resonating together.

Suddenly, the music crackles like an old radio being tuned, and chanting overshadows the tranquility of the scene.  “Cha b’urrainn do bhàrd, thuirt thu, a dhualchas no a thìr a roghainn, air neo a chànain…”  A word appears, blinking on the screen “STRAT.”  The symphony overtakes the chanting for an instant, and then it continues, “…ach du choir gu robh an dìlseachd a b’àirde’s a bu shàir a bh’aige da chogais fhèin a-mhàin …”  The sound cuts out, and the screen goes dark.  The only visible object is the word “STRAT” blinking on the blackened screen.

What the heck was that?  Strat?  Guess I’ll go with the start button…

A small cloaked figure appears on the far left, a twisting dirt path laid before him.  Enemies dart about, sprites and gnomes blocking the figure’s way.  [Presses “X.”]  “Okay, figured out how to jump.  Let’s kill these suckers.”  Navigating through the liberally spruced area is a bit of challenge but not bad once you time your jumps well.

After continuing on for some minutes, it’s just like any other platform game, complete with the little ditty of a tune.  As the character ventures further across the screen, a giant lollipop appears in line with the trees.  That’s weird.  When the character reaches the lollipop, the screen flickers rapidly.  It takes a solid minute for the flickering to subside.  Well that was annoying.

Kill some more enemies and a short while later, another lollipop.  Oh no.  When the character approaches the lollipop, a bolded message zooms onto the screen, “Being the wise and courageour knight that you are you feel strongth welling in your body.”  That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen…but it looks oddly familiar.

One screen later and the game goes black again.  “Oh come ON!  Work, you piece of junk!”

A creepy looking purple figure with sickeningly green skin appears, along with the text, “All your base are belong to us.”

“Hahahaha.  Is this a joke?  I watched YouTube for an entire afternoon just to see that poorly translated part of Zero Wing.”

[Taps “Y.”]  The screen returns to the sidescrolling platformer.  “I gotta call someone…This is just too weird.”  [Calls Jimmy.]  “Yeah, hi, Jimmy.  You picked up that new game, right?  Have you played it yet?”  Laughter on the other end.

“Heck yeah, dude.  That game is amazing!  Absolutely hilarious.  Have you gotten to Bimmy yet?”

“What?  Bimmy, as in Double Dragon 3?”

“Yeah dude.  You know, I almost stopped playing until I got to the guy from Zero Wing.  I was fed up with all the glitches.  It wasn’t until that next part of the game when I realized they were intentional!”

“What do you mean?”

“Keep playing, you’ll see.  There are all kinds of errors from old games and some the developers threw in for fun.  Just make sure you catch them in time.  Anyway, call me when you’re done.”

Well that was a weird conversation.  [Unpause.]  Why is my character moving on its own?  And what is this crosshair doing on the screen?  Oh, I can move it?

Another lollipop appears.  A window pops up, “Use control, defeat error.”  Huh?  Lollipop flashes.  “What am I supposed to do?!”  Lollipop explodes, and a man wags his finger with the speech bubble, “I AM ERROR.”

“Ooooh, haha.  Is this supposed to be the guy from that old Zelda game?  I think his name was supposed to be Errol or something like that and the translators accidentally turned the last letter into an ‘r’.”

The game flashes back to the previous screen.  [Moves crosshair to lollipop.  Presses “Y.”]  A tree appears in its place, along with the speech bubble, “A winner is you!”

“Oh my God, that’s the ridiculous line from Pro Wrestling.  I completely forgot about that game.”  [Continues on.]  Chanting echoes, and ancient Gaelic glides across the screen.  [Targets the words.  Presses “Y.”]  “A winner is you!” speech bubble.

As the hooded figure journeys farther, there are more lollipops and oddly-timed chanting to zap.  Whenever an item escapes the crosshair (allowing the character to proceed down the path with the errors intact) the speech bubble appears, “I AM ERROR.”  When the crosshair destroys different errors within the game, “A winner is you!” flashes briefly and then disappears.

When the character reaches the end of the path, the screen shifts to display a huge orange-haired man in a pink shirt.  The tiny, cloaked figure looks up at the man, who says, “I am Bimmy.  You must defeat me to vanquish the evil of the errors and mistranslations enshrouding this game.  Good lock 七面鳥.”

After a long and difficult battle against Bimmy, Bimmy says, “This is just the first part of your journey.  Long and timely trroubless lay beforee you.”  Bimmy fades into the background, and a trophy appears with the message, “You’re winner!”

“Isn’t that the trophy from Big Rigs?  This is such a weird game.”

The screen is filled with bright, white words, “Conglaturation!!!  You have completed the first phase in vanquishing errors from the games of old.  As you continue on your expedition, each new stage will contain different enemies, depending on localization issues relevant to various regions of the world.  Each stage will describe a localization issue, and you will have to vanquish the issue relevant to the stage.  Some missed errors will cause your screen to freeze momentarily, and others cause death, depending on how significant the error is.  If it is a spelling or grammatical error, that you can get away with.  If it is a severe localization issue that wouldn’t allow the game to be released in a specific country, death will befall you.”

What???

“Stage 1: A number of games were banned in Germany due to Nazi references.  In this stage, you must hunt all Nazi references and eliminate them.”  Throughout the level, any escaped Nazis and Nazi symbols cause death, and random English words appearing in German text blocks that aren’t caught fast enough cause the screen to freeze for an instant.

Other levels described countries that strongly censored violence, sex, even the marketing of energy drinks.  The Danish level described a law that decreed it impossible for EA Sports MMA to be released due to the integration of energy drink ads.  The most difficult level was the level for China.  The prohibition of skulls and skeletons was described, and many would fly across the screen all at once, with any escaped skull or skeleton causing death.  The end boss included items from each level and was ridiculously hard to beat.  The finale of the game showed the message, “Conglaturation!!!  You have completed a great game.  And prooved the justice of our culture.  Now go and rest our heroes!”

[Dials Jimmy.]  “You’re right.  That game was amazing!  I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the ending screen from Ghostbusters.  I feel like I really have prooved the justice of my culture!”

 

(Poem excerpt from beginning of story taken from “bho Cheum air Cheum,” a Scottish poem by Christopher Whyte.)