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Online Worlds and Offline Worldviews ION Conference 2008


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Title: Online Worlds and Offline Worldviews ION Conference 2008

Online Worlds and Offline Worldviews Managing
Geocultural Expectations in Game Content
Tom Edwards Principal Consultant/Founder of
Englobe Inc. IGDA Localization SIG
Chair http//
MAY 13, 2008
Note This presentation is best viewed in Slide
Show mode
Once upon a timethe packaged game model
Game Company 1
Local Market
The Standard Box Model
Game Company 2
The Rejection Model
Game Company 3
The Find a Better Entry Point Model
Question Why might a game be rejected?
Along comes the online game model
Game Company 1
The Box Bits Model
Local Market
Online Worlds
The Bits Model
Game Company 2
The Access Denied Model
Game Company 3
Question Why might game access be denied?
When Worlds Collide
Geocultural Expectations
Online Worlds
Local Markets (Offline Worldviews)
The aggregation of collectively created gaming
spaces, MMOs, social networks, et al.
The collection of a local markets individual
and/or group beliefs, assumptions, expectations
that are imported into the game world(s).
Defining Geocultural Expectations
  • The combination of the geopolitical and cultural
    aspects of game content (i.e., geocultural),
    including religious, political, linguistic, and
    various cultural issues.
  • Geocultural aspects are the more qualitative
    dynamic of how a games content intersects with
    the perceptual expectations of local cultures,
    users, and governments.
  • The primary goal in examining the geocultural
    aspects is to avoid disrupting the games context
    with elements that are culturally inconsistent
    and/or unexpected.
  • A secondary goal is to provide a competitive
    differentiator for your content, as well as
    maximize the global distribution of your game
    title (teflon-coated from cultural backlash).

Geoculturally-impacted Content
  • Content which incubates geocultural issues is
    just about anything the player will see, hear or
  • Character Design Appearance and back story,
    emulation of real people, races, etc.
  • Environment Design Use of real-world locales and
    landmarks, or mimicry of such locales.
  • Text Onscreen dialog, UI elements, game
    documentation manuals, real or fictional
    geographic and character names
  • Images Maps, flags, banners, icons, symbols,
    photos, cinematics
  • Audio Voice, music, lyrics, sound effects
  • Packaging (if applicable) Box art, box text
  • Marketing Advertising campaigns (including
    in-game ads), branding choices, promotional items

Geocultural Content Example 1
  • Audio containing chanted verses from the Islamic
    Quran was mistakenly included in Kakuto Chojin.
  • The game reached international locales via the
    gray market.
  • Local governments and consumers vocally protested
    and criticized after discovering the content.
  • The game clearly crossed over a line of
    acceptability and required a global recall.
  • This event had strong parallels to other events
    (e.g., the very controversial Danish political
    cartoons of Mohammed in 2005).

Geocultural Content Example 2
  • Despite the World War II setting of Hearts of
    Iron, China banned the title in response to how
    Taiwan and Tibet are shown in the game (as
    independent regions).
  • The territorial divisions made perfect sense for
    game play (similar to the board game Risk).
  • China felt that the game was distorting history
    and damaging China's sovereignty and territorial
  • Hearts of Iron is one of many titles that has
    fallen to this issue with various governments.

Geocultural Content Example 3
  • Game designers for Resistance Fall of Man
    leveraged the Manchester Cathedral (UK) in great
  • The Church of England, being against violent
    FPS-type games, was outraged at the cathedrals
    presence in the game and demanded an apology.
  • Sony said that their cathedral only bore some
  • Sony and the Church held talks to reach an
    agreement on the use of the Manchester Cathedral
    (since it cant be removed from the game).

Why is the geocultural aspect important?
  • Some global signs point to the answer
  • Game Industrys Future
  • Role of Game Ratings Boards
  • Current State of Localization
  • The Power of Community

The Game Industrys Future is Global
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers projections for 2007-2011
    indicate a global gaming market (including online
    mobile) worth 48.9B by 2011 (up from 37.5B in
  • U.S. sales will lag behind the world during the
    next 5 years, averaging 6.7 annual growth while
    Asia and EMEA will average 10 or more.
  • Bottom Line Increasing revenue requires
    increasing global exposure, which means game
    content will be exposed to many more cultures and
    locales. Appealing to a more global audience will
    be critical especially online!

How does the Geocultural Aspect differ from
  • Performing a geocultural review differs
    significantly as these aspects are not usually
    covered by the major review boards
  • Socio-historical scenarios, either global or
  • Political depictions/similarities (symbology,
    nationalism, etc.)
  • Religious/Ethnic/Linguistic sensitivities (hate
    speech and some ethnic issues only)
  • Sensitivity by content types (flags, maps, etc.)
  • By design, review boards maintain a confined
    scope built upon a more quantitative approach
    this does not account for the more qualitative
    geocultural aspects of game content.
  • Ratings boards cannot adequately predict the risk
    of your individual game content in the context of
    your companys business goals and your target

Localization vs. Culturalization
  • Localization is a no-brainer aspect of game
    distribution most companies regularly localize
    their games. However, localization typically
    starts too late in the development cycle.
  • Culturalization is a step further beyond
    localization to take a deeper look into a games
    content choices and gauging their geocultural
    risk/opportunity in local markets.
  • Localization helps gamers comprehend the games
    content culturalization helps gamers potentially
    engage the games content at a deeper, more
    meaningful level.
  • For culturalization to occur, game developers
    must first fully integrate localization as part
    of core game development.

The Power of Community
  • In terms of geocultural risk, the differences
    between online and boxed content are minimal all
    the fundamental risks apply to both methods of
  • However, online content has the added strength of
    numbers and community activism particularly if
    a geocultural is found. Community is onlines
    double-edged sword.
  • First impressions are key get the geocultural
    aspects right or else the community may be
    relentless against you.
  • Most geocultural issues result from unintentional
    actions, but most offending issues are perceived
    to be completely intentional by the local

The Power of Community An Example
  • In July 2006, a problem arose in the Chinese MMO
    Fantasy of the Journey West Chinas most popular
    online game.
  • The wall painting in the city government office
    had the appearance of the Japanese rising sun.
  • Over 10K players gathered in the office to
    protest (but the company replied No comment).
  • The Irony The painting was inspired by a Chinese
    work called Sunrise in the East.

Two General Types of Game Audiences
  • Intended Game players and all those who
    generally understand the relationship of between
    a games content and its context.
  • Unintended Non-game players who have little or
    no exposure to the relationship of game content
    to context.
  • The Unintended group is a larger concern for
    content risks and geocultural issues as they are
    more prone to label a game as problematic or
  • If the Unintended label a game as offensive,
    they further isolate themselves from the game
    industry. At the same time, such a label can
    drive revenue and popularity among the Intended
    audience (i.e., controversy sells).

How to Manage Geocultural Issues for Online
  • Basic Methodology
  • Step 1 Identify Overt Issues by Theme, Locale
    and Content Type
  • Step 2 Triage to Determine Severity
  • Step 3 Develop Solutions and Resolve
  • Performing effective geocultural review for
    online requires additional, proactive effort to
    ensure minimal exposure of potential geocultural
  • Any chance of success begins with 2 absolutes
  • Geocultural review must be integrated (and
    tested) within existing game development
    lifecycles, with assigned accountability.
  • Unlike localization, geocultural review needs to
    happen from Day 1, with the games conceptual

Ideal Schedule for Geocultural Review
Final Checks for All Identified Issues
General Concept
Back Story Plot
Character Design
For online content, this cycle is repeated as
much as necessary, often on a smaller scale for
each content release.
Environment Design
Content Type to Review
Audio (Effects, Voice)
In-game Text (UI, Dialogue)
Symbols, Icons, Flags, Maps
Marketing Packaging
Phase of Game Development
Step 1 Identify Overt Issues Examine by Theme
  • Religion Beliefs
  • Any direct or indirect use of a real-world
    religion or belief system
  • Fictional belief systems that mimic real-world
  • Use of religious icons, symbols, imagery and
  • Ethnicity Gender
  • Using real-world ethnic/gender stereotypes
  • Emphasizing cultural issues and conflicts on the
    basis of race
  • Socio-Historical Context
  • Direct depiction or modification of historical
    events and people
  • Extrapolating various futures involving current
  • Political Systems Cultural Practices
  • Any concepts, allegories and feels derived from
    real-world cultures and political systems
  • Cultural/political stereotypes and extrapolations

Step 1 Identify Overt Issues Examine by Locale
  • Virtually any market can hold potential risk, but
    the following
  • have proven to be most challenging
  • North America United States (sex in particular)
  • South America Brazil, Venezuela
  • Asia China, Korea (south), Japan, Singapore
  • Europe United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany,
    Spain, Greece
  • Middle East Virtually the entire region, but
    particularly Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE
  • The direction of content transfer is
    multi-directional not just
  • US/Europe -gt World.

Brazils Perception
  • Brazil In January 2008, a government judge
    banned Counter-Strike and Everquest ruling them
    as harmful for consumers health and they
    encouraged the subversion of public order.
  • In Counter-Strike, a modded map had players
    role-playing a police officer or a drug dealer in
    the slums of Rio de Janeiro.
  • In Everquest, a players pursuit of both good
    and bad quests was said to cause problems from
    the psychological burden.

China The Poster Child of Contrast
  • Explosive growth A recent study by Niko Partners
    showed that in 2007, Chinas 46 million gamers
    spent US1.7B for online games - a 71 increase
    over 2006.
  • Growth in 2008 is expected to increase 47 and
    then 28 annually through 2012.
  • Casual game usage continues to increase and
    serves as a gateway to MMOs, etc. Casual games
    accounted for 21 of 2007 revenue.
  • Rampant Piracy Boxed MMO sales are nearly
    non-existent while pre-paid cards are the
    predominant revenue model.
  • Government Intrusion Chinas GAPP review is
    inconsistent, regulations against foreign MMOs,
    Anti-Fatigue system, the Great Firewall, etc.

Step 1 Identify Overt Issues Examine by Content
  • Whats problematic with this picture?
  • Flag Use of the Taiwan flag in Ninja Gaidens UI
  • Name Use of the sensitive name ROC for Taiwan
  • UI Use of Country to indicate the locale

Step 2 Critical Aspects of Triage
  • These five aspects can aid in your discernment of
    an appropriate
  • severity level for a specific geocultural issue
  • Context Consider the original source of the
    content element and its placement in other
  • Discoverability How likely is it that a player
    will notice the sensitive content within the game
  • Defensibility The ability to defend your content
    decisions from an authoritative, informed
  • Intent The end user perception of your content
    decisions, whether general or specific (this is
  • Overt Offense vs. Reasonable Risk Focus on those
    content elements that are guaranteed problematic.
  • Note For a more detailed explanation of these
    aspects, refer to my GDC 2006 lecture entitled
    Fun vs. Offensive Balancing the Cultural Edge
    of Content for Global Games

Example of a Reasonable Risk
  • In November 2007, Singapore banned the game Mass
    Effect due to the presence of apparent lesbian
  • The ban was removed a few days later and the game
    allowed to release with an M18 rating.
  • The issue has had zero effect on Mass Effects
  • But the controversy spilled to U.S. news outlets
    (like Fox) who wanted to make it an issue

Example of an Overt Offense
  • In 2004, Ghost Recon 2 was banned in South Korea
    because the story featured a rogue North Korean
    general who was trying to consolidate power.
  • The Korean Media Rating Board (KMRB) considered
    the content to be too politically sensitive and
    they banned the game.
  • In Korea, any depiction of North and South Korea
    at war, or any portrayal of North Korea as a
    villain is considered to be very sensitive.
  • Mercenaries was banned in Korea for the same
    reason in 2005.

Step 3 Develop Solutions and Resolve
  • Based on the Triage in Step 2, develop solutions
    that address the
  • most problematic issues/locales. Key strategies
  • Maintain your original intent as best as
    possible, but be responsive to local
    sensitivities, particularly community action.
  • Be surgical and creative make only the most
    minimal change to the least amount of content
    find creative solutions.
  • Err on the side of caution, if uncertain about an
    issue, and/or seek subject-matter expertise.
  • Build your defense If you ultimately choose to
    include known, sensitive content then have a
    solid rationale for its presence.

Example of Issue Resolution - 1
  • A single character name in Halo 2 was considered
    potentially sensitive to a specific cultural
    group and region.
  • Out of context, the name Dervish, a title from
    Sufi Islam, wasnt too sensitive.
  • Within context, Dervish set up a potentially
    offensive allegory related to the plot U.S.
    (Master Chief) versus Islam (Prophet of Truth
    the Covenant).
  • This issue unfolded shortly after 9/11.
  • In the end, the characters name was changed to

Example of Issue Resolution - 2
An Image Representing Indonesia
  • Even something as subtle as a common photographic
    filter technique can send a strong, negative
    message to local customers.
  • Indonesia gained its independence from The
    Netherlands in 1949.
  • An easy, surgical fix is to simply change the
    color on the image.

Unlocking Geocultural Sensitivity
  • Given the global variables that currently favor
  • issues to arise in games, a specific issue is
    unlocked when the
  • following tumblers fall exactly into place
  • Specific Locale
  • Specific Type of Person
  • Specific Content Context
  • Easy Discoverability
  • In other words the right person in the right
    locale playing the
  • game, discovering the specific content in a
    unique context and
  • taking action on the basis of their perception
    about the game
  • developers intent. This dynamic is difficult to

Closing Remarks
  • Create the game you want to create, but dont
    forget the global, multicultural audience who
    will experience it.
  • If you choose to include known, sensitive content
    then be prepared with a defensible rationale,
    particularly in an online release where you cant
    predict who will be exposed.
  • You cannot predict every issue, particularly in
    an online context if you miss something and
    receive local backlash dont panic! React, but
    avoid a knee-jerk reaction.
  • The key to managing geocultural content is to
    respond respectfully and proactively to the local
    markets perception of your intentions (i.e. view
    the issue from their perspective).

Thank you for attending.Questions or Comments?
Join the IGDAs Game Localization SIG!
  • A Special Interest Group for Game Localization
    was formed within the IGDA in June 2007.
  • Goal To provide a focal point for professionals
    and anyone else interested in game localization
    to build community, draw together best practices
    and processes, and emphasize the international
    dimension of game content development to
    non-localization personnel.
  • For more information, visit http//