It’s a shame the term ‘low fantasy’ is already taken, because it’d perfectly describe the sort of female character design we’ve come to expect from a subset of high fantasy PC games. The stereotype of the European strategy game still lives - the buxom blonde crammed into the impractical steel breastplate. But it’s a stereotype Prime World producer Marc Singer intends to squash in bringing his MOBA to the US and elsewhere.
Prime World is a lane-based affair with a castle-building metagame that’s already garnered a large community in Russia, where developers Nivan are based. But it only takes a glance down the banners of its official website to see that the game has - well - a boob problem.
“One of the first things I did when I came onto this project is I told [Nival] that, you know, we need to shift the way our game is portrayed,” Singer told PCGamesN. “Because coming from a Russian market, there’s a lot of stigma.
“If you think of games that are European developed or Russian/Ukrainian developed like Gothic, the perception of these games is that they’re very buggy on release and they’re very low quality and this that and the other,” he explained. “And one of the other ideas is that the games are very over sexualised and have this particular art style and all this kind of stuff.”
Singer noted that one of Prime World’s signature characters - Fire Fox, featured in much of the game’s advertising - wears a leather skirt. Even that must change, he insisted, because “it just doesn’t work for the US market”.
“It’s something that we’re constantly working on,” he said. “And it’s funny for me personally, since I’ve always worked in US games, [the portrayal of women is] not really that big a concern because it’s a forethought; it’s something that you go into the game knowing that you don’t want to take things too far.
“But for the Russian developers, this is not even remotely too far, it’s just a standard. So you have a lot of work in there not just localising the game for textural stuff, but visually as well.”
To that end, Nival have begun redrawing basic skins for characters already in-game - as well as adding new heroes who’ll form part of a broader spectrum of body types.
“Whether it’s taking a female hero and making them male or taking a male hero and making them female, making a young hero older or an older hero young or even turning them into something completely different, we want to give a lot of skin options that are not just hairdos and colour changes,” enthused Singer. “We want to completely shift them from one spectrum to the other - we want effeminate males and we want burly, bulky females; we want animal style stuff and old women and young kids.”
Recent patches have seen Nival launch into this process in earnest, tackling an issue which Singer recognises as crucial if the MOBA genre is to pull itself up by its uncomfortably tight leather bootstraps.
“A lot of games nowadays are very over-sexualised or male-centric when it comes to character pools,” he said. “When you have over-sexualised characters, when you have male-centric hero pools, that’s not something that the Russians are concerned about, because culturally for them, it’s not a big deal. And even in parts of Europe, it’s not a big deal either.
“But in the US, it’s a very big deal.”
His words echo those of Heroes of Newerth’s art director, who told us in August that developers S2 were working hard to break the MOBA’s porny streak in their new game, Strife. Is that a problem you lot have recognised as players of HoN or League of Legends?