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Written by Martin Joly
on April 16, 2020

Part 5: Internationalization

To succeed in an international market, a game product must be internationalized prior to starting the localization process. Following industry best practices for game internationalization from the outset of product development can help make localization faster, more economical and far more effective.


What is internationalization?

Internationalizing is essentially the process of performing a review and modification of your game's code to prepare it for localization. The purpose of this is to purge any elements of coding that vary by the geographic locations of markets or by the languages and cultures of particular markets.

Internationalizing a game endows its coding, architecture and user interfaces with unparalleled adaptability in processing game content in order to communicate with players in numerous different languages and cultures.


Best practices for internationalizing video games

In order to provide players with a localized UI that delivers the same interactive experience as the original language's version, it is important to adhere to localization best practices from the start of design throughout development. This will help you in achieving the following:

  1. Game software architecture that is conducive to smooth localization — The following structural components should be internationalized in order to create an architecture that is conducive to localization:
    1. File structure
    2. Organization of game assets
    3. Memory (to include the necessary array of fonts, etc.)
    4. Naming conventions for source code elements
    5. Coding of character features
    6. Game assets (art, text, voice-over)
  2. Game programming code that readily integrates coding of localized game content — This is applicable to developers' practices in programming:
    1. Text elements
    2. Game dialogues
    3. User interface
    4. Region-specific settings

Discuss in-depth strategies, methods and best practices for internationalizing file structure, memory, naming conventions, game assets (text, art, voice-over), subtitling systems, etc., with your chosen game localization agency. But start building your process on a foundation of these following practices for internationalizing games:

Define your string tables

For plain text files, code using UTF-8 or a similarly versatile code format. Store text for the source language in a plain text file for convenient transitioning to your localization team. Then you can reintegrate the text back into the game after it's been translated and fully localized for the target market. Whichever way you choose to store strings, give each text its own string identifier and use that identifier in your code when referring to the text.

If your game has been developed without preparing for localization, you can remove text from your game files and place them into a string table, giving each one its own identifier to act as a placeholder for the occurrence of that text in the game code.

For a game with a lot of text, consider organizing the necessary information for your text strings in a database. Create fields for IDs, text, notes (providing a context of the text), order of text and maximum string length. Your chosen internationalization specialist can provide you with direction on how to use your string tables in your game coding.

Leave notes for translators

You can facilitate maximum accuracy and efficiency of the translation process by providing as much information as possible about strings to be localized. One widely recommended best practice is to leave notes as comments in your string tables or in a folder of documentation.

Leave notes in for translators to help them understand:

  • Text order
  • Text context in the game
  • Maximum string length supported by the engine post-translation
  • The game's other unique rules for strings

Use placeholders

Create a description inside a designated placeholder to inform the localization team of what will ultimately be coded there. That way, they can move around words without risk of corrupting the intended values of coding that the placeholders are temporarily representing. Remember to use a placeholder/variable in only one context to ensure that it does not erroneously get automatically reused out of its intended context.

Normalize elements in the source version

Consider normalizing spelling, abbreviations, fonts, symbols, jargon, scripts, geolocation, etc., to achieve greater consistency of expressions yielded in the source files, as well as across all the localized versions.

Employ CAT tools

The most efficient approach is working to identify any internationalization issues as you're writing code. But, when other measures you've taken are not entirely effective in preventing problems with localization, there are some computer aided translation (CAT) tools that can help locate needed changes. Some CAT tools that can be useful in game internationalization and localization include:

  • memoQ
  • Smartling
  • Memsource
  • XTM
  • Matecat
  • Smartcat
  • POedit
  • Wordbee
  • Trados Studio

Be aware of cultural internationalization factors in your target market

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) emphasizes the need for game developers to be informed of the most common cultural issues presenting localization challenges you can expect to discover in international target markets. These include history, ethnicity, religion and geopolitical perspectives. See Part 4 on culturalization for industry best practices regarding these considerations.

Keeping these in mind throughout the design and development phases can help capture many issues before localization and reduce time spent on the process.

Collaborate with your game localization specialists

There is a vast range of internationalization steps even in a game with comparatively straightforward coding. That's one of the reasons why localization is becoming an increasingly pivotal part of the early design and development processes for game makers.

Communicate as early in your process as possible with your localization experts to understand common pitfalls in internationalizing and localizing games and how to avoid them, as well as how to enhance gamers' experiences in all markets you've targeted for localization.


Challenges in game internationalization

Some Internationalization errors are chronic, typically because of problems such as:

  • Developers new to serving international markets
  • Inattention to details
  • Issues in files for translation
  • No dedicated localization team
  • Internal and external bureaucracies
  • Time constraints
  • Budget limitations
  • Many other causes


Ways to avoid common game internationalization issues

In order to succeed with internationalization, the game product design must make the game code conducive to localization. Ultimately, the design must make it as easy as possible for localizers and developers to provide an experience that is of identical quality for gamers in every international market the game is played. Here are some ways to avoid typical problems internationalizing games:

  • Reserve sufficient space during text translation from a source language to a language that requires more and/or larger characters in forming equivalent sentences in order to avoid truncations and running up against character limits.
  • Avoid hard-coding elements that will change with each region for which the game will be localized (names of files and file paths, character constants, etc.).
  • Avoid embedding text in graphics files to reduce localization time and eliminate the often insurmountable challenge of fitting translated text into existing graphic images.
  • Create insertion points to prior to extracting text strings for localization to ensure ideal concatenation upon reintegration.


Using industry best practices for building and internationalizing your video game's architecture can make localization of your game easier and faster. Typically, the earlier in the design and development process that programmers start thinking in terms of internationalization and localization of their game, the smoother the localization process can be and the richer the quality of outcomes for game makers and users.

So with that, internationalization is done. Next time in Part 6 we will be focusing on cutting-edge technologies within the localization industry. What advances have taken place in the industry, what are some of the most common tools employed by localization agencies and how can they benefit you, and what does the future hold for localization technologies going forward. We look forward to seeing you there.


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