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Mar 05, 2008



There's the example of the Chinese version of World of Warcraft's "Undead" race being changed from skeletons to pseudo-zombies and corpses being changed into small gravesites. More of a cultural thing...an aversion to bones I suppose. But it is an indicator that the Chinese government is monitoring content and willing to step in.


When we shipped the localized version of EverQuest to Korea (circa 2002), my team programmatically prevented the client from ever loading certain body parts that had been used in some of the original launch dungeons, as "somewhat bloody head on a pike" wasn't appropriate for the locale, along with a couple other objects.

In EQ2, in launching EQ2 East we experimented with content developed in Taiwan in the form of character models that were more appropriate for their audience. Those proved to be popular with a significant portion of the US audience, and we released it here as an optional download/enable. A great example of the reverse: other-culture-centric development turning into a bonus for the US audience.

We did the same with some of the taiwan-developed zone art, which formed the core of the EQ2 adventure pack known as The Fallen Dynasty.

Culturalizing an MMO that receives regular content additions as well as constant tweaks to existing content is definitely a much more complicated endeavor than games that don't do either. The biggest issue having to do with keeping branches and/or updates of both client and server data in sync, in perpetuity.

When you're trying to keep your game as close to shipping its updates day-and-date in all locales as you can get, the process of doing such gets even more complex.

The more frequently you update, the more locales you culturalize for, the greater the changes per-locale, the greater the multiplicative ongoing cost/effort.

In the ideal case, it would be best to know the locale spread ahead of time, then plan/factor content accordingly.

Since that's not the way the real world works, though, it's far better for overall maintainability to have some level of understanding of all of the cultures that you might be asked to ship in, and work from there instead.

For an MMO, keeping per-locale content changes to the smallest set that you possibly can (ideally: none) is one of the things that you'll be the most thankful that you did.

- Scott


In most MMO's I've played, there are users from many different countries playing together. Even when there are separate shards for different real-world regions (e.g. in Ultima Online), you have players logging in to the other regions' shards.

Does this make client-side localization harder? For example, suppose my Korean friend and I are fighting our way through a dungeon, and I happen to mention the bloody head on a pike that's over there. If his client is rendering something different, it's a serious blow to our perception of a shared virtual world. It's less jarring if the localization depends on the shard you've connected to, not where you bought the client software.


I love this topic, and the first thing that came to mind was that William Huber paper, but I realized we had discussed it in a prior thread.

I guess the MMO vs. single-player question, to the extent it is different than the solo-player question, could ask a few new questions, like, for instance, how do different cultural readings of the environment affect the dynamics of group game play. That might break down into two separate questions: 1) if group A (mis)reads the MMOG designed for group B, how does collective (mis)reading differ from individual (mis)reading, and 2) if group A and B are reading at the same time, how do the differences in reading manifest themselves in game play.

I'm sure there is something there, but it might be hard to parse. In your experience with FFXI, did you ever feel that the Japanese players on the server understood something important about the game play in a different way than you?


Well, actually, from your post which I linked to (and your book), it's pretty clear there were significantly different understandings of the appropriate manner of game play. I guess what I'm asking is if, in your experiences, you noticed any way in which the environment was read differently by the different groups?



Re: "Does this make client-side localization harder? For example, suppose my Korean friend and I are fighting our way through a dungeon, and I happen to mention the bloody head on a pike that's over there. If his client is rendering something different, it's a serious blow to our perception of a shared virtual world. It's less jarring if the localization depends on the shard you've connected to, not where you bought the client software."

That's a good point also. In my example of per-locale content, the assumption is that you're doing so region-by-region.

In most cases I've been involved with, the business partner doing the management/billing for those particular shards also changes from locale to locale, and each locale has their own set of shards.

In my example, the Korean user was actually an NCSoft customer (EQ's KR partner at the time), playing on servers in KR.

Those customers are absolutely free to grey-market a US copy of EQ, be SOE customers, and play on the US servers where they'd see the things that they otherwise wouldn't on their locale's home server.

It's those multiple-versions that get troublesome . You're essentially shipping and maintaining multiple products at that point. That's the agony best worth avoiding.

Once you get into server-content changes, the matter obviously compounds. e.g. Have cows in your game? You're not shipping in India until they become something else. Have content written based on the existence of said cows in your world? Prepare for a lot more work than simple model swaps. And so on.

- S.


Scott: thanks for the great insights about EQ and EQ2! I wonder how many people play on servers not officially designated for them?

Susan: Great point about disrupting immersion. This also relates to Greg's question about FFXI. In that game people from Japan, North America and Europe play on the same servers and thus with the same content. Most differences come about in item/name translations (pulling a mob becomes "fishing" in the auto-translator) and in the cut-scenes for instanced content. Some friends who are fluent in Japanese have commented that some of the information or tone of cutscenes is different in the English version as compared to the Japanese, but I haven't witnessed both myself, so I can't be too bold in my assertions there.


It is extremely instructive to look at Korean and Chinese MMORPGs that are being exported around the world. There are fairly directly ports to English from Korean or Chinese that provide tremendous insights into Asian games in their native habitat. These games are playable to English-speakers, assuming you can get past the usual cheap-port problems of poor word choice, bad spelling, rampant grammatical errors and terminology inconsistencies.

Three examples worth looking at are Silk Road Online (SRO), Rappelz, and the recently released Perfect World (PW) (from the Malaysian operator Cubit). Unlike games from larger and more established US branches or licensors, these products received very little customization for the western market.

One notable thing is the depiction of male characters in Asian games. Hulking muscular humans are just not possible as player-characters, while female characters have a lot of skimpy, tight-fighting clothes. My wife's comments about her fighter characters is almost universally, "You expect me to go into battle dressed like THAT? Why can't I have all the armor men get to wear?"

This appears so strongly because Asian developers consciously invest less in character outfit variety, and more in making outfits as attractive as possible. This gives a smaller selection, and developers concentrate on a few "idealized" female looks.


Many of the MMO's I've played are full of references to literature, history and religion. There's plenty of scope of scope for them to be read differently depending on the player's cultural background.

For example, in Ultima Online we have:

  • "Siege Perilous", which I take to be a reference to Arthurian legend and Thomas Malory's Le Mort d'Arthur.
  • Shrines to the virtues. Not quite the same as Shinto shrines, probably.
  • A while back we had the "Followers of the Apocalypse", which I took to be a reference to Christian apocalyptic movements.

On the plus side, many Western players have read plenty of manga and so will know (for example) what a kitsune or a tanuki is, and many Japanese players have read enough Arthurian fantasy to intepret references like "Siege Perilous". I think there's some interesting research that could be done here.

"You expect me to go into battle dressed like THAT?"

Mind you, Western tabletop RPGs brought us the chainmail bikini, which is about as practical as taking a ten-foot pole down a dungeon.


The Entropia Universe is a one world shard. This means players in Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, and the U.S. are exposed to the same content.

In 2004 Mindark removed 'blood spatters' from the Entropia world. In their Version Update notes they gave this reason:

"The blood spatters when hitting creatures is removed. This should enhance client performance. Also, in some countries, the visualization of blood is forbidden. In the future more options will be available on this matter."

To date no other options have been made available.

Since Entropia is a futuristic sci-fi world they are able to escape some of the trappings like history and religion that might cause problems in some countries. There are no gods in Entropia and skills that are 'magic' based in other games are performed by using a chip implant in Entropia.

With regards to content that was problematic after it left the studio - I remember reading about a Chinese MMO that contained a scene where a ruler of some sort have a picture of a sun rise behind him. Chinese game players too that as a tribute to Japan (the similarity the the Japanese flag) and waged a massive protest ingame.


First I want to thank Mia for mentioning my talk here, I appreciate it! You're right that I didn't specifically mention much about geocultural issues and MMO's, although many of the same principles apply.

As an FYI, I'm giving a talk in May at the ION Conference in Seattle (http://www.ionconference.com/) entitled "Online Worlds and Offline Worldviews - Managing Geocultural Expectations in Game Content" and I will more specifically discuss the implications to MMO's.


Thank you for discussing this vital issue that is facing MMO games developers and publishers alike.

We are currently working on the culturalization of MMO games to the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa), which is mainly the Arabic speaking region.

We are facing many difficulties convincing worldwide developers of the importance of game culturalization as a major factor for the success of the games, especially MMO ones.

Issues such as clothing, culture, and religion are all sensitive matters that should be taken into consideration when publishing MMO game in our region

Thanks again and best regards


In a related news:
Game Power 7 announced from Dubai UAE, its establishment as the first online game publisher in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) for the game localization and culturalization in Arabic and Farsi languages.

Online games developers around the world will finally have a partner in the MENA region to help them publish their games in Arabic and Farsi languages.

The region has a large potential for online and MMO games, with no localized games yet, and Game Power 7 is actively pursuing other MMO games to be localized for this market.

For more information


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