Enforced Localization

Spinks posted an interesting article about what times of the day most people play MMOs at and it got me thinking about my own gaming habits.  At the turn of the century (I just love saying that) I was deeply engrossed in Everquest and my preferred playtime was late night and early morning, usually around 9pm – 2am. I couldn’t possible game like that now but what is interesting to me is not so much when I played, but where I played.

The Internet: Making Internationalization A Nightmare

The Internet: Making Internationalization A Nightmare

I’m pretty sure I’m right in saying that when Everquest was first released it didn’t have any official European servers. In fact, I had no idea about server location or anything like that, I just picked one from a list and started my adventures. Although SOE added Europe based servers later on, I never switched to them and only ever played on American servers. And it suited me perfectly.

Apart from thrilling Yanks with the fact that I’m Scottish, the East Coast prime-time fitted in perfectly with my nocturnal schedule. Midnight for me was 7pm for them and the groups were rife. Of course, if I fancied a little bit of soloing (this being EQ meant that was a very rare occurrence) I could just hop on during my afternoon hours and get the whole server to myself. It was a win-win situation. And then Dark Age of Camelot had to come along and ruin it.

I think a large contributing reason to the fact that I only played DAOC for a couple of months (as opposed to years in the case of EQ) was because the developers enforced localization – and by that I mean they restricted the servers you could play on depending on the region where you bought the game. Yep, I had to chose between one of two heavily underpopulated UK severs, both brimming with annoying Limeys. I swear I heard the term “m8″ (mate) about 8 billion times every day. Had I wanted to play on American servers, I would’ve had to import a boxed copy of the game at great expense.

A few years later, Blizzard pulled the same stunt with World of Warcraft and, again, it really bothered me at the time (although it doesn’t any more). I just couldn’t understand the decision to restrict what server you can play on depending on where you bought your copy of the game. In the Internet Age, when the world should be getting smaller, it seems like such a silly thing to force people into only playing with those nearby them.

Fortunately Everquest 2, a game I played for three years, didn’t (and still doesn’t) enforce localization and is, in my opinion, a great example of how the multicultural aspects of MMOs can really be explored when you aren’t restricted to playing in your own region. I ended up in a fantastic European guild on a US PvP server able to use the timezone difference to our advantage. Prime-time US playtime may have been the realms of the Americano but we ruled the afternoons and all Hell broke loose whilst our brethren from across the Pond were busy beavering away in their offices at work. We even had one American guild member who used to raid with us during his afternoon hours and then again with a US guild during his evening.

Although it affects me less as I play “normal” hours now, I still don’t understand the reasoning behind enforcing localization and restricting what server we can play on. Of course, there may be technical things to consider but if SOE can do it, I’m sure anyone can and honestly it seems like such a petty thing to restrict. I can’t play with many of my old American friends on newer games due to this reason and it’s a darn shame. Do I really need to import another copy of a game just to play it on some other servers?

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13 Comments

  1. Rhii says:

    Ooh, Scottish! *fakeswoon* :P

    I wonder that myself occasionally, since it seems like all the bloggers I follow are either european or aussie. I’d like to encounter another blogger on my server, but except for Aurdon (whose blog I infringe upon) I’ve not found another.

    Makes the community overly fragmented, if you ask me.

  2. Hirvox says:

    Enforced localization is simply easier (read: cheaper) to implement, because the various data centers around the world do not even need to be connected to each other. There’s no single points of failure like central login servers or account databases. And even if you’d eliminated those single points of failure, you would just run into synchronization and load balancing issues instead. Also, you can design your game around the assumption that lag is minimal, because most players are not across the ocean or even on the other side of the world.

    • Gordon says:

      I would’ve thought it easier to only have a single location for servers and billing etc instead of trying to split it up around the world. I know localisation helps with issues like patching across different timezones and latency but otherwise it seems more of a choice of convenience rather than anything else.

      • Hirvox says:

        While a single data center is easier from a managing perspective, one will hit diminishing returns with scalability if the user base is large enough. When that happens, enforced localization makes your game scale linearly with the number of users. If you know that a data center can handle X users, then two independent data centers can handle X*2 users with no extra complexity or cost. But if you wanted that one data center to handle those users, you’d probably have to start improving your server software to be more scalable. And if your software wasn’t designed to be highly scalable from the start, improving it is going to be very costly in terms of man-hours.

  3. We had a form of “enforced” localization for Meridian 59 with our German licensee. Not to say that people didn’t play on other servers, but officially we were not supposed to cannibalize each other’s market according to agreements.

    We went with a host in another country because they could support the players better than me taking night classes in German. In fact, the company held local events which was kind of cool; no way I could have coordinated renting out a youth hostel at a castle for a weekend.

    Given this, it was only fair that we let them try to make money on the market if they were going to run the game. (I suspect this is the same thing with DAoC.)

    That said, one of my coolest experiences was when I played text MUDs and played with people from England. Being a kid from a poorer family who barely visited other states let alone other countries, it was quite the trip to get exposed to international culture via a text interface. :)

    • Gordon says:

      The GOA era of DAOC wasn’t great and I really disliked how they ran the game. We had to wait months for patches and expansions and their customer service was horrible. It was why there was such a big outcry when Mythic announced that they would be running their operations for WAR in Europe and GOA didn’t exactly manage to clean up their image after their terrible open beta/headstart launch of the game. Everyone in Europe just wanted to play on the Mythic servers in the States :(

  4. warhammermer says:

    Another annoying thing about enforced localisation is

    -price gouging,
    ie europeans pay more than the americans ex lotro
    -areas being farmed out to third party’s who do not run them as well
    ie lotro codemasters
    -enforced localisation comes in later and people get ip banned
    -ip bans before the third party to have that area get the game up and running. argh

  5. Longasc says:

    The multicultural aspects of MMOs get totally lost when localization is enforced.

    I hated it when they introduced the (optional) “language districts” in Guild Wars. The localization was and is also of medium quality at best, it is just so that they can say “in German/French/X” to sell it on said market to the few people who still did not learn basic English in school.

    Even savage Germans could express themselves in basic latin phrases, but MMO players in the age of the internet where English is the lingua france apparently don’t dare to say a word in English…. so much about that.

    I found GW more interesting than WoW also because I could play with Americans, Australians, guys from Italy, the Czech Republic and also Asians. I learnt that Asians have very different mentalities and how differently people can react in the same situation.

    If I compare the Guild Wars forums today, I still notice that you can buy stuff in German districts and forum for little money and sell the same stuff for much more to Americans… erm. What did I want to say. I still prefer the English forums, the devs and CMs post there and the German ones are usually half a week behind if something happens.

    I am a supporter of the one-world model that Champions/STO/Guild Wars have, as I wonder what makes a MMO massive if I cannot even play with guys who unfortunately play on another server of the same game. Who would have to pay a ridiculous fee for server transfer, which is a shame.

    If it is all about dividing up players between licensees, what do I care about that, really…
    It creates such rifts like in DDO, the EU version is still not F2P, because it is not run by Turbine but by Codemasters.

    • Gordon says:

      Ugh yes, the DDO thing is a classic example of how localisation has messed things up… and unfortunately the Europeans tend to pay the price :( I cannot fathom why the EU version of DDO is still subscription! Hasn’t everyone just moved over to the US version? Assuming of course they don’t do something sneaky like detect your IP and prevent you from signing up if you’re outside America.

      Personally I love the EVE Online model. One server, one world. And it create fantastic interactions between all of the different cultures and countries. That whole Band of Brothers vs the Russian was like an online version of the Cold (well Hot :) ) War :)

  6. shipwreck says:

    Sorry, you’ll only make me swoon if you’re like the angry, fast talking Scotsman from ‘In The Loop’.

    But you make some strong points and it seems really strange that devs would force this upon their players. It’s kind of like some of our less though out laws here in the States (at least my state), like not being able to buy alcohol on Sundays. Just let people make the choice for themselves!

    I know I would not play on foreign servers (that includes West Coast) until I get a better internet connexion because the lag is unbearable. I accidentally landed on an Oceanic server when I trialed WAR and no one was around and the latency had me shouting “WAAAAAAGH!!” at my monitor.

    And I have had a few folks in my LotRO kinship who had to buy the North American version just to play with us. As has already been discussed, this is very lame. I love playing with people from around the world; some of my best LotRO time is with Aussies and Kiwis and it’s as close a trip to that part of the world as I may ever get.

    • Gordon says:

      I think have local servers is great, I just don’t think we should be forced to import different copies of the same game just to play somewhere else. If I buy LotRO, for instance like your friends, I should be able to play on any server.

      Of course, like you said, lag is definitely a factor but again, that should be a personal choice not an enforced one.

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