All your base are belong to us!
This infamous line from the Japanese video game Zero Wing is now considered one of the most famous (and amusing) examples of poor localization.
That’s also a good example of how easily translating your game may become a disaster instead of a profit maker.
In this article, we’ll offer you some insights on how to do game localization right. So let’s get started!
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What is video game localization?
Video game localization is the process of adapting a video game to a specific market or region. This can involve anything from translating the game’s text and dialog to adjusting the gameplay to suit local preferences.
There are four main components:
- Translation: Translating the game’s text, dialog, and other written content into another language.
- Cultural adaptation: Making sure that the game’s content is appropriate for the target market, taking into account things like cultural norms and sensitivities.
- Local marketing: Promoting the game in the target market, using channels and strategies that are appropriate for the local audience.
- Technical expertise: Ensuring that the game can be localized conveniently and preferably continuously, without compromising on quality.
You might be thinking, “That all sounds like a lot of work. Why would I even bother?” It is a lot of work. But it’s also important work, and here’s why.
3 good reasons to localize your game
There are at least three arguments for why localization is not just a “nice to have” but an essential part of your video game development strategy:
#1 Increased revenue
First and foremost, localization can help you make more money. A lot more money, in fact.
Here is a statistic from Newzoo that shows the revenue expected to be generated by video games in the top 10 markets in 2022:
So, while the total game revenue is expected to hit over $200 bln for the first time in 2022, just over $50 bln accounts for English-speaking countries. This means that if you’re just releasing your game in English, you’re missing out on 3x your current revenue.
Even translating your game to 8 languages will just barely cover another $50 bln, so when it comes to localization, the more languages you can support, the better.
#2 Better user experience (and reviews!)
A study by Allcorect Games found that games with negative feedback on localization have overall lower ratings on Steam, with 20% fewer people being willing to recommend the game.
So if you’re thinking that a good game will motivate players to go to some lengths to understand it, think again. If your game is difficult to understand in another culture, you’re going to have a hard time getting people to play it — and even harder time getting them to recommend it to others.
#3 Competitive edge
Finally, if you’re still not convinced, just take a look at the competition.
If you look at the five most-selling video games right now, you see that each of them is localized to multiple languages:
So if Nintendo and Sony bother to localize their games, there must be something in it that’s worth their while, right?
How to localize a video game, step-by-step
In the good ol’ days, game localization would be a matter of sending files back and forth between the developer and the translator until everything was just right. But these days, localization is a much more complex process that involves a whole team including translators, cultural consultants, marketing specialists, and technical experts.
Many aspects of video game localization are similar to the localization of other types of software, so you might want to read our guide on software localization too.
So here are the main steps in the video game localization process:
We can’t tell you how many companies dive into localization without first making sure their game’s coding, architecture, and user interfaces were ready for accommodating new languages (we call this process internalization), but we know that checking out first would save them a lot of time and effort in the future.
Some of the things you should consider when internationalizing your game are:
- Localization framework: Make sure your allows translating your game into different languages.
- Text encoding: Make sure that your game’s text is encoded in a way that supports multiple languages.
- Fonts: Use fonts that are appropriate for the languages you want to support to avoid text rendering issues or having to install (and purchase!) additional fonts for other languages.
- Multimedia: Avoid using graphics or audio that are too specific to a certain culture or region.
- Dialogue and in-game texts: Unless your game is specifically designed to represent a certain cultural setting, avoid using regional dialects or colloquialisms in dialogues and in-game texts.
All in all, the goal of internationalization is to make your game as easy to localize as possible. This might seem like a lot of work, but it will save you time and money in the long run. So it’s definitely worth doing if you want to avoid any localization headaches down the road.
Further reading: Internationalization: What it is, why it matters, and where to start.
Setting up the localization workflow
Having a proper workflow in place is inevitable for big projects unless you want the whole process to turn into a mess. So it’s definitely worth taking the time to set up a workflow that works well for you and your team.
Some of the questions you need to answer when setting up your localization workflow include:
- At what stage of development will localization be included? Will it be after the game is tested and the strings to translate are already approved? Or are you looking for a more agile process, where localization can take place parallel to game development? This will help you set the right timeline and avoid missing deadlines.
- What are the stages of the localization process? Are you going for a trustworthy translation-editing-proofreading flow, or are you going for something less comprehensive? Will you be testing the localized version of the game? Will you get local marketing/PR experts involved to help promote the game in the target market? This will let you estimate the resources and expenses involved.
- Who will be responsible for each stage of the localization process? Do you have in-house staff who can handle the localization, or do you need to outsource it to a professional localization company? In the latter case, how much freedom will you give the outsourced vendor to make decisions about things like terminology and cultural adaptation? With these answers you'll be able to set the right communication flow and avoid micromanagement.
- What tools will you use for localization? Do you already have a translation management system (TMS) in place, or do you need to find one? What about glossaries, style guides, and reference materials? Having the right tools at hand will allow you ensure translation quality and consistency and minimize human error when changing or updating translations.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should give you a good idea of the kind of things you need to think about when setting up your localization workflow.
Further reading: Software localization: Getting your product ready for the global market.
Video games are one of the most expensive types of content to translate. This is because games tend to combine the creative nature of literature with the technical complexity of software, calling for human translators who are creative, tech-savvy, and have strong writing skills — something that’s not easy to find.
That’s why finding a way to cut translation costs without compromising on quality is really important if you want to make your localization efforts sustainable in the long run. In the past, this meant working with a localization company that could offer you discounts based on the volume of your translations.
These days, translation management systems (TMS) such as Smartcat have streamlined the translation process to make it more efficient even for small localization teams. With a TMS, you can manage your localization projects in one place, track the progress of your translations, and get real-time insights into your translation costs.
More specifically, a TMS can help you with things like:
- Running projects: A TMS gives you a centralized place to manage all your localization projects. This includes things like creating and managing translation jobs, assigning jobs to translators, and tracking progress.
- Vendor management: A TMS helps you manage your localization vendors, including things like creating and managing vendor profiles, assigning jobs to vendors, finding new vendors — freelance or agency-based — or making payouts to vendors. This can save you a lot of time, as you don’t need to manually search for new vendors every time you have a new localization project.
- Monitoring progress: A TMS gives you real-time insights into the progress of translations and the costs of your localization projects. This lets you quickly identify any bottlenecks in the process and take action to fix them.
- Terminology management: A terminology management system is a tool that helps you manage your company’s terms in one place. This includes creating glossaries, maintaining style guides, and storing reference materials. By using a terminology management system, you can make sure that your translators use terms consistently throughout the game.
- Translation memory: A translation memory is a database of previously translated content. When you upload your game’s resource files to the TMS, it will automatically match them against the translation memory and suggest translations for any identical or similar content. This can save you a lot of time and money, as translators only need to translate new or edited content.
- Quality assurance: A quality assurance (QA) system is a tool that helps ensure the quality of your translations. With a QA system, you can automatically check your translations for things like spelling and grammar errors, style inconsistencies, and incorrect formatting, saving you the need to manually check each translation manually.
In other words, a TMS is where all the different pieces of the localization puzzle come together. And having them all in one place can save you a lot of time, money, and headaches.
Further reading: What is a translation management system (TMS)?
Cultural adaptation and transcreation
Video games are also one of the most culturally sensitive types of content out there, so there is always a risk of facing serious backlash from gamers over a localization mistake.
That’s why cultural adaptation — making sure that your game’s content is appropriate for the target market — is so important. And it’s also why you need to make sure that your translators resonate with the target market and its culture.
Some common issues that can arise during cultural adaptation include:
- Cultural references: A lot of video games contain references to pop culture, such as movies, TV shows, and music. These references may not make sense in the target market or may even be offensive.
- Vulgar language: Many video games contain language that, while perfectly acceptable in the source market, may be considered inappropriate or even offensive in the target market.
- Gender issues: Some video games contain content that could be seen as sexist or misogynistic in certain cultures. Alas, the opposite is also true: Some cultures may not be ready for strong female protagonists or LGBTQ+ characters.
- Religious references: Some video games contain references to religion, which can be offensive to players in certain cultures. For example, PUBG faced backlash with its “idol worshipping” feature in Muslim countries.
- Political references: Some video games contain political references that may not be appropriate or even legal in certain cultures. For example, the creators of Wolfenstein had to remove or alter references to Nazis in the game’s German localization.
Sometimes the extent of cultural adaptation required is so great that it’s not possible to simply translate the game into the target language. In these cases, you may need to consider transcreation — i.e., writing new content that is culturally appropriate for the target market from scratch, using just a high-level overview of the source content as a guide.
Further reading: Transcreation: a fad or the future of marketing translations?
Localization testing & quality assurance
Localization errors may be caused by a variety of reasons from simple mistakes to working uder pressure of time but the main thing about them is that they adversely impact user experience.
Localization testing is the process of making sure that your game is free of errors and bugs when translated into another language.
Some common issues that can arise during localization testing include:
- Linguistic errors: grammatical or stylistical mistakes, incorrect number or unit formats, broken language-specific characters, sensitive cultural references, etc.
- Visual errors: incorrectly placed, overlapping or truncated text, incorrect character encoding, font issues, etc.
- Functional errors: misleading links, game performance, crashes, freezes, incorrect game logic, and more.
That's why you should check out on all the three key aspects of your product before releasing it in a new market.
Further reading: Localization testing: a step-by-step guide and checklist
Local marketing and PR
As you already know video game localization is not just about translating your game into another language. So it’s also about making sure that your product is marketed effectively in the traget location.
Some things you need to consider when planning your local marketing efforts include:
- The size of the market: How big the market is will have an impact on your marketing efforts. The bigger the market, the bolder and more aggressive your marketing efforts will need to be.
- The competition: The amount of competition in the market will also influence your marketing efforts. Playing on the competitors’ weaknesses can be a good strategy in a highly competitive market, while playing on your own strengths might be more effective in a less competitive market.
- Local channels: Different markets have different preferences when it comes to things like marketing channels and strategies. For example, gamers in China are likely to use WeChat instead of Facebook, while Viber is more popular in Eastern Europe.
- Local sensitivities: Different markets also have different sensitivities when it comes to things like marketing messages and strategies. For example, what might be considered a perfectly normal marketing message in one market could be seen as offensive or insensitive in another.
Further reading: 7 things you should know about marketing localization
Doing it right: Video game localization best practices
Last but not least, we want to share some tips on how you can make your video game localization process more efficient and effective.
- Never hard-code your in-game strings. Make sure your developers use proper internationalization frameworks and never hard-code the game’s strings. This will save you from hundreds of hours of work down the line.
- Use a glossary and style guide. If the same term is translated in different ways throughout the game, it will be confusing for your players. Use a glossary to ensure consistency and avoid any potential confusion.
- Make sure you have enough time for localization. Localization takes time — especially if you’re translating into multiple languages. Don’t set it aside as an afterthought and make sure you allow enough time for localization in your development schedule.
- Don’t forget about audio and voice-overs. If your game has audio or voice-over, make sure you include it in your localization project. In doing so, provide enough time for recording and post-production.
- Leave space for “long” languages. Some languages are longer than others. Make sure you leave enough space in your game for the translated text to fit without breaking the layout or making it look cluttered.
- Do a due diligence on cultural norms. Things like colors, symbols, and gestures may have different meanings in other cultures. Do your research to avoid any potential cultural faux pas.
- Study all local laws and regulations. From placing age ratings to disclosing in-game purchases, there are many laws and regulations you need to comply with. Make sure you understand all the requirements before releasing your game in a new market.
- Work with vendors specializing in video game localization. Video games are a unique genre, and you need to work with vendors who understand the nuances of this industry. They should have experience translating — and ideally playing — video games.
- Test your game before release. Once you’ve translated your game, test it to make sure everything works as intended. This will save you from bad reviews and potential refunds.Use a translation management system (TMS). As described in detail above, a TMS will help you manage your localization projects more efficiently and ensure consistency across all your translations. It can also automate repetitive tasks, such as creating glossaries and style guides.
Smartcat is a cloud-based TMS that makes it easy to manage your localization projects. You can connect with 500,000+ professional translators and 3,000+ translation agencies and get high-quality translations into any number of languages, while features like Git integration and continuous localization will help you streamline your workflow.