Navigating the Chinese Market: Choosing the Right Dialect for Your Game Localization

Expanding into a new market is one of the fastest ways to increase your game’s revenue. And of all the ones out there, the Chinese market is undoubtedly attractive. That said, localizing a game to such a foreign market is no easy feat. The language alone is challenging enough; after all, you can choose from many different dialects of Chinese. Well, no worries; we are here to provide you with all the necessary information to get your world into Chinese gamers’ hands.

2023-01-13

Should you enter the Chinese market?

The Chinese market for video games is one of the largest and fastest-growing in the world. The country is home to more than 742.2 million gamers, which makes it a precious market for game developers and publishers looking to expand their reach and revenue. Translating a game into Chinese opens up a vast new audience of potential players, which can significantly increase your profitability. In 2021, the Chinese games market reached a revenue of $45.8 billion, and it’s projected to reach $50.78 billion by 2023, predicted by Statista.

If you don’t, your competitors will!

The revenue alone is good enough of a reason to consider expanding into China. But, if you still need convincing, let’s look at what some of your potential competitors have achieved.

Activision-Blizzard

As you undoubtedly know, Blizzard is one of the largest gaming companies out there, primarily due to their massive IP hit—the Warcraft franchise. Their success is partly due to their understanding of localization principles and their value. In fact, here is an excerpt from their own report:

“International sales are a fundamental part of our business. An important element of our international strategy is to develop content that is specifically directed toward local cultures and customs.”

This strategy has paid massive dividends over the years. In fact, international sales accounted for 51% of their total revenue for 2021. Their best markets were the U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and of course, China.

Furthermore, the Asia Pacific region alone generated $461 million in 2021. Remember that this number does not include the revenue generated by Activision and King, the two branches of the Activision-Blizzard consortium.

CD PROJECKT

Consider another gaming franchise that started small and is now a global phenomenon—the Witcher. If there is a company that understands the value of localization, it’s undoubtedly CD PROJEKT. The first game of the series was released in 2007, yet the Witcher 3 is sold across all major continents. In fact, during their 2021 report, 97.6% of their entire sales revenue was generated by exports.

As you can see, the Asian continent is a significant sales driver for the game series. And there is no doubt that Chinese gamers represent a substantial part of the Asian segment.

You may not manage or develop a multi-million dollar franchise, but every day that you do not consider and take steps towards expanding is a day that your competitors gain. As they enter these markets and become well-entrenched, your odds of success decrease. Can you really afford to leave millions on the table?

Before you start localizing your game, there is a crucial question you should answer:

Which dialect should you pick?

Contrary to popular belief, there is more than one version of Chinese. Usually, when you see anyone talking about Chinese, they refer to Mandarin. However, there are many, many, many other dialects.

How many Chinese dialects are there?

According to the “overview of the Chinese language” issued by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China in 2019, there are mainly 10 dialects listed.

  1. Guanhua (官话) – Mandarin.
  2. Jin (晋语) – the core dialect of Taiyuan and Lvliang districts.
  3. Wu (吴语) – Shanghainese, etc.
  4. Min (闽语) – Hokkien, Taiwanese, etc.
  5. Hakka (客家话) – is one of the official languages in Taiwan.
  6. Yue (粤语) – Cantonese.
  7. Xiang (湘语) – Hunanese, etc.
  8. Gan (赣语) – the core dialect of Jiangxi province.
  9. Hui (徽语) – the core dialect of Huizhou.
  10. Pinghua (平话土话) – the core dialect in the Guangxi province.

*This is not an exhaustive list; many tiny branches and sub-branches exist. Those will not be covered in this article.

*Based on Glottolog data.

The picture above shows the distribution of all 10 officially recognized Chinese dialects on the map of China. As you can see, Mandarin (1.1 billion) is the most commonly spoken, accounting for 78% of the Chinese population.

The only other sizeable subgroups are the Wu (81.8 million) and Yue (85.2 million), according to Ethnologue. The remaining dialects are relatively unused; for instance, the Ping only accounts for 7 million speakers.

Under each officially listed 10 dialects, some sub-branches may vary substantially depending on the location. The dialects of spoken Chinese can vary across provinces, cities, and small districts, especially in rural areas. Sometimes, the differences between two sub-dialects are tiny, but they show differences in linguistic cultures. For example, the Suzhou dialect and Shanghainese are both under the Wu branch, but the Shanghainese pronunciation sounds stiffer compared with the softer Suzhou tones.

As you can imagine, with such a variety of dialects, it begs the question, which one suits your game best?

Which factors affect your choice?

One of the factors to consider is the profile of your ideal gamer. Their place of residence, gender, and linguistic preferences may determine which dialect you should select.

The geographical region

There are two main dialects to consider here: Cantonese and Mandarin. As mentioned above, Mandarin is spoken throughout most of mainland China. On the other hand, Cantonese is primarily used in the southeastern region of mainland China, especially in the Guangdong province, around Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Quick fun fact! Guangzhou’s former name was Canton, which is why the regional dialect is known as Cantonese.

If you intend to market your game in these regions, then Cantonese voiceovers are a must. After all, the differences between the two dialects are vast enough that Mandarin-fluent gamers cannot understand Cantonese dubbing and vice versa.

Now, I know you’re thinking: Where does Taiwan come in? As a matter of fact, Taiwan’s spoken dialect is Mandarin. There are, however, slight differences in accent and vocabulary. These differences are significant enough that it’s considered a separate dialect, i.e., Taiwanese.

The segments

As mentioned above, Mandarin covers a massive swath of the population—1.1 billion speakers. On the other hand, Cantonese only covers 71-80 million speakers. If your goal is to capture a small untapped niche, then Cantonese is arguably the better choice. On the other hand, if you are seeking a mass-market appeal, Mandarin may be the better choice.

According to the UN, Hong Kong’s sex ratio is 84.48 men to 100 women. On the other hand, mainland China’s population has more males. These ratios can make Cantonese an excellent choice for a niche game with a female target audience.

The type of game you are designing also affects the gaming segment you should target. For instance, Rainy Butcher is an indie game based on a series of real murderers that happened in Hong Kong. To create an authentic experience, they relied on Cantonese voiceovers—to significant effect.

Another game that leveraged Cantonese well is Far Away. The developers based the plot on Hong Kong mob movies. As such, Cantonese was the clear choice. By creating an authentic atmosphere that gamers loved, 96% of all their reviews were positive on Steam.

The budget

The last factor that could affect your linguistic choice is your budget. Finding talented artists who can speak your dialect of choice fluently is essential for voiceovers. As you can imagine, talent availability can be an important factor.

Due to its considerable popularity, Mandarin-speaking voice actors are easier to find. As such, localizing your game into Mandarin will cost you less than any other version, making it the most cost-effective choice in most cases.

However, if you have more flexibility, consider other dialects. For instance, despite the many similarities between Taiwanese and Mandarin, Microsoft localized the Age of Empires Definitive Edition into both dialects, garnering more enthusiasm from the gaming communities of both regions.

Another great example is the Arknights game. Although it was not entirely localized, the game developers took the time to include the Sichuan, Suzhou, and Shanxi dialects when appropriate. It’s no surprise that this game took the number one spot in China’s 2019 IOS grossing chart.

Skip the hassle and get a partner

Remember that this is just one aspect of the language you’ll need to consider. The Chinese writing system consists of two variants: Traditional and Simplified. An adequate understanding of their differences is essential to localize your game accurately.

Considering the complexity of the language and the local customs, it is often a good idea to consider a local partner. As a partner, Transphere puts will put your worlds and community first. From the first string to the first playthrough.

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