What Is Video Game Localization and How to Take Your Game Global
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.
Read this article to discover:
Pro tip: To simplify the complexity of video game localization, use a professional localization suite, like Centus. Learn more.
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.
Video game localization can be broken down into these core components:
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.
Technical adjustment: This entails modifying the game's software, rules, mechanics, and units of measurement to conform to local standards and expectations.
Cultural adaptation: It involves modifying the gameplay to reflect cultural references, humor, idioms, and even symbolism.
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.
Marketing localization: To boost the game’s chances of success, tweak marketing messages to your audience’s liking and collaborate with local gaming influencers.
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.
For any game developer eyeing the global gaming market, video game localization isn't just an option—it's a necessity. Here’s why.
Video game localization gives you a competitive edge. According to Newzoo, the global games market is expected to generate up to $211.2 billion annually. To tap into this growth, companies need to reach beyond their domestic markets.
By localizing, you’re making your game more appealing than those of competitors who do not localize.
Consider the example of the game Among Us. Initially released in 2018, it saw modest success. However, when the developers localized the game into multiple languages in 2020, its popularity skyrocketed, with streamers in Brazil and South Korea being the first to realize the game’s potential. By November 2020, the Among Us team had managed to leapfrog the competition and attract a monthly user base of over half a billion players.
Localization can significantly impact your bottom line. As per a report by Statista, more than 63% of Steam users do not speak English as their first language. This suggests a sizable audience segment that might be underserved by games that aren't available in their native languages.
Localizing your game can help you grow your player base and, in turn, your revenue.
Finding new fans
Localizing your video game helps you connect with new audiences and build dedicated fan bases in different regions. For instance, China has one of the world’s largest gaming populations, with more than 701 million gamers as of 2022.
Imagine if anyone had cornered that market earlier.
Well, PUBG did. With the help of Chinese company Tencent, the PUBG developers localized the game to cater to Chinese preferences. The alterations included adding “socialist core values, Chinese traditional culture and moral rules” and giving it a new title called “Game for Peace.”
The localization efforts paid off: the game is now the third-leading mobile game app in China.
Obtaining high-quality reviews
A localized game will get better reviews and ratings. Players are more likely to enjoy and positively review a game when they can fully comprehend and participate in it. These reviews may affect your game's exposure on the App Store or Google Play Store, thereby boosting its downloads.
For instance, Rockstar Games' GTA V, available in over 20 languages, boasts a 7.9 score on Metacritic, reflecting the high player satisfaction that can come from effective localization.
Inspiration for new games
Insights from localization can inspire ideas for new games that are especially suited for a particular audience. It can show you where regional markets have gaps that your future games could fill. These could be in terms of genre, gameplay, or even a plot based on local mythology or history.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Let’s examine three games that achieved global recognition, partly due to their successful localization strategies.
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.
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.
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.
Video game localization might seem challenging, but with careful planning and execution, you can expand your game's reach and impact. Here are five tips to guide you through the process:
1. Start planning your game localization early
Localization is not an afterthought. It is an essential element of the game production process. The earlier you start planning for it, the easier the procedure will be. When planning a game, think about code flexibility for varying text lengths and character sets, UI design to support language variances, and cultural nuances of game assets and storyline.
2. Communicate frequently with your localization team
Start involving your localization team right from the game's early development phase and keep in touch with them as the game evolves. Regular updates, constructive feedback, and sharing resources like game builds, asset files, and contextual details can substantially improve the localization outcome.
3. Don’t skimp on quality assurance
Localization Quality Assurance (LQA) or localization testing ensures your game is linguistically correct, culturally sensitive, and technically functional in your target language. Make sure to allot enough time for LQA in your schedule, carry out tests at different stages of development, use native speakers for language checks, and use localization testing tools for technical checks.
4. Leverage the publicity
This tip is two-fold.
One, you should localize while your game still has appeal. Let the hype help you sell the product.
Two, incorporate localization into your marketing strategy to maximize engagement and initial downloads. Synchronizing your localization schedule with your marketing timeline allows you to incorporate localized content into your promotions and build anticipation for your game’s launch in new markets.
5. Choose the right translation management system (TMS)
Picking the right Translation Management System (TMS) is a crucial part of your game's localization process. A great TMS simplifies your localization process, gives a clear view of the workflow, and helps maintain uniformity across updates and languages.
Here are key points to keep in mind when choosing your preferred TMS:
Automation: A TMS with automation features can save you time by automatically managing repetitive processes such as refreshing translation memory or pushing updates. The system should also provide a mechanism to provide context to translators in order to ensure correct and suitable translations.
Collaborative tools: Look for features that enable efficient cooperation and communication among translators, developers, designers, and project managers.
Support for multiple file formats: Your chosen TMS should support a variety of file formats often used in game development, such as XML, JSON, and YAML among others.
Quality assurance tools: The TMS should have built-in LQA tools to quickly identify and address issues.
When it comes to your 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.
At Centus, our aim extends beyond offering a basic tool. We provide a comprehensive solution that accompanies and supports your project from inception to completion. We're not just a service provider, we are your dedicated localization partner.
Let us help you take your games to the next level. Get a demo now!
Video game localization is vital in reaching global audiences and generating revenue abroad.
Video game localization goes well beyond mere dialogue translation. Instead, it encompasses the adaption of the game’s audio and video assets as well as its marketing campaigns.
To facilitate the complex, multifaceted video game localization process, use a professional localization management system like Centus.
What is the purpose of localization of a game?
The purpose of game localization is to deliver a gaming experience that feels as if it was crafted specifically for the players within a particular region. It involves tailoring the video game’s audio and visual content to the language, culture, and norms of that region.
How do I start game localization?
Comprehensive planning is the first step in localizing games. Understanding your target market, selecting the appropriate languages, and gathering all materials that require localization are a part of this process.
After that, you must prepare your game for localization by making it "localization-friendly." This could include duties like scripting the game to support several languages, isolating text from source code, and developing a localization kit.
The game content is then translated and localized using a professional localization team and a translation management system. After the translation, the game requires localization quality assurance (LQA).
What are the top 10 languages for game localization?
The choice of languages for game localization largely depends on your target markets. However, the top 10 languages in the global video game industry generally include English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Japanese, Polish, and Turkish — with Italian, Korean, and Hindi as honorable mentions. It's always best to conduct market research to identify the most profitable languages for your specific game.
How long does game localization take?
It can take anywhere from three months to a year.
However, the time required for game localization can vary greatly depending on several factors, including the size and complexity of the game, the number of languages you're localizing into, the efficiency of your localization team or the TMS you're using, and the level of quality assurance required.
Don’t pick or announce a release date until you’ve calculated your localization time.