Game culturalization, the process of cultural adaption, is the key to successfully launching video games in foreign markets. The main aspects are to make content suitable, understandable, and meaningful for the gamers of the targeted markets. To achieve these objectives, it is necessary to look into the five central pillars of culturalization: history, religion, ethnic and cultural tensions, geopolitical situations, and in-game elements.
One in-game element that must be considered is music. To learn more, we interviewed the video game music expert and composer Pierre Langer, founder and managing director of Dynamedion based in Mainz, Germany. Pierre will tell us more about his internationally renowned company, the video game music business, and the culturalization process of video game soundtracks.
Dear Pierre, please let us know more about you and your company and the key services that you provide.
Pierre Langer: Dynamedion was founded by Tilman Sillescu and me in early 2000. We started with work-for-hire audio in the German games industry doing music composition, sound design and later also interactive audio integration and Live Orchestra production. We were the first to produce with live orchestra for a German game, and we eventually rolled this out as a service for other composers and game developers all over the world.
Today we are one of the biggest game audio studios in the world with nearly 50 people doing music composition, music licensing, sound design, source sound recordings, audio integration, audio software development, live orchestra and live choir recording, and orchestration and arrangement for all sorts of media. We are still very much focused on video games, having worked on more than 1,800 games, but we also do a lot of movie trailers, TV series, and films.
In 2009 we started a sub company of Dynamedion called BOOM library, which produces original sound effects collections as products that can be licensed by audio professionals throughout the world. BOOM Library is today recognized as one of the most popular and high-quality sound effects libraries in the world. Apart from that we also run two side labels with royalty-free stock music in a unique adaptive format (SmartSound) and a new product line of virtual software instruments (SONUSCORE). Our latest addition to our services is that we have become well known for high end vehicle recordings (cars, airplanes, helicopters, bikes, tanks, etc.) – that is a lot of fun, but also a huge challenge to source all sorts of rare or weird or super expensive vehicles.
So, in short: we are specialists for everything that has to do with music & sound for games – everything except voice overs, and our music or sound effects or live productions have been used and heard in nearly every large game worldwide. As an example, we recently have been involved in these titles: Assassin’s Creed Series, Elder Scrolls Online, Monster Hunter Online, Battlefield V, League of Legends, Destiny 1 & 2, Lineage II, Horizon Zero Dawn, Fortnite, Mortal Kombat Series, World of Tanks, Hitman Series, Total War Series.
Currently we are working on five super large unannounced titles, all international.
What part of the world do your requests mainly come from?
Pierre Langer: It is very international, really. Up until 2009 we had a very strong (overly strong I would say) position in Germany, working on nearly every German game title, quite some in France and some occasional overseas projects. Meanwhile this has completely changed: we are doing a good amount of German titles, but the major part comes from the US, UK, Scandinavia, Japan, Korea and China – China being one of the most important markets now.
Have you experienced a shift or a change over the years in game creation from Western countries to an international mix?
Pierre Langer: Absolutely! It seems that the five big “individual” markets (North America, Europe, China, Japan / Korea) are getting closer to each other. Even very self-sustaining markets, like the Japanese market, are opening up for more international projects coming in, but they are also looking into getting their own games distributed internationally, and of course into becoming as successful as possible worldwide. And then there is a huge amount of projects coming from all the emerging markets, so it seems that there is really no end to a lot of new great games. The biggest challenge with a new game certainly is to make yourself “heard” or do something special that your competition does not do, in order to stand out in a new market.
Orchestral Session - Dynamedion
What is culturalization in terms of video game soundtracks and sound effect production?
Pierre Langer: It is actually a very straightforward thing and kind of a no-brainer, since audio is a rather inexpensive asset for a game, while it has a huge emotional and atmospheric impact. Culturalization of a game means that you adapt the game to the specific requests of a new market. Western world audiences are used to different things than Chinese players, for example. So, if a Chinese game developer wants to push a game into the Western market, the game should be “westernized” so to say.This certainly already happens with gameplay mechanics and with graphics and – of course – with the localization. But simply changing the texts and voice over from Chinese to English doesn’t adapt a Chinese game to an EU or US audience. The look and feel of a game need to change as well, and this is where music and sound “culturalization” comes in: adapting the music and sounds (and the way of implementation and audio functionality in the game) to the specific audience that is being targeted. This does of course work in all directions – Japan to China, China to Europe, Europe to Korea, etc.
Can you give us some examples of audio culturalization in specific markets? (E.g. MENA, South America, China/Asia)
Pierre Langer: Let me go back a few years, to our very first larger game title we did music and sound culturalization for. It was “Runes of Magic” by Runewaker Entertainment, a developer based in Taiwan. The game was not extremely successful in Taiwan and Mainland China, but a German publisher by the time (Frogster) saw some great potential in that game. So, they licensed the title and got the rights to publish it in Europe and the US.
In some respects, the game was a mess for a Western audience, partly due to the music and the sound + the implementation of all audio. The marketing people at Frogster understood this very quickly and started working on all these issues. The music and sound side was done in a matter of a few weeks: they asked us to replace the soundtrack by using music we had in our back catalogue (music for games that we had written, that either failed, or that had been unsuccessful – which we kept the rights to) and write a few new themes that would work as the iconic main themes of the game, so that the audience has something new and recognizable. We did that, with a full focus on writing and licensing music that would be ideal for the target audience.
Then we did a similar thing with the sound effects: we simply threw out all the stuff that was in there and replaced it with sounds that where produced to fit a Western audience. To give you a very quick example: Asian players are used to high frequency sounds, very aggressive, very loud, the whole sound atmosphere being very crowded. European and US players are used to low frequency sounds – sub-bass, deep impacts, rumbling and more focused sound design (you hear one thing prominently, and everything else gets balanced down to make space for the one important sound going on). This is a very clear and super important difference – and it is also easy to fix with some new content and some new mixing.
What are typical issues that occur in sound culturalization?
Pierre Langer: Typical issues are that there needs to be some trust from the developer to the sound team. In most cases, the developer asks for culturalization from their home market to a foreign market. So, a US developer asking us to adapt the sound to fit a Chinese audience better needs to trust us that we know what we are doing, since the US developer doesn’t know themselves (otherwise they wouldn’t need us). Then there is always a big challenge with the correct audio integration. The most important bit is certainly to replace music and sound effects, to get a fitting new set of assets for the target market.
However, even the best assets do not help if they are poorly integrated. Simply swapping them is not enough if the way they are being played back is not fitting. This then needs some more time and attention and focus, since we need to work with the developer directly to e.g. add some audio functionality, balance mix and master the audio, or introduce an interactive music system. It can be a very elaborate thing, but you can achieve a lot of additional quality with the most basic strategies that only cost a lower 5 digit budget.
Dear Pierre, thank you for your time and effort in providing us such enlightening insights into your work!
Pierre was born near Frankfurt / Germany. After years of playing in bands as a guitar player in his teens, he decided to take his studies in classical music at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz.
A few months before his final exams he met Tilman Sillescu in early 2000, Dynamedion was founded a few weeks later. In the first years of Dynamedion Pierre worked on basically every single bit of the job you can do as an audio person in the games business: music composition, sound design, audio integration, audio management, design of audio tool chains, recording, mixing, mastering, project management, etc.
As the thing grew and all the other guys joined in, Pierre focused more and more on the business side of things, leaving the creative work to the really focused experts.
Nowadays Pierre enjoys keeping in touch with all the different clients of Dynamedion, thinking up new product lines and business ideas to further expand the reach and prominence of Dynamedion and all related sub-labels such as BOOM Library, Sonic Liberty, Sonuscore... and more to come.
The Interview was conducted by Moritz Demmig.