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Who the hell is King Arthur?

Feb 24, 2012 | By:

As much as the discipline of product localization has advanced over the years, the pre-requisites for building smartphone games that appeal to diverse, global cultures requires a step up from the basic tenets of “Product Localization” to the philosophy of “Product Cultural Adaptation”. To highlight the importance of cultural adaptation for smartphone games developers, China is now the largest market for Smartphone shipments in the world (see article from TechCrunch) and expected to grow by over 100m units in 2012 (see article from IHS iSuppli).

According to Answerbag, “Culture adaptation is the evolutionary process by which an individual modifies his personal habits and customs to fit in to a particular culture. It can also refer to gradual changes within a culture or society that occur as people from different backgrounds participate in the culture and share their perspectives and practices.” (Link to here). In the context of building smartphone games, there are a number of core elements to consider which I’d like to highlight using a few examples.

Who the hell is King Arthur?
An important and often success defining element for a game is how deeply the gamer can relate to the overarching theme of the game. People from different cultures have grown up with certain cultural, historical or mythical characters and themes that folks from other cultures simply cannot relate to. Just as western gamers may have grown up on a staple diet of Merlin, King Arthur and paper/dice Dungeon & Dragons mixed with pizza & Dr Pepper; Chinese gamers grew up on the epic battles waged by the likes of ZhuGeLiang and ZhaoYun in Three Kingdoms novels. Just as you might wonder who the hell is ZhuGeLiang (or how to pronounce it), Chinese gamers will wonder why some dude pulling a sword from a stone would be crowned King of Britain.

When building your next global blockbuster game, consider the relevance of its theme for other cultures and whether it can be presented in a way that engenders full immersion into the storyline.

A picture speaks a thousand words, especially when you speak their language
Sound and visuals are powerful tools to create rapport with the audience and as a global developer, you need to design audio visuals that hold common appeal across a wide range of cultures. Another approach to adapting audio visuals is by customizing key elements to target a specific cultural or demographic audience so that they can be experienced in multiple sensory dimensions.

The elevation of games such as Angry Birds to rock star status within China can partly be attributed to Rovio’s careful attention to the needs of Chinese smartphone gamers through themed releases such as “Mid-Autumn Festival” right before the major Chinese festival, incorporating themed graphics such as digitized moon-cakes (Rovio sold real ones as well), lanterns and stylized festival backgrounds.

Game mechanics which allow local consumers to interact with a game/app in local language has also catapulted developer Outfit’s “Tom the Talking Cat” into Chinese entertainment stratosphere. A quick search on of “Tangmumao” (the Chinese phonetic spelling for Tom the Talking Cat) will net you a tidy 40,000 odd user created viral videos, with the lovable Tom performing in different dialects of the Chinese language, some even with home-made make-overs of Tom wearing Chinese Police uniforms, singing to pop-songs and performing stand-up comedy for hundreds of millions to watch.

Net net, thinking global can be good business for your games, but thinking local is even better.

There is much and more to share and learn about building games that appeal to an increasingly global audience on smartphone platforms. If you have any interesting insights on this topic, please share with us at

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