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China's Unexpected Cultural Challenges For Motion Control

China's Unexpected Cultural Challenges For Motion Control Exclusive

November 9, 2011 | By Kyle Orland

Designing games for camera-based motion controllers comes with a set of unique challenges. But for Israeli developer Side-kick, which is making two games for the December launch of the Lenovo-backed Eedoo iSec, working with the system came with the additional challenge of tailoring motion controls to the culturally and technologically distinct Chinese market.

Side-kick has been working on motion-controlled software with Israeli camera maker PrimeSense since before PrimeSense even had hardware to show publicly, and the game developer partnered with Eedoo early on in the development of the unproven iSec. The first few months of that partnership were spent figuring out what kinds of games would work in a new market.

"[Chinese] don't know the market that we know," Side-kick CEO Guy Bendov said in an interview with Gamasutra. Outside of China, motion-based controllers like the Xbox 360 Kinect, PlayStation Move and Nintendo Wii Remote are relatively common. "[China's] not geared so much to game consoles like we are. They're more geared to PC and online games, which are much bigger over there."

For the upcoming launch, Side-kick came up with two games that it felt would introduce the motion control concept well: a traditional multi-sport game collection aimed at casual players, and a fly-though-the-air 3D platformer aimed at slightly more experienced players.

Testing these concepts with a Chinese audience -- both on-location in Beijing and with Chinese expats in the Side-kick offices -- was important even from the concept art stage, Bendov said, in order to make sure their efforts were visually appealing.

"We've been [to China] a couple of times, even before they formally opened Eedoo, and tried to think with them what content and visual wrapping would work on their launch," he said. "Some of the background jokes or brands that we know are not known to [the Chinese], or don't have that kind of importance. Some of the ideas that we initially had were not adapted culturally."

In testing, Bendov said he and his team needed to be extremely descriptive in explaining how to use the games' menus and controls, to help guide an audience that has little to no experience with this kind of control scheme.

Even then, the team ran into some surprising control problems when testing with actual Chinese consumers. A handball game, for instance, worked fine in Side-kick's own internal tests, but just didn't work with many Chinese test subjects, especially women, he said.

"At first we didn't figure it out, but then we learned that in China they're using smaller motions -- think tennis vs. ping pong," Bendov said. "So we actually had to adapt the larger movement window for our market to the smaller, more delicate motions for their market."

"Localization is also about motion," he continued. "When people move in different ways in different cultures, that's a completely new language we're learning as we develop for this market."

Difficulty was another area Bendov said needed adjustment for China's unique social culture. "The first couple of levels, you can not fail," he said. "It was a big issue that there won't be any embarrassment, where in the Western markets, that's kind of a motivation for the user to retry."

Despite the lack of previous familiarity, Bendov said the Chinese testers took quickly to the idea of controlling games without the need for controller, especially when they considered being able to play with their families.

"You see a lot of enthusiasm in the users that came in and played the game," he said. "They really liked the idea of moving their body and not just sitting down. In terms of culture it was a huge plus there."

"On the flipside," he continued, "we were asked more than one time when we will bring the usual online MMO or stuff like that [to the system], they would really love to see that as well."

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