One of the things I always found staggering in the games space is the lack of acknowledgment of Arab culture... or at least, tossing such a recognized culture a bone and letting players take up the role of an Arab that isn't a turban-wearing terrorist. Well, we just might get that at some point thanks to Ubisoft.
Gamepolitics picked up a neat little article from The National that details Ubisoft's travels to the middle-east, where they are attempting to find ways to meet a middle ground in which some of their games can be ported to the mostly Muslim territory and Arabic markets.
This “experiment” of sorts started when the heads at Ubisoft decided to open an office in Abu Dhabi back in 2011 where 30 or so odd employees are trying to find ways to bridge the gap between the French-Canadian studio and the middle-eastern world.
Studio general manager Yannick Theler commented about their current business position, saying...
"That's what we want to break into,"... "Try to understand how the Arabic people play games and try to localize the games if we can. There is potential here. They play games and buy games already, but localizing the products will bring us closer to the people."
Localization, as some of you know, can be a real difficult undertaking for a studio depending on which language it's being localized from and which territory it's being localized to. Ubisoft understands the difficulty of the situation, which is why they're actually ramping up their office priorities in Abu Dhabi by expanding the employment pool by 100 heads between the next three to five years.
According to Ubisoft's Abu Dhabi operations manager, Vincent Douvier, he explained that...
"I noticed there was a black spot that was the Arab world, and I was intrigued by it," ... "I thought 'either there is nothing there, that's why there is a black hole, or there is something and it's a well-kept secret.'"
Ubisoft isn't the first company to note a “black spot” in the Arab world... Game Power 7 had originally jumped on the opportunity to explore localizing games for middle-east gamers in Arab and African territories since 2009, just a few years before Ubisoft opened their offices in Abu Dhabi.
However, one of the more difficult aspects of the localization process is that games have to be completely retooled from the UI to the game dialogue to support Arabic lexicography. Douvier further explains that...
"We take into account the flow of reading Arabic. My reflexes push my eyes up and left, whereas most Arabs look right to left, meaning the interface of the game should be changed."
Now that's a real job right there... trying to condense or reconfigue specific games to fit within a certain cultural demarcation.
Mover over, the obvious question that springs to mind is “Why not just make Arab-centric games with an Arab protagonist?” such an obvious question already had an obvious answer: money.
Right now it's not suitable to take a risk on a large venture in a growing market, but it's certainly not out of the question. For now, Ubisoft hopes to bring some form of saturation to the middle-east by porting Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag to the territory, and they plan on continuing to expand the Abu Dhabi offices and reach out to the middle-east gaming community with a new Arab-centric Facebook page.