Game market boom daunting for developers

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TORONTO -- Despite the fact that the video games industries in China and India are surging, North American game developers were warned Friday that cultural differences remain significant barriers to penetration of those markets.

"To ignore China and India would be foolish. But at the end of the day, games are culture and, while some character stories can transcend to other cultures, largely the local culture consumes local games" in India and China, Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Assn., told the Game-On Finance conference in Toronto.

The video-gaming bug has caught on in India, conference delegates were told, but mostly in Internet cafes or on office computers where locally produced games are played.

"What they're playing in India will not play in New York, it won't happen," Bob Jacob, an agent for game developers based at Los Angeles-based ISM, said of a change from the times when Nintendo games from Japan dominated the North American market.

The discussion of Asian market trends in Toronto was prompted by the suggestion that growth in the video game industry in India and China could marginalize the North American gaming industry in the future.

Aside from Japan, delegates were told that console gaming is rare in the rest of Asia because of the threat of piracy. That has left PC and online gaming to dominate a market in which few Western-developed games have broken through.

Eric Zinnerman, co-founder and chief design officer for Gamelab, said western TV series such as "Big Brother" and "Ugly Betty" had easily penetrated the Asian market, as have Hollywood movies. But the video game industry has failed to produce an equivalent mass culture around their product.

"The 'Ugly Betty' video game doesn't exist. Video games don't cross cultures readily," he said.

Classic video games such as Tetris and Blizzard have sold well in the Asian market, but they have proved an exception.

"Product opportunities in China are there, but you have to be culturally specific," Jamie Leece, president and CEO of Rainmaker Games, told Game-On Finance delegates.
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