7 Video Game Localization Challenges that You Should Know


Video game localization challenges

Table of Contents

Before jumping into the 7 video game localization challenges you will face, let’s set a working definition.

We will cover two crucial questions:

  • What exactly do we mean by video game localization?
  • And why should you even care about it?

What is video game localization?

Video game localization is the adaptation of a game to fit the preferences of local gamers. For instance, think of World of Warcraft. When they first made it, the developers had American gamers in mind.
But as the game grew and they opened international servers, they had to adapt it for French, German, and Chinese gamers. And we aren’t talking about translating the game quests alone. But rather, many elements, both in-game and out.
Here is a short list of localization elements to keep in mind:
  • The text (menus, quests, items, etc.).
  • The audio (dialogues, sound effects, etc.).
  • The gameplay (more fast-paced, more community, etc.).
  • The art (cultural references, censorship, etc.)
  • The pricing (Vietnamese gamers can’t pay the same prices as American gamers).
That’s a lot, we know. But we promise you it’s essential.
A non-localized game can’t grow. And a poorly localized game gets aggressively punished by its community. And you don’t have to take our word for it.

Why does video game localization matter?

The short answer? Because gamers care about it. Gamers are passionate and have high expectations from their games. That fact is particularly true in the modern hyper-competitive landscape of today.
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. Consider these statistics:
  • 60% of consumers value their ability to get information on a product (i.e., a game) in their language more than price.
  • 70% of consumers prefer to spend time on a website in their language rather than English.
Not enough? Alright, check this screenshot below.
The text roughly translates to: “I do NOT recommend this game since they did not bother adding Spanish subtitles.”
As we said, it is vital to take the time to think of localization during the game development process. It can pay dividends later on.
Case in point.
Far Away a beloved game was dubbed into Cantonese to fit the video game localization needs of its gaming community. And the review? Stellar
Dubbing to Cantonese for an authentic experience? Yes please!
Far Away a beloved game was dubbed into Cantonese to fit the video game localization needs of its gaming community. And the review? Stellar
Dubbing to Cantonese, loved by Chinese players too.
Video game localization can rid you of cultural barriers and improve the playability of your game. As a member of the game industry, don’t wait until you’re forced to localize.
Now that you understand its value let’s dive into the video game localization challenges you will face.

The 7 video game localization challenges



A quote is a statement expressed by another person and is included in a text verbatim. Quotes can come from books, poems, speeches, etc.
In a game, a quote can come in many forms. For instance, non-player characters (NPC) can talk with players using quotes as a code to deliver vital information.
When dealing with a quote, cultural references, and contextual understanding is very important. A translator can’t focus on providing an accurate translation alone. They have to go beyond that and think of the quote’s full meaning.

Literal translations can create entirely different meanings. Consider this Chinese quote:


“Qing ren yan li chu xi shi.”

Now, the literal translation:

“In the eyes of loved ones, Xi Shi appears.”

Did that make sense to you? Because it certainly didn’t to us.

A better translation would be, “The loved ones are always more beautiful than others.” Although it strays from a literal interpretation of the source text, it captures the intended meaning.

The thing is, Xi Shi is a Chinese historical figure who represents love. But, as famous as she is in China, Xi Shi is unlikely to foster any reaction from non-Chinese audiences.

2. Slang

Among the top video game localization challenges, slang is one of the trickiest. Every language has one and it’s typically new and ever-changing.

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, it 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.

For instance, RPGs and their communities have their own vocabulary. These words are born out of the need to describe the unique characters and archetypes of the genre.

Let’s look at a quick example: The rogue.

This word is a common character type that any RPG fan can instinctively understand. But if a translator with no RPG or gaming experience were to translate it, they would stumble. Let’s look at what they might find in an online dictionary.

Rogue definitions: 1: a dishonest or worthless person: 2: a mischievous person 3: a horse inclined to shirk or misbehave 5: an individual exhibiting a chance and usually inferior biological variation -Video Game Localization Challenges That You Should Know

Another great example is the MOBA genre. If you’re not familiar with it, this category includes hyper-popular games like DOTA or League of Legends. In this genre, the following terms are prevalent:

  • Gank.
  • Carry.
  • Tank.
  • Lane.
  • Push.

As you can imagine, “tank” does not refer to a military vehicle. Instead, it refers to a specific type of character. This archetype’s role is to protect his teammates and soak up plenty of damage. Their defining characteristic is their durability.

“Push” does not mean the act of pushing another character away, far from it. Instead, it means a team’s systematic and coordinated attempt to attack specific enemy objectives.

The term “lane” might be the easiest one to guess. It refers to distinct paths in the game map. 

As you can see, if a translator only looks at the source text, he will fail. Translators must play the game in both languages to have the necessary knowledge to succeed.

On top of that, slang carries cultural and legal weight behind it. There may be illegal terms that you did not consider during the game development process. For instance, references to alcohol may not be allowed in some countries, even if they are an inherent part of your game’s lingo.

3. Coding

As you know, coding mistakes can cause in-game issues and affect the gaming experience. Every gamer worth their salt has experienced the infamous blue screen of death or similar crashes. 

But, what may be less common are language issues in the code. For example, if your gaming journey was interrupted by symbols like these:


Then, it means there is no encoded match in the target text for the characters from the source text.

A similar error can happen for issues with the font. Sometimes, its design is too exaggerated and artistic. And it does not have a match in the target language. In this situation, gamers may see these symbols □□□ on the screen.

Chinese and Arabic are good examples. Their fonts provide lower degrees of freedom than Latin scripts. 

4. Placeholders

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.

Translators should never delete or alter placeholders during the localization process. Otherwise, the changes will create in-game bugs. For example, a common way of rewarding a gamer is by giving them gold coins after a quest. In this context, a placeholder could appear as “you get %s GOLD.”

But your gamer will never receive his reward if the placeholder gets deleted. And as you well know, a broken quest leads to angry gamers.

Translators must be very careful. Not only are placeholders critical, they are easy to mess up. They tend to come in text form. So, accidentally deleting them is easy.

5. Format issue

During video game localization, format issues are not uncommon. And that’s due to the difference in language length.

For example, the string length in English differs from that in Greek. These differences can be up to 300%. That’s another reason to steer clear from literal translations and focus on meaning and form.

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 the textbox.

This overflowing issue may seem insignificant, but it gives your game an unpolished look. And if it repeats itself a lot, your gamers won’t be excited about it.

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 unaware of these differences ahead of time, it may mean redesigning your entire UI. And that’s just a major headache.

6. Delayed Launches

Aside from creating an astounding game, one of your most important goals is to put your game into the market stat. Every extra month you spend in the game development phase leads to increased costs and no additional revenue.
And video game localization challenges can delay your game deployment substantially. For instance, when you update your game, each new feature should be supported in your target languages. It’s not a big deal with small patches, but what about a significant expansion?
You might be working on many projects at a time. And sadly, you don’t have enough translators to finish the job on time. These problems compound to a delayed patch and unhappy gamers.
Of course, we can’t forget about those pesky bugs. Every new patch comes with its unique set. It further slows you down if you must circle back to deal with a recently localized patch to fix a bug.
These types of problems are more likely to happen in the beginning stages. Or with companies that are not familiar with localization.
Indie games are usually not equipped with the internal capabilities to deal with localization. Good MTs can be expensive, let alone with a CMS or access to the necessary human capital.

7. Target segment

What does marketing have to do with localization? 


Think about it. Suppose a localizer does not fully understand your targets and how they talk or like to hear. In that case, they may translate your content too rigidly or informally. There is always more than one way of translating a given word, and the more we know about the target audience, the more accurate the result.

It can also help you select which languages to translate your game into. Only some languages are worth the money. Rogue-likes aren’t popular everywhere. And simulators may be more popular in some regions than in others.

That’s why this video game localization challenge has everything to do with research. You absolutely should spend some time thinking of your ideal gamer. 

Here are some examples of the questions that can help you think?

  • What are the popular games in that market?
  • How competitive is it?
  • What are some cultural differences you need to consider?
  • What platforms do they use?

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, Russian, German, and Arabic). By targeting these languages, you can reach a large world population.

Or, you can aim for emerging markets since they are growing and less competitive. 

For instance, as gaming localization companies tell us, Southeast 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 Southeast Asia, grew 31.1% in one year from 2019 to 2020.

According to Statista, India is also a terrific choice. Ranking 6th in revenue (2021), they are quickly becoming a dominant market.

You can also pick more mature markets, such as China, Japan, and South Korea, which rank 1st, 3rd, and 4th in video game revenue (2021).

If you prefer European nations, 3 nations (Germany, France and the UK) are in the top 10. But keep in mind that these 3 only amounted to 15% of the revenue generated by Asian nations.

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 video game. Keeping your content short can help players stay engaged and digest the game smoothly.

The many localizable items in a video game, from stats, character background, profile information, etc.


 We’ve touched on this before, but you can solve many video game localization challenges by transcreating. 

The vocabulary used in video games is particular. It is unlikely to have a direct translation into your target language. Transcreation can express your characters’ tone, emotions, and cultural backgrounds. It can paint a picture that cannot be fully captured by a literal translation. 

Consider the many in-game elements you need to translate (characters, weapons, skills, upgrades, regions, cities, etc.). Relying on more than plain translation is the smart choice.

For example, if you have a character called “Powerful Titan,” a direct translation into Chinese will not fit. Yes, we know there are better names than this one. But just tag along.

Instead, you can pick an original name in Chinese that befits your character’s style. In this case, he exudes power and strength. There are countless great names that you can pull from Chinese folklore to fit this type of persona. Although it is not a direct translation, it has a higher chance of resonating with Chinese gamers.

If you intend to rely on gaming localization services, hire a team that can transcreate. The localizers can fully transfer your character’s charisma by recreating your content in your target language.

Continuous localization

As a gaming company, continuous localization can take your localization efforts to the next level. Nowadays, developers update their games regularly and need them localized immediately. But, by relying on traditional gaming localization services the process is too slow. Developers, translators, and project managers work sequentially.
In other words, this old process forces you to work in big batches. Or at least slow batches. Localizers wait for the developers to complete a whole patch before they start working. Here is what the process looks like:
The old process of video game localization and the challenges it creates

This process needs to take place for every batch of new code. Of course, if there are any issues along the way, you must start from step 1, which wastes a lot of time.

But continuous localization allows you to integrate localization with game development. The two teams can work in parallel, saving you a whole step. Compare the two processes below.

The old model of video game localization vs continuous localization for video game localization

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.

A simplified video game localization process using continuous localization.

Use tools

Localization is very familiar with automation. Using AI tools is a must when dealing with frequent updates and large volumes of work on many projects at once.

Granted, AI is far from being the only tool in a localizer’s toolkit. Computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools are a fantastic non-AI example. They can simplify the translation tasks at different stages of localization.

Trados is the most famous CAT tool out there, and for good reason. It relies on translation memory technology. As its name indicates, this tech memorizes words from previous projects. And when translators tackle a new project, they can lean on this memory instead of starting from scratch. As a result, you can improve your team’s productivity and consistency.

Trados also has a cloud-based system that allows users to check the translation, review, and management process of projects. You can access it on both computers and mobile devices. This centralized system allows every team member to work in a secure environment.

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 the best way to solve video 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. As a result, you’ll likely glean insights beyond localization. By combining your thoughts with feedback from other players, you can bring new inspiration to adjust your strategy.
If you rely on translators who 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. But, 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.

Key Takeaways

  • 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.

Video game localization by gamers and for gamers


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