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Grab a Partner - Part Two

EA Partners Asia manager Sergio Salvador on the influence of key countries in the region and IP translation between territories globally.

In part one of the interview with Sergio Salvador, the EA Partners Asia manager talked about forming relationships in the territory, and where the growth potential lies.

Here he discusses the influence of key countries in the region, and the possibility for IP translation between territories globally. There haven't been too many hugely successful translations of IP from Asia - outside of Japan - into the West. Is there too much of a cultural difference, or is it just a matter of time?
Sergio Salvador

Well, we already have a big global IP, it just didn't come from Asia - and that's World of Warcraft, a great game. It came from the US, and I think the next one could come from Asia.

The reason why I say that is because until World of Warcraft took the whole of the world - literally - by storm, no one had actually considered that it was a realistic possibility.

But that's shown a lot of people - not just in the US and Europe - that it is possible. If you get the right formula, you should be able to bring the next big global IP. Very importantly, a lot of different people in Asia have seen that, and we're seeing a huge amount of talent coming from Asia, but the main issue that the moment is that it's relatively new, and therefore there's a need to develop the experience to understand what needs to be done to develop the next global IP.

I visit a lot of studios around Asia, and I see a lot of talent there - it's just probably not at the level it needs to be yet to become the global IP... but that's where EA Partners can help, because we can sit down with them and give our opinion, we work together on the product, and we can tap into the resources not just of the 11 offices in Asia, but also the offices of my US and European colleagues.

Suddenly I'm giving them a massive document explaining how well, or badly, a particular feature or product or image will work in every single country in which we have a physical presence. And that's a very powerful thing that we can bring to the table.

That's really the publishing organisation that EA is at the moment. We will follow the same pattern, the same process, for our own products - and that's the second powerful thing to bring to the table - exactly the same processes we go through for The Sims or Need for Speed, we can bring that to the table for the particular product that the partner is developing. Whether it's in Asia or the US, it doesn't really make any difference.

At ChinaJoy this year I saw a clear increase in quality - you could call it a worldwide quality - in some of the products I saw this year there. They're really moving in a direction which I believe will take some of those studios, at some point, to a level where they can understand what needs to be done to bring a product to a worldwide audience and be accepted by so many different cultures and languages. It been said that the influence of Japanese developers is beginning to fall away from a global perspective - is the rest of Asia catching up?
Sergio Salvador

I believe so yes, and I don't want to put too much emphasis on ChinaJoy itself, because at the end of the day, to a certain extent until now China was really a self-contained gaming culture, like Japan.

I think the main difference with China is opening much more to outside influences, and therefore they can also adapt what they do internally to take to the outside world.

I think that there might be a little bit of that in Japan at the moment, but cultures are very different at the end of the day. One of the great things about the Japanese culture in terms of gaming is that it's very self-contained, but it's also one of the very bad things, because in my opinion, with the lack of outside influences, there may be a reduction of the creative renewal that might be needed in order to keep it going at the same pace.

What we're seeing from an EA Partners perspective is that more and more Japanese companies are realising that, but they don't necessarily have the knowledge right now to ensure that all their products have that non-Japanese appeal. They know very well how to make games for the Japanese market, but they might need a little bit of help to ensure that those games that do well in Japan, also do well outside of Japan.

To a certain extent Asia is a great bridge, if you will - it's very influenced by Japanese culture, in general, not just gaming, especially countries like Taiwan, and Singapore to an extent.

So perhaps Asia could act as a bridge to get that Japanese culture more in touch with non-Japanese cultures - I don't want to say Western cultures, because there are a lot of different points of view right here in Asia. At last year's Games Convention Asia we saw ten of the regional trade bodies come together to sign a memorandum of understanding - are there opportunities for the nations to come together and give the region a stronger voice as a result?
Sergio Salvador

Something that we have already seen happen across the different countries in Asia is that there are one or two particular types of games that seem to be overarching, bridging the different cultures. Those games are Asian-developed games with a microtransaction business model.

Games like Special Force in Korea, games like Audition - they're doing very well across several countries, but a very good example is also FIFA Online. That's already doing very well, and we're launching into other markets - and also NBA Online, which we're working on at the moment. It's interesting that both of those are sports titles.
Sergio Salvador

It's interesting, yes. Obviously we're not limited to sports titles, but we believe that they're appealing to different Asian audiences for two reasons. First of all because they're easy to translate - they carry really well across cultures. And secondly because we're bringing across those licenses that we've already had for a number of years, so it's easier to communicate - they get it faster than if we were introducing new IPs. And sport tends to transcend national boundaries.
Sergio Salvador

Yes, and also laws - it's important to bear in mind that every single country has its own laws that you have to take into account. Something that works and is accepted by the government and the population isn't necessarily accepted somewhere else.

For example, Fallout 3 in Australia there was a big controversy about the drug content, because it wasn't acceptable there, and they ended up - from what I read - making a few changes, and making that version the one that will be used around the world.

Sport is something that's easy to translate, I hope. But to be successful in Asia we must make sure we are offering products and experiences and game that Asian gamers want. If they want to play microtransaction games we can bridge the gap between our existing licences and games and that type of gameplay experience. How do you find the challenge of IP protection? Were there lots of very similar online football titles springing up after the launch of FIFA Online, for example?
Sergio Salvador

It's probably going to sound very clichéd, but that only shows that if we're being copied, it sounds like we're being successful and doing the right thing. We're still brining the real, authentic FIFA experience to the market, and that's not just online, it's packaged goods as well. The Singapore government makes a big deal about its IP protection being stronger than most parts of Asia - surely if somebody copies your game, it's ultimately revenue that's lost?
Sergio Salvador

Well, I think it would be quite naïve I think to believe that we can live without competition for a long time. We're very proud of the level of innovation that we bring in at EA - we have a huge number of new IPs this year that we're bringing to the market, including Mirror's Edge and Dead Space.

Everyone that innovates is going to be copied at some stage, but that's also our competitive advantage - we are the ones doing the innovation and therefore we have that advantage. Competition is good for everyone, because it forces us to continue innovating. Perhaps a big company like EA can live with let's say a lower level of IP protection around Asia, but what if you're a smaller company and maybe a new project is your best chance for success? Is there a problem there?
Sergio Salvador

You could argue that in certain countries the level of IP protection is lower than in others, for sure. But I think the governments are beginning to understand that in order for those companies to be successful, they have to be able to support them.

If a government wants to support a local company, a really good way of doing that is to ensure that they have the right level of IP protection - which at the end of the day doesn't only help that company, but also helps us.

I think a number of countries in the region are moving in the right direction. They're perhaps not at the level of protection that we find in Western markets, but the more global the products become, the more they will move in that direction - because they understand it's also good for the local industry.

Sergio Salvador is manager at EA Partners in Asia. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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