GDC 2009

GDC09: Online Games: Europe Challenges

Thomas Bidaux, ICO Partners


Far too much information to be any kind of practical guide (there were at least 5 (maybe 10) slides I don’t even mention here, full of facts and figures, that were glossed over too fast to record). Although note that Thomas said he’d be posting the full slides on the ICO Partners website soon, so you should be able to go over the charts yourself once that goes up.

But I think it achieved something more useful: it gave a great taster of just how broad and deep this topic is, when publishers and developers (especially American ones, but even European ones) often massively underestimate it – and lose lots and lots of money as a result. It also gave some concrete examples of what can go wrong and how, especially on the ratings side of things.

I suggested after the talk that it would be awesome to also do a long standalone list of the concrete examples. They’re not only highly illustrative but also often very funny. Watch this space (ICO Partners blog)! (hint, hint).

NB: Thomas was my boss at NCsoft until he left at the start of 2008.

All errors and mistakes my fault, [my comments in square brackets]

Country differences

[ADAM: my previous thing overran a bit, so I missed the first few minutes of this session]

Online Games are about relationships, so this stuff is particularly important.



  • france and germany tried to share broadcast TV content, didn’t work – french hated german humour, germans hated french humour
  • in the end, they settled on english humour, which happened to work in both territories


  • what are the conventions in dating/romantic relationships?
  • marriage?


  • do you eat as a family, or as indviduals?
  • do you eat and watch TV, or only as separate things


  • 3 main religions: catholic mostly eastern europe
  • protestant north europe germany etc
  • orthodox: greece, far eastern europe etc


  • Percentages of people that believe in god, by country
  • USA: 94%
  • most of europe: 20% to 60%


  • UK is like USA (common law)
  • most european countries use civil law, which is very different
  • lots of much stronger citizen-protection laws than the US – privacy / data protection, consumer protection / trade, etc
  • in some cases (more all the time as EU law unifies state laws) you only have to be compliant in one place, and you’re automatically compliant everywhere
  • in other cases, you have to be re-compliant in each different territory. e.g. cannabis use is legal in some countries, illegal in others


  • PEGI: 32 countries, voluntary system, mainly for retail, doesnt cover “alcohol, blood, or tobacco”, very quick approval process for games rated 12 years or older
    (i.e. only games aimed at younger audiences have longer rating times)

  • UK uses PEGI for under 16 year olds, separate system for over 16
  • Russia uses PEGI for consoles only
  • Germany is completely different

Germany ratings

  • PEGI is legally enforced
  • not allowed to even show a game in public (at a trade show) without a rating
  • many urban legends (like “must have green blood, not red blood”)
  • quick approval process
  • … except in summer, when there’s a mad rush to rate stuff so people can show it at the trade shows


  • 40+ different languages in Europe
  • 15 or so major languages spoken by millions of people each
  • 3 different alphabets: roman (english), greek, and cyrillic (russian)
  • +many letter and punctuation accents that aren’t used in english
  • even english vs american has big differences
  • e.g. Spaztic (mario party 8) and Short Shag (hairstyle in a kids game) are both very offensive / adult in UK

French keyboard

  • AZERTY requires pressing the shift key to EVER type a digit
  • so hotkeys are a horrible pain for french players if the keyboard mapping is naively handled by the game programmers

Big differences in playstyle

  • PVP more popular than in USA – across the board – but some countries especially really heavily into PvP

Payment systems

  • 107% mobile penetration on average across europe in 2006 vs 77% in USA
  • every single mobile network in europe gives vast amounts of free SMS’s and have done for many years
  • ELV: very common in germany (like CC, but with much higher rate of chargebacks)
  • pre-pay cards not as popular (yet) as in the USA
  • premium calls via landline to be billed via phone bill
  • direct ISP billing
  • VAT (sales tax) in europe is based on the country of operation. Average is 20%, but some have as low as 12.5% e.g. in luxembourg, so many companies route all EU payments through Luxembourg

Credit card penetartion

  • US 59% UK 58%
  • other european countries down as low as 15%

Broadband penetration

  • 25-35% UK
  • 15-20% italy, spain, etc
  • 10% or less in eastern europe
  • Europe and USA number of MMO subscribers are almost at parity already, with Europe set to overtake USA in next few years

There are 5 different F2P games in europe outrank WoW in terms of active monthly users

There are 173 online game studios in Europe [ADAM: included all the facebook developers etc in there by the looks of things]


[ADAM: it’s interesting to compare this to my article from last year, which picked out 10 of the top free to play publishers worldwide, and note that 3 of them re-appear on this list. It underlines the strenght Europe has in F2P, despite being completely eclipsed by the massive F2P companies (both in number of staff and amount of revenue) of the Chinese and Korean market leaders]

  • Codemastrs – lotro, ddo, jumpgate, archlord
  • GOA – daoc, war,
  • Frogster – runes of magic, bounty bay online
  • Gameforge – metin 2, ogame
  • Bigpoint – seafight, dark orbit
  • Gamigo – leevl r, last chaso, shot online
  • Burda florensia ragnarok, alaplaya
  • Games masters – cabal , perfect world

Local subsidiaries

[ADAM: …and then two more of the top free to play publishers worldwide show up on Thomas’s “has a local subsidiary in Europe” list]

  • blizzard
  • ncwest
  • club pengin
  • glaa net
  • aeria games
  • nexon
  • squareenix


[ADAM: a long advert for PEOGA happened here. Thomas is not looking happy as I write this; if I were him I’d be walking over and switching off the microphone. When he finally finished the advert, he added:]

PEOGA representative: “If you have any questions about this, about Europe, you can also ask me”

[ADAM: Don’t steal other people’s talks to do your own advertising; ESPECIALLY do not volunteer *yourself* as an alternative expert on the subject that the speaker has just talked on for the past 60 minutes]

Where did you get the data from? Especially MMO data?

Lots of different sources, press releases, studies, rumours, comments in public, etc.

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