How ‘Culture’ should impact your game design

The Mobile Gaming market broke down the global barriers for publishing as Apple and Google allowed for anyone sitting in their living room to release their content world wide with a click of the button.  This inadvertently created a mass market mentality where top developers and publishers completely neglect country culture and in an attempt to develop games that are massive hits rather than designing and developing around the country culture.

As small studio developers sit in their living room developing / designing their games with the idea of a global release.  Not many really do understand the true essence of the difference in culture and designing around this phenomenon, rather assume you understand because you saw some youtube video..  As Sean Mcguire (Profressor from Goodwill Hunting) puts it.

“But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.”

Supermarket Industry and the Economics behind it

The supermarket war / grocery war has caused quite a rift in the market as companies were  forced to make unethical decisions to benefit their bottom line.  Some people consider the food industry as the new tobacco company as they continue to cut cost and develop product that barely meet the health standard regulation only to see a pop in profit without considering the health effects of their decision.

The effects of these decisions has molded the industry to accept certain things that in this industry that beg the question, are these changes good for our society?

Recently we have witnessed companies like Whole Foods (Organically positioned grocery store) experience rapid growth in branding themselves as organic foods. With a market cap over $9 billion dollars and opening 450+ stores worldwide.

How does a organically based natural foods company grow so fast?  This answers probably has a lot of different theories and opinions but the layer i like to delve into is how they got here in the first place.  

Driving Culture vs. Public Transportation Culture

How does a company like Whole foods expand so fast when you can find a grocery store on every major street corner in your city.  What made their value proposition so enticing that consumers left their current grocery for this organically positioned store.  The first thing that comes to mind is ‘Trust’  I would consider this phenomenom a nationwide issue than a worldwide issue, as North America has an abundance issue with food and along with this an obesity one.

I’ve also spent a lot of time in Canada and the one of the biggest difference in how food is gathered, prepared and consumed are completely different than how it’s done in Japan.  Japan is more of a condensed country where things are a lot closer, people usually commute to work via public transportation than driving.  Whether single or a family person, these people usually purchase their food for the day before going home. Conveniently, a grocery store or local market are always stationed close to their train station and provide meal packs for individuals or families and in smaller portions.  Bread is available in grocery stores or convenience stores and are usually packaged in groups of 3 to 4.  These product usually only last 2-3 days.

North America and the food industry has a unique cultural obstacle they are required to overcome to position their products.  The countries residing in this continent is fundamentally a driving culture where things are spread out and space is not a concern. Supermarket are spread across the city in probably with a 2-4 km radius. None of these grocery stores are walking distance and it’s not wise to go grocery shopping by foot because everything you buy in North America comes in bulk.

I have a running joke with my Canadian friends that it’s cheaper to buy a dozen donuts than just buying 1 in Canada.  This in-bulk concept is the combination of consumer behaviour and the advancement of food preservation technology.

Wonderbreads expiration date

I grew up eating Wonder bread.  This product was a staple in my daily diet. Spread some nutella or stick a slice of process cheese and ham and i was good for a couple of hours. These action were never conceived unusual until i moved to Asia. Upon realizing that ‘real’ bread only last 1-2 days max.  This was my holy shit moment. There was something Wonderful going on with my Wonderbread.

Questions like

  • Why does wonderbread last for 2 weeks?
  • Why did Wonderbread provide so many slices of bread?

A normal salary man in the west would wake up, commute to work (usually in a car), work, than commute back home.  These commutes aren’t pleasant as rush hour leads to at least an hour of a commute in your vehicle.  Once you’re home you want to relax or prepare dinner and chill out the rest of the day. Ideally the commute to work or home is so exhausting that thinking of stopping by the grocery store to pick up things for dinner is more of a task than convenience, thus majority of the time not even considered.  Herein lies the difference in how the the grocery culture differs to each other.  Japan has effectively positioned its grocery store around the train station so that commuters can drop by the store and pick up something little and take home for dinner.  This is nor exhausting or inconvenient, but rather a pleasant experience as you look forward to your dinner tonight, that was prepared especially fresh that day to consume.

Product managers in the West are given a difficult task in positioning their product, as ‘this’ inconvenience creates a system where they are required to provide the following:

  • Consumers generally go shopping once or twice a week
  • Usually on the weekend
  • Products are required to be packaged in bulk
  • Consumers expect product to last at least a week

This has effectively created the freezer / preservative culture which ultimately led to the loss in trust from the consumers and in result the growth of the concept of Organic food.

Enter Whole Foods
Managing Expectations

Product managing your application or games is no different. The most important concept i discuss with my team is managing expectations.  These expectations fundamentally revolve around identifying cultural behavior and providing a product that creates a pleasant experience.

Game system that are designed around culture

In Japan Games are more fundamentally designed around PVE

  • Cultural layer:  The average commute to work takes about 60 – 90 minutes, this time is shared between strangers.  Order is required and negative energy / vibes / experience is frowned upon.  PVE systems are generally a group concept is usually leads to a fun experience versus a PVP experience which over 50% times leads you to rage.

In the West PVP system are embraced as well as PVE

  • Cultural Layer:  As a driving culture, it’s illegal to play games and drive at the same time.  (Not recommended) The 60 minute commute to work leads a bit of road rage / frustration.  PVP system is a place where players can unload their stress once they get to their destination, hence viable. (Just 1 example)

The biggest difference between the culture is when and why they play the game.  While Japanese users usually play during the commute, the West usually play after or once the commute is over.  

This is just an example of targeting and designing your game around a niche group, and identifying cultural norms to effectively create a pleasant gaming experience for these people.  Designing around culture will be an important vehicle to create your next billion dollar app, mass market app days are over and users are demanding app that provide culturally a pleasant experience.  Designing product around ‘Culture’ will be the driving force for success in app going forward.

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  • 15+ year mobile application industry veteran, probably product managing multiple apps. If he's not busy running this website, you can probably find him at the gym shooting half court shots, while playing the latest mobile rpg game.

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