What is video game localization?
Gamers are passionate and have high expectations from their games, especially with the number of available games. They want to interact with their favorite games in their native language. If you do not take the time to localize your game, gamers may decide to play another one instead.
In fact, nearly 60% of consumers think that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than the product price. A previous study has shown that more than 70% of consumers spend time on websites in their own language. This is also applicable to the game industry.
Furthermore, English is no longer a universal language; localization can quickly grab the attention of the targeted segments of a gaming company. And the process of transforming content to fit into the local language and cultural background is localization.
Video game localization can eliminate cultural barriers, increase the playability of your game, and create a better gaming experience. In addition, gaming localization helps companies in the gaming industry to reach a broader customer segment.
That being said, it’s not a simple process. You must overcome several video game localization challenges to create a great game experience.
The 7 video game localization challenges
A quote is a statement expressed by another person and is included in the text verbatim. Quotes can come from books, poems, speeches, etc.
In role-playing games, the non-player-character (NPC) can talk with players using quotes as a code to deliver vital information. When translating between two languages, translators need to understand the core meaning of quotes, and they should deliver their meaning based on the analog of the target language.
Improper translation of quotes can create entirely different meanings. For example, there is a Chinese quote “” that means “the loved ones are always more beautiful than others.”
When translated directly, it becomes “in the eyes of loved ones, Xi Shi appears.” Although there is nothing wrong with this translation, it does not carry the same weight in English. As you can imagine, Xi Shi is a Chinese historical figure that represents love; however, as famous as she is in China, Xi Shi is unlikely to foster an emotional reaction from non-Chinese audiences.
Among the video game localization challenges, slang is arguably one of the trickiest. Every language has one; it’s typically new and quick to change.
It rarely, if ever, has a direct counterpart in other languages. The meaning of each term can be subtle and quirky, and a few years later may come to mean something different.
To make matters worse, gaming carries its colorful vernacular that varies from one gaming subculture to another. That’s why gaming localization can be tricky to get right.
The role-playing community has its own set of abbreviations that are inextricably tied to the characters and archetypes of these games. This vocabulary isn’t used among FPS gamers or the sports simulation community.
For example, in MOBA games, such as DOTA or League of Legends, you are likely to run into these terms:
In this context, the term tank does not refer to a military vehicle but rather a character whose role is to soak as much damage as possible and protect his teammates.
Similarly, the term push here doesn’t refer to pushing another character away. Instead, it refers to a team’s systematic (and coordinated) attempt to overtake enemy objectives.
As you can see, a translator unfamiliar with the genre will likely make many mistakes. Furthermore, translators also need to know which words in the target language can replace these terms from the original source.
On top of that, slang carries cultural and legal weight behind it. Perhaps you’ve developed a game for mature audiences with its share of slang. However, your target market has a more puritan cultural background. You can imagine that in this context, you may need to modify some content to not offend your new player base.
As you know, coding mistakes can cause in-game issues and negatively affect the experience for gamers.
Every gamer worth their salt has experienced the infamous blue screen of death or similar crashes. However, what may be less common are linguistic issues in the code. For instance, if you are enjoying a game and suddenly your character’s dialogue shows up with symbols like these ���.
Then it means there is no encoded match in the target language for the characters from the source language.
A similar error can happen for issues with the font. Sometimes, its design is too exaggerated and artistic and does not have an equivalent in the target language. In this situation, gamers may see these symbols □□□ on the screen.
Placeholders are short code put in sentences that will be replaced by in-game texts, for example, %s, %1$@.
These placeholders should become actual real values in-game, not just symbols. These values can represent dynamic or imported values by players, including name, date, figures, texts, etc.
When localizing, translators should never delete or alter placeholders during the localization process because changes will negatively affect the in-game experience. Extra care must be exercised since placeholders are typically in text form and can be modified accidentally.
For example, if a player finishes an in-game task, he could receive some gold as a reward. In this context, a placeholder can be shown as “you get %s GOLD.” If a careless translator accidentally alters the “%s,” the disgruntled player will not receive his reward.
5. Format issue
Differences in the script length of different languages during the gaming localization process can change the overall format fitting.
As you may know, languages with different scripts differ in length. For example, the string length in English differs from that in Greek. These differences can be up to 300%.
The picture above illustrates the differences between English and Russian script. As you can see, when you translate “see you next time” from English into Russian, the Cyrillic script is too long for that textbox. This overflowing issue may seem insignificant, but it can give your game an unpolished look.
On top of that, some languages are written from right to left rather than left to right, which can add to the confusion. For example, Arabic and Hebrew. If you are not aware of these differences ahead of time, it may mean redesigning your entire UI, and that’s not what you want to see.
6. Delayed Launches
When a game is updated, the new features and fixes should also be applied to other localized language versions. However, the process will be time-consuming when you need to localize an enormous update.
Furthermore, you might be working on many projects simultaneously, but you might not have enough translators to finish the job on time. As you can imagine, if mismanaged, you’ll have to deal with launch delays.
To make matters worse, gaming issues can happen frequently. Every new feature can hide a new bug. Inevitably, if you need to change the content that was just localized due to some unforeseen problem, it further decreases your localization efficiency.
The delayed launch issue is more likely to happen at the beginning stages when the business has just started localizing. Start-up gaming localization companies are typically not equipped with the internal capabilities to deal with these projects. They may lack an MT, a good CMS, or talented human capital.
7. Target segment
Before starting the gaming localization process, you should pick your target carefully. Here are some questions you should have an answer for:
- What are the popular games in that market?
- How competitive is it?
- What are some cultural differences you need to consider?
You can reduce localization costs by taking the time to consider these questions.
If you have the budget, you can translate your game into the major languages (English, Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, German, and Arabic). By targeting these languages, you can reach a substantial population of the world.
Alternatively, you can aim for emerging markets instead since they are growing quickly and are less competitive. For instance, as gaming localization companies tell us, South-East Asia is one of the most exciting regions for gaming.
It has an expected annual growth rate of 8.5%. Furthermore, Indonesia, the largest gaming industry in South-East Asia, had a growth rate of 31.1% in one year from 2019 to 2020.
According to Statista, China, Japan, South Korea, and India were ranked 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 6th, respectively, on the estimated video game revenue in 2021.
There are also 3 European countries in the top 10 list; however, the revenue of these three countries is only 15% compared with the Asian countries we mentioned.
Video game localization best practices
There is one rule for game localization services – keep it simple. As you know, the UI of any given game is limited. That is especially true for mobile games. As such, you should limit your content’s size and length.
For translators, complicated content can make it difficult to fit into text boxes. It may also negatively impact the user experience. Think about it, when someone is playing a game, they need to process a lot of information. Dozens of real-time interactions, from fights to dialogues and everything in between.
If the content is excessive, gamers may feel overloaded and will only digest some of the information in your game. At best, they may start skipping dialogues, and at worst, they may give up on your game. Keeping your content short, can help players stay engaged and digest the game smoothly.
Sometimes, more than translation is needed. The vocabulary used in modern games can be pretty specific and is unlikely to have a direct translation into your target language.
If you intend to rely on gaming localization services, you should hire a team that can transcreate. By recreating your content in your target language, the localizers can transfer the full weight of your characters’ charisma.
Transcreation can express your characters’ tone, emotions, and cultural backgrounds. It can paint a picture that cannot be fully captured by translating the text directly. Think of the many different in-game elements you need to translate (characters, weapons, skills, upgrades, regions, cities, etc.). You must rely on more than translation.
For example, if one of your characters is called “Powerful Titan,” a direct translation into Chinese is unlikely to be very useful. Instead, you can pick a new name that expresses the same characteristics (power and strength) by relying on rich Chinese folklore. Although it is not a direct translation, it has a higher chance of resonating with Chinese gamers.
By transcreating catchy words and text content, translators can make games more relevant to the cultural background of your target countries, delivering a better gamer experience.
As a gaming company, continuous localization can take your localization efforts to the next level. Nowadays, developers make consistent updates and patches to their games and need them localized immediately.
However, by relying on traditional gaming localization services, developers, translators, and project managers work step-by-step.
In other words, you are forced to work in big batches. The localizers must wait for you to complete a whole set of code before they get started, which means you can only publish your new patch once they are done.
The process follows this basic sequence:
1st Code > 2nd Localize > 3rd Test > 4th Publish.
5th Code > 6th Localize > 7th Test > 8th Publish.
This process needs to take place for every batch of new code. Of course, if there are any issues along the way, you have to start from step 1, which inevitably wastes a lot of time.
On the other hand, continuous localization allows you to integrate the localization process with the development one. The two teams can work in parallel and save you a whole step in that process.
1st Code and Localize > 2nd Test > 3rd Publish.
4th Code and Localize > 5th Test > 6th Publish.
Continuous localization helps gaming localization companies to utilize their resources more effectively. It creates a more efficient localization process that bypasses delays and increases flexibility.
Localization, like many endeavors, can benefit from some valuable automation. When dealing with frequent updates and large volumes of work on multiple projects simultaneously, using some tools is a must.
For translators, computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools are beneficial in simplifying the tasks at different stages of localization.
For example, Trados (a powerful CAT tool) has a translation memory technology that enables translators to use approved documents from previous projects. You can improve your team’s productivity and consistency by relying on this database.
Trados also has a cloud-based system that allows users to check the translation, review, and management process of projects. You access it on both computers and mobile devices.
With a centralized system of automated tools, every localization team member can seamlessly work in a secure environment. As a result, it improves the overall project management and productivity for gaming localization companies and in-house localizers alike.
Be a gamer
At the end of the day, to create a truly unique product that your customers will love, you have to understand them deeply.
By becoming a gamer, you can actually go through the experience your customers will go through. You will experience their way of communicating, what they enjoy and where they struggle. It is arguably the best way to solve game localization problems.
It’s not just about playing your own games. By engaging with the gaming community, you can understand them across the board, and you’ll likely glean insights beyond localization.
By combining your thoughts with feedback from other players, you can bring new inspiration to adjust your current localization strategy.
If you rely on translators that don’t play games, they may translate your game very well, but the translated text will lack a gamer’s touch. It will read like a novel or a movie. However, a game is not a novel or a movie. It has its own vocabulary. A truly immersive game must be designed, developed, and localized by gamers.
- CAT tools and continuous localization are vital to solving issues caused by technical challenges (coding, placeholders, format issues)
- For linguistic challenges (quotes, slang), translators should combine both brevity and creativity in practice.
- Transcreation is important. There needs to be more than word-for-word translation to deliver good gaming localization services.
- The ultimate goal of gaming localization is to engage with the audience and create a better gamer experience.
- You can only truly localize a game only when you start to play the game.
Sometimes, leaving it to the professionals can be easier.