MMO Tera features a fictional race of scantily clad young anime girls called the Elin. In South Korea, where the game was made, player controlled Elin characters are free to prance about Tera's persistent fantasy world wearing outfits that would make their mothers blush.
But for our version of the game US publisher En Masse and European publisher Frogster censored the Elins, replacing panties with "shorties", adding longer tights and covering up exposed bellies. To say this decision, first announced back in 2010, caused a stir among Tera's loyal and vocal fanbase would be an understatement.
Last month, just weeks before launch, Frogster issued a statement explaining the Elin were censored to ward off "unsavoury users". The German company didn't say it outright, but it didn't need to. It was worried about paedophiles playing its game.
Now, with Tera a week and a half old, in-game chat channels are often filled with Elin talk. Some have accused Frogster of censorship in order to secure Tera's PEGI 12 rating in Europe. Some have even broken Tera's terms of service and modified client files to force the Elin to wear their Korean clothes - well, what there is of them. Now, Frogster's Lucile Le Merle offers her side of the story, addressing the controversy still raging in Tera's virtual world in an interview that highlights the gaping cultural divide between Asia and the West.
How has the European launch gone for you?
Lucile Le Merle: We're quite happy with the launch. Usually when you release a new MMO you can expect a lot of server crashes and technical issues, but thankfully, everything went really smoothly. Obviously there are still some issues here and there. People cannot connect to their accounts, for example. But we had no major trouble, which was very good. Everyone could connect to the servers. We had records of CCUs and attendance. We had peaks of visitors on the website. So in my opinion we had a very successful launch.
How popular is the game? Is it the most popular game in Frogster's history?
Lucile Le Merle: I can't give you numbers. But we were just told in Germany we are the best-selling game at the moment. Obviously Tera is Frogster's flagship title, so we have high expectations of the game. We'd say it's very successful at the moment and we're going to monitor the numbers to see if we need to do any additional marketing campaign or if there are some users who need to be more satisfied. We're going to do surveys in order to know if they're satisfied with the game.
Tera has a PEGI 12 rating in Europe, but a 17+ rating in the US. A lot of European players are unhappy at that. Can you explain how our rating was achieved?
Lucile Le Merle: I wasn't involved in the PEGI process, but as far as I know the US is way more strict on any kind of naked bodies. So it may be due to the sexy costumes and equipment some of the characters are able to wear. That might be a reason for the US to say this game is no longer 12+, it's 17+.
Did you request the 12 rating or did you submit the build and then wait for PEGI's decision?
Lucile Le Merle: It's decided by PEGI, not by us. We only send a specific version of the client to PEGI, which rates it and sends it back to us with the final decision. Then we can contest it, if we deem it's not the right rating. But we do not decide the rating. PEGI does, and they have their own process for that. I believe there may be some sensitive information which cannot be disclosed.
There has been a lot of debate about the Elin race, which has been censored versus the Korean version. Can you explain what happened?
Lucile Le Merle: Yes. This topic has been discussed for about a year and a half now, ever since the Elin were announced at G-Star in 2010. There has been a huge amount of controversy because of the different ways Asian, Europeans and Americans see this kind of graphic content. The decision to change slightly the Elin armour was made with En Masse, the US publisher of the game. At first there was supposed to be a massive change on this race. We were supposed to add tights on every single one of them, but we knew there was going to be a massive community uproar and this is not what we wanted for the game, which is why we had a lot of discussion about it. Now, the models of the armour have changed, but only slightly.
Based on the comparison videos and images, there is less flesh exposed in the Western version versus the Korean version.
Lucile Le Merle: Yes. Basically all the armour that contain panties or anything a little bit sexual has been replaced by shorties. And the bellies on some armour have been covered. That's it.
In late April you issued a statement saying these changes were made because the Elin could have attracted to the game unsavoury users. What exactly does that mean?
Lucile Le Merle: It's a matter of point of view. We did not want to implement the Elins as they were in the original version because if you look at the forums and how users usually react to this race, it's either people offended by the way they look, or it's people trolling, saying, hey, I'm "pedobear". This is the kind of behaviour we want to avoid at all costs.
We know unless we removed the race entirely from the game, which would have caused an even bigger uproar, we could not avoid having such comments. But we wanted to reduce the amount of comments because some people are offended or some people have a different opinion.
You also say it's part of Frogster's responsibility to protect younger audiences from the unsavoury users. Is that a suggestion that there may be people who are attracted to playing Tera for reasons that aren't to do with playing it in the right way?
Lucile Le Merle: Exactly. Obviously just like any other online game, there are going to be people who will be on the game but not to play it. They are going to be child predators, harassers, people who insult each other. That's something we cannot avoid.
However, we have customer support, which is working very hard to ensure nothing like that happens. And especially in regards to the Elins, we have had a few users in the past who were doing, let's say, bad communication, running around with an Elin character saying sexual content. Those users have been banned because this is not the kind of attitude we want to see in the game.
What exactly is that bad communication?
When you have a user playing an Elin character saying, oh, I'm a flat chested girl, come... I won't say any bad words but you know what I mean, this can be even more offensive than if you have a big boobs character running around saying the same thing.
Lucile Le Merle: Obviously this appears to all characters, whether it's a Human, High Elf or an Elin. But it's even more offensive when it's an Elin. So, for example, when you have a user playing an Elin character saying, oh, I'm a flat chested girl, come... I won't say any bad words but you know what I mean, this can be even more offensive than if you have a big boobs character running around saying the same thing.
There seems to be a big cultural difference between how we view this and how Koreans view this.
Lucile Le Merle: In Asia their mindset is completely different. To them it is not a problem. It is not related to paedophilia. It's just part of the culture to have small, little girls that run around smiling. People just find it normal. If you read manga or watch anime, this is the exact same thing. People consider this normal. But we do not have the same mindset in Europe, which is why this change had to be made.
Some genuine anime fans who are upset that they're being tarnished as unsavoury users.
Lucile Le Merle: Yeah. I understand. But in my opinion, if you like the Elins for how they look you shouldn't make an uproar just because they have their tights cover three centimetres more. Their faces still look the same. Their bodies still look the same. Their size is the same as well. I don't think it is that much of a problem.
Additionally, we have some very clever users who are changing the textures from the European to the Korean files. While this is not something we promote actively, because changing the files of the game is prohibited by our terms of service, we know this is happening and we are not planning to do any kind of witch hunt if people have their own personal preferences.
So you're just going to turn a blind eye to it?
Lucile Le Merle: Yes. The same goes for some modifications that can be made to the game files. For example you can meddle with the .ini files of the game and change the depth of field, or remove the bloom, which is not something you can change directly in the in-game options.
While it is not explicitly authorised, we let it go because it has nothing to do with hacking. It doesn't give the player a clear advantage in the game. It's just a matter of personal preference.
If we wanted to actively fight that issue we would have to ban users by checking their files. It would create more trouble than it's worth. It would only create a negative community and communication. So I do not think it is worth doing a witch hunt for that.
While this is not something we promote actively, because changing the files of the game is prohibited by our terms of service, we know this is happening and we are not planning to do any kind of witch hunt if people have their own personal preferences.
Tera is developed by a Korean studio. How much influence does Frogster actually have over the content?
Lucile Le Merle: Yes. There are two phases of development. There is the actual development, which is made in Korea by Bluehole Studio. And then there's the westernisation, which is made by EME in the US. We're working closely with EME to provide the feedback from the European community. Usually the North American community has the same kind of feedback. Western players in general want the same thing, so we combine our feedback.
Either EME develops its own content, which it adds to its own version of the game, which is then sent to us. Or it is sent to BHS to implement new features or dungeons. New features such as new dungeons, for example, is something expected by all players from all countries. So for addition and content, this is handled by either EME or BHS, depending on the size of the content and the type of the content.
As for us in community management, we do a report to both BHS and EME with the suggestions we've received on the forum as well as bugs that appeared in the latest version. Right now, there isn't a big amount of in-game bugs. It's pretty much bug free, at least for the first 15 to 20 hours. For any major problem we might have, it's usually fixed pretty quickly.
We had some issues in open beta that have been fixed for release within one week's time frame. That's because EME and ourselves are working around the clock to provide information to Bluehole Studio.
The problem is, for every MMO, when there are new suggestions, it takes a long time to be translated, to be developed, to by QA'd, to be localised, and then sent and implemented in our build. This is why sometimes people feel they're not being listened to, because their suggestions are not being applied in the next patch. But this is a month long process. We are doing as much as we can as quickly as we can, but we are not superheroes.