The process of bringing social games from the East to the West is relatively new. Before companies like GREE and DeNA went global, it was generally unheard of for a social game made in Asia to cross the Pacific. These days, it seems as if everyone wants in on the grand experiment, and the next in line is Perfect World, publisher of Knights of the Rose.
The Chinese game publisher enlisted local studios Danke Games and Lark Studios to develop the side-scrolling social role-playing game for Chinese audiences, but Perfect World wanted to increase the reach of Knights of the Rose. That's where Woodland Heroes creator Row Sham Bow comes in, the same developer that suffered from a Chinese copycat just weeks ago. It's been Row Sham Bow's job to localize the social RPG for Western audiences, and that's not as easy as simply translating.
"At least what we've gathered is that kind of the Eastern, the Chinese audience, just loves to dig and find stuff. They don't have anything explained to them," Row Sham Bow creative director Ian Cummings reveals. "Actually, when we first got the game, there was no first time user experience. There were quests, but there was no teaching of anything, so along the way that has been a lot of the work: 'How do we graduate people slowly into it?'"
While Row Sham Bow has a Chinese-speaking translator, there are clearly some major differences in Chinese and Western game design that the studio had to overcome in order to present Knights of the Rose in a way that we can appreciate. "Do you teach them everything? Do you hand hold them? Do you let them experiment or explore? How much of a balance of those do you do," Cummings asks rhetorically. "But apparently we find out there's none of that, ever [in Chinese games]."
If you look at Knights of the Rose on Facebook today, which is currently in an open beta, the first 15 or 20 minutes of the game look terribly different from how Cummings makes the original sound. But for Row Sham Bow, those slight design changes were necessary if Perfect World wants Knights of the Rose to appeal to as many players as possible. This is one deep social game.
"I'm Level 25 now, and I'm still finding new stuff everyday. It's just an extremely deep experience, starting from 'I'm going to conquest, take-back-the-map and win-back-the-princess sort of game play, and battle my way through that.' Then [it] graduates into [player versus player] battling, guilds, a lot of really deep RPG leveling and hiring heroes and all that,"Cummings tells us. "What we really dig about it is this sort of deep RPG experience at it's surface that can kind of appeal to the masses. This game has a lot of depth, and we hope that we can graduate a typical Facebook gamer into a more core gaming experience."
And as for reaching as many players as possible, Perfect World and Row Sham Bow stand to benefit from another partnership: Zynga. Before teaming up with Perfect World, the Woodland Heroes maker signed onto the FarmVille creator's publishing program. But why would Zynga sign on a developer that makes social strategy games and RPGs? And why would such a developer join forces with Zynga?
"So, [Zynga] built a lot of other games since then, but around that time they wanted different games. For us, why it made sense was really their users," Cummings admits. "They have an insane amount of usage, and it made perfect sense for us to get all of these Zynga gamers that are in their wheelhouse picking out our games. It kind of worked great for both parties."
Knights of Rose will soon enjoy a public launch in the U.S. and abroad on Facebook and Zynga.com, hopefully (for both Row Sham Bow and the social games world at large) introducing casual gamers to deep, RPG-style games that, regardless of whether they realize it, they're playing already.
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