While skimming a new interview with John Belliss, the Product Manager of the US version of an MMORPG called Battle of the Immortals, I found some interesting and quite candid comments on how Western and Eastern RPGs differ, a difference largely driven by what the players demand in their games. BoI was originally designed and released in China, and his comments are based on the ongoing (just completed?) US/Europe closed beta of the redesigned, Westernized version of the game.
This is just one guys’ opinion, obviously, so take it with as many grains of salt as you require. Some quotes:
The reason we didn?t originally think BoI would do that well is because when we went to Shanghai over a year ago, and they showed us the game. I don’t know how familiar you are with what the version in China is like, but it’s completely different than the version today. It didn’t seem like it would work in the United States; it wasn’t challenging, was a glorified chat room, everyone bots but no one actually plays it, monsters wouldn’t aggro on you, plus the cash shop was structured for paying for power.So we didn’t think the game, as it was, was going to work.
With the milestones and goals we set for the game, we thought we could turn it around. We didn’t know at the time how flexible the Shanghai development team was. We wanted to changed monster AI so that player’s life was actually in danger, and stuff like that normally takes time to do. But the team devoted a lot of time to the changes and turned them around in short order, resulting in a game that’s superior ? at least in my Western mindset.
One of the most interesting things has been the cultural exchange. After the first week of closed beta, we had a meeting and talked about their impressions of the North American market. They admitted that the European/North American market was completely different than in Asia. They said our players actually talk about how they feel about the game, and won’t hesitate to vocalize that sentiment. I read the forums a lot and showed them some of the posts, and they said wow, western players are so professional. They find things that don’t work and show ways that they can be fixed, which makes the development process different and makes it easier to help players enjoy the game. In China, a user will find something wrong and just say ?oh well? and keep playing, while Western players will either exploit it or go to the forums and make sure everyone knows about it. They are much more vocal than Eastern players.
Click here (or click through) for a video of this same guy talking about this same topic (in less detail) but with lots of video of the game itself, if you’re curious.
So, most of us (Westerners) are eager to embrace this and believe what he’s saying, since it’s flattering to us. We like to think of ourselves as demanding consumers and gamers, who won’t settle for sub-par gaming features. That might be true, though Farmville and the other wildly-popular FaceBook “games” would seem to argue against it.
Note though, that many Western MMORPGs, unmodified except for the language, have done very well in China and Asia; Ultima: Online, Everquest, World of Warcraft, etc. Clearly Eastern gamers will eagerly play good Western-designed games. On the other hand, none of the most popular Eastern MMORPGs (unmodified) have made much of a splash in the US/Europe. This might argue for John Belliss’ point in the quotes above… or perhaps there are just so many millions of gamers in Asia that any good game can succeed in the market, even if the average gamer there, with his undefinied “Eastern” mindset, wouldn’t naturally enjoy the game style.