‘Dread Hunger’ Finds Success and Language Barrier Challenges in China – VICE

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Video games are internationally accessible in a way many other mediums are not, which can lead to unexpected outcomes. Case in point, the New Zealand-based team behind the multiplayer survival game Dread Hunger, where players try to survive in the Arctic, certainly expected players from around the world to play its game when it launched in late January. What it didn’t anticipate was, alongside success, newfound language barriers would also lead to friction and xenophobia in its rapidly expanding userbase.
“The game launched with a relatively good spread of people from all around the world,” said Dread Hunger marketing and communications coordinator Romy Gellen to Waypoint recently. “About a week after launch, we saw Chinese players become the majority.”
I loaded up the game and, sure enough, the vast majority of the servers surfaced are from regions like Hong Kong and Japan. It took a significant amount of scrolling to even find an English server. (It was frankly easier to just filter out the Hong Kong and Japanese games.) The Chinese players are largely connecting through the Hong Kong hub, as the developers added a Hong Kong-specific server right before the game’s launch in response to interest.
Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).
Gellen said this influx of Chinese players initially took the developers by surprise.
“None of us spoke the language unfortunately!” said Gellen. “At first, we were relying on the associated Chinese Dread Hunger Discord server and the wonderful moderators/admins there. They’ve been so supportive and eager to help us understand how the Chinese community is feeling. So having that channel was essential early on.”
Since then, the team has hired native Chinese speakers.
You can see examples of excited players working alongside the developers, like when a major content roadmap was announced, and someone translated it into Japanese. The developers thanked the fan for their help, and the fan in question responded in kind.
Gellen noted how the arrival of players from unexpected regions forced the developers to prioritize technology overhauls to ensure everyone had a good experience playing online, but the team “decided to hold fast to the soul of the gameplay that had drawn in these players in the first place.” It did, however, result in tangible changes to the interface.
“These went unnoticed through Early Access,” said Gellen, “but once you have communities that can't communicate well with each other, they become really important (things like default settings in lobby filters). As we've improved these menus, things have smoothed out, as players are less likely to end up somewhere unexpected (like with a group of people that don't speak your language)!”
The change hasn’t come without friction in the playerbase, however, as evidenced most plainly by the game’s Steam reviews, which include a plenty of xenophobic-laden frustration related to a social video game where talking with other players is paramount to success.
“Great if you wanna learn Chinese,” reads one positive review by someone who’s played the game for nearly 20 hours, and who I’m pretty sure isn’t being sarcastic.
“The devs have done it again,” reads one negative review by another player, who’s invested more than 70 hours into Dread Hunger. “They removed the option to kick Chinese players due to ‘racism’ so you are forced to learn mandarin to play a game.”
Other players are more diplomatic and less hostile to other players just trying to have fun.
“Yes, there are lots of Chinese people in this game,” reads one player who’s played more than 30 hours, “but you can choose English lobbies only option once, and then you will never ever see lobbies other than English. Super easy. Stop making a fuss about it.”
Which is true. There’s a very easy toggle to filter games based on language, and it’s not necessarily the fault of the developers if there are simply fewer options for some players.
Gellen sidestepped directly addressing a question from Waypoint about the hostility in the community, though it seems the team is hoping these interface changes will help players.
Regardless, the developers see the experience as entirely a positive one. 
“[It’s given] us a new lens to look at the game with,” said Gellen. “Seeing how different meta games can be just by changing regions was fascinating. Using that new perspective to look at the game from a fresh angle really made us look at our design decisions more critically and discover new methods. It’s been a huge help for us.”
Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).
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