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AGC: Jason Wonacott

Jon Wood Posted:
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Webzen (SUN and APB) - Interview from AGC

Jason Wonacott talks about some of the projects this major Korean publisher has in the works

While at the Austin Game Conference, I had a chance to catch up with Jason Wonacott the Director of Corporate Communications for Webzen America. The company currently has a number of games in various stages of production, including: Soul of the Ultimate Nation (which will be the first of their game to reach North American shelves) and the already highly anticipated All Points Bulletin.

As stated before Soul of the Ultimate Nation, or SUN as it has come to be known, will be the first game to launch from Webzen America and is due out sometime in the first half of 2007. The game is currently living out an open beta in Korea and according to Wonacott is “doing pretty well”, explaining that in the Korean market, a game in Beta is more like a launched game. SUN will open next in China and then finally in the North American market.

We talked a little bit about the game, and its origins in the Asian market. I was told that the game would be localized, to an extent, for our market here in North America. New SUN producer Tim Holman recently made the trip over to Korea to work with the SUN dev team to bring the product that they are developing over to the US marketplace. For example, the game, as it stands now is being developed using both the point and click movement that is popular in Asian markets, as well as the WSAD movement that is commonplace in North American games. Wonacott said that this would be, “An American game that will feel familiar to North American MMORPG players.”

When I asked how Webzen intended to get these games over with a North American audience that has seen a number of Asian games move into our marketplace he reminded me that there was a two way street between these different markets, as our games have headed there. He said that you “have to show the consumer why they should care about this game”. He told us that the game’s quests, mission, great items, gold drops and unique battlemap system are things to look for.

I would have been remiss if I had gone though the entire interview without asking about the game that seems to already be a common subject for speculation on some forums. All Point Bulletin, better known as APB. This game falls into a genre that Wonacott called Urban Action. To give you an idea of what that genre encompasses, probably the most famous title in the Urban Action genre is Grand Theft Auto. Naturally, I asked if this was going to be a kind of Grand Theft Auto Online. The answer was a definite no, although he was quick to point out that David Jones, the man who created the original Grand Theft Auto game, is the man behind this new title.

“It’s in the genre” he said, “but it’s not a GTA clone.”

APB is being developed by a studio called “Real Time Worlds”, which is based out of Scotland. While this game is not being developed in-house, Wonacott said that the Real Time Worlds team was great, and that there was a reason that Webzen was working with them.

When I asked about the international flavor of this game (as with most of Webzen’s titles), he told me that All Points Bulletin was being developed “with a global market in mind”. He said that, like all of Webzen America’s games, this one would be nuanced by market.

Before the end of our interview, talk turned briefly toward the idea of moving games from market to market. After all, cultural differences dictate that, in general, gamers from one market will have expectations that differ from those of another. He said, “You can’t just port it from market to market. You have to nuance it”. One of the examples that he used is the humor that is a part of many successful MMORPGs. Something that’s funny to a North American market might not be as funny in another market.

One of the mistakes that some games make is that they merely provide a translation of their games from one language to another. Not only does the translated text often look strange, but all of the subtlety of the writing tends to disappear, leaving the gamer to wonder about the tone of the game, or even the meaning of the story. Generally, the act of successfully bringing a game from one language to another is known as localization. Wonacott took it a bit further when he answered my question as to how Webzen America intended to make games that were successful in both the Asian and Western markets. The answer was simple, “Localization and culturalization. It’s about more than just translation.”

It will be interesting to see if this philosophy pays off for the people at Webzen America.

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Jon Wood