As Asian online games publishers expand in the West, more and more of them are opening European offices and starting operating games for the European market. This approach is in our opinion much more rewarding long-term than just licensing the games to a local publisher, but it also has it pitfalls due to the differences in consumer habits and expectations. Here are a few examples of such differences and the difficulties they can trigger. Of course, please keep in mind we have a European point of view and are aware of the specificities and differences inside Asian cultures and inside European ones – so please excuse the inevitable generalisations.
·Web and digital habits
A lot of Asian games, especially free to play, are built on platform portal websites running best on Internet Explorer, which is the incontestable #1 browser in Asia. Habits in Europe are very different : in most countries, Firefox has 30-40% market share at least, and up to 50%+ in some countries. Overall, it is now above Internet Explorer in Europe. Chrome has also been growing a lot in the past years, reaching close to 20% market share. So having a website accessible only or optimised for IE is a big mistake in this part of the world. Fortunately, it’s not as frequent as it used to be, but as an example, Silkroad Online’s website is still not accessible through Chrome today. For the same reason, it’s out of question to use ActiveX controls for downloads or game start, as many Asian game portals do.
SEO-wise, Google is hugely dominant, so it’s useless to use Yahoo or Bing-specific techniques. Running a game site as an iframe inside a portal page, or doing everything in Flash, are both going to impact your SEO very negatively.
Website design also responds to different norms in Europe and in Asia. Europeans generally don’t like heavy, slow Flash sites, loathe animated intros, and even for gaming websites, pay attention to the text and wording. Most European users dislike when there are too many menus, or when a link opens a new tab or window, and they hate pop-ups and pop-unders with a passion. A big no-no is also auto-playing of video or music, like for example NHN USA’s portal ijji.com does. And most users prefer clear pages with minimal information. Displaying anything after the fold, obliging users to scroll down, is also detrimental in Europe.
Forums are generally presented differently, using thread-based presentation rather than multiple replies on different topics on the same page. Users also tend to se less smileys, and much less elaborate ones.
Europeans are also very much reluctant to dowloading and installing anything. They don’t like registereing either, so Facebook Login is pretty much compulsory nowadays.
Security software can be a problem too : Many EU users are very put off by GameGuard, X-Trap or Hackshield. However, if the original version of the game has been developed counting on this kind of solutions, it’s generally difficult to bypass it (the users don’t like bots and cheats either).
Finally, the whole open source software culture is much bigger in Europe than it can be in Asia. European online game developers preferably use Linux servers and LAMP environments.A sizeable part of tech-savvy users see Microsoft as « evil ». Experienced Windows server engineers are difficult to recruit in the games industry, as there aren’t that many.
The gaming media in many Asian countries, especially Korea, are very consolidated and established, with few outlets commanding very high advertising prices. Ads seem to be bought mostly CPM or CPC, with the publisher taking on most of the risk in the acquisition process. On the contrary, the media in Europe are very fragmented, blogs and community sites are a huge part of it (and the boundaries between official media and blogs are very blurry, with many blogs having a huge audience, and many journalists of official media allso working wor blogs on the side) and most free-to-play campaigns are either Adwords or CPA banners purchased via ad networks, where the risk is shared.
Facebook is also becoming more and more prominent in marketing for online games in Europe, when it may not be so much used in some parts of Asia (whereas others such as Indonesia and Philippines have embraced it). Some Asian companies seem keen on buying fans on Facebook : generally, the numbers get impressive but the users are very low quality (and generally not from Europe). We don’t recommend that practice, it’s money very badly spent.
In many parts of Europe, Twitter is still not a good medium to communicate with a gaming audience : the demographics are older and rather corporate. It’s fine for corporate communication/talking to journalists though.
PR-wise, it seems customary in Asia to hold most of the game’s information until closed beta, and then suddenly communicate a lot in order to generate interest. Such a strategy is in most cases likely to fail in Europe: gamers are used to slow reveal of information over time, interviews with developers, developers blogs, etc, in order to build the hype.
·Local content needs
Europe is hugely fragmented, and there will be a lot of need for custom and reactive local content. It is generally a bad idea to have a centralised web team at the Asian headquarters that only updates the content on request, as it can impair reactivity and local initiatives. CMS systems such as Expression Engine, Drupal or Joomla are widely used and can offer flexibility. The local teams will also need dedicated tools to manage the shop and local events.
·Means of payment and fraud
Prepaid cards have not met such a wide acceptance in Europe compared to the US, and credit/debit cards are not necessarily widely held and used online depending on the market. SMS are a popular and widely accessible, but the payment companies/carriers are taking huge margins compared to most Asian providers (generally about 40-50%). Fraud for some means of payment such as credit card or ELV is also very high compared to countries like Korea, where accounts are generally linked to an individual’s social security number.
As a result, it is not a good strategy in most cases to open offices in Europe but expect the web, marketing, PR, and billing to remain driven by the head office in Asia. Giving the local teams freedom to operate on their own market is necessary for success.