There’s been a lot of talk about censorship during these past couple of months following the situation involving Xenoblade Chronicles X, the rather large fallout over NCSoft’s Blade & Soul, the slight tweaks to Street Fighter V, and various companies like Koei Tecmo and Idea Factory enacting self-censorship by avoiding bringing certain games to the West due to fear of a media backlash from politically-correct gaming news outlets.
During these discussions there have been frequent callbacks to the case of TERA Online, which is one of many games from out of Southeast Asia that happened to be modified to suit the sensibilities of the West. The interesting thing about TERA Online isn’t just that the game underwent some modifications but also how publisher En Masse Entertainment and developer Bluehole Studios appear to have circumvented the outrage by feeding the West some of the uncensored content through the cash shop.
For those of you who didn’t know, TERA Online has had its outfits modified in the West since it first came to the Americas and Europe. There’s an infamous video from YouTuber Kraken973 that shows a difference between the censored and uncensored versions of the game. Notice that it’s basically just for one character type known as the Elin race.
The outfits basically change the panties into shorts and cover the aggressively exposed navel with textured tops.
In a thread over on Rock, Paper, Shotgun the community was accepting of the censorship because they felt it was a character type made for pedophiles and that the open acceptance of risque material was bad not just for the Americas and Europe, but bad for Asia as well.
Forum goer Drake Sigar commented that the differences in culture come in the form of the regional depiction of sex and violence in the media, where in many countries in Asia the sexual imagery is a lot more accepted than in the West…
“Having experience with Asian media kinda builds your tolerance for this kind of thing. Even a lot of the low age animation includes blatant upskirt shots of preteens, but yeah, not cool. Sometimes it takes a fresh perspective to remind you just how not cool it is.”
It may seem “not cool” to the denizens of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but the Elins and their cash shop costumes turned out to be one of the very things that saved TERA Online as a free-to-play MMO and allowed it to financially stay afloat. As bizarre as that sounds, it’s the truth.
On May 20th, 2015 a Korean gaming site called Inven posted up some bullet points from a presentation given by Bluehole Studios’ former producer, Kim Nak Heong, who explained how the popularity of the Elin race in the game is what made TERA Online work as a free-to-play MMO.
On the TERA forums, user LordMarluxia translated the relevant bits of the article, where Heong stated…
“We honestly didn’t expect Elins to be this popular. At first, we focused mostly on Castanics. Because we were targeting the global audience, we needed something that would be appealing in the overseas. So from the developer’s perspective, Castanics were fitting for that role. This is why Castanics were used as the main focus for advertising in the first few trailers.”
The trailers he’s referring to are the debut and early promotional videos for TERA Online from back in 2011, like the one below, courtesy of onrpg, which focused on the more voluptuous Castanics race.
In later trailers they included more of the Elin, amongst other races, as showcased in the open beta trailer for TERA that you can check out below, courtesy of Acrofan.
Heong went on to say…
“We didn’t really pay much attention to feedback from the Japanese market afterwards, but one day, their localization team made a strange request: “Please make a school swimming suit costume for Elins.” From the concept art image they provided us, we thought it wouldn’t take much effort to make, so we just made it quickly for them. But we didn’t expect this to be such a big hit. Although we just made the costume half-heartedly, the profit we made from this costume alone exceeded all the profit we made from all the swimming costumes for all races in Korea.
“After that, making costumes was a simple task- They say school swimming suits, bloomers, and maid outfits are the 3 wonders in Japan. Maid costume was especially a big hit. Due to all the profit from Elin costumes, we were able to transition Tera into Free-to-Play format smoothly.”
So all those “censored” outfits for the Elin turned out to be part of what helped the game make money. But it wasn’t just from people considered “pedophiles”.
Kat smit on the YouTube page for the comparison of censored versus uncensored content wrote…
“I play elin in tera, I’m 14 so I don’t think that makes me a pedophile (I’m a girl too). I like playing as elin because they’re really cute, I like the animal kind of style to them. Also with some of the other race the girls have armour with the boobs hanging out all over the place and it just makes me feel uncomfortable… I like the censored one better than the uncensored because I think the shorts look better with the outfits. I don’t really see the big deal, it’s not like they’re actually real.”
Some gamers questioned why it wasn’t possible to have both the censored and uncensored versions of the outfits in the game.
Skilliard wrote in a thread on the TERA Online forums…
“[…] as Tera continued to develop, many rather revealing costumes for Elin were released, uncensored. It started simply with things such as the swimsuits and maid outfits, which were only slightly more revealing than the armors that were censored. However, last Halloween, the devilicious outfit was released uncensored, and for Elin. Not only is the piece highly revealing, but as lingerie, it is a symbol of sexuality.
“Any media source looking for sensationalist material to attack would have struck that particular item if Tera was popular enough. This pretty much proves that if the armor modules were reverted to their original state, without much more than a mention in patch notes, it would not attract much negative press.”
Former TERA community manager, Minea, simply stated in response “No plan to change what we have, sorry.”
It is true, though, that the “Devilicious” outfits were pure fan-service. They weren’t mods or custom content, nor were they censored. They were part of the Halloween promotion in 2014 for the Western version of the game, as outlined over on the official TERA website [backup]. You can see the image of the outfit for the Elin race below.
Over on the Escapist Magazine forums, user PetitDemon pointed out the inconsistency in the censorship, writing…
“This topic isn’t to say that Tera needs a bunch of scantily clad lolis. Or a scantitly clad anyone. But En Masse and Bluefrog seem really hypocritical at this point to have censored them then, only to sell players practically naked Elin armors for like $10.
“Did they not know when they localized it, that Bluehole Studio was going to make a bunch of practically naked Elin costumes? Their idea is bizarre and inconsistent at this point. They really should have kept up the censorship, or dropped it altogether.”
Jaysleftnut over on Reddit came to a similar conclusion, except that they concluded that En Masse Entertainment was making money on selling cash shop items to subvert the appearance of censorship…
“What I don’t understand is how you can still obtain certain costumes (through codes, paid currency, etc.) that are very blatantly not censored (things like the steampunk outfit and the swimsuits). They are essentially letting people pay money to get rid of the censorship.”
While the cash shop for TERA at the moment no longer shows the swimsuits and lingerie due to the items rotating out based on seasonal events, there are images of the past outfits available for the Elin on the NSFW website Undertow.club that shows some of the animations, swimsuits and lingerie available for the Elin (barring the nude mods, which are obviously user made).
Nevertheless, part of what Heong mentioned was that it was because of listening to the feedback of the community – something they originally ignored – did they manage to turn TERA profitable, with the translated part of the text reading…
“What’s important is never giving up. If we didn’t bother with Elin school swimsuits because Tera was unpopular in Japan back then, Tera right now would be in a completely different state.”
Heong also mentions that the game eventually made the most money from North America after the hype around Diablo 3 and Guild Wars 2 died down. A lot of this was still thanks in part to the popularity of the Elin race.
It appears En Masse Entertainment recognizes the gold mine of what’s perceived to be a controversial character type and is quietly feeding the uncensored content into the Western versions of the game to avoid any negative media blitzing. They still make money; the media assumes the content is still censored; gamers get to purchase uncensored content through the cash shop. For as far as En Masse should be concerned… everybody wins.