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'Vietnam Can't Make Multiplayer Games' - A Reaction

Last week a press release claimed Vietnam cannot develop multiplayer games. Game Developer magazine's Brandon Sheffield takes this, and other falsehoods about the Vietnamese game industry, to task.
Last week I received an email from Redner PR about a new game called 7554. The email was titled: "Breaking News - First Game Ever From Vietnam." I'm no expert on Vietnam, but that struck me as an odd thing to happen in late 2011. In fact, the release states not only that Vietnam has never released a game before, but also that 7554 is "single player only,” because “Vietnamese companies cannot make multiplayer games at this time." Emobi Games' 7554 is a first person shooter based on the First Indochina War between Vietnam and France. The game’s main point of interest is that you play as the Vietnamese, fighting for independence – this is the same group that the Americans would later fight in the Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War. I’m not knocking 7554 as a game. It’s got an interesting premise, and hasn’t been released yet, so I can’t judge its merits. But when I see an assertion of "first X ever," my journalistic fedora itches. When I hear that a country is incapable of making multiplayer games, I call foul. Now, let’s get into just how wrong these statements are, and how little many of us know about the Vietnamese game industry, remembering that analysts expect South Asia to represent a nearly $1 billion market by 2015. "First Game Ever" Most of the country's early successes were in serving games from other countries locally in Vietnam. The massive company VNG has been operating MMOs and online games in Vietnam since 2004, and employs some 1,500 developers, according to a Penn-Olson report. Smartphone behemoth Gameloft has had a studio in Vietnam for quite a while, making mobile games indigenously. Fgame has been releasing social games since early 2011. The rather accomplished Colorbox Software makes high quality smartphone games. Alley Labs released Meteor Blitz back in 2009. All that by way of saying: Clearly, 7554 is not Vietnam’s first game. Now, maybe the publicist simply meant it was the first "major" game ... you can defend that, since you can just change your definition of major, and say that’s what your game is. Is Gears of War the first major third-person shooter? I'd say no, but you could make the point, and people might agree with you! But that doesn't make it "true." Vietnamese Companies Cannot Make Multiplayer Games Let’s go back to VNG, that 1,500-person monster of a company that also recently got signed on by social game giant DeNA to make games for the Japanese market. Looking into the company's game catalog, you’ll find that VNG released Vietnam’s biggest locally-developed MMO, Thuận Thien Kiếm, back in 2010. Whoops! Just how multiplayer-oriented is Thuận Thien Kiếm, you may ask? This is an extreme condition, but take a look at the screen below. That’s a lot of people.
The only explanation I can think of for why someone would say Vietnamese can't make multiplayer games is the fact that Vietnam's government has instituted a curfew for online games, which asked internet providers to block all access to online games from 10 PM to 8 AM. According to Game Politics though, this simply meant the closure of internet cafes past 10 PM, many of which simply ignore the rule. But online games have been developed in Vietnam since at least as far back as 2006, when Thoi Loan was released, though the developer was accused of stealing source code, and the game was quietly removed from service. Vietnam Coming Into Its Own The thing about absolute statements like "Vietnam can't do multiplayer" is that I only need to find one counter-example to render them invalid. And the thing about finding one counter-example is that it takes 30 seconds of googling to do. We can thus draw one of two conclusions: 1) The PR company could not be bothered to look up competitive products or research its two major claims for more than one minute, or 2) The PR company willfully deceived players and journalists, and slagged off an entire country’s game developers in the process. Now, frankly, neither of those makes for a great explanation. On the one hand there’s thoughtless spin, which I don't approve of in the first place, and then there's willful deceit, which is even harder to abide. Maybe there’s a third option, and the author simply didn't care enough to get it right. But I care, and so should every game developer that wants to be properly represented. I didn't want such a marginalization of the Vietnamese industry to be the final word on the subject -- not to journalists, nor to consumers, especially as the press release professed to be touting Vietnam's successes. Luckily those outlets that covered the game went the interview route, and handily skipped over the misinformation. What if someone were to say "the French can’t do free-to-play?" or "the Japanese can’t do next gen?" There would be massive threads on forums across the world. The fact that not many people outside of Vietnam know about the its indigenous game industry is all that kept this from happening. 7554 is a big game for Vietnam, no question. It's a decent-looking high end PC game, and I don't want to diminish its importance to the Vietnamese industry. But at the same time, let’s not ignore what the country’s game industry has already accomplished.
Let’s look at another shot of Thuận Thien Kiếm. The game reportedly didn’t perform to expectations, but even just on the surface, there’s no question that this is a major MMO. It's a 3D world with skill trees, guilds, grouping, and you ride around on an ox. Thuận Thien Kiếm took three years to make, but it took me mere seconds to find on the internet. If this is how the game industries in developing countries can expect to be treated by Western counterparts, maybe it's time to bring it back inside. Game on, Vietnam. [Update: Jim Redner, the PR representative whose statements inspired this article, emailed Gamasutra to explain that the statement he wrote, "Vietnamese companies cannot make multiplayer games at this time," was based on a misunderstanding during communications with the game's creator, Emobi Games. "I would love to place blame for my mistake on our slight language barrier, but I cannot," he writes. "I misunderstood what Emobi Games was telling me. I should have asked for further explanation to ensure that I was correctly understanding the information. If I had, I am sure that I would have found out the correct information. I can only say that I thought I was being upfront and honest and had full understanding."]

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