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IGDA PERSPECTIVES December I 2010

NEWSLETTER developers without borders | PAGE 3 |

Considerations for online teams | PAGE 6 |

SIG Spotlight: Localization | PAGE 8 |

Member spotlight | PAGE 10 |

Collaboration trumps tradition

Hello all! As the holiday season approaches, and with recent bad news in unfortunate amounts, we take a look at our worldwide connections both in games and with each other as an industry. Trends in localization suggest a theme of global cooperation (rather than “outsourcing”) underline new partnerships between game companies, freelancers and service companies working together across distances. As I well know as a game writer, the Internet, useful tools and newly refined strategies make long-distance collaboration possible. In December’s issue, we tackle some of the issues and techniques related to working online, moving for your career, embracing global collaboration and shifts in ways of thinking about localization and outsourcing. Special thanks to our contributors Tom Slattery, Michelangelo Pereira, Kate Edwards, Mary Kurek, Jason Swearingen, Sande Chen, Víctor Alonso Lion and Nancy-Elizabeth Townsend.

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Chapter Spotlight: Bangkok | PAGE 13 |

More thanks to our copy editors Lisa Brunette, Andy Lubrano and Sarah Woody. And a special thanks to Cat Wendt for the lovely layout. She makes us look professional.

Reflections on Train | PAGE 14 |

Why you need a global content management process | PAGE 16 |

A toolkit for games localization

Beth Aileen Lameman Editor-in-Chief P.S. Correction: Words is Words, by the talented Andrew Walsh, published in the November 2010 issue, was a draft version of his article. Our apologies to Andy for the oversight. The proper version is available in its entirety on page 22 of this issue.

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K.I.S.S. and sell | PAGE 21 |

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Our contributors include: Editor in Chief - Beth Aileen Lameman; Art Director - Cat Wendt; Authors - Tom Slattery, Michelangelo Pereira, Kate Edwards, Mary Kurek, Jason Swearingen, Sande Chen, Víctor Alonso Lion and Nancy-Elizabeth Townsend; Copy Editors - Lisa Brunette, Andy Lubrano and Sarah Woody.

Events

Learn more about the International Game Developers Association at www.igda.org.

Words is words

| PAGE 28 |


Developers Without Borders By Tom Slattery

L

ooking to take your next job search overseas? Good for you! Not only can an international move be a fantastic opportunity for personal growth, but willingness to consider relocating gives you a great deal of leverage when looking for a position. With unemployment rates climbing, it can be easy for companies to adopt the attitude that there are always other fish in the sea. But as you have probably already realized, in the modern world, it is also very easy for the fish to swim to other seas — and the good fish tend to go where the waters are bountiful. To find and keep the very best, employers need to be competitive globally. If they fail to do so, they empower employees to expand their horizons — and those employees may be surprised at just how many possibilities are out there for the open-minded. For me, moving to Japan after college turned out to be an excellent career move. Things that would have meant very little here in the United States, like being a native speaker of English and having familiarity with the North American video game market, suddenly became impressive qualifications. I was able to land interviews at major game companies, despite having little relevant experience. At home, I likely would have found myself a victim of the great employment paradox (you need experience to get a job, and you need a job to gain experience), but in Japan, I found myself in a dream position almost effortlessly. And I was hardly the only one. In the five-plus years I spent doing localization work in Japan, I witnessed a steady influx of foreign talent into the Japanese games industry. Some companies were simply seeking the most talented programmers and artists they could find and discovering an increasingly diverse pool of applicants. Others may have been actively attempting to diversify their staff in hopes of capturing a larger piece of the overseas market with games aimed at foreign audiences. Some

smaller studios merely seemed to want a native English speaker or two on staff to be their go-to people for international communication and other linguistic issues. (Hey, why not? Even if most day-to-day communication is done in Japanese, a bilingual programmer is still more useful than a monolingual programmer, right?) Regardless of the reasons, the trend was apparent. Interestingly, I also witnessed a steady exodus of foreign talent from Japanese games companies during that same span. People moved on for a variety of reasons: growing families, dissatisfaction with working conditions, lack of advancement opportunity or compensation failing to keep pace with experience and expertise. What they tended to have in common, though, was the lack of any particular reason to stay in Japan and the knowledge that — with the skills and experience they had acquired — they could do better for themselves elsewhere. Unlike many of their colleagues, who considered their situations only in relation to other jobs in Japan, these globetrotting ex-pats were more than willing to work as long as it benefitted them and then move along the moment they found themselves spinning their wheels in the mud. This past summer, I joined their numbers. Let it be said: Moving across the globe for a new position is not for the faint of heart. It was by no means an easy thing to do. I spent well over a year from the time I began seriously looking until I landed my current job. During that time, I applied for numerous openings in multiple countries, endured a great deal of frustration and wasted money trying to second-guess my own future. However, for those adventurous souls willing to endure the hardships involved, the payout can be great. In my case, the process taught me a great deal and, most important, ended with me obtaining a job I love and being more satisfied with my work and life situation than I have ever been before.

If you are considering making a major move the next step in your career, you may want to keep the following tips in mind:

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Don’t rely on online applications. Living in another country is a major red flag on an application. It means the company will have to fly you around the world and put you up in a hotel if they want to have an interview; they will have to wait a few months for you to obtain a visa; you will probably need relocation assistance; and you won’t be able to move very quickly on the position. Even if the last two or three are untrue, the automated system or human resources staff member who receives your application is unlikely to ask before they discard it. Hiring someone who lives abroad is a pain. If at all possible, use your connections and get your résumé to someone who cares and will actually read it. If you have no choice but to apply through an online system, don’t set your hopes too high. Your chances of ever hearing back are slim, even if you’re a shoe-in for the position.

Be persistent. As I said, hiring someone who lives in another country is a pain. A simple telephone interview can be difficult to arrange when your contact’s working hours are your sleeping hours. The person at the other end may have to do research just to figure out how to make the call. Be accommodating, and do as much of the work for the other person as you can. It can be very tempting for a hiring manager to set your application on the backburner and wait for something easier to come along. Don’t let that happen! Time is your enemy. Keep the lines of communication open. If you have been waiting for a long time, there is nothing


wrong with asking for a status update and perhaps suggesting some times that would be convenient to talk.

Get yourself where you want to be. Being physically present in the area of your job search is the single best way of improving your odds. When I had been as persistent as I could be without being annoying and was seeing no signs of being flown anywhere for an interview, I didn’t wait. (Time is your enemy!) I planned a trip, e-mailed the companies to which I had been speaking and requested the interviews I had hoped would be requested of me. It worked. Not only did they all say yes, but it turned out to be what landed me a job. The difference in response is amazing when you change the proposition from coordinating an international visit to reserving a meeting room for an hour. A friend met with similar frustration applying for jobs for abroad and decided it would be best just to pay for her own relocation and then look for a job. After moving, she had no trouble at all. It’s certainly a riskier route, but if you are willing

to forego relocation support, it can also make the process a lot easier.

Plan far ahead. Moving overseas is a major undertaking; if you have a family, home or other obligations, it is even more of one. If you are seriously considering a move, get the ball rolling as soon as you can. Obtaining visas for spouses and children is fairly painless in many countries. Obtaining a U.S. green card, on the other hand, is a notoriously long and difficult process. My wife and I wasted money applying for a fiancée visa, anticipating we would move sooner than we actually did, and ended up having to pay again to apply for a U.S. green card since we got married in the interim. Still, we decided we would rather spend the extra money than run the risk of having to live in different countries for several months waiting for a visa to be approved. Think about the time required for all of the things you will have to do and ways you can manage the uncertainty of not knowing if or when an offer will come and how quickly you will need to act on it.

Put the numbers in context. Job-hunting is never simply a game of comparing numbers, and when considering an international move, it is even less so. Salary is obviously a major factor to consider, but trying to compare salaries for different countries is much like comparing apples to orangutans. Tokyo often ranks as the most expensive city in the world, and starting salaries tend to be very low there. However, you also don’t need a car in Tokyo, taxes aren’t too high and the cost of medical care is extremely low. If you aren’t familiar with the living costs in another country, make sure you get familiar with them before you try to figure out just how far a salary will go. With all that in mind, good luck! It may seem daunting, but an international move can be incredibly rewarding when all is said and done. Some of us even go back for seconds! 

on

Join us.


Game Developers Conference® February 28–March 4, 2011 Moscone Center | San Francisco, CA Visit www.GDConf.com for more information.


CONSIDERATIONS FOR ONLINE TEAMS By Michelangelo Pereira, Paper Child Studios Communication Communication is the most important thing a distributed team can manage. If you do not have good communication, you will not have a cohesive team. Team members need to stay on their toes and monitor their inboxes.

Regularly scheduled meetings are important Create an agenda for meetings. Keep people on topic, and be aware that broad subjects might be better addressed as a series of smaller, more manageable ones. Stop discussions that aren’t achieving forward momentum, and schedule individual meetings to iron out problems. Regularly scheduled meetings should discuss major items and address big decisions that need to be worked on as a group. Team members should take turns talking on each topic, and notes should be sent out to those who can’t attend the meetings. Try to make decisions together as much as possible through discussion. General consensus can be reached by taking a vote. If something falls outside of the realm of expertise of the team members in attendance, make sure it gets directed to the right people.

Encourage everyone to attend all meetings, if possible. Consistent tardiness or absence within a group may result in incomplete work and missed deadlines, which can spell disaster for smaller indie teams. Also, make sure to balance your team’s relationships with your team’s goals.

als not being “on the same page” due to lack of information or miscommunication. In short, listen to all points of view and try to see the pros and cons of each perspective. The final decision will ultimately be left to the team lead (or general consensus, depending on the structure of the team).

Trust your team members

On decision-making

Trust allows your team to grow and develop better games. If your team doesn’t trust each other, their relationship issues may overshadow your project goals. Make sure everyone is comfortable voicing their opinions. It is often useful to assign team members ownership of specific projects so they feel more invested in their success. They may also be more comfortable sharing their ideas as a result. When people feel like they own an idea and have control over what changes can be made, they tend to work harder and more intelligently.

For minor decisions, find out what the general consensus is. For major decisions, list the possibilities, discuss the pros and cons, and eliminate the least viable. Again, the final decision will be made by the team lead. Team members must be well-aware that for their ideas to prevail, they have to make very clear and convincing arguments. People in junior positions must focus especially hard on this, as they lack seniority and, oftentimes, the consideration associated with it. Also, team members must be willing to accept a decision once it’s been made and move on.

Dealing with disagreements It is important you respect your fellow team members. Be ready to accept and promote constructive criticism. Listen to everyone’s point of view and try to understand disagreements. Often it’s simply a matter of individu-

Paper Child Studios is currently at work on Purify Puzzle, which will be released for Windows. 

These are tools that will help you and your team: Tool

Description

Pros

Cons

E-mail

N/A

Versatile. Everybody uses it.

Spam. It can be difficult to track e-mails. It can be difficult when having a discussion with many people.

Facebook

A social networking service.

Live chat. Ability to send messages. Ability form groups and have discussions.

N/A

Skype

An app that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet.

Ability to make voice calls and send instant messages. Ability to use webcams. Voice and webcam ability allows users to listen and see each other.

There are user limits, including 100 users for text, 25 users for voice and nine users for video.

Google talk

An app for instant messaging and voice calls over the Internet.

Voice chat allows you to hear your team members.

N/A

Other IMs

Instant messengers.

These are useful if your team member has a specific IM they use often.

N/A

Cell phones

N/A

Quick. You can send text messages and make voice calls. You can get quick responses.

Can be expensive.

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Bug tracking and management tools: Tool

Description

Pros

Cons

Redmine

A flexible project management Web application that includes a Gantt chart, calendar, wiki, forums, multiple roles and e-mail notification.

Inexpensive.

Bug tracking tools in general can be clunky and difficult to use. Lack of features can be restrictive.

Jira

The leading issue tracking, bug tracking and project tracking tool for software development teams.

Lots of charting capabilities.

High cost. Can be clunky and difficult to use for non-technical users but well-respected and easier to use than Redmine.

Assembla

Bug tracking, software development and project management tool for agile software development and team collaboration.

Has full-featured project management. It can also manage wiki and user data.

$100/month. Can be clunky and difficult to use for non-technical users but easier to use than Redmine.

Tool for scheduling meetings: Tool

Description

Pros

Cons

Doodle

A survey tool.

It allows you to see, at a glance, what times are best for your team.

People generally don’t use it enough.

When Microsoft Office is not an option: Tool

Description

Pros

Cons

Google Docs

A free, Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, form and data storage service.

Free and easily accessible. Simple to use. Allows real-time collaboration.

Not good with DOCX or documents that require a lot of formatting.

Information exchange tool: Tool

Description

Pros

Cons

Wiki

A piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser.

Free (aside from hosting), easy to use. Storage capacity is limited only by your hosting company. Easily accessible.

Most wikis lock a page when a user is editing — no real-time collaboration.

Information exchange tool: Tool

Description

Pros

Cons

Scriblink

Online whiteboard.

Free. Allows users to collaborate in real time.

N/A (not fully explored by our team yet)aboration.

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 SIG SPOTLIGHT: Localization Interview with Kate Edwards What is the focus of the Localization SIG?

The Localization SIG exists to provide a focal point and nexus for the growing number of game localization professionals. The SIG builds community, draws together best practices and processes, and emphasizes the requisite international dimension of game content development toward the goal of improving global game development processes and local end-user experiences. The number of games industry and localization industry professionals who are engaged specifically and exclusively in games has been increasing in proportion to the industry’s growth. This group of specialized professionals is currently split between either being more “games industry-oriented” or more “localization services-oriented” without an appropriate “home” in which the hybrid field of game localization can exist. The game localization practice contains its own unique challenges and solutions that benefit from a community space in which its professionals can interact and grow in association with the games industry. At the same time, the utility software localization industry has been developing tools and workflows that the game industry could utilize to save time and money, which would also benefit everybody involved in the localization process, as well as the games industry and the gaming community.

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What are the SIG’s current initiatives and activities?

Like every SIG in the IGDA, the Localization SIG’s biggest challenge isn’t interest in our topic, but turning that interest into action in the form of more volunteers. We’ve had a few active members step forward to help with various efforts, but we’d love to see more people be willing to volunteer their time, even if it’s a little bit per week or month. Beyond the goal of drawing together and building community among those involved in game localization, the SIG has several activities underway, including the following: » Game Localization Summit Launched in 2009, the Game Localization Summit at GDC San Francisco is our one-day showcase of localization topics and experts. The summit speakers often include SIG members. Game Localization Round Table This is an ongoing series of dialogues on game localization that are held in conjunction with the Localization World Conference. It’s our way of bringing games industry issues to the localization community in the same way the SIG brings localization issues to the games community.

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» Localization Standards This is a huge effort, and it’s frankly still getting off the ground, but we’re hoping it will eventually lead to industry-changing actions that improve localization process and quality. Defining standards in loc practices is one of the more challenging problems, so we decided to face it head-on and see if we can make positive changes.

» IGDA Translation Force This is a dedicated group of translators from the Loc SIG who have volunteered their time and skills to help the IGDA translate some of its content. We want to help emphasize the “international” component of the IGDA! » SIG Gatherings at Industry Events As much as possible, we strive to reinforce our sense of community, whether it’s getting together to talk shop or just to socialize. The point is to get together! We often have SIG meetings and gatherings at various events, such as at Gamescom, the Tokyo Game Show, E3 and so forth. » Topic of the Week We post a new topic every Monday to help encourage discussion among SIG members and a healthy exchange of ideas.

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How does the SIG feel about the current state of and the future of localization?

On one hand, we’re very encouraged by the role that localization plays in the games industry. The reality is that if you average out the revenues across regions, localization accounts for about 50 percent of all games industry revenue — that’s staggering! It emphasizes that localization is perhaps more mission-critical to the industry than previously perceived. And the importance will only grow as existing markets mature and emerging gaming markets continue to arise (Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, etc.). The real challenge localization faces is both in perception and procedure. Every day, we are shown that the model where localization occurs late in the game design and development cycle is obsolete. We have to help publishers and developers to transition to a more integrated approach. Planning for an international audience starts at a game’s inception and continues throughout. With the importance of loc revenue

and building global IPs, game design needs to shift from this “develop for the U.S. and then translate” approach to “develop for the world,” considering “culturalization” as well. In addition to changing this perception, we need to see improvements in localization tools for game content — such as allowing translators to work within the game content itself and not from spreadsheets where the all-important context is lost.

What are your hopes for the SIG in the future?

My hopes for the SIG’s future are really tied back to our initial mission. I’d like to see the SIG thrive as a focal point for the game localization community and continue to be a place where opinions are readily exchanged and new ideas can be forged. In addition, I really hope that the actions of the SIG will positively impact the perception of localization in the broader game development community, i.e., I hope they’ll view localization not as an afterthought but as a core part of game design and development.

Is there anything the greater IGDA chapter community should know about the Localization SIG?

By nature, the Localization SIG is comprised of members from around the world who are representing unique geographies. Because IGDA chapters are geographically based, we have a strong desire to connect with international chapters and ensure that the many diverse languages and cultures are accounted for in game localization, particularly the newer and emerging markets. So even for those who might not be involved in localization, we welcome your participation so we can learn from you and perhaps help improve localization processes. 

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MEMBER SPOTLIGHT Jack Bogdan makes critical contributions to your new technology and educational IGDA initiatives. In addition to the new collaboration with ACM, Jack has a hand in our new event volunteer, student groups, academic partners and game preservation efforts. He also makes time to host the innovative new IGDA Game Design Podcast “El Juego” (www.crunchtimeshow.com). He is based in Los Angeles, USA.

Tristin Hightower is based in Philadelphia, USA and is a thought leader in chapter development. She is currently assembling the IGDA Chapter Manual and Chapter Survey which will appear in early 2011. Tristin also serves on the steering committee for the Women In Games SIG.

Sonja Kangas is active in numerous roles including her current role as the Lead Coordinator for IGDA Finland (previously as Chapter Coordinator since 2007). Sonja also serves on the Advisory Board for both the Women in Games SIG and the IGDA Membership Committee.

Youichiro Miyake iis very involved in the IGDA Japan Chapter and serves as chairman of IGDA JAPAN SIG-AI (Artificial Intelligence). Connecting people and getting things done, Youichiro is community-oriented and often represents his Chapter and SIG in the global IGDA community.

Lesley Phord-Toy has jumped into her new role as Acting Chapter Head of the Toronto, Canada Chapter. With elections on the way, Lesley is getting the chapter reignited and bringing the Toronto game industry community together to celebrate, support and innovate. 

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Collaboration Trumps Tradition: New Angles on Outsourcing By Mary Kurek

A

lthough I’m a huge supporter of collaboration, I’ve found myself in the last couple of years working with companies who are hunting clients that wish to outsource projects to reduce costs. That said, I’ve probably had half a dozen conversations over the past six months with individuals who have expressed concerns over traditional outsourcing arrangements. Although budget is and always will be a decision-making factor, what I’m hearing is it’s more important to work with people who hold similar business and ethical values. There’s also the matter of knowing and having direct access to your team. A project needs the continuity of team-oriented brainstorming and problem-solving, and if you’ve contracted with an out-of-country company that has assembled a team of indie talent just for your project, you may not get that. However, for some time, companies have found outsourcing to be the answer to project completion. So is it really a matter of hammering out cultural and management differences for the sake of budget, or is there something bigger to this trend of global collaboration? In 2009, TIGA (the trade association representing UK game developers) and the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts launched a brilliant campaign to encourage crossindustry collaboration. Their initiative, called “Play Together,” focused on fostering innovation, collaboration and communication between their video game developers and entertainment industries, such as music, film and animation. Prompted by member feedback on skill shortages, the organizations developed the initiatives specifically to help their developers maximize efficiency and avoid potentially costly outsourcing. Along with an education exchange component and forum for cross-industry networking, Play Together also offers a staff-sharing

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opportunity between industries. To that end, they’ve even created the legal paperwork for participants to facilitate arrangements. A quick check at the TIGA website reveals that even Ubisoft is willing to “play.” These UK organizations saw a need within their country that could be satisfied through collaboration. It’s an example of how problems on a scale actually bump competition aside. But what do developers and industry professionals working in the trenches think about this trend? I’ve asked a few for their thoughts on collaboration and outsourcing. Their responses provided some interesting viewpoints and examples: John Henley, Account Manager, Business Development, Frima Studios “Right now, I’m seeing the mutation of business models moving from traditional ‘work-for-hire’ outsourcing to a more accountable relationship based on partnership or collaboration. I believe this leads to longer relationships, repeat business and the implementation of a more incentive-driven structure. Traditional outsourcing can unfortunately be associated with a more non-cooperative coordination approach and ‘drone’-like performance. Parties are incentivized to innovate and excel through negotiated terms, mutually beneficial in a collaboration model.” Daniele Benegiamo, Owner, UNAGames “From an indie developer point of view, collaboration opens markets and opportunities that are otherwise inaccessible. For instance, an indie developer is too little to be able to span multiple markets, and collaboration can help to fill this gap. A good example has been the porting of the Flash game SteamBirds to iOS. Andy Moore, the original author,

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sublicensed the work to Semi Secret Software, an indie iOS developer, with a simple 50/50 revenue sharing scheme. The net result: Moore now has SteamBirds landed on iOS platform (for free), and Semi Secret Software has published, on App Store, a very well-known game.” George Raney, U.S. Advisor, Amico Games “Amico Games took control of a U.S.-listed company through a reverse takeover transaction in order to access expansion capital, which is in very limited supply for China’s entrepreneurs of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME). “The U.S. strategy is to not only supply the U.S. market with Chinese language mobile games, but to also explore collaboration opportunities with U.S. game developers and other content providers, such as movie producers, to create new games for our PRC audience of 29 million registered users. “The company recently addressed its reliance on outsourcing distribution of its games by launching its own Internet portal. Eliminating third-party distribution, which can cost up to 70 percent in end-user revenues, not only allows us to increase our margins, but to also grow our top line through collaboration with other game developers. “Currently, Amico has entered into market cooperation agreements with over 40 PRC mobile network media, mobile portals, and mobile game media. We may also look to make acquisitions in this space.” Doron Shavit, Co-founder, SoftWeave, Ltd., and Vice President, Outsourcing Services, TestPro “Companies are looking for the added value. Hiring the best outsourcing employees and creating new in-house ventures is not enough. Companies are aware of the benefits they can gain from

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partners’ knowledge and vast experience. Joint ventures and collaborations bring companies access to new capabilities, technologies and managerial approaches. It is a shortcut to access companies and customers in other continents.”

highly respected and mutually needed; the roles are easily and clearly defined. Collaboration spells great leaps over impossible odds, almost effortlessly. There are a number of reasons for choosing collaboration over outsourcing:

My last contributor requested anonymity, but shared such a unique story of collaboration I felt it must be passed along. “My brother and I operate in our respective countries (different companies), yet we share all of our resources and, most interestingly, our product. Visual design, user interface, functional specifics requested by clients come from my side. Coding and networking comes from his side. When we make a brochure, we make it multi-lingual. When we need a Web presence, we use the same talent base to help create each other’s websites, etc. The key is both companies acting as one, sharing the challenges and the income. To me, [a] global collaboration is no different than a local one. Perhaps it is easier. Most people don’t realize business is one of the common human languages. It’s much easier to build fruitful partnerships with companies in other countries, perhaps thanks to the autonomy of each company in their own markets. The local expertise is

“1) Collaborators put in the work for a partnership percentage. Costs are converted into expertise and then shared. “2) Collaborators come with their own marketing. They care for the product/service/ project just as much as the other partner. “3) It feels good to share the wealth: Convert competition into partners; let’s all work together and enjoy the benefits. Competition is the mindset of lack and limitation; collaboration is the mindset of creation and abundance.” What I get from speaking with these pros is that collaboration is highly desirable, even if it’s sometimes over-idealized. Of course, collaboration requires intense networking, trust-building and extreme organization. There’s a bit more legal paperwork, and accountability is key. Global collaboration means understanding cultural mindsets.

Other countries operate under a different set of rules. Creativity may be defined differently. And, I’m sure there is a country out there somewhere that doesn’t use the word “budget” because it’s never had the opportunity to work any other way but streamlined and efficient. If the desire is there, then the next step is to establish a collective company mindset and a set of policies that set the stage for global collaboration. Educate yourself on who is collaborating successfully. I daresay, nothing replaces a healthy network, and that’s really the heart of where any collaboration begins. Most important, share your failures and successes. That’s where the trend stops and the new standard is set. Mary Kurek is a professional networker who produces business connections and introductions within the games industry. She is also a visibility consultant and author of the nationally endorsed business networking book, Who’s Hiding in Your Address Book? Visit www.marykurek.com, or follow @gamemarketing on Twitter. 


CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT BANGKOK Interview With Jason Swearingen How did your chapter get started? We started up this chapter two years ago when founding Novaleaf. At that time, there was a strong local indie and hobbyist community, but nothing focused on those employed by the professional studios here in Bangkok. So myself and a few leaders from other studios put this chapter together.

Who are your chapter leaders? Ann (TidaratT@Novaleaf.com) is probably our chapter’s main leader, but the other board members and advisers play important roles, such as Pisal (pisalst@gmail.com) and Suphot (suphot@pigcanfly.com).

message boards. So recruitment is very informal and focuses on handling mailing lists to communicate various events, such as conferences, local or regional competitions.

How often does the chapter meet? We have a quarterly meeting, generally held as a low-key conference. The last event we had hosted about 50 people (roughly evenly split between professionals and hobbyists). Mostly the discussions focus around quality-of-life issues and general indie “market strategy.”

How do you recruit new members into your chapter?

Does the chapter have a favorite place to meet, or does that change?

While we encourage chapter members to formally sign up via the IGDA.org website, most of the community building here in Bangkok happens offline during meetings or on Thai language

We try to switch up the location, and with about 50 people per meeting, the locations we have used (usually a restaurant or member studio office space) have been cramped but manageable.

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What was your most recent event as a chapter? We had a “Mobile Games” summit two months ago, focused mostly on member sales experiences with the iPhone. From what I’ve heard of the results, I’d say that people (and studios) generally don’t make much money in mobile these days. Sorry, I cannot comment more about the details as I did not attend (I’m not a mobile games kind of guy!).

What has your chapter done to support global game development Considering that Bangkok is about as “global” as you can get, I suppose a lot! But really, we are very much focused on improving the local community. The most “global” we get is collaboration with our regional neighbors (such as Allan Simosen of IGDA Singapore in conferences). 

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Reflections on Train By Sande Chen

The following article first appeared on the community blog, Game Design Aspect of the Month (http://gamedesignaspect.blogspot. com), also known as GDAM, under the topic of Mature Games. Each month, game designers and other industry professionals offer their views on a particular game design issue. Please participate in December 2010’s topic, No More War Games?, by submitting an article or comment. GDAM is currently looking for additional editors and people to help with podcasts. GDAM is edited by Sande Chen, founding member of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

As I write this and think about Train, I am a passenger on a train. As a modern-day commuter, I have nothing in common with those train passengers of the Holocaust, but I can imagine their anguish and fear. I can feel an overwhelming sadness, so much that it makes me sick in the stomach. I share no cultural background with these people, and yet, I felt an immense empathetic response when Brenda Brathwaite explained the design decisions behind her Holocaust game, Train. I was at the 2009 Game Education Summit, where I had co-presented with Dr. Ricardo Rademacher on the topic of Creativity, Constraints, and Compromises. The program had mentioned that Brathwaite’s board games were on display in a nearby room. Curious, I went to see them on the last day of the conference. I had just picked up the typewritten rules for Train when Brathwaite walked in with some conference attendees and proceeded to talk about Train. Here, in this intimate setting, we were given a detailed look at the game by the game designer herself. Brathwaite explained that every detail behind Train had symbolic meaning, from the number of cards to the actions. She demonstrated to us how the pawns were purposely too large for the boxcar openings so that the

player would have to really jam them in there. As more and more pawns were placed in the boxcar, they were no longer standing but crammed in every which way. Then, at the end of the game, the players needed to shake the boxcars to get the pawns out. It was this level of detail that made me admire Brathwaite as an artist. At the beginning of the game, players may not have felt that these little yellow pawns represented real people. But when Brathwaite turns over the destination card, and it says, “Auschwitz,” the realization sinks in. Some players, noted Brathwaite, do figure it out early and actively try to sabotage the trains, including their own. My line of questioning begins: What if the destination card was for a lesser-known concentration camp? Do players, blissfully unaware, continue playing? After all, Train, taken out of context, might be a fun game. What if the players were from another culture? What if the event was something not as well-known or explosive? Or something outside of the culture? The Trail of Tears, maybe? The Cultural Revolution? I mentioned Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, and how audiences sometimes don’t feel the tragedy in the recitation of the names of the dead. If we say that the game developer contributes 50 percent and the game player contributes 50 percent to the interactive experience, is it a lesser experience when the numbers don’t add up? What if the player has nothing to contribute, meaning 0 percent? At what point is the authorial intent or meaning of a game lost? For certain, if Brathwaite had not mentioned it, I would not have caught that the typewriter was a Nazi-era machine. At times, I felt that there ought to be a plaque on the wall explaining all of these nuances. This further cemented the notion in my mind that Train was really more of an art game. Furthermore, even though the game could be played repeatedly, most people did not want to once they learned that they were sending their train passengers to concentration camps. Rather, Train is an interactive experience you undergo, and the epiphany is

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In this article, writer and game designer Sande Chen discusses her experience with Train and asks what happens when the player isn’t providing context to the game experience.

part of the process. There was a woman who did reset the board to play another round, Brathwaite recalled. The other players were aghast. The woman exclaimed, “What? It’s just a train station.” Whether the woman understood the game’s meaning or misunderstood it, we’ll never know. I’m also not sure how children would react to this game. That’s why I think of it as a game for grown-ups. I know that as a youngster in elementary school, I knew nothing of the Holocaust. I had a playmate whose mother was German, and one day, another playmate whispered to me, “You know what the Germans did, right? They made lampshades out of the Jews.” I thought this statement was baffling. It really wasn’t until I read Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night that I began to understand about the Holocaust. But my questions were answered in a way. As Brathwaite packed away Train, two people were trying out Siochan Leat (aka The Irish Game). When Brathwaite had spoken about this game, I could tell that she felt very strongly about it. All I knew about Siochan Leat was that it depicted an event in Irish history when the British invaded Ireland. I could see this very clearly as the game progressed because the British pieces were slowly displacing the Irish pawns. But since I knew next to nothing about Irish history, I found that I didn’t feel anything like I had with Train. Moreover, I thought that Siochan Leat might be a fun strategy game to play over and over. I didn’t know the historical context behind Siochan Leat, and therefore, I only saw the game. Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG. 

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WHY YOU NEED

A GLOBAL CONTENT MANAGEMENT PROCESS By Víctor Alonso Lion Multiple factors determine the reason why some games sell more than others. It is not always a matter of better graphics, the use of more advanced technology or the popularity of the intellectual property. Sometimes the “fit” of the story, the consistency of the terminology and the quality of the content can greatly affect the success of a game. There are many different approaches to managing content in demanding content environments (whether it’s a huge AAA title, a series of titles or simply games on a common platform). I’ve been working in content localization for more than a decade and have had the opportunity to manage a number of projects and help design localization processes for different industries. In 2007, I came back to

game localization and have seen many positive changes implemented throughout the industry. Still, in regards to the localization of content, I believe there have not been enough workflow improvements. My experience has led me to believe that, due to the fact many games are originally created by smaller studios, having a strategy for content management is often a very low priority. To make matters worse, approaches may vary widely from studio to studio, requiring developers to constantly “reinvent the wheel.” So how can the games industry address this problem? If the games industry is indeed the testing playground for new technology and innovation, we must also consider new ideas and processes for content management.

What is a CMS? First, we need to differentiate between content management systems (CMS), globalization management systems (GMS or GCMS) and simple document sharing tools. CMSs, in this sense, are tools that enable the management and creation of a content management workflow. There are simple CMS tools (like the ones for managing the content of a webpage) and extremely complex CMS tools (like Enterprise Content Management suites). A CMS enables customized workflows for content, integrating creation, reuse, management of the layout and publishing of the content.

Figure 1: Example of a CMS Workflow

What is a GCMS? When the tool allows for integration of “translation” or “localization” processes to the content workflow, we can start to talk about a GCMS. The most sophisticated Enterprise Content Management

systems on the market can integrate translation management, terminology management and, in some cases, automated translation. GCMSs are basically a combination of CMS and translation management sys-

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tems. Many companies (even in our industry) use this type of system. The most effective and impressive ones I’ve seen, however, are in the life sciences industry, in which regulation forces companies to manage content more efficiently. pa g e 1 6


The importance of having a solid workflow is amplified when you consider the rework necessary if an error occurs in multilingual product development. The multilingual propagation graphic below shows the importance of accurately defined terminology with regard to efficient content management. As mentioned, some big developers have their own proprietary CMS or use tools that enable some kind of content management. However, the CMS access is usually restricted to the core development team and inaccessible to external localization vendors or even internal localization departments. Implications of a GCM process Even without the benefit of content-related technology, developers can still improve their content management processes by implementing the related concepts. Reuse of the content: When provided with an effective workflow and a clear process, content authors can reuse a significant amount of content, saving time and reducing risk exponentially.

Figure 2: Simple Multilingual GCMS

Figure 3: Error propagation over time from a single error in a multilingual environment

Consistency: Developers should maintain strict consistency in terminology, style and expression to create a unified product. This is especially important to developers when submitting a game to a publisher that requires a compliance check. Separation of code and content: Proper content management techniques force developers to separate code and content, highlighting internationalization issues. Other benefits: Awareness of the importance of a single source approach and the implementation and correct use of metadata for content.

The games industry is still a fragmented and somewhat opaque industry. In time, we may begin to see development studios, distributors, localization vendors and translators sharing

best practices. Today, however, we must focus on building awareness and establishing standards for this critical aspect of the game development process. 

Building greater awareness of programs, issues and opportunities that serve women in games. www.igda.org/women

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A TOOLKIT

FOR GAMES LOCALIZATION By Janaina Wittner

D

espite the worldwide financial crises, the video games industry is experiencing constant growth and shows no signs of slowing down. Driven by hardware and graphics enhancement, it will keep attracting more and more adoptees and fans worldwide. However, generating international revenue from your game is not easy. The international gaming community expects to be entertained just as much as players of its original country. The enjoyment will not be the same if your game is full of text truncations or translation inconsistencies, spelling or grammar mistakes, if the voice-over does not fit the image of the person or its action, or if the content is culturally incomprehensible or — even worse — unacceptable. Gamers will not feel fully immersed in a game featuring localization issues but will react to rapidly give your game a bad press. Because games include multiple types of assets (user interface, in-game text, graphic text, video animations, audio, packaging, help, website, manual, etc.), localization involves not only translators but also project managers, developers, testers, localization software engineers, DTP, sound and graphics engineers as well as recording studios and actors. The complexity of localization is too often underestimated.

The few tips below on localization planning and analysis, the importance of the process and team in place to undertake such a project should help you make the right decisions.

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Planning localization, time is always shortened

No matter how professional development is planned and how much contingency time is allowed in the schedule, the deadline invariably is pushed out, and localization, the last step in a long development cycle, is shortened to make up for the delay. Although this is inherent to the localization industry in general, it is particularly true for games in which publishers are put under enormous pressure to have products ready on time for sale before the summer holiday and the Christmas season. Not meeting these deadlines means not only that they will lose a great deal in unit sales, but also that they will have to pay the distributors large fines for not filling in the booked shelves spaces, and that’s without reference to the damage caused by bad publicity in the games industry press. To add to the complexity, for developers or publishers wanting to capitalize and benefit from an international worldwide release, it is important to

have the game out simultaneously in all locales where grey market and pirated versions are likely to become readily available. You will thus have no time to check the original version, prepare it and localize it in one language to learn from mistakes before passing on to the others. Keep in mind when planning that the number of people involved and the volume of work to manage and coordinate in parallel is proportionally increased.

Undertaking a comprehensive localization analysis As soon as a stable build is available, a localization expert can start a localization analysis. The main objective is to identify potential issues that may arise and make recommendations to fix them before the localization cycle starts. This analysis is necessary to avoid later trade-offs between cost, timeto-market and linguistic quality that will make the player realize the game is derived from another language. It includes multiple checks to make sure all the files and the information necessary to rebuild are made available and all localizable assets can be identified and modified as needed. Internationalization issues are also included in this analysis. It covers many things that pa g e 1 8


affect the game at a technical or code level, including string table formats, time/date formats, keyboard/controller layouts, fonts, currency formats, text direction and many other issues. Here are a few (far from exhaustive) guidelines to avoid internationalization and localization issues that will impact costs, time and quality of the localization.

1. Handling of variables/placeholders: As early as possible, handling of variables should be checked for specific language pairs. Localizing a game in which handling of variables does not take into account complex language grammar is difficult, time-consuming and sometimes impossible. Indeed, most video games require real-time textual or oral interactivity with the user in a complex, accurate and natural-sounding way. Phrases are created on the basis of the user context, which in turn depend directly on his actions. As it is physically impossible to plan for every potential combination, these actions are represented by variables. “You have received [numeral] %item(s).” So far, it makes sense. However, the majority of game scripts are written for English or Asian languages, which have a very simple grammar system. Difficulties arise when translating into other, more complex languages, in which grammatical agreements vary depending on case, number and gender. “You have received [numeral] %item(s).” will become « Nombre de %objets en votre possession: [nombre] » in French In the above example, the translator has no other alternative than to use a colon to avoid grammar errors to occur. The sentence will be grammatically correct, but players will not feel immersed in your game.

2. Build investigation: If applicable, the product should be rebuilt to make sure all the files and proprietary file formats information is available. Localizable assets should be identified and file naming convention understood and applied throughout the game.

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3. Pseudo-translation: The source language of the game can be replaced by extended characters 40 percent longer than the original Chinese or English language. This will ensure there are no hard-coded strings, all extended characters are correctly displayed and there is enough space for text expansion. This is essential for languages such as German or Spanish. 4. Keyboard input: Different keyboards should be tested and accelerator keys looked for in external files. 5. String IDs: Check if a unique string ID exists for in-game text as it makes problem solving easier down the line. 6. Audio test: Identify audio files for localization and possible hard-coded audio length restriction or concatenation. 7. Graphics test: Movies and animations as well as graphics with localizable content should be identified. Checks can be done to make sure proprietary tools have been provided to edit them and enough space for expansion has been left. 8. Local information, such as date, money or other such references should be easy to adapt, and sorting lists should work according to locale. 9. Button, labels, control position and size should be easy to change. 10. Fonts type and size: Fonts and font size should be easy to change as readability issues can occur if the same is used for Latin and Chinese characters. Keep in mind that extended character equivalent will need to be designed for all internally designed fonts. 11. Text direction can be changed for both texts displayed on screen and inputed text by gamers. This is important as some languages are written right-to-left.

Optimizing your localization process

There is an array of computer aided translation tools available, but it is essential to select the most suitable

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for your specific needs. CAT tools are advisable if more than one translator is working on the project or if there is repetition in the content. It is not rare to find up to 30 percent of fuzzy-match content even when developers expect almost none. They are also indispensable for popular games that will experience an ongoing stream of new content to be processed across multiple languages. For online games, a global management system connecting directly in the database to fetch the necessary data and push the work downstream should be considered. However, a style guide and a terminology list are the starting point. If written by non-native speakers, you should also think about having the original English version reviewed.

Picking the right translation team

Translators are not just there to convert the text from one language into another. It is not just translation; they must recreate an atmosphere and reproduce the same sensations as those in the original version, and for that, they need to know and understand what they are translating. Without this information, all the efforts and investment made in creating a great game will get lost somewhere in the middle of the localization cycle. For serious games, selecting the right translators becomes even more complex. They should not only be translators specialized in games translation, but they should also be familiar with the specific vocabulary and have a working knowledge of the real-life scenes being represented. Let’s take the example a flight simulator. Focusing on a very specific topic and skills, the translator must be familiar with a broad range of airplane terminology and related events, such as, perhaps, military or weather forecast terminology.

Recording to recreate an atmosphere

The audio scripts should be prepared in such a way to give translators direct access to the related audio and to be aware of potential time constraints or pauses. As with all the people involved in localization, voice-over talents are just

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as difficult to select as translators, and picking the right one for your game is essential. Real acting and suitable voices are an absolute must; it should not sound like simple reading.

Conveying the right message

Conveying a message is not only done via quality translation and recording, but it is also done by adapting the content to a specific locale. There are known culturally controversial issues, such as religion, sex, violence or nudity, and countryspecific customs on this regard have to be followed. They will influence the success or failure of a game going into a new market or affect the age-rating, thus limiting the market potential. Less critical, but nonetheless important if you want to give your game a local look and feel, local references such as cars, taxis, police uniforms, traffic signs, telephone numbers, landscapes and character appearances have to be localized. For “Adiboud’chou,” a French native product, we had to take off the bonnet of a little boy going to bed in his pajamas for the South American release. It would not have made sense for a Brazilian child to have a bonnet on in this particular circumstance. For the United States, a simple text change was necessary. An American would rather use positive reinforcement, so instead of saying to the child that he/she had lost, the text said: “Try again.”

Small localization changes such as these can also make a big difference in user experience, in reviews and, ultimately, in the number of units sold.

Testing games, effort often underestimated

Perhaps due to the fact testing was done thoroughly during the development phase, developers have the tendency to underestimate time-consuming localization testing cycles. Added to that, localization tests are only a subset of the whole test cycle, and developers become overconfident there will be no problems. However, things tend to go mysteriously wrong once the localized content is integrated in the build. As a result, compatibility, performance, linguistic and functional tests must be made again. Generally, two passes are needed for a simple/small game, while three will be necessary for a more complex game, especially if content changes were done in the localization effort. For the best results, you should have cheat codes, walkthroughs documents and UI flow charts for testers in this phase.

to concentrate on what you do best — development or publishing and distribution of games. The earlier in the production cycle your localization vendor is consulted, the easier it will be for developers to integrate internationalization and localization guidelines in the development of the game. Following these guidelines is a prerequisite for the game to be localized efficiently. As soon as your design document is ready, your localization vendor can highlight potential internationalization or localization issues and suggest good practices that will help minimize localization costs further down the line. With extensive knowledge of on multiple CAT tools and global management systems, your localization vendor will help you decide on the most optimized solution for your specific needs. They will also help you plan localization using all of its experience built over the years. They are unlikely to underestimate the time needed to complete the localization cycle. They can thus help meet deadlines on multi-languages sim-ship releases. 

Entrusting a specialist to help you

To avoid unexpected costs or delays and make sure the gamer will enjoy it as if it was designed for his native language, put the localization of your game in the hands of experts. This will allow you

NEXT MONTH’STHEME IS:

game accessibility career paths

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K.I.S.S. AND SELL: GAMES THAT SURPASS BORDERS AND BOUNTY OR WHAT I LEARNED AT THE MONTREAL INTERNATIONAL GAME SUMMIT By Nancy-Elizabeth Townsend, OBX: laboratory for experimental media It is an old adage that our parents, professors and even colleagues used to reiterate as we nervously wrung our hands, pulled out hair and had to be talked down from ledges come crunch time. Whether in planning, modeling or designing of any sort, “keep it simple, stupid” (more commonly known as “k.i.s.s.”) have been comforting, if somewhat insulting, words to live and create by. This seemed to be to the theme of this year’s MIGS (Montreal International Game Summit) as keynote speaker Ed Fries, co-founder of the XBOX project, opened with his presentation “Beauty, Constraint and the Atari 2600.” One of this pioneer game-designer’s most notable claims to fame is his recent rehash of the popular Halo series for the Atari 2600 entitled, appropriately, Halo 2600. For those who do not know, this relic console was released in the gaming dark ages of 1977 and has a RAM and CPU speed modern day vacuum displays can scoff at. Still, it is remembered fondly for supporting treasured titles such as Pac-Man, Pitfall! and Space Invaders (otherwise known as “games that can now be played on a keychain”). Therefore, most are happy to bestow museum-like reverence upon its casing; it remains on a

pedestal, gathering layers of dust and is never ever expected to be touched again, let alone played with. So why did Ed Fries dare to drag it back out into the limelight, reminding our supposed Renaissance-era gaming industry of its past Pitfall!s? Perhaps because the man fancies himself as the Picasso, the Monet, the Duchamp, the force of modernity that brings this young-but-wizened media somewhere altogether new. Or, at the very least, he is attempting to push us in that direction. The games that have best succeeded this year — and by succeeded I mean had an unexpectedly high number of international sales and critical acclaim with minimal input — are those that have chosen to keep it simple. Whether due to limited capital, time or the mere fact the creator is a single person in their parents’ basement developing games as a hobby, these self-imposed constraints to graphics, coding and content are allowing the appeal of originality to finally triumph over that of realism. Nowadays, it’s easier to create a passable photo-real environment to explore. However, to envision a world made entirely of blocks, or limited to three colors, or rendered entirely of yarn ... that takes a special sort of mindset and will attract attention.

Take the explosion of mobile media, for example. The most downloaded game for Apple products, Angry Birds, was developed in Finland and involves catapulting birds into pig houses. With more than 10 million copies sold, this silly, strange and undeniably beautiful game is rivaling blockbuster titles. Oddly enough, the game uses the same, tired, never-fail mechanic of launching things into other things. But by stripping away the 3-D environments, the dust particles, the human figures, the Rovia team created a product that translates smoothly beyond borders of geography, age and race, and although offered for a minimal cost, Angry Birds generated egregiously high profits. Throughout the MIGS conference, Angry Birds, Minecraft, World of Goo and a few other money-making indie games kept appearing in presentations as awe-inspiring “Holy Grails” of the business, worthy of our attention and, most important, our emulation. We have entered an era of minimalism in gaming. Beauty is being redefined. Just remember to keep it simple. 


WORDS IZ WORDS MYTHBUSTING FOR SCRIBES By Andrew Walsh CORRECTION: This article incorrectly ran in draft form in the November 2010 issue of the IGDA Perspectives Newsletter. Our sincerest apologies to the author for the oversight. The following is the proper version of Andrew’s work:

W

here to start? A question often asked in writing and one I was faced with when approached to pen (or rather tap out) this article. You see, I have a confession to make. I find writing this sort of thing difficult. I found writing the chapters for IGDA’s writing SIG tough too. But… surely words is just words, right? I mean I’ve written for television, film, theatre, radio, games, comics and animation. I’ve written articles. This is the age of transmedia, a time when every idea can work on every platform and every writer can write everything…right? Sitting with a bunch of eminent comicbook writers the other night threw up just this question. It was educational listening to them talk about an industry I have only the sketchiest knowledge of. Their stories quickly turned to the horrors that occurred when a writer from a different medium came to write for comics. A famous novelist hired to pen a graphic novel turned in a script that was hugely over length and which then required an experienced comicbook writer to come in and fix before it could be published (this comicbook writer was, of course, paid substantially less than the ‘name’). There is a similar complaint in games. Most experienced videogames scribes have a tale to tell where they were brought in to clean up the mess after a studio hired a writer from a different medium who just didn’t understand what was required to write for games. It seems in every industry there are employers (and writers) who think that

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moving from one medium to another is easy. That knowing how to write means you can write anything. It also seems (from the evidence) that this is wrong. This made me wonder what other urban myths exist in the world of writing. So, I asked a group of writers to supply their top list of truisms and falsehoods from and about the writing business. Some of this list may sound stupid…but before you say ‘duh’ think of how many times you’ve heard them said. These are all statements that are regularly stated and which some people seem to hold as true. Let’s start with this one Myth 1 - If you can write a film script you can write a games script – even if you’ve never played any games. In stark black and white this looks, well… wrong, yet at many ‘writing for games’ talks there is a throng of writers who have never played a game, let alone written for one. Some are simply curious and opening a door to a new arena (which is great), but others confess that they haven’t played because they assume writing for games is easy - it’s just for kids and everyone says the writing in games is cr@p anyway (see later). Similarly guilty are those in the audience who have played games, but never written anything. It isn’t just beginners either, as mentioned above there are professionals who fall into this trap too, writers, developers and publishers. So, is it easy? Can you write a script for a medium without knowing it? Well, yes. In theory you could jump into a lake and swim it without ever having had a swimming lesson, however, taking the time to watch others swim, or better still taking some swimming lessons will significantly reduce your chances

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of drowning. Harper Lee only wrote one novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, but what a novel! It is possible to simply nail it (it is worth noting though that Harper Lee had written several long stories and worked as an editor). So in one hundred percent terms it is incorrect to say conclusively that you have to have written before, or to know your medium, but when it comes to looking at the odds of winning a swimming race, would you bet on someone from your local pub who has never swum before, or the girl who’s been training since she was ten and tried out for the Olympic team? Employers and writers vastly increase their odds of getting good results by choosing someone who knows and respects their medium. This should also bust to Myth 1(a). Film writers can’t write for games. Having been burned by the process there are people in each medium who state that film writers can’t write for games, or that games writers can’t write films. Well, I’ve made a career that’s switched mediums many times and know many writers who juggle gameswriting alongside journalism, or novels, who have film projects, or television projects abubbling. The principles of the three act structure are useful across any sort of story. Knowing about narrative tension and sub-text, is useful whatever the medium or genre. Characterisation travels. However, genre and medium are the same as each of these techniques. They must be respected and learned. Myth 1 - If you can write a film script you can write a games script – even if you’ve never played any games. Conclusion – This is true, you can, but taking this approach is highly likely to lead to an experienced lifeguard needing to fish you out of the drink. Learn your medium. Respect your medium.

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Myth 1(a) - Film writers can’t write for games. While there are dangers of thinking swapping mediums is easy this should not translate into thinking ‘all film writers make terrible games writers’, or that ‘games writers can’t write films’ each medium needs research and respect, but each medium can be learned.

This statement not only appears in comments under numerous articles about games writing, but even in some of these articles too. Presumably if this is true and all games writing is cr@p then all current games writers are incompetent too. This in turn would mean that even though a triple A title costs many millions to make and while reviewers are putting more emphasis on games story than they did in the past companies persist in risking all this money by repeatedly employing writers incapable of doing the job. All games writing is bad, all current working games writers are bad, all current games employers are stupid. Seems like a bit of an assumption…could it be true? A quick glance at Metacritic seems to say, well…no. In reality there are a large number of reviews that rave about the writing in games. Say Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed, or Metalgear Solid, mention Mass Effect, Dead Space, or Final Fantasy and you are as likely to get references to the story as the gameplay and the list of titles that fits this category gets longer every year. So, is all games writing great? Is everyone doing the perfect job. Well, to turn back to the imprecise scientific tool that is Metacritic…no. In fact there are many titles which receive rave reviews about the writing and terrible ones too. Could it be then that there is some bad writing in games and some good? Could it be that there is good writing spoiled by bad implementation? Could it be that there are, in fact, some excellent games writers, many good competent games writers and a number of people who’ve written for games who aren’t any good at it? Could it be that this sort of statement isn’t just made about games writing. I worked in television soap operas for a number of years and heard this same

myth about soap operas too. Despite consistent audiences of many millions there are some people who are happy to state that the writing in soap operas is crap. Full stop, no argument, all of it. And no this isn’t a subjective statement about taste, but a blanket coverall on quality too. So, just what is going on in the soap opera industry? Script teams on soap operas receive hundreds of scripts each month from writers wanting to work in the industry. Some of these writers go as far as to include a cover letter stating how bad they think the writing on the show is and how they could do a better job. Out of these hundreds of writers who apply (many of whom were talented and courteous by the way), only a tiny handful are ever taken on, by the show because most don’t show what the team is looking for. In fact most make so many common mistakes in the cover letters and opening few pages of their sample script that the team don’t read more than three pages in. Of those taken on, many burn out by the third episode and don’t work on the show again. Why? Because writing for a soap means writing for characters that aren’t a writer’s own. It means tight deadlines and limited production facilities. It means working in an area where most of the ‘easy’ or ‘obvious’ stories have already been told and retold with different characters making finding new stories ever more difficult. It is, as all writing areas are, tough as a skill and hard as an industry. Myth 2 - All games writing is cr@p. Conclusion – Some games writing is, sadly, not up to scratch. Some writing is good (or adequate), but its implementation render ineffective results. Some is derided simply because the critic doesn’t like that sort of writing (all romance writing, all action films, all sci-fi is cr@p). Fans and reviewers dispute this statement and it seems (taking criticism as a whole) that while there is some games writing that is still poor there is also a much bigger bulk that is solid, professional and does the job well and a set of which is simply excellent. There are those who seek to defend their own failure to break into writing

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Myth 2 - All games writing is cr@p.

by assuming a conspiracy, the industry is out to protect their own and hang quality, they don’t want new talent. Myth 3 - It’s Not What You Know, but Who you know Apparently there is a conspiracy out there. Writing industries across all genre and every medium have a mission – Keep The Newbies Out. Producers and companies aren’t interested in talent. They don’t want anyone new, they only hire their cronies. As a rule…this statement seems to be made mainly by people who are trying to get into writing, or who got so far and then had their careers fizzle out. Strangely, amongst many experienced writers, there seems to be a different myth. Producers are only interested in new, cheap writers who aren’t talented, they simply toe the line. Are either of these statements true? It seems there are ‘elements’ of each that have fact attached. There does seem to be (as with actors) a cut off age for many writers. When there is a disconnect between the age of the writer and producer (the writer being older) that some producers are uncomfortable with this. There are also producers whose projects cannot afford the higher fees paid to established writers. Conversely there is also a body of employers who want quick guaranteed results and so will turn to those who have a proven track record of delivering precisely this. As for those being hired in as ‘new’ talent, or retained while others are dropped, is this all because these writers know the producers, they’ve gone out drinking with them, or regular involve each other in steamy motel aerobics sessions? It’s easy for some to believe that people who’ve made it haven’t done it through talent. That writers who have successful careers have slept their way to the top, or just happen to be friends with someone who can get them work. Easy, because it discounts talent as a factor, because if talent counts and you can’t make it…it must mean you’re not good enough to make it and that’s a horrible, horrible thing to face if this is something that has been your dream. Sadly, it is also a horrible fact. Some people, as with any skill base (bricklaying, sychronised swimming and,

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as the X-Factor proves…singing) who think they have what it takes, but don’t. Horrible fact, but fact. It is also true that contacts count. The more people you know, the more jobs you’ll hear of and the more people are likely to refer you for jobs. I’ll be honest, a number of my recent commissions have come because people I’ve worked with before, or people I know through the industry have referred me. My contacts helped me get a job. So, how do I sleep at night? Well, think of the restaurants, builders, bars and holiday locations, you’ve recommended to people. You only tend to recommend the good ones, or the ones you think are appropriate to that person. Refer someone incompetent, or something inappropriate and both parties lose. Myth 3 - It’s Not What You Know, but Who you know Conclusion – Contacts count, but talent does too. The world of writing is a small one, knowing people in it can definitely help you get work, but because of the small size of the industry both talent and inability are generally found out. Knowing people is not generally a substitute for talent, just as talent is wasted if it doesn’t come with hard work. If you’re talented and don’t make and keep making the effort to meet people your career is likely to fail. If you’re all talk and no talent, there is a chance you will get a break, but also a good chance you will quickly be found out.

budget. Film producers have to say no to people who care passionately about the need to make the lead actress’s dress in silk, or a games producer is forced to deny a perceived need for three more A.I. programmers because there simply isn’t the money available. This said there are a lot of people who want to be producers and a producers next job doesn’t just come through delivering a project on budget (though this is a major factor) If a producer constantly makes projects that are on budget but get a reputation for making things where the quality stinks and that just doesn’t sell then their career is likely to sink. Myth 4 - Producers only care about money, not quality Conclusion - Producing is a difficult job that has to balance a lot of responsibilities and, as with the other blanket statements above, the truth has many shades. There are producers who are squeezed by budget, those who don’t understand what’s needed to deliver quality (despite their best, or worst intentions). Part of a producer’s job is delivering quality. Producers sell themselves on the success of their projects and the bottom line is just a part of that. Myth 5 - Developers only need writers for dialogue

One myth that seems to link all the myths above together is an assumption that not just writers are bad at their jobs, but producers too, after all they hire the writers who make all games writing cr@p, or decide to employ them simply because they met at a cocktail party. So, can you lump all producers into one category…incompetent money grabbers who care nought for quality? To start with this one…Producers have to care about money, it’s their job. They have to juggle competing demands from art, design, audio and programming. Marketing want a piece of the project and the studio’s just decided to cut the

One reason some people believe that ‘Producers only care about money, not quality’ seems to stem from the fact that not al producers understand how games narrative works. This is a perception that comes about because there are still games projects that only hire writers at the dialogue stage either to write the dialogue, or to polish words that have been written by the developers themselves. It seems, overall, from talking to games writers that this is changing, that writers are being hired earlier and earlier in productions as teams understand a need to change this view. However, there are still projects hiring writers late in the day, so the question is…why? The later stage employment of Writers seems to have three main causes – cost, concerns that writers don’t understand how games work and the thought that anyone can write (see below).

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Myth 4 - Producers only care about money, not quality

When faced with budgetary concerns, it often seems cheaper to hire a writer at the end. It’s one less pay cheque. This said, many a writer will say that not only is quality improved by having a writer in to analyse a project early on, but that they would’ve done the job faster (and cheaper) too. If you’re building a house it is generally cheaper and faster to put the doors and windows in as the house is being built than to punch holes in the brickwork and retrofit them later. If writers don’t understand games though, isn’t it better to have the game built be someone who does and then only trust them with the words? The answer here is twofold. Firstly, while there have always been and still are writers who don’t understand games there is now a fair number who do. As a rough estimate there are a couple of hundred writers worldwide who earn all, or most of their income from games writing and a greater number who have done some writing for games. While developers would do well to check a writer’s interest in the medium (see myth 1), there is now a knowledge/skills base that can answer this question. The second answer is that writing is not just about dialogue. In most cases, dialogue is the icing on the cake. It is hard to deny that the story isn’t a pretty integral part of the writing and that having someone who knows how to tell a story involved in creating it would be useful. What the story is, how it is structured and what methods are used to tell is are as, or more important than the dialogue. Meaning it is as, or more important, to involve a writer in these stages. Myth 5 - Developers only need writers for dialogue Conclusion – Would you hire artists only to add colour to characters and worlds that the programmers had drawn? Writing is about more than dialogue and so writers should be involved in more than just writing what is spoken. A caveat to this is that ‘some’ writers are best hired only at the dialogue stage (dialogue is their strength as a writer and/or they don’t know about game writing), in this case though it is still best to have a writer in at the earlier stages to deal with the narrative and narrative design.

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Myth 6 - Games don’t need stories

Conclusion

If it is difficult and expensive to put stories in games, then why bother? After all ‘games don’t need stories’. Tetris would not be a better game with a story (and it’s a genius game). Neither Joe Madden nor FIFA games require sim elements that tie in the player’s girlfriends, or which follow the story of one sportsman’s rise to success. So, what’s the point of games narrative? One survey (http://onlyagame.typepad. com/only_a_game/2008/04/gamersstories.html) put the question of stories in games to gamers…the results? 93% of the gamers asked said they like stories, only 5% didn’t think they were important and only 1% preferred games without stories. Indeed, many top selling games such as Fallout and Call of Duty include stories. Myth 6 - Games don’t need stories Conclusion – This is true, they don’t. However, many gamers like stories in games. Choosing the right story, for the right game and doing this well can add sales.

There are many myths in the writing industry. Each of the myths above could easily be the topic of a PhD project, so apologies for the elements that brevity has excluded. Apologies too that this article has only covered 6. Here are some of the myths there hasn’t been space to answer – Players don’t want to play female characters (and if they do the female character needs a DD chest), Everyone skips cutscenes, Every idea can work in every medium. What seems to link all of these myths together are the following –

» A belief in blankets statements. Can it be

really true that ALL of one thing fits a statement? » A fear that someone’s dreams don’t measure reality, ‘I can’t get a break in the writing industry, but that’s because of a conspiracy linked to incompetents defending incompetents – my genius must one day be recognised!’ » A desire that things be easy, because that justifies not putting the effort into learning a new medium, or attending that writing class, or pushing to make contacts.

In contrast the truth seems to be based on a number of things – » Breaking into writing is hard work and once you’re in maintaining a career requires a lot of effort too. » Talent is a must, but talent needs to be backed up by persistence, a willingness to keep learning and a knowledge that being good doesn’t necessarily make something easy. » The writing industry is rewarding, it is something people do for passion, but one of the reasons that passion is a requirement is that it is a tough thing to do well. Knowing the industry and knowing the craft are vital to those breaking in and essential to those who want to stay there. To all those who want to shatter the myths and survive the reality, I salute you. Thanks to Steph Fawcett, Chris Bateman, Richard Cobbett, Evan Skolnick, Rhianna Pratchett, Antony Johnston.


CONSCIOUS CHANGE; A PHILOSOPHICAL VIEW ON GAMES; A CALL FOR POSITIVE IMPACT. All media affects us, be it games, movies or the press. Whether good or bad, in large or small quantities, the impact is there.You don’t have to be an expert to figure this out, but since we are all so close to the subject of video games, we may be required to take a small step back in order to change our perspective. Ask questions like: What are the positive elements brought forth by this emergent media? What is fact, and what is fiction? Do we really understand what influence this new form of expression and activity has on us, or do we prefer to be dismissive and ignore it? The press often takes the easy route to sensationalize potential negatives, such as connection to crimes, but studies have also shown the reverse — Grand Theft Childhood. What is really going on? How can we tell what effect our games are causing on players and on society? Is there a way for us to learn and be informed about how a particular media affects us? On the other hand, what would be the impact of restraining and/or censoring new media? A great number of people use video games as an output for their emotions, as a source of solace and relaxation, or as a means for social interaction. Do we really want to deprive millions of players of their preferred outlet? Should we accept that it could be the only outlet? What about the finer aspects of the arts? Could we create games that make us think about ourselves and others differently? Should we create games based not on habituated recurrence but on the potential for positive change? Could we inspire a more thoughtful view of society that transcends materialism and narcissism? Finally, can games remind us about what life really is and help us be more conscious about the effects of the choices we make? Can YOU be a person who makes games like that? It’s indisputable that games ARE a force shaping the modern world, so what is our role in shaping games? It is my hope and desire that the Positive Impact SIG will continue to attract more developers and consumers interested in this discussion. Please join us on the Facebook “Positive Impact Games” Group

-Thomas J. Anderson The Positive Impact Games SIG’S aim is to encourage reflection, sharing and discussion among members of the gaming industry on ways to create and promote games that entertain while also having positive social aspects.


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EVENTCALENDAR IGDA Casual Games Podcast Gain insights from a panel of experts and learn from their experiences with the IGDA Casual Games SIG Podcast. For developers who are interested in moving from the development of casual games into the realm of social game development.

Jan. 6-9, 2010 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show Location: Las Vegas, US The International CES is the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow. Event website: www.cesweb.org

------Call for Articles

The IGDA Perspectives Newsletter needs content for its January issue on Game Accessibility. Through this issue, we hope to help bridge the knowledge gap that exists between disability groups and game developers and publishers. We are looking for pieces of any length, including, but not limited to, the following topics: — Able gamers. — Relevant tools. — Benefits of using game accessibility features. — Implementing game accessibility features. — Closed captioning in games. — Blind/vision impaired technologies in games. — Quality of life for able game developers. — Strategies for working with game accessibility. — Game success stories. Please send article pitches to Editor-in-Chief Beth Aileen Lameman (beth@bethaileen.com) by Dec. 20. Final articles are due by Jan. 1. As a heads up, February’s theme is Indie Lifestyles, and March’s theme is Positive Impact. Thank you.

------Jan. 20-21, 2011 The Gamification Summit Location: San Francisco, US The Gamification Summit (January 20-21, 2011 San Francisco) brings together top thought leaders in game mechanics and engagement science for the first time. Hear what works and what doesn’t in this dynamic and fastmoving field through case studies, workshops, keynotes and panels delivered by experts such as Gabe Zichermann (author, Game-Based Marketing), Amy Jo Kim (gamification guru) and Jane McGonigal (TED fellow, author debuting her new book) and network with other leaders in the space. Attend Gamification Summit 2011 and learn how game mechanics and the new science of engagement are rewriting the rules of brand marketing, product design and customer acquisition and get your business in the game IGDA Discount Code: IGDA15 Event website: www.gsummit.com

------Jan. 26-27, 2011 Mobile Games Forum Location: London, UK MGF is now firmly established as the leading Mobile Games

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event in Europe. With the industry attracting new interest and creativity and a whole new generation of technology before us, MGF 2011 is the best place to discuss the crucial issues of the future. Event website: www.mobilegamesforum.co.uk

----Jan. 28-30, 2011 IGDA Global Game Jam Location: Everywhere The Global Game Jam (GGJ) is the world’s largest game jam event occurring annually in late January. In collaboration with Intel, Autodesk, Gamespy Technologies and ACM through local sites around the world, thousands of students, professionals, and game development enthusiasts of all kinds come together to take on a singular challenge: making a game in 48 hours. Why participate? The benefits are limitless. You’ll get to: practice rapid prototyping; improve your ability to find a balance between speed, agility and quality; experiment with new software, techniques, or development methodologies; challenge yourself to go further than you ever have before; recharge your creative batteries by working on a small project with no publisher or licensor putting limits on your creativity; meet other developers, designers, artists and musicians from diverse backgrounds (some of whom you might work with some day); and get the “post-mortem” experience of a complete project cycle without having to spend months or years on the same project. Join us, and see for yourself what a difference you can make in just one weekend! Event website: www.globalgamejam.org pa g e 2 8


EVENT CALENDAR continued Feb. 9-11, 2010

DICE Summit and AIAS Awards Location: Las Vegas, US 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of D.I.C.E. The interactive entertainment industry has changed dramatically since the first Summit was held in 2002 – with much of this dynamic growth fueled by its speakers and attendees. Every iteration of D.I.C.E. has been characterized by great topics and memorable presentations - speakers addressing real issues like Mark Cerny’s production method, Jason Rubin’s “Tara Reid,” or Jesse Schell’s “Game-a-geddon.” Event website: www.interactive.org

Registration Now Open for 2011 Global Game Jam; Choose from 116 Locations Premier Event Promoting International Game Development | Now Allows Non-Digital Game Submissions Registration for the 2010 Global Game Jam is now underway, allowing interested people to secure their spot at one of 116 locations worldwide. For the first time the event is accepting non-digital game submission, which can include board games, card games and physical games. The GGJ will take place January 28-30, 2011 and participation is expected to surpass last year’s numbers of 4300 jammers. Game Jams are excellent challenges for game makers to balance creativity with time management, team work and game production skills. Participation requires focus and stamina involving 48 hours of hard work, experimentation and collaboration. The rewards can be even greater, however. One can expect to build life-long friendships and future career opportunities as well as valuable skill-building experience. In accordance to GGJ tradition, every jammer is given similar constraints to work with. All games must adhere to a global theme and other constraints to be announced at the start of the jam. Furthermore, a number of optional challenges in form of “achievements” are available for those who wish to distinguish their projects even further. At the conclusion of the jam, all projects are to be uploaded to the globalgamejam.org website where they will be freely accessible to the general public. For details on how to become a host location in your city or town, or how to register yourself as a jammer, please see the Global Game Jam website: http://www.globalgamejam.org

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December 2010 IGDA Perspectives Newsletter  

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