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Quick Tips on International Game Development

Working internationally has pitfalls that some of us have learned about the hard way. Read on for a few less surprises if you're working with someone in another country.


November 17, 2010

5 Min Read

You've scored a gig in another country. Or, you've hired someone in another country. Either way, congratulations! You're about to go international. While working with someone in another country can be fun and rewarding, there are a few things to consider before the process begins. Being prepared will save you a lot of headache, trust me. These apply in most industries but a few surprises wait in store for us game folk.

Why do it? At times working internationally is done to find work that can’t be done anywhere else. Ideally this is why you should consider it. If you want Katsuhiro Otomo or Masamune Shiro and ONLY those artists and their teams to do the concept art and art assets for your project, that’s a quick example. Another example is that the London Symphony has attributes that can’t be matched anywhere else, even Los Angeles, though admittedly you’re comparing apples to oranges. Still, the rule applies depending on your stylistic preference.

Outsourcing business processes such as IT and supply chain has been done for years with success just as dependent on proper management and oversight as domestic operations.

Another reason to take your work (or look for it) elsewhere is that it is cheaper, but bear in mind that “you get what you pay for” applies just as much in another country as it does your own. You may think you’re saving 50% in production costs by outsourcing a bulk of your artwork, but if you aren’t assured that your tests have been done by the same team that will be working on the project itself, confirm your qualitative requirements and ensure you have solid exit clauses if those requirements aren’t met.

Dealing with creative content, this can be very difficult to quantify beyond satisfaction that is measured based on references prior to the start of a project or at least during pre-production.

If you decide that an international route is still your best bet, some factors to keep strictly in mind are:

Time Zone: This should be obvious, but time differences can wreak havoc when a release candidate is due. Making sure to build in the extra day (or more) it can take depending on your contractor or customers location will mean less panic for a TRC check from your publisher.

This additional time in the schedule at appropriate milestones and delivery dates will ensure you take another variable out of the equation. In addition, know when people go home and be sure to set your availability as well. Finally, consider holidays that differ from yours and build that time in as well. Easy for me to say of course is the phrase "it's better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission" true when it comes to a developer and a publisher? Frightening, but sometimes the answer is yes. The point is, it shouldn't be true.

Travel / Phone / Onsite staff: Communication back and forth can be established easily with today’s technology. Beyond the internet however, phone charges and travel costs at times can offset the savings you establish from the production costs alone. In addition, don’t be fooled into thinking New York and the Bay Area are the most expensive places to live. Japan boasts four out of the top ten most expensive cities in the world for cost of living: Tokyo (#1), Nagoya (#4), Yokohama (#5), and Kobe (#7), which partially explains why Japan has invested heavily in Western development.

Payment: Never , even under torture, consider a straight exchange rate from Google at the time of contract signing to be a reliable way to convert currency. This happens alarmingly often. Hundreds or even thousands of dollars can be lost on either side depending on rate changes throughout the project.

The exchange rate should be figured at the time of each payment, and the rate source should be mutually agreed upon before a contract is fully executed. For actual payment, wiring money and mailing checks can be more time consuming and costly than one would imagine. Currently the best way to go is PayPal. They charge a flat rate for domestic and international transfers that are far less than most banks.

International law: There can be added cost to negotiating a contract. Sometimes the other party may opt to have it translated, and that is a cost that can run as high as several thousand dollars US. In addition, some countries (Finland is one example) have ethics laws that may not be acceptable to your legal team, or may involve more time in negotiation.

Depending on the size of the contract in money and time, particularly if a celebrity is involved, expect at least three weeks minimum to elapse before it is signed, with the process taking as long as 6 months.

Language: I've seen some pretty funny situations when working with clients from other countries. Specifically a tip for voice over folks is to almost never use authentic Russian actors for highly emotional roles. You can tell an actor from Moscow to scream in pain, to imagine his limbs are being pulled off, but you might get a muted grunt if you're lucky. That if course is pretty specific.

In general, ensure that someone actually working as a representative speaks your language, or vice versa depending on the gig. Having someone on your end familiar with the language as well as the specific terms for whatever discipline youre dealing with (art, engineering, design) can save hours and hours of translation time.

In addition, be mindful of customs. In Japan, for example, do not put a business card in your back pocket. It is considered an insult. And don't try to bow if you havent done it with practice. There is a way to do it that takes time to learn and thinking you know how is far from knowing how.

Once you have all these basic considerations entrenched in your development practices, you’ll find doing business internationally a lot more rewarding and a lot less surprising.

1)      Reference: Yahoo! Finance article provided by BusinessWeek: http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/109909/the-worlds-most-expensive-cities-2010

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