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Designing Educational Games for International Audiences

With more than 2.5 billion active players around the world, gaming has become a global phenomenon – and its momentum shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.

A illustration of Earth themed as the Super Mario World overworld.

(Image source: Reddit)

In today’s increasingly globalized world, it’s key that game developers ensure that the games we create are accessible and appealing to players across the planet. Over the past decade, we’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with clients around the world on custom games for learning and impact – and along the way, we’ve learned a thing or two about designing educational games for global audiences. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

Cultural Contexts

Digital games often act as a reflection of their surrounding culture – and similarly, via the process of interaction, gamers embed their own culture into the games they play. To that end, if a game’s content is not aligned with the culture of its players, this can result in an unsatisfactory play experience – which makes it critical for game creators to consider the cultural context in which their games will be enjoyed. 

For example, in a book chapter titled The Culture Driven Game Design Method: Adapting Serious Games to the Players’ Culture, researchers cite a study in which a trading simulation game created at an American university resulted in contrasting play experiences between American and Taiwanese exchange students. When American students found that their in-game actions could result in other players going bankrupt, they interpreted this as the primary objective of the game and focused their efforts on achieving such a result. When their peers from Taiwan played the game, though, they instead focused on helping other players avoid bankruptcy, which resulted in play experience far different from their American counterparts. Though the game itself was identical between both groups, the outcome of each group’s play experience varied widely based on unwritten rules that structured their behavior during the game – a perfect example of surrounding cultural contexts at play.

By thoughtfully considering the cultural context in which a game will be played through research, playtesting, and other design strategies, we’re not only able to avoid falling victim to unintentional cultural stereotypes – but also avoid evoking negative emotions by displaying uncomfortable or unfamiliar content. 

Resource: The Culture Driven Game Design Method: Adapting Serious Games to the Players’ Culture

Celebrate Values

It’s simply not enough to avoid stereotypes and other culturally irrelevant content in your game – if your goal is to create a game that successfully appeals to a certain international market, it’s key that you also put effort into celebrating the values held by its players.

This is by no means an easy feat – however, there are countless examples of commercial games that have successfully incorporated regional values into their game. Vehicular soccer multiplayer game Rocket League, for example, brought exclusive, culturally-relevant in-game items and cosmetics to the mainland China release of the game – along with changes to the game’s monetization system to better align with other locally-available games. 

By celebrating culturally-relevant values in games, we’re able to build better relationships with players – and in turn, deepen their engagement with our games. For more examples of incorporating values into your game, check out the below curriculum and teaching guide created by games industry research group Values at Play.

Resource: Values at Play: Curriculum & Teaching Guide

Localization Considerations

Each region of the world speaks different languages, has distinct cultures, and is bound by unique content laws – making localization a key part of the development of any game with aspirations for global play. 

The goal of localization is to create enjoyable, non-confusing play experiences for players by paying special attention to their specific cultural context while being faithful to the source material. Of course, this process entails translating all texts within a game to new language(s) – but beyond that, localization also includes tasks like altering promotional art assets, porting a game to region-specific hardware, and altering in-game content in response to differing cultural sensitivities and/or local regulations. 

Today, a quick Google search results in an extensive list of game localization firms with experience translating and localizing games for regions all around the world – though some game creators prefer handling localization in-house. For a closer look at the process of preparing a game for localization, check out the below guide from Gamasutra.

Resource: How to Prepare a Game for Localization: 10 Basic Rules (Gamasutra)

As we wrap up today’s discussion, a quick note that the above list is by no means exhaustive – rather, we hope this article serves as a starting point for initiating further research. If you or your organization is exploring the possibility of creating an educational game or app for international audiences and would like to discuss your ideas with an experienced team, be sure to reach out for a free consultation!

More educational game design articles from the Filament Games team:
Resource Roundup: Educational Game Design Insights
Making Great Learning Games – Part I: Defining Learning Objectives
Making Great Learning Games – Part II: Designing Game Mechanics

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