Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

2 February, 2010

Cultural differences in gaming
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:34 AM

I was recently talking with someone and the topic of cultural differences in gaming came up. Games made in one culture sometimes doesn’t seem to translate very well into other cultures. The example familiar to most MMO players is how Asian free-to-play MMOs don’t seem to translate over to the U.S. very well for a lot of reasons.

I’m going to be asking more questions than giving answers, but let’s look a bit at how cultural issues come into play in games.

In this post, I’m going to focus on comparisons to the U.S. market. This isn’t some form of cultural imperialism, it’s more about the fact that I live and design games in the U.S. and am therefore most familiar with this market.

This topic relates a bit to the Worldplay Project I mentioned at the end of last year. Sometimes there’s a bit of a culture clash when you play on other servers. As I mentioned in that post, it was interesting to see how the German fans of Meridian 59 were different than the U.S. fans. I didn’t play a lot on the German server since my German wasn’t very good, but attending the get-togethers in Germany and chatting with German administrators provided a lot of insight to the differences.

Board games are also an interesting example to consider. European board games have a different design aesthetic, even compared to modern American board games. German board games in particular spurred a lot of renewed interest in board games in the U.S. in some traditional gamer demographics. For many of these players, traditional American board games hold little interest. Board gaming is much bigger in the European markets; most board game designers get published first in Europe then have successful games “ported” to the U.S. market.

So, let’s hear your experiences: what are the differences between servers in different countries? What cultural issues did you run into? What generalities can you make about European (or German, etc.) players vs. U.S. players? I’m particularly interested to hear from some of the European players like We Fly Spitfires or Spinks who have played on U.S. servers, or U.S. players who have played on European servers. What cultural differences have you observed? Any experiences are welcomed, though.

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  1. My main multi-cultural experience has been with EVE Online, which is designed in Iceland. I’m in a corp that features Latvians, and my alliance has some Kiwi’s and a few Aussies that log on a couple hours before I go to bed.

    That said, I can’t really tell any difference between them, other than the accents. EVE is EVE, it has converged on a culture. Or maybe a multi-culture, carebears vs. gankers. It’s completely different from any other MMO I’ve played. Oddly, given it’s Euro origins and orientation, it’s less “socialist”, and more “free market”. They don’t seem to mind the scamming and the tricking. They sell ISK in their own game in the form of PLEXes. There’s no such thing as a NOTRADE item. They think, though they are quiet about it, that things like Hulkageddon are cool.

    The French fleet commander I had once spoke to his french corpmates in French, and to us in English, instead of all-english as most others do. It’s his prerogative, he told us what we needed to know, but still amusing.

    By the way, my daughter plays and loves an Asian FTP.

    Comment by Toldain — 2 February, 2010 @ 9:54 AM

  2. I play the game of Go, a game Asian in origin but with a worldwide following. There are many online servers to play this game. There are a number of servers in China, Japan and South Korea. There is also one located in the states and, while its player base is international, many western Go players do indeed play there.

    What is fascinating is that while literally the same game is played on all the servers, each have their own very distinctive feels. Some of this is due to feature sets tangential to the game itself, some is due to mores and norms around playing of the game. Most interesting to me is to see some “styles” of play that differ depending on the server. (I won’t do into too much detail on Go-playing styles of openings, standard-plays, fighting, etc.)

    For a full list of Go servers, see

    Comment by Tom — 2 February, 2010 @ 2:01 PM

  3. Ah this happens to be one of my favourite MMO topics! :) To me, being able to play with people from other countries and find out more about their lives is all part of the appeal of the genre.

    By far the biggest culture difference I have experienced was when I played Lineage 2. Although I played on a US server, there were a lot of Korean players who had apparently migrated over in order to find some “fresh meat”. Having an entirely open PvP system, L2 offered some really fascinating insights into the gaming culture differences between the West and the East.

    The Western players tended to shy away from PvP combat and instead wanted to focus on leveling up and PvE combat, seeing fanatical PvPers as griefers and rogue players. The Koreans on the other hand thought that the entire point of the game was to PvP and fight each other. They loved trying to provoke others into fighting them back and would hound groups until someone broke ranks and retaliated, allowing themselves to be killed without consequence. We would normally label this sort of activity as griefing and ganking but for the Korean players, it was just all part of the game, no hard feelings.

    Interestingly enough, as the years are passing I’m finding it harder and harder to distinguish between the different nationalities of players. I maintain that there’s a huge divide between Western and Eastern cultures but now it’s almost invisible between Americans and Europeans. I think it has a lot to do with US TV and films and the like and now even your average Brit talks like an American and uses their slang and terminology. We are even starting to spell the American way :)

    In many ways I think the Internet and games like MMOs provide us with amazing opportunities to explore other cultures but then, in other ways, I think it’s just helping to kill off countries individuality as we’re all ending up talking, writing and acting the same.

    Comment by We Fly Spitfires — 3 February, 2010 @ 8:09 AM

  4. My experience is pretty narrow, but there was a fair difference between playing on World of Warcraft‘s Thunderhorn-EU, then moving over to Misha-US for some night-time play. Perhaps disarmingly, the biggest difference I saw when hopping across a virtual Atlantic Ocean was in the friendliness of its players. I’m aware that this change can appear between servers in the same region, too.

    Generally speaking, I’ve only come across abrasive over-achievers and quite sociable players; both quite vocal groups. My European experience was, by comparison, a much lonelier one having never grouped up with anyone on a quest or found any social guild presence. Nor did I see so much patronising noob talk or (agonisingly) homophobic slander. While in my European guise I overheard a conversation in Swedish down in Tarren Mill; I realised then that language could be a factor. Not once have I heard anything outside American-English on US servers. Personally I’m more inclined to believe my experience simply matches American/European stereotypes.

    Comment by Sinnyo — 3 February, 2010 @ 8:46 AM

  5. The Death Of Multicultural Gaming

    [...] than my entire brain does (and I have a big brain). Yesterday he wrote an interesting article about the cultural differences in gaming and invited all our responses. Being a topic close to my heart not only did I leave a hefty comment [...]

    Pingback by We Fly Spitfires - MMORPG Blog — 3 February, 2010 @ 1:58 PM

  6. In FFXI there was serious culture clash between Japanese and NA/EU players. A lot of Japanese players were JP ONLY, and wouldn’t take pickup groups unless they were desperate. They also played much differently than NA/EU-Japanese players played to a fixed time and never got replacements, and they actually played jobs differently. My job, Corsair, was played by NA/EU as a buffer/dd, while the JP played it as a buffer/healer.

    There were so many cultural issues that the two groups never got together. It was like two seprate populations in the same game.

    Comment by Dblade — 12 February, 2010 @ 5:20 PM

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