CDC games, which publishes and operates online games in both Asia and North America recently announced
early success in North America for the Korean-born online game Lunia
, which it began by operating in China. On the heels of that announcement, we spoke to CDC USA general manager Ron Williams about the process of "exporting" a Korean game and operating it in the U.S.
Williams has said that North American Lunia
players have averaged more than 205,000 hours altogether, with the average player putting in about six hours per week. Since launch, CDC says registered users have grown 158 percent, with peak and average concurrent user figures up 151 and 140 percent, respectively.
But the East-to-West connection runs in both directions for CDC, who also operates CCP's EVE Online
in China. We've spoken
to companies like Outspark, who believe the way to energize an entirely new audience of multiplayer online gamers lies in importing the right kinds of titles from Asia. Williams agrees, and he explained to Worlds in Motion some of the very interesting particulars involved.
What's different about marketing a game like Lunia in North America versus in Asia?
Ron Williams: Today the most sophisticated free-to-play microtransaction-supported games are developed in Korea, and almost all of them, including Lunia
, were designed to do well in the Korean online game market as well as Greater China, Japan, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. The typical MMO games in these markets have a strong focus on close-knit social relationships, and offer a more casual experience for gamers than a lot of MMO games coming out of North America and Europe.
"Casual," in this context, means shorter time frames to reach proficiency in the game, and play sessions in a single engagement with the game can be much shorter while still offering a fun and fulfilling experience. Lunia
is one of the few games coming out of Korea that also had a lot of design considerations built in for outside-of-Asia export markets like North America, Europe, and South America.
The arcade action play and the ability to use a game pad heightens the appeal of Lunia
to the millions of console players outside of Asia. Lunia
also was designed to target the global market of manga readers which is exploding in popularity in North America.
Can you explain some of the decision-making processes involved in successfully rolling out a traditional Asian MMO stateside?
RW: It starts with choosing a good developer to partner with. We look for a developer that really wants to be successful outside of their home markets and understands the need to localize the game and the game's business model for the targeted export market. While this seems straightforward, we have found that, when working with Korean developers in particular, there can often time be a strong resistance to change even small things in the game and changes are slow-coming in general.
We also have found that Korean developers tend to manage the development lifecycle of the game in a manner that is not optimal for internet-delivered content, which is a significantly faster tempo than what is required to be successful in the PC Cafe markets of Asia . North American online games need to be operated in a very on-demand and just-in-time update-driven manner, while the PC Cafe market in Asia is very similar to the enterprise software arena in North America and Europe where things are tightly controlled, risk mitigation is more important than user satisfaction, processes are locked on-rails, and changes are made on slow, predictable schedules.
We also look for games that can be localized with minimum code changes. This means the game has been designed to easily change text, sounds, and character avatar appearance. Most importantly, the gameplay needs to be something we feel will be appealing to North American gamers, and more specifically, gamers that we feel are underserved by the current market offerings. With Lunia
, we identified an ideal mix of these things and have found Allm to be a very good developer to partner with.
What kind of audience in North America is interested in a game like Lunia? Is it similar to the Asian user base?
RW: The casual RPG elements in the game combined with the strong solo and small team focus -- which is a hallmark for a lot of Asian MMORPGs -- allows us to reach out to the huge numbers of gamers who do not have 18 hours or more a week to invest in the World of Warcraft
-type of games which we see as very niche, legacy products that are leaving tens of millions of MMORPG gamers’ needs unfulfilled.
also has a gentle learning curve, which is designed in Korea 's hyper-competitive market to allow even experienced MMORPG players to quickly test out all of the critical features of a game. This same feature allows Lunia
in North America to appeal to millions of first-time MMORPG players and also attracts male and female gamers of all ages.
is a family-friendly game, which is important as the lack of easy online payment methods for unbanked gamers in North America means that parents get involved paying for the game quite often.
Why did CDC choose to go West with Lunia as opposed to another title in the CDC family? What traits did you think made it a good place to start?
RW: Lunia's developer Allm was running the North America Lunia
open beta prior to CDC Games' involvement. Th is made the game attractive on several levels. It had an established user base with thousands of fans, a large portion of the content was already translated to English, its manga appeal is the right product at the right time, and Allm has a strong desire to be successful in North America. It was an easy decision to make.
Conversely, you're now operating CCP's EVE Online in Asia -- were there challenges in moving a Western game East? What were the considerations, and how is the audience receiving it?
RW: We operate EVE Online
in the People's Republic of China and are happy with its growing popularity. Translation of a very technical-oriented science fiction game to Chinese is more challenging than a car racing game, but the great thing about a science fiction game is that localization of the game content is minimal; the publisher can take a lot more license in a futuristic setting than a current time or historical one.
In China, EVE Online
is a time-based game that requires users to pay for every minute of play time, which is the common method in Asia for the subscription model. The subscription business model in an economy like China has a lot more friction in terms of subscription growth than free to play games, but offers a predictable income stream from game launch and lends itself well to games like EVE Online
that do not force players to grind and level their way to advancement that the free to play micro-transaction supported model is designed to facilitate.
Currently, China is building a world-class space industry and promoting it as a matter of national pride, which is very helpful when marketing a space-themed game like EVE Online
. The game's expansive science fiction content sets it apart in China, and when you combine this with the game's sophisticated play components, it makes EVE Online
one of the best hardcore MMO games in China. Hardcore MMO games are still an emerging market in China, and we believe EVE Online
will continue to be a favorite for Chinese players.
[The preceding article originally appeared at Gamasutra sister site Worlds in Motion.