Video Game Localization: Take Your Game Global

Localization

Chidinma Egwuogu

30 May 2023

12 min. read

Contents

With over 3.2 billion gamers who spend about $52.4 billion annually, it’s clear that video games have become a global phenomenon.

To bring their video games to a global audience, developers leverage localization.

What is video game localization?

At its core, video game localization is the adaptation of a video game for a specific market or region. The hows of whys of this process are covered below.

Pro tip: To simplify the complexity of video game localization, use a professional localization suite, like Centus. Learn more.

What is video game localization?

Video game localization is the adaptation of a video game for a new region or market. The adaptation involves the game’s name, dialogue, visual and audio assets, and marketing materials. What is video game localization? Video game localization can be broken down into these core components:

  1. Language translation: This involves converting the game’s text content into the target language while retaining the game’s original tone, style, and nuance. Text to be translated includes in-game dialogue, character information, prompts, and announcements.
  2. Technical adjustment: This entails modifying the game's software, rules, mechanics, and units of measurement to conform to local standards and expectations.
  3. Cultural adaptation: It involves modifying the gameplay to reflect cultural references, humor, idioms, and even symbolism.
  4. Visual and audio localization: It's important to make sure that visual and audio components reflect the local culture. This includes modifying character designs and clothes as well as music and voiceover.
  5. Marketing localization: To boost the game’s chances of success, tweak marketing messages to your audience’s liking and collaborate with local gaming influencers.
  6. Local regulations: You might be required to alter or remove sensitive content to ensure that the game's packaging and content adhere to the country's age restrictions.

Note that translation is merely a part of video game localization. While translation focuses on language conversion, localization takes an all-encompassing approach by adapting the entire game to make it feel native to its new audience.

Common challenges in game localization

Game localization is no easy feat and comes with a fair number of challenges. We’ll explore some of the key challenges in game localization, providing examples and practical solutions.

Navigating cultural issues

Localizing video games presents significant cultural adaptation challenges. As seen in a few cases, ignoring cultural norms can have serious negative consequences.

For instance, in 2008, Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet had to be pulled from shelves everywhere due to the inclusion of Quranic terms that could have been seen as objectionable in the Muslim world. Sony reportedly paid millions of dollars to get their products recalled. LittleBigPlanet on Playstation Source: Playstation

Solution: The answer lies in carrying out exhaustive cultural sensitivity analyses for each target market. This helps you spot any cultural gaffes before they become problems. You should also work with regional experts who are familiar with the cultural norms of your target audience.

Understanding language nuances

Language nuances and idioms are another area of difficulty in game localization. A game’s dialogues and narratives often contain language rules that don’t translate well into other languages, potentially leading to confusion or loss of meaning.

The Japanese dialogue in the Call of Duty’s level No Russian is arguably one of the most controversial mistranslations in the game's history.

The English statement "Remember, no Russian" meant to emphasize to the terrorists (acting as Americans) how crucial it is to keep their cover while carrying out a massacre at a civilian airport. The mistranslation in the Japanese version was "Kill them, they're Russian," which utterly misrepresents the context and meaning of the original sentence.

Instead of a storyline revolving around maintaining a disguise for a covert operation, it appeared as if the characters were explicitly targeting Russian civilians. The “Kill Them, they’re Russian” Scene Source: The Gamer

Solution: Hire linguists who are not just native speakers but also conversant in gaming. These professionals can modify local gaming jargon to accurately translate game content while preserving its core elements.

You should also test the localized version of your game with a focus group to make sure it produces the intended effect.

Maintaining game appeal across different markets

When a game is localized for other areas, it might be difficult to keep the original’s appeal. Every game has a distinct feel and atmosphere, which can occasionally be lost in translation or may not be understood by players from different cultural backgrounds.

For instance, the Arabic localization of FIFA 18, a popular football video game, incorporated the voice of famed Emirati sports commentator Faris Awad. This decision not only provided a more immersive and familiar gaming experience for Arabic-speaking players but also served to strengthen their connection with the game. Faris Awad helped localize FIFA18 Source: EASports

Solution: Carry out in-depth market research to understand player preferences across various geographies. Involving local gaming industry experts in the localization process is also crucial because they may provide valuable advice on how to maintain the game's appeal to the local audience.

Maintaining consistency

In video game localization, consistency is critical. It is a huge task to ensure that all localized versions are the same as the original game in terms of mechanics, storyline, character development, and overall experience.

A case in point is Ubisoft's Rainbow Six Siege, which received a negative reaction from fans after changes designed for the Chinese market were rolled out globally. Players were dissatisfied with how alterations made for one market impacted their gameplay experience. China’s Rainbow Six Siege removed gambling and violence elements Source: Gadgets 360

Solution: To maintain consistency, game developers can create a comprehensive localization guide describing the features that should and shouldn’t be altered.

Additionally, a sophisticated translation management system can help track and manage translations while also ensuring consistency across multiple localized versions.

Pro tip: Centus helps you keep all your game localization properties in one place and ensure consistency in your translations. See how.

Overcoming technical constraints

Technical constraints can provide substantial obstacles throughout the game localization process. These can include text expansion in translation, incorporating subtitles, character encoding difficulties, and compatibility with various hardware and software platforms.

For instance, “Save game” translated from English to German takes more space. translation of the phrase save game

Solution: To overcome technical hurdles, developers should build their games with localization in mind from the start. This can include preparing for text expansion, adopting universal encoding methods, and creating a flexible and scalable game architecture.

Catering to censorship laws and regulations

Censorship regulations for modern video games vary widely across jurisdictions, substantially complicating legal compliance.

The Wolfenstein series, for example, had to be significantly altered in Germany due to strict prohibitions against Nazi iconography. All Nazi references were erased or replaced, resulting in a separate version of the game for the German market. A scene from the Wolfenstein game Source: Gamespot

Solution: Before beginning the localization process, perform an extensive study of the target market's censorship laws and regulations. Working with legal experts and local consultants can also help game companies navigate the complex legal landscape without sacrificing the game’s core elements.

Translating lengthy game scripts

Another major difficulty in game localization is dealing with lengthy and sophisticated game scripts. With games becoming more narrative-driven, the sheer volume of material that needs to be translated and localized might be overwhelming.

For example, the game Witcher 3 contained around 450,000 words that needed to be translated and localized for multiple regions.

Pro tip: Leveraging a translation management system, like Centus, can help you handle vast volumes of translation material efficiently. Learn more.

How to localize a video game

Taking a video game global requires a thoughtful localization process. This 6-step guide will walk you through each stage of this journey, offering tips for each step of the video game localization process. how to localize a video game

Step 1: Making a game localization plan

The first stage in the video game localization process is to prepare a detailed plan. This includes selecting target markets, establishing budgets, and setting timetables.

  • Determine your target markets: Learn where your potential players are and what languages they speak. Analyze industry trends and demand to inform the target market choice. Monitor Discord and Twitch for localization requests.
  • Set your budget: The cost of localization might vary greatly based on the complexity of the project and the languages involved. Make sure you factor in all prospective expenses.
  • Create a timeline: Schedule all tasks involved in the localization process, including translation, testing, and release.
  • Analyze your needs: What aspects of the game need localization? Do you need subtitles, voiceovers, or something else? Run a content analysis to determine this.

Step 2: Preparing your video game assets for localization

Next, prepare all game assets, such as code, graphics, file formats, text, and strings, for localization. To ensure a smooth localization process and avoid potential complications later on, consider the following:

  • Separate strings from code to make it more accessible for translation and less likely to cause coding errors.
  • Ensure visual and symbol cultural appropriateness. What is acceptable in one culture may be insulting in another. Check if your graphics are globally applicable or adaptable to varied markets.
  • Ensure your file formats are localizable. Some formats lend themselves better to localization than others. Aim for widely-used, accessible formats such as JS, JSON, and INI, among others.

To make the preparatory step easier, you should plan your game for localization from the start of its development. Make sure text and graphics are separable and there are no (or few) hard-coded elements in your game. This process is called internationalization.

Learn the difference between internationalization and localization here.

Step 3: Create a localization kit

A localization kit, also known as a 'LocKit,' is a collection of resources and instructions to help the localization team translate and customize your game for other markets. This kit can help speed up the process, avoid misunderstandings, and ensure the quality of the localized product.

Here's what you should include in a localization kit:

  • Game elements: Include all text files and scripts requiring translation. This could include conversation scripts, user interface text, and metadata.
  • Technical requirements: List any technological constraints, such as text length limits, file formats, and program requirements.
  • Contact information: Provide the contact information of team members who can answer the localization team’s questions.
  • Visual components: Provide graphical content such as images, art, or videos to the translation team to offer context.
  • Context: Explain what each text string in the game pertains to. Context is essential for achieving effective translation and preventing misunderstanding.
  • Style guide: A style guide that explains the desired tone, style, and target audience can help translators match the mood of the original game.
  • Glossary: A glossary of terminology used in the game, such as character names, places, and in-game lingo, for consistency.

Remember that your localization kit will be the major reference for your localization team, so make it as full and detailed as possible. A well-prepared localization kit can help you save time, money, and headaches during the game localization process.

Step 4: Translate and localize game assets

After preparing game assets, the next step is audiovisual translation. This includes everything from written text to audio elements like voiceovers and subtitles.

This is a time and resource-intensive process. Don’t rush it.

Hire professional translators and voiceover artists to ensure accurate and culturally sensitive translations. Ideally, your translators should come from the target region and be versed in both the source and target languages.

To automate the process, consifer to use translation management system (TMS), it's critical to choose a solution that doesn’t only check all the boxes, but also meets your unique needs.

Centus is specifically designed to accommodate the intricacies of video game localization, providing you with a streamlined workflow and ensuring consistency across different languages and updates.

Let us help you take your games to the next level. Get a demo now!

Step 5: Perform localization quality assurance (LQA)

After translation and localization are finished, perform thorough localization quality assurance and testing of both audio and visual content. This stage is critical to ensuring that all localized materials fit properly in the game and function as planned.

You might need a fresh pair of eyes to check that all localized content is properly integrated into the game, preserving the original gaming experience and appealing to the audience. The best approach is to beta-test the localized version of the game.

Step 6: Launch and update

Localization does not end with the video game release. Gather, listen to, and act on player feedback to help you identify any faults you may have missed or areas you can improve on.

Your localized content should evolve in tandem with cultural changes. Keep track of any important cultural alterations or trends in your target market that might necessitate a localization update for your game.

Examples of successful video game localization

Let’s examine three games that achieved global recognition, partly due to their successful localization strategies.

Angry Bird

A screenshot of the Angry Birds Homepage Source: Angrybirds.com

Angry Birds, a game by the Finnish business Rovio Entertainment, became a global sensation due to its emphasis on localization.

The developer adapted the game into more than 10 languages and even modified some game characters to reflect regional holidays and customs. This attention to detail helped players around the world better connect with the game, elevating Angry Birds to a household name.

Pac-Man

A screenshot of the Google Pac-Man Doodle Source: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.

Pakkuman was Pac-Man's first name. This term is derived from the Japanese onomatopoeic word pakupaku, which imitates the sound of food consumption.

Namco transliterated the Japanese title for the game's international release, which changed it to Puck Man. However, worrying that the name might be vandalized by English speakers, the developers renamed the game to Pac-Man.

Localization efforts went beyond a mere name change. The game's mechanics, level design, and even ghost characters were subtly tweaked to better cater to the tastes and sensibilities of international players.

Genshin Impact

A screenshot of Genshin Impact’s Polish website Source: Genshin Impact Poland

Created by the Chinese developer MiHoYo, Genshin Impact was translated into 13 languages and included 4 separate language voice tracks to provide players with a more immersive experience. MiHoYo also took great care to adapt cultural references and in-game components to avoid potential regional misunderstandings.

As of December 2022, Genshin Impact had 4.67 million downloads worldwide, with monthly in-app purchase sales of 164 million US dollars.

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