A few years ago, the question was if Chinese and U.S. developer collaboration would ever occur. Now that top MMOGs have begun penetrating the China market, the new question is how successful such collaborations will be in the long term. Will the success of these collaborations be the result of overcoming cultural battles, or the result of mutual respect? Cooperation by Chinese and American businesses in general is long established, but East/West collaboration in the world of game development is largely uncharted territory. Despite EVE Online, World of Warcraft, Dark Age of Camelot and others' presence in China, dual-culture collaboration is in its infancy.
This article provides some guidelines on how two culturally diverse development teams can best collaborate to create games with global appeal. The authors provide input from two cultural viewpoints - Horace Xiong from the Chinese point of view (Horace heads the Shanghai-based support team for CCP Games' EVE Online presence in China and pre-production of future products) and Doug Mealy, who heads an online marketing and PR firm that has launched 280 games and has contributed to the successful PR campaigns of MMOGs Dark Age of Camelot and EVE Online. Comments from the U.S. perspective are in white; comments from the China point of view are in yellow.
Challenges in Dual-Culture Collaboration: Language and Translation Issues
Creating good games is difficult and risky; creating successful MMOGs is orders of magnitude harder, as evidenced by the 50 percent (or higher) mortality rate of MMOG developers. Add to these levels of challenge the mixing of different cultures, different languages and different work practices, and the project becomes even more complicated and difficult. The first stage in collaboration is to address the challenges of communicating with each other.
Language. Probably one percent of U.S. game developers are fluent in Mandarin, the language of business in China, while a higher percentage of Chinese developers are fluent or competent in English.
In mainland China, since the 1980s, English became compulsory lessons for students starting at age 12. So, a person in his 20s in a position such as a Business Development Manager, for example, should have basic English reading and writing skills. But, due to lack of exposure to an English-speaking environment, his oral and listening proficiencies may be somewhat limited. So, don't expect every senior Chinese executive to be 100 percent fluent in English.
Simplified vs. Traditional Mandarin. There are two formats of Chinese used around the world: The Simplified version is used in mainland China (95 percent of the population) while the Traditional version is used in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.
American slang. Americans use a lot of slang terms, which we define as phrases that don't translate literally into foreign languages (e.g. "screwing up big time"). U.S. developers need to refrain from using slang in their emails and in voice communications and use words and phrases that are direct and allow the least likelihood of being misinterpreted or mistranslated.
Translation issues. A lot of product names and programming terms in English are used freely in Mandarin and don't need translation, such as PC, CPU, CD-ROM, etc. But, translation is needed for almost everything else. U.S. developers and game marketers can use translation services in China (outsourcing which is sometimes assigned to students who may have a limited understanding of the business and/or a limited linguistic expertise), U.S.-based translation services (with the same potential problems of accuracy) or use free or commercially available translation software (which sometimes translate with 80 percent accuracy).