|No Oceans picture by Rock, Paper, Shotgun.|
This article was originally written as an essay for the course Communication and Media in Multicultural World Jyväskylän yliopisto (University of Jyväskylä).
In this paper I am going to discuss how localizing practices of video games, especially different release dates, affect global community of players of the same gaming title. Recently, calls for common release dates were raised by on-line game magazines, there is a petition to support this initiative which wishes to see games coming out on the same day worldwide. There are many reasons behind this, one of it is that the Internet contains no borders. In this new ‘digital culture’ (Gere 2002), world is seen by some scholars as a ‘global village’ (McLuhan 1989) where national identities are blurring − sometimes literary as I show later on. In the second part of my paper, I discuss what is going on with our identities in nowadays world.
1. Global video game culture
1. Global video game culture
Video games are a global phenomenon: "[…] video games circulate transnationally themselves, modern video games increasingly serve as interactive platforms that enable a sort of virtual mobility through which gamers might chat, interact, and play both cooperatively and competitively with people from other regions of the world." (Carlson, Corliss 2011: 64) Players around the world can share nearly the same gaming experience, regardless of their cultural backgrounds. With a growing popularity of internet distribution channels (as for example Steam) many players think, they should be allowed to start playing their new game as soon as it is published − at the same time around the whole world. But there are boundaries connected to localization practices which block this kind of circulation.
Video game industry is now "indeed global, with game development companies in the UK (Argonaut, Climax, Rare), Iceland (CCP), Brazil (Ingis Games), South Korea (NC Soft), and elsewhere. Yet, two countries emerge as the dominant forces – the USA and Japan." (Consalvo 2006: 123) While the majority of games are developed in English, local markets see a profit in localizing game products into different languages. There are two main sources of the present state of localizing practices. First source is tied to globally growing market of video games which now surpasses more traditional entertainment industries: "Over the last decade, the games industry has also become dramatically more profitable, with the most successful titles consistently generating higher profit margins than the year’s top-grossing films. Alongside these changes, of course, localization practices have also evolved." (Carlson, Corliss 2011: 65) The second source is connected to a more specific way of localizing which brought a great success to Japanese console games: "the process of ‘localization’ in video games is tied to the Japanese business term ‘glocalization,’ defined by Robertson to mean the successful global transfer of products to different localities, by making modifications for such variables as culture, language, gender or ethnicity. Robertson uses the term glocalization to argue that the local should not be seen in distinction to the global, but that instead both are mutually constitutive." (Consalvo 2006: 120)
Localization and different distribution cycles of stores historically lead to different publishing dates of video games. While time differences between Asian and Western release dates are still long, due to valid reasons of more complex glocalization processes, American, European and Australian release dates now usually fit in one week. Games in USA come out on Tuesdays, in Australia on Thursdays, and in Europe on Fridays. Even shipping actual copies into various stores does not play role any longer. Store managers are put into situation where they “are inevitably sitting on piles of the product they’re not allowed to sell until the arbitrary release date.” (Walker 2011).
Internet distribution channels have not changed these practices as it would seem logical: “There’s an internet now. It’s changed everything. Once we were separate nations kept apart by vast spreads of water. But the internet contains no oceans. The time was a game could come out in North America and we’d not hear about it until the boats arrived carrying news from the new country. But now we can see the Steam page, the giant clocks on the game websites counting down to a day that means nothing, the launch trailers and excitable press releases about something we can’t have yet.” (Walker 2011) On the contrary, internet distributors have adopted traditional dates, or have been forced to adopt them. IP address is in fact the control mechanism through which these arbitrary release dates are enforced. While the video game business clearly profits from the globalized audience, many players are at the same time reminded that they do not belong to a privileged part of the gaming community, the US one. At first glance, delay of three days does not seem to be a big problem. But there are quite visible consequences to this delay. Single-player games are affected to a lesser extent − players from other parts of the world cannot actively contribute to discussions about story, while the others who have played the game can spoil the plot twists. In a case of multi-players games, players who have the opportunity to play the game sooner receive a headstart above the rest of the competition.
This problematic situation has been recognized by players, gaming press, retailers and also game publishers. For example, British gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun calls for unifying of release dates in their No Oceans: Call For Worldwide Release Dates manifesto (Walker 2011). Many retailers, at least in the Czech Republic, sell games as soon as they receive them from local publishers despite the publishing dates. Console games are at that moment open to players but computer games usually require a release date authentication which uses IP address to determine where the player is located. Some players use VPN and proxy servers to change their IP addresses (usually to American or Korean ones) and fool the authentication. This can be seen as a violation of License Agreement but game publishers are quite benevolent to this practice and there are records that customer service approved of this solution. At the same time players risk bans in multi-player games for changing their IP addresses.
The theory and practice of global games publishing differs in a significant way and creates a grey zone where rules change from case to case and something that was recommend to customers is later prohibited and penalized.
Global gaming world is quite arbitrarily divided into cultural sectors which remind players of their own national culture. It also penalizes them for being “other” than American. The only working solution for not feeling ostracized from the gaming community is knowingly changing your national identity by manipulating your IP address.
2. National Identity on the Internet
What is going on in video game culture with manipulating the IP addresses constitutes a nice parallel towards what is going on in a real world with peoples' identities. Nowadays people are being more and more influenced by images that come all over the world; as Appadurai (1996) noticed, rapid transnational circulation of electronic media and of people in nowadays world shapes the way we imagine our social selves. National identities are weakened as individuals are exposed to mediated images from other cultures. As a result, people might be more engaged with cultures and places constructed by media than with an actual ones they have encountered in their lives. Identity therefore becomes "a matter of consumer choice" (Anderson 1983) (in a case of conscious identity), or in other cases global media can influence the process of constructing our identities in an unconscious way. Manipulating the IP address can symbolize this conscious selection of the identity, even if it is a temporary act by which we bypass national regulations. Players literary hide their real identity in order to become equal members of video games culture. Belonging to a certain type of digital culture − gaming culture in our case − is now maybe more important than belonging to a national culture.
Of course not everyone is skilled enough or motivated to change his identity on the Internet: “Of online users, 86 percent prefer ‘opt-in’ policies, which require websites to ask for permission before collecting or using personal data. However, many users do not possess the technological proficiency required to employ privacy protective methods. For example, only ten percent of internet users modify browser settings to reject cookies; five percent employ anonymizing software to conceal their computer identity; and 24 percent provide false personal data to avoid revealing true information.” (Fernback, Papacharissi 2007: 717) General population is still mostly truthful about their identity on the Internet. Video game culture on the other hand (and to even greater extent computer game culture) is inseparably tied to modern technology and its members are more proficient in it, therefore they are even less dependent on their national cultures.
In this paper I tried to describe how seemingly global video game culture is still being separated into culture regions. As a consequence, many players all around the globe are dissatisfied by being forced to play their favorite titles several days after the first official release date. Some of them fake their IP addresses in order to fool the authentication mechanism − they literary change their identities to reach games and to become equal members of global gaming communities. But digital identities are not the only identities that are changing in nowadays world. As people and cultural products are deliberately moving from one continent to another in an extent that has never been seen before, they have a great impact on national identities of individuals. While systems (e.g. video game publishing) still work with culture regions and nations, individuals (players who manipulate their IP addresses, or even retailers that sell games sooner than they are allowed to) transcend these old boundaries in order to become real members of digital culture.
Anderson, B. (1983). Our small, global village: Viewpoints to new media/communication technologies in a multicultural world. [Lecture handout]. Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä. Jyväskylä, Finland, 15.02.2012.
Appadurai, A. (1996). Our small, global village: Viewpoints to new media/communication technologies in a multicultural world. [Lecture handout]. Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä. Jyväskylä, Finland, 15.02.2012.
Carlson, R. & Corliss J. (2011). Imagined Commodities: Video Game Localization and Mythologies of Cultural Differenc. Games and Culture 2011 6 (1): 61.
Consalvo, Mia. (2006). Console Video Games and Global Corporations: Creating a Hybrid Culture. New Media Society 2006 8: 117. SAGE Publications London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi.
Fernback, J. & Papacharissi, Z. (2007). Online privacy as legal safeguard: the relationship among consumer, online portal, and privacy policies. New Media Society 2007 9: 715. SAGE Publications Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore.
Gere, Charlie. (2002). Digital Culture. London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2002.
McLuhan, Marshall. (1989). The global village: transformations in world life and media in the 21st century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Walker, John. (2011). No Oceans: Call For Worldwide Release Dates. Rockpapershotgun.com. http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/03/22/no-oceans-call-for-worldwide-release-dates/ retrieved online 2012-03-19
 They sometimes even recommend this solution to game reviewers who need to play game in advance to its local publishing date.