Based in Washington, En Masse Entertainment is a new publisher with the aim to transform eastern games to better suit western audiences.
Its parent company Bluehole considers the west to be a key area for growth, and has faith that its properties in the east can compete with the biggest and best in the west.
We speak to publishing VP Chris Lee to find out more about the business and its strategy.
Tell us more about how the studio was established.
The En Masse leadership team came together towards the end of 2009 after Dr Yang spoke with several of us about his dream and desire to create a new kind of MMO publishing presence with the Western market.
Dr Yang had a respectful relationship with the Bluehole team, and when he saw Tera he was instantly drawn to its strengths and potential as a global MMO project.
Bluehole believes the west is a critical market, and felt it was more advantageous to invest in creating a western publisher than self-publishing in their home territory.
En Masse is comprised of a very close-knit group of individuals who have a shared vision for offering interesting MMOs that have a global appeal along with local cultural relevance. Our team currently has 25 people, and our plan is to continue to identify and recruit great talent who believe in our vision and model.
How does a studio understand what elements of gameplay need westernising, and what will En Masse exactly do to bring, say, a Korean or Chinese MMO to western tastes?
Cultural tastes vary, but we believe that great game experiences are universal. This is especially true with MMOs.
Western audiences are pretty receptive to a broad range of game ‘flavors,’ and our job at En Masse is to make sure that we identify properties that deliver on high quality and innovative gameplay, and also work collaboratively with our development partners to adapt, refine and enhance the parts that Western players like, and de-emphasize anything that doesn't work well here.
For example, story—as told both in-game and in the lore—doesn't tend to translate well. Even great translators can't correct for different cultural referents. So what you really have to do is identify and use the parts of the story that work, and entirely rewrite other parts, so it doesn't leave you with that "did I miss something here?" sensation.
Obviously, what’s unacceptable content in one half of the world is absolutely fine in the other. Is this something En Masse will be looking to take advantage of?
Our focus in localisation will be on telling a good story and creating a great gaming experience, not necessarily pushing boundaries in terms of mature or ‘acceptable’ content. Those kinds of things can and will be elements of a good story, but not necessarily the focal point of storytelling and gaming.
On the other side of the coin, how careful does En Masse have to be when porting titles to new regions?
It’s not necessarily a matter of being careful but of being respectful and aware of cultural differences in terms of what players expect from MMOs, and the ground they want to see new games break.
One of the key components of our strategy here at En Masse is to work with focus group tests to identify what additional changes need to be made.
Unlike a Beta test, where the game is largely finished and most of the effort focuses on game balance and hardware compatibility, the FGT tells us about areas that need reworking.
Many Japanese developers express their frustration at trying to appeal to Western tastes. Why is En Masse confident it can give games universal appeal?
What separates En Masse Entertainment from other MMO companies in this space is the established track record of blockbuster success from the people involved, along with the shared vision for what kind of games are most suited for a global audience and how they need to be adapted for the Western market.
In the case of Tera, the development team at Bluehole had the goal of making the game appeal to a global audience from the start so it was a natural fit for us.
The additional feedback and testing we are doing as a publishing entity are meant to help fully realise that goal.
Many have in recent months told us that directly competing with Blizzard right now is something proven to be quite dangerous. What’s your view on the matter?
We have great respect for other MMO companies in fact many of us come from them. There’s a lot of room for innovation right now in the MMO market, and we believe the category is only going to continue to grow.
There are new stories and mechanics to explore, and players want to find new and exciting things. If we deliver a compelling product that's fun to play, we'll be successful.
How will En Masse’s products stand out? How will they bring in revenues? Subscriptions? Microtransactions?
Tera’s groundbreaking non-target based combat system will appeal to a wider audience, and its eye-popping graphics and the level of influence the players will have over the game world is unprecedented.
Because of these features, we’re hopeful that current MMO gamers and console gamers alike will find Tera an intriguing proposition.
In terms of revenues, currently we’re looking at a traditional MMO subscription-based model but haven’t confirmed any other details.
Of course, social networks offer a huge space for MMO companies to enter. Is this something that interests you?
While we're very focused on Tera, we are building a multi-dimensional organization. En Masse's strengths could easily be applied to games developed for a variety of platforms in either the East or West.
There are some interesting developments in gaming on social networks, and we’ll be paying very close attention to that space. It will all boil down to what our community and fans communicate to us they want as ultimately that’s going to be a driving factor for how we grow the company and what we need to support.