Asia has become a hotbed of gaming innovation and consumption in recent years. From E-sports to mobile gaming, the Asian markets are becoming the biggest and most profitable regions in the world. With Europe and the US starting to reach saturation points in generating new players*, Asia is only just beginning.
According to the GPC (The China Game Publishers Association Publications Committee) the number of players in China alone reached 490 million in 2013, a 20.7% YoY increase, representing roughly one third of the overall population and three quarters of the online population**. For the Southeast Asian region including the ‘big six’ economies (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam), there’s over 626 million people, an online population of 179.3 million and 126.2 million players***. The overall annual year-on-year growth? Almost 30%.
As we’re now working within an economy where digital games have global reach, we all need to know a little more about the local requirements of these exciting Asian markets.
Synthesis Group has been localizing AAA videogames titles now for 20 years, during which time we were the first to set up local offices within emerging gaming markets. In 2013, we opened Synthesis Brasil, Synthesis Mexico in 2014 and in January 2015 we opened the Synthesis Taiwan office.
Taiwan – one of Asia’s fastest growing gaming markets
Why we do this is very simple – we gain local knowledge, insight and talent which makes for better localized videogame experiences and increased sales for our clients.
But western publishers and devs need to realise that unlike EFIGS in the US and Europe, Asian market language localizations need greater care and attention.
The subtleties of Chinese languages
Take China as an example; we deal with requests such as "we want to translate our game into Mandarin" or "Chinese". Fair enough, but we’ve always had to confirm if the game is for Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, at which point we’re generally asked "What's the difference? Don't they all speak Chinese?" to which the answer is, yes and no.
So yes, Mandarin Chinese is most widely used nowadays, but when it comes to text, Mainland China uses Simplified Chinese, which uses simplified Chinese characters to make writing easier. Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau use Traditional Chinese which uses traditional Chinese characters which are more complex.
But the differences are not only the type of Chinese characters used but also in the speech and syntax. Mainland Chinese, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau consumers do both speak Mandarin Chinese but there are subtle differences which account for a great deal when hearing them in-game.
Also, while Mandarin Chinese is used as a speaking language in Taiwan, there still is the Taiwanese language which is more phonetic. However, there's no official rule to write Taiwanese in characters, so as a result Traditional Chinese is used for writing and reading.
In short, there’s not one ‘coverall’ localization for the Chinese and other Asian markets – subtleties are needed.
Console gaming in Asia
According to a recent report from PwC¥, Sony's new manufacturing plant in Brazil shows that the video games industry is looking very carefully at emerging markets. And whereas PC gaming has been the mainstay of Asian gaming for many years, the research forecasts that by 2018, Indonesia will rise from the 23rd to the 19th biggest console market in the world, with the Philippines moving up from 29th to 23rd and Thailand up from 33rd to 31st.
Coupled with the Chinese console ban lifted in 2014, the future is very bright for the console platform across Asia – but publishers and devs still need to think locally when developing demand within individual markets, as it’ll be software, not hardware which will be making profits here.
The latest Tomb Raider was localized by Synthesis for Mainland China, Taiwan and Korea
The rise of mobile gaming
Whereas the bulk of Synthesis game localization is for PC and console titles, mobile gaming is now the most popular platform across Asia but has had little or no attention regarding localization.
It could be that by their very nature, mobile games are more casual, have less gameplay depth and are simpler to play therefore don’t necessarily need the extra localization expense. However, with greater smartphone and tablet adoption across Asia and with entry level manufacturers such as China’s Xiaomi and India’s Micromax in the ascent, consumers are moving away from their desktops and laptops and using mobile devices for everything they do, which includes playing more mobile games.
But here’s the challenge; according to a recent report from TechAsia† highlighting the growth of mobile gaming across China, only 8% of mobile games are actually making any money! This is down to issues like low-speed regional internet connections (which slow up the payment process), cultural leanings and just too many games! However, the games that are in that coveted 8% are not there by accident - it’s because they are quality games.
It is also very clear that the growth of mobile gaming across Asia is inextricably linked to smart device adoption. In Vietnam especially the mobile game market grew by 87.7% in 2014** against a smartphone adoption rate of 125% (18m) in 2013 and 56% (28m) in 2014 ‡ making it the fastest growing market in Southeast Asia, and will probably become the biggest gaming segment by 2017**.
But, once Asian consumers get used to playing games on their devices, their standards will rise and less well developed and non-localized mobile games will ultimately be left behind.
It’s important for western devs to understand that mobile gaming quality will become very important within the Asian markets over the next few years. We’ll see mobile games evolve into similar experiences as seen on PC and console now, with high levels of storytelling and high quality graphics which will engage players for 100’s of hours. It’s essential that any dev wanting to enter these markets focus on quality in every area they can, which will include utilizing the same localization approach that PC and console games enjoy today.
So to conclude; to get into and compete within the Asian games market and China in particular, quality of product is your number one aim. But to convince Asian players to play, and stay with your console or mobile game, you also need to get local; speak the same language, in the right tone and in the right way.
* Newzoo 2014 Global Games Market report
** Newzoo 2014 China Games Market report
*** Newzoo 2015 South East Asian Games Market report
¥ Price Waterhouse Coopers Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2014 – 2018