The mystifying world of video game creation has a very significant but broadly unconsidered appendage in video game localization. Bringing video games to a global market is considered almost essential in guaranteeing a game's success and longevity. As the increasing number of gamers around the world are becoming savvier and more open-minded with their purchases, and word of mouth is stronger than ever through the medium of the internet, ensuring a video game has a high-quality localization can make or break a game's reputation and subsequently its sales. Despite this pressure, internationalization, translation and culturalization processes offer exciting challenges and rewards for accomplished localization experts around the world who take professional satisfaction in knowing they've delivered the ideal version of a game creator's vision to players around the globe.
So what does it take for a localized game to be found worthy of entertaining today's most sophisticated gamers? Who are the gaming and localization industries' most engaged and experienced critics? This comprehensive guide will answer all these questions and more as we provide insights into maximizing the accuracy of translations and culturalizing content. We will cover every step of a localization project, from pre-production, translation, use of technologies and common challenges, to executing the final and seemingly minor quality assurance modifications and market assessments needed to bring the overall gaming experience to the next level.
In parts 1 to 3, we'll look at how and why localization and culturalization must be understood as blended objectives at national levels and further refined at local levels in order to create high-quality translations in games. We will focus on providing advice and tips on the preparation required for localization, elaborating on the internationalizing process that occurs prior to handing a game over to a localization team, as well as how to achieve an organic authenticity in dialogues and text elements.
Following this, parts 4 and 5 will address industry conditions, offering insights and tips for success in various key international markets, before taking a closer look at definitive localization industry examples seen in the Asian gaming market and sharing critical points learnt from those. These chapters will provide insights into understanding attitudes, behaviors, and market trends and drivers that inform good game localization and culturalization strategies, as well as new product development and plans for "continuing localization" in various international target markets.
Finally, in parts 6-11, we will summarize with an analysis of the common challenges and current range of QA testing options and essential localization technologies available. The chapters on best practices, common challenges, quality assurance and localization markets in particular are all recommended for those interested in the industry.
The number and complexity of challenges facing game developers when launching their products into international markets can be daunting. The goal of this comprehensive guide is to provide a base of foundational knowledge that is sufficient enough to lay out a roadmap to success for game developers looking to work with localization professionals, as well as to serve as a helpful primer for aspiring localization professionals to localize games for Asian and Western European gaming markets. Ultimately, we aim to help readers ask the questions that will allow them to successfully navigate industry options and identify the right partners for their projects; one that brings the passion, technical expertise, international market knowledge and industry experience necessary to help their games succeed in every market.
For those game developers who are embarking on their own game localization journeys, we very much encourage you to partner with an experienced games localization company with a proven track record of consistently producing exceptional results for game creators and players alike. We wish you luck in your adventure and hope you find our articles as an invaluable reference point to guide you on your way!
The following chapters are available to read now:
Part 1: Pre-production
Part 2: Localization
Part 3: Translation
Part 4: Culturalization
Part 5: Internationalization
Part 6: Technologies
Part 7: Best practices
Part 8: Challenges
Part 9: Quality assurance
Part 10: Localization markets
Part 11: Conclusion
Part 1: Pre-production
Complete all pre-production tasks
Before you launch your game localization project, be sure that your game is really ready for the localization phase. Various tasks should be completed in advance of passing your game on to a localization agency in order to make the overall process run as smoothly as possible. Here is a list of some of the key pre-production responsibilities:
- Gathering various pieces of information
- Completing legal agreements and documentation
- Preparing and executing certain documents and procedures
- Designing a localization process workflow
- Establishing a project management structure
- Establishing communication protocols
- Creating a budget for the localization project
- Conducting various tests
- Learning about ways to help prevent QA issues
- Completing various other preliminary tasks
As you can see, these are fairly general areas of localization pre-production activity. So, where do you start? Below we have compiled some of the most important things to know and/or address when preparing for game localization.
Collaborate with your localization specialists
Your language service provider (LSP) localization team will work with you, advise and provide guidance on the specific research and actions you need to do in order to prepare your game files, documentation and team for the launch of the localization leg of your game creation journey.
Pre-production is the time to discover potential linguistic and/or cultural issues ahead of the localization process in order to help maximize the localization accuracy and quality of your game and its accompanying materials. The majority of potential issues can be prevented by addressing some fundamentals in advance. More details on best practices within the localization industry will be covered further in Part 7 of this guide.
Ask your game development team to leave notes within their text strings as context references for translators and localization project leaders. Those notes can provide excellent insights into the game's logic and can be a very valuable tool for your localization team.
Even if you plan to have complete linguistic testing performed following the localization work, providing translators and localization project leaders with such knowledge can increase the general efficiency and accuracy of the project and can have a positive impact on the quality of the localization work.
Choose the right language(s) for your game translation
Many problems with resizing, truncating, breaching character limits, syntax and other grammar issues, interpretation issues, and segments of unlocalized text, among other serious flaws, have been widely talked about throughout the gaming world.
All too often, such glaring mistakes are the consequences of confusion between parties regarding unclear expectations when developing or localizing games. The risk of such undesirable outcomes is further compounded in projects involving larger numbers of games.
So, it is essential that localization experts and marketing analysts be consulted first to advise on which languages a particular game should be translated into. Ensuring the availability of talented localization teams that can produce high-quality localization for the target language and local market(s) is a critical preliminary step in the pre-production process.
In some cases, games are published by a different company than the developer's. Because of this and other potential factors, a product management or promotion team may have the final authority on marketing and distribution decisions. Even in such arrangements, it's important that these professionals seek input from seasoned localization experts to help avoid potentially wasting precious resources (such as time and money) that could be much more profitably allocated.
Preparing necessary documentation
After it's determined which languages make sense for the translation of a game, even if the text is not ready to start translating, it's time to begin the essential preparatory steps for localization. One critical piece of this phase is assembling the critical documents for launching the production phase of the project. Necessary documents include:
- Various checklists
- LSP agreements
- Project budget
- Test plans
- Style guides
- Glossary of key terms
- Onboarding guides
- Other important documents
In Part 2 of this guide, more information will be provided on developing workflow and test plan documents.
Budgeting for your localization project
Many problems can be avoided by having clearly established budgets. Without a proper budget, losing control of the overall process can unravel the best-laid plans. Timelines for the pre-production process can be affected, misunderstandings can arise and confusion can lead to issues that impact professionalism and localization quality.
Communicate with your games localization company in advance of starting you project to help calculate the budget for localizing your game. Remember to reserve some additional funds for unforeseen additional expenses.
Check for and adhere to any legal restrictions that may apply to systems for payment transactions when working with vendors abroad.
Standard legal agreements for localization
Work with your legal department at the earliest possible point in the pre-production process to create your vendor contracts or modify agreements provided in order to clearly spell out terms and streamline your localization project both for yourself and your LSP. Also, try to lend the project the kind of simplicity that contributes to overall efficiency and quality outcomes.
Detail all arrangements to which you and the games localization company have agreed, the types and amounts of resources to be utilized, prices and all other relevant terms of the contract. Execute the agreement before scheduling production in order to help avoid misunderstandings, unexpected delays, quality issues, unexpected expenses, cost overages and other unforeseen issues.
Collecting critical feedback
Information about customer satisfaction levels is exceptionally valuable during game development and localization. Gather feedback on your game to discover what people think should be tweaked and if there are any elements that might affect overall accuracy and localization quality. You may also wish to collect information like game ratings, user comments, and other feedback from gamers about games similar to yours that are produced by other companies.
Even before you have text ready for localization, you can start benefiting from obtaining feedback. You may even opt to ask your design and development teams about building in means for gamers to leave their feedback.
Above all, during this phase, develop a comprehensive checklist of pre-production tasks, including all documentation and information you need for thorough preparation and ideal collaboration with your localization project management team. Having an ideal checklist to work from will go a long way in ensuring the smoothest localization process and highest quality outcome in your current and future projects. See the IGDA's Best Practices for Game Localization for more detailed guidelines.
Part 2: Localization
The bulk of game localization involves translating, culturalizing and internationalizing, as well as delivering a whole range of digital in-game and game marketing assets. It also includes continuous localization, which takes the form of updating assets and providing ongoing user support, among other work following the completion of the initial localization project. Types of content that are localized typically include in-game content translation, text that appears in graphics, subtitles, transcreation, dialogues, voiceover work, marketing content and content translation QA tests.
The earliest engagement of localization experts in the timeline of a game's development may start as early as the initial development phase of the game's characters, storyline and technical aspects. In other words, the localization process can really begin at anytime, whether during or following the development of your game.
Game developers can expect to work with localization teams that include localization project managers, linguists, voiceover dubbing specialists, engineers, technicians, production managers, production assistants, legal specialists, in-country reviewers, marketing localization specialists and other professionals. It takes a collaborative team of experts in these and other disciplines to produce top-quality video game localization.
Some larger game development companies do most of their own localization work themselves. Others frequently outsource as much as half of the translation work and other parts of the process to experts who specialize in a variety of different areas during the localization process. In some cases, game developers may rely on external resources to meet short timelines or to manage lengthy projects that require expert localization vendors. In comparison, smaller game developers typically hand off the entire localization phase of their game's creation process to localization service providers (LSPs) and preserve their in-house resources for refining their game design.
Having your new game localized
Of course, the point of localizing a game is to provide everyone who plays it with a level of engagement that matches the vision of the game's creator and should accurately convey the quality and experiences that players would receive if they were playing the game in its native tongue. The dialogue, characters and graphical elements all need to be presented exactly as intended to resonate with players.
In order to accomplish high-quality localization, the LSP professionals you're working with must be reliable in capturing the nuances of regional and local dialects. They also need to possess a deep understanding of national, regional and local cultures, as well as the whole array of references they encompass. Having a strong grasp of slang terms and usages, and accompanying affectations popular in the local culture, are all exceptionally useful skills that will aid localizers in delivering the most effective translations.
It goes without saying that there are many other subtleties of communication that must be captured for a game to be ideally localized in any market targeted for distribution. That being said, many game designers new to localization aren't entirely sure what achieving that level of accuracy involves.
Assets to be localized in a video game
Game localization typically includes treatment of these in-game content types:
- Text — User Interface, subtitles, captions and in-game text files.
- Visuals — Graphics and other visual digital artwork.
- Audio — Audio files to be dubbed with voice-overs.
Localization can often further include:
- Product packaging — Physical packaging labels and other text for print, digital files with instruction manuals, user guides, policies, and various other print and digital materials.
- Marketing materials and ads — Game product marketing and advertising materials for both print and digital formats.
- Social pages — Instructive and player-engagement content for social media posting.
- Website — Landing and internal pages of dedicated game websites, including instructions, information, directions, text in graphics, policies, updates, surveys, contact and others.
Collaborating with localization experts to ensure quality outcomes
The localization team researches and provides guidance to game developers on any and all potential issues involving linguistics or expectations of quality. Many issues are avoidable by applying best practices and meticulous attention to essentials, such as resourcing strings in files, testing fonts for languages, coding choice, scaling text size, wrapping text, addressing gender, grammar concerns and other fundamentals.
In Part 8, we will discuss localization challenges in further detail, explaining how to ensure quality through collaboration in order to prevent typical errors that can impact the overall quality of your game's localization.
Localization work involves translating text strings from repositories and audio files. Quality translations accurately interpret the words in a game's dialogue and text elements, including text within graphics. It also ensures the proper usage of words and phrases as they are applied in the context of the target language, country or region. Further, translated game content must sound natural in the gamer's environment. It must be relatable to his or her cultural experience.
Translators and reviewers need to be allotted enough time to acclimate to regional guidelines and glossaries. Ideally, guidelines should be accompanied by sample translations in the translator's own native language, as well as in the language targeted for translation.
Further, translators should be exposed to the game while it is in play in order to help them more fully appreciate the characters' experiences and the creator's vision. In some cases, developers can provide translators with web apps too so that they can experience the UI text elements more thoroughly.
Finally, there is debate in the industry about the potential benefits of providing translators with access to the developer's staging server, allowing them to understand the content in context. If you are considering this option, please discuss its benefits with your chosen games localization company first.
Culturalization is the part of the localization process in which attention is focused on the translation in order to make dialogue and text as genuine and natural sounding as possible in every country, region and local area. Culturalization is necessary to make the game relatable for all users, which is a key quality goal that largely makes the difference between a quality game and a seemingly unnatural, poorly produced game. Part 4 on culturalization will go over this topic in closer detail.
Internationalization is the process that prepares a video game for the localization process that will follow. Internationalizing involves a set of steps to eliminate any pieces of code that vary from one language and dialect in a particular international market to another. Internationalization enables the game's architecture and code to become more adaptable and streamlines translation efforts, helping localizers to create dialogue and text that can more easily communicate with gamers in different languages and cultures. Part 5 will focus further on this topic.
Game localization process
Here's a general overview of the series of elements in typical localization processing (please note that services vary between LSPs). The localization process begins with mapping out the workflow, starting with such operational basics as deciding who will be in the hierarchy on the project, determining which computer aided translation (CAT) environment should be used, how support needs to function, how testing will be conducted and a myriad of other facets of localization project planning.
Preliminary examination of source files
To ensure user satisfaction for the game, source files should be examined to check that the quality of the content is sufficient for translating. This should be done before releasing the files to your games localization company. Ideal translation can't compensate for serious issues of poor-quality source text. Those deficiencies will carry along with the translated dialogues and text, potentially weakening the value of the game product, its marketability, and even the game developer and publisher's brands.
In-country reviewers, who are reviewers inside the countries where the localized game will be distributed, are the last line of defense for game developers and LSPs who need to ensure that their localization work is accurate prior to launching in a target market. For quality of current and future localization projects, make it a high priority to have glossaries and style guidelines approved by these reviewers prior to production.
Game localization testing
All forms of game localization testing are essential to the overall quality of experience when playing the game. QA testing for video games may include testing interfaces, audio, play functionality and experience, text in graphics, supplementary narratives, cutscenes, culturalization, and other aspects of the game's presentation. Create a thorough plan to make the most of this testing period. Part 9 of this guide will discuss quality assurance during localized game testing in more detail.
After localization is complete, having an outside party sample test the translation and apply the spectrum of QA evaluations is standard practice. If budget or time constraints do not allow contracting a third party for a complete QA evaluation, you should at least conduct an abridged QA testing process in-house prior to importing content into a game's architecture following localization. Part 6 on localization technologies will highlight some helpful software tools for QA testing.
Developer support, functional testing of games and various other peripheral services are often provided by localization service providers for game designers. Sometimes developers opt to bring in localization experts to fill such roles during early product development phases.
There's always more to do after localization. Continuous localization can mean providing tech support or other user helpdesk services in various languages. Continuous game localization also includes any ongoing series of applications of localization efforts, such as applying software patches and various solutions for user issues, announcements, rolling out expansion packs and downloadable content, supplements, content for downloads, etc.
Game localization technologies
Numerous technologies are available to improve translation accuracy and reduce costs, as well as to speed up translation and testing processes, project management tasks, and other critical processes in localization systems. Part 6 on localization technologies will include a discussion on the application of current and upcoming technologies.
Achieving accurate and high-quality game localization
Start by reviewing some games produced by other companies and localized for your own native language and dialect. Use your judgment of their quality as a baseline to establish your expectations and evaluate the quality of your own localization outcomes.
Then, apply these important tips for more productive collaboration with your localization team and, ultimately, the greater quality and accuracy of your game localization project outcome:
- Ensure clear communications — Make sure translators understand your expectations for dialogues, characters and text in graphics so that their output aligns with your vision. Game designers, translators, localization project managers, production team members, reviewers and everyone else on the project should be encouraged to communicate freely.
- Allow everyone reasonable timeframes — To get the best possible results from localization processes requires the provision of practical timeframes for work to be done. As most people working in video games are aware of, crunch periods almost never pay off for a game's overall quality. A key requirement for high-quality localization is to therefore allow translators, in-country reviewers, editors and other localization team members sufficient opportunity to examine materials before initiating the production process.
- Assign someone to work with the LSP project manager — Assign someone to communicate with your games localization company on routine operational matters, daily decisions and modifications. In addition, they should facilitate the receipt of deliverables and help handle matters as needed to ensure accuracy, quality, time-frames and other areas .
Create a comprehensive localization project checklist, and make sure every item on it gets done at the right time. Get as many tasks as possible done as early as possible. See Part 1 of this guide on pre-production for details on what to do prior to starting your game's translation and the remaining phases of the localization process. When in doubt, adhere to the IGDA Best Practices for Game Localization and refer to Part 8 of this guide to learn about the various common mistakes to avoid. Finally, encourage collaboration and creative problem solving to promote the optimal quality of your localization project outcomes.
Part 3: Translation
Converting a game's text and dialogue from the language in which it was created to a different one has to go linguistically deeper into the finer aspects of translation. A simplistic word-for-word translation is not enough to convey the intent of the author. A games localization company must do much more to deliver a natural and satisfying experience for gamers.
As discussed previously, games must be carefully localized during their translation in order to deliver an ideal gaming experience, one that is relatable to each user's own national, regional and local cultures. For example, effectively communicating humor takes special treatment as different cultures consider different things funny and unfunny. In addition, clichés, idioms and other expressions usually need to be converted to equivalents in the target language for them to have the same type of impact on players.
Creating the conditions for ideal game translation
Professional translators should be able to convert gaming-industry-specific vocabulary, sort and translate dialogues between multiple speakers, distinguish and interpret diverse accents, overcome translations issues due to difficult audio, and adeptly manage numerous other conversion challenges.
Allowing translators to give their full attention to accurately sorting and treating these elements ensures the highest quality outcomes. Below are some methods that game developers can use to help translators achieve this level of nuance in their work, thereby giving players an enriching experience and higher engagement when playing your game:
Hire translators who play video games
There's no substitute for native language speakers who are also familiar with the type of games you're developing. Translators who love to play video games more easily understand what's required to translate genre-specific slang and other terms that are commonly shared in gaming culture. Gamers hold content in and related to games to exceptionally high standards. So an internationally distributed game must be translated to the same quality for every audience and market for which it will be distributed.
Provide translators with appropriate time and tools
Help translators perform their work as smoothly as possible by equipping them with the best available translation tools. For example, a Translation Memory (TM) database, which can cut time, improve quality and save expense. TM provides invaluable real-time suggestions for phrases that have already been translated, meaning that translators won’t be forced to waste time duplicating translation work. Supplementary Machine Translation (MT) can provide referencing that affords human translators major time-saving advantages. Additionally, sophisticated automation software allows developers to bring translators directly onto their digital platform for translation work, improving collaboration and quality. Part 6 of this guide on localization technologies will discuss this in greater detail.
Provide translators with contextual information
Some expressions don't necessarily make sense when translated as-is into all target languages. Game developers need to provide translators with context for game dialogue and texts in order to help ensure ideal translations for different languages. The overall goal of your translation efforts should go beyond having gamers merely understand the game's storyline. Players should be able to engage with the game fully, appreciating all its clever nuances and subtleties.
Game translation process
A professional localization process is highly structured and meticulously attentive to the finest details. The basic translation piece of the process includes converting in-game audio, texts and text in graphics into the language of the target market.
Generally, the translation process encompasses:
- Translation — This involves playing the game, studying the glossaries and style guides, learning the context, and translating audio and text files. It also includes editing, proofreading, and quality checking and/or testing the translated content.
- Quality assurance — Translation QA processes include close analyses of all text elements to ensure accurate translation and to correct any errors in details, spelling, grammar, etc. Audio files are meticulously examined to locate any issues such as a distorted, garbled or mumbled words, as well as inconsistencies in volume or other audio quality problems.
- File conversions — After quality assurance processes are complete, translated files are converted to the original game file formats. Translated text files are copied into the game coding and translated audio files are converted to MP4, WMA or other audio file formats that the game developer uses.
- Follow-up QA testing — At this point, the LSP or a third-party quality testing provider may perform additional quality examinations of the game’s coding to help further ensure that the code is ideally integrated with the newly translated material.
Game assets for translation
Game translation is used to convert one or more of the numerous assets in a game development project to a version for users in international markets. The project can include translations of these components, among others:
- Text files
- In-game and web graphics
- User manuals
- Instruction guides
- Policy statements
- Marketing materials
- Physical packaging
- Digital packaging
- Sales brochures
- Display ads
- Product descriptions
- Social media ads
- Social media pages
- Web banner ads
- In-game advertising
- Continuing localization services (game updates, software patches, user tech and other support services, etc.)
Tips for achieving quality translation
Anticipate differing text dimensions between languages
There are typically a lot of discrepancies in phrase and sentence length between the source language and any language into which the text is being translated. One language may take fewer words or much less line length to say the exact same thing as in another language (or vice versa). The result is that translated text may end up overlapping on-screen images or may not even show up on the screen at all if shifting dimensions are not taken into account. This should be carefully considered when choosing font sizes during project planning.
Avoid translating text in graphics
Translating text that appears in a game's graphics requires the development team to recreate all affected graphic images for every language into which the game will be translated. Then they must integrate each of the new images into the game. That's why game localization industry best practices recommend to avoid using text in graphics completely. However, if your game already has text in graphics, it's recommended to consider replacing the text with symbols that can be understood in any language version of the game.
Have a well-informed rationale for undertaking each localization project
It's strongly recommended not to prioritize quantities of languages when embarking on game translation and localization. Instead, focus on quality in translating to a small number of commonly spoken languages. Translate to additional languages only when you have a sound financial case to support the decision to do so. A few well-translated game versions can be expected to serve your interests much better than a proliferation of mundane translations that could potentially diminish the character of the game and weaken its appeal if done poorly.
Gamers are a technologically advanced consumer group. They expect today's games to display state-of-the-art graphics and functionality, and to be fully comprehensible in their language. To meet the expectations of this ever-growing market, every translator in a games localization company should have a passion for gaming, linguistic proficiency and the stamina to withstand the rigors of delivering top-quality translation and localization. Game translators need to be current on gaming vocabulary, slang, pop culture, shared interests and other knowledge relevant to various aspects of global gaming culture.
Part 4: Culturalization
Across the 190+ countries of the world there are over 7 billion people, of which more than 2.5 billion are gamers. This means that there is a multiplicity of ethnicities, cultures, government policies, religions and other meaningful aspects of global diversity that must be duly respected in games localization for international markets.
Culturalization goes deeper than standard translation in order to produce the richest possible experience for gamers in every region of the world while simultaneously avoiding any content that might mar or diminish the overall experience, or worse, offend anyone. But, culturalizing a game is also critical because many players are not able to understand and get interested in a game if they can't relate to it.
Why is culturalization important?
Culturalization takes localization and brings it to the next level. It is the process of evaluating the suitability of your game's creative elements and adapting them for international markets at national, regional and local levels. Culturalizing a game enables users to better relate to the content and more meaningfully engage with it. More importantly however, it helps ensure that people will not find any elements to be incongruous with the context within which their experience grounds their understanding of the storyline. In addition, it also helps prevent any interpretation of characters or the game environment as offensive to cultural norms or morals.
Insufficient culturalization can be a costly mistake for game companies. Extreme losses of revenue and brand reputation, and difficulties with national and local governments, can cause serious jeopardy for the future of a game and may even put the company at risk of unexpected consequences.
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) emphasizes the need for game developers and LSPs to be diligent in observing national, regional and local considerations of historical, ethnic, religious, and geo-political identities and beliefs. Regional lockouts are sometimes enforced on unculturalized materials, which includes games. There even exists the very real risk of government intervention and detainment of in-country game company employees for investigation and potential imprisonment.
When is it time to begin game culturalization?
Start collaboration as early as possible in the development process, and keep it engaged throughout product development. Work with the culturalization project team and other people who are knowledgeable about the acceptability of the game's storyline, characters, dialogues, texts, symbols, objects, voiceover factors, references, etc.
Culturalization carefully scrutinizes all game elements to identify and modify anything that may affront cultural sensitivities or inhibit users from fully experiencing the game as the designers intended.
Degrees of game culturalization
In its simplest terms, culturalizing a video game means scrutinizing and modifying it to the extent necessary (from a single small bit to the entirety of its content) in order to:
- Ensure that the game can be optimally understood by users in each target market.
- Make the game relevant to users in every local market for which it is localized.
- Help eliminate issues that might lead to sales being reduced or for the game to be prohibited in a market.
Potentially problematic cultural variables
It can be difficult to imagine many of the issues that can be triggered by what appears to be an entirely innocuous part of a video game. According to the IGDA Best Practices, there are several areas of cultural differences that are most likely to engender conflict between game developers and users (or the public at large):
1. History and origins
Some cultures are strongly protective of their distant and recent regional historical narratives, and any inaccuracy relevant to those accounts can trigger intense negative emotional reactions.
2. Religion and beliefs
Religion and beliefs are extremely delicate topics around the world and should be addressed with the utmost respect and balance when portrayed through media and entertainment. Though religious faith can often times be a very interesting concept or theme that many games seek to tackle, direct reference or overt allusions to real-world religions are strongly recommended against at risk of offending religious communities around the world.
3. Ethnic stereotypes
Stereotyping, or any content that may be interpreted as racially or ethnically insensitive, or lacking inclusiveness, is likely to be recognized as inappropriate and offensive. As with religion, though racial issues are a topic that games can tackle in different forms, it should be done appropriately and with grace.
4. Geopolitical positions
Governments sometimes claim territories and expect to have them depicted as part of their nation on maps and even in digital media like video games. China, for example, does not permit errors in this area, so game developers must therefor be very careful of their depiction of real-world locations and maps.
Culturalization process planning
It can be costly to approach culturalization without implementing a planned localization process to do it. Continuing to correct problems here and there, as they appear, is inefficient and can cause oversight and overall localization costs to escalate.
During the initial creative stages, spend adequate time on team discussions about the game's environment, storyline, subplots, character personas, symbolic elements, etc., and strive to identify potentially problematic features.
- Research thoroughly — Consult as many sources in your own area and in the area for which the game will be localized as necessary to learn about the culture — national, regional and local —and its norms and customs. Talk to academic, commercial and social authorities on the area. Ask them to examine the game elements and provide feedback. Conduct cultural research through studies, country-specific guides, symbol dictionaries, government and NGO websites.
- Test with gamers in the target market — Have locals play the game. Collect and analyze feedback on the game's cultural fit to help determine whether you can reasonably proceed with localization, or whether segments of your game require revision or abandonment.
- Make game elements editable — Scrutinize symbols, text, character references, objects, storylines, musical styles and other elements. Find out if they're allowed and learn how they should be used. Code them to allow editing in order to avoid having to undertake major changes to meet market expectations.
- Resonant aspects — The closer game content is to real-world things and people, the more likely it can offend sensitivities. Analyze game content that resembles real-world people, places, things, events and especially anything that is symbolic to nationalities, ethnicities, religions, political philosophies, etc.
Evaluate the level of seriousness of issues
When your team identifies a potential conflict between a content element in the game and the cultural principles of a market targeted for localization, the next step is to determine whether the level of risk that the problem presents is Level 1 or 2, and respond accordingly:
Level 1: Tenable risk — An element of content that will possibly be noticed and stimulate some moderate level of concern within the target market, but that is unlikely to cause the game to either fail commercially or be prohibited from sale in the area.
- SOLUTION: It may be more practical overall to not invest time and energies in even minor modifications if the questionable piece of content presents a tenable level of risk of significantly offending cultural sensibilities. Document your evaluation and decisions to use various content elements, for future reference, if there is government or retail reaction that requires a response.
Level 2: Untenable risk — A culturally offensive element of content that can be expected to trigger significant negative reaction within the target market.
- SOLUTION: Developers should determine the simplest way to resolve the risk with minimal compromise to the integrity of the game's overall character and of the experience intended for users per the game designer's vision.
Respecting and caring about the beliefs and experiences of others is at the core of commitment to effective culturalization. There are numerous banned or censored games to date that are deemed too culturally controversial for distribution in various international markets. When developers neglect to refine games as needed, or they release them without regard for cultural sensitivities, the products are at an increased risk of thwarted revenue growth and ultimate failure in some key markets. To help ensure sustained global success, early implementation of the culturalization is recommended.
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:
- 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:
- File structure
- Organization of game assets
- Memory (to include the necessary array of fonts, etc.)
- Naming conventions for source code elements
- Coding of character features
- Game assets (art, text, voice-over)
- Game programming code that readily integrates coding of localized game content — This is applicable to developers' practices in programming:
- Text elements
- Game dialogues
- User interface
- 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
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:
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.
Part 6: Technologies
The majority of game localization service providers employ localization technologies commonly used within the industry to aid their translation efforts. In recent times, there has been exceptional progress in software development and there are now cutting-edge localization technologies that are anticipated to become widely used in the near future. Despite this, there are still plenty of new and exciting technological innovations that are still much farther out from being released and adopted as new state of the art solutions.
Technologies currently used in localizing games
Today's reliable game localization technologies include the likes of memoQ, XTM, XTRF and SDL software for managing translation. Additionally, there are an array of translation technologies that can be implemented based on which digital environment the game localization project is to be performed in. Your games localization company should be fully equipped with the industry's best available digital tools for maximizing process efficiency and quality outcomes.
Partially automated translation systems
Predefined game localization processes promote quality. On the other hand, current technology for continuous localization provides an integrated process that enables game localizers automation options for some text translation steps while avoiding the risk of adversely impacting the quality. A couple of key examples include automated text translation software, process management software and QA spot-checking, as well as full-scope testing software.
Process management software
String Extraction and Resource Generation Engine (SERGE) is an open-source solution that provides advanced tech alternatives that render some manual localization steps outmoded, such as tasks for exporting, converting and transferring files for translation. Other tasks that are now just as well handled by automated processes include reverse conversions, recording modifications in the version control system and a number of other essential tasks.
SERGE software obtains source content, queues it for the translation step and retrieves the translated text. It then integrates the translated text back into the game. Beyond auto-pulling and -pushing file mods, SERGE also syncs with the outside CAT tool you prefer to use.
QA checking and testing software
Machine translation (MT) is a widely used technology in the localization industry. It's a very useful software tool for examining your game product post-localization. It's also a good evaluation tool for discovering new ideas and approaches to modifying a game's design during the localization phase.
Before executing standard QA processes, QA spot-checks may be performed, as an added service (it's advisable to add QA spot-checks to your budget.) Good software tools for QA tasks include Verifika, QA built-in CAT and Xbench. ServiceNow is another useful tool for localization QA.
Games marketing technologies
There are numerous options for integrating your game marketing programs and platforms. Some of today's sophisticated alternatives include Sitecorp, AEM, Drupal and various open source systems. JIRA is a popular option for process management. Marketo is widely used for email marketing. Numerous other programs offer game marketers important tools for integrating the gamut of necessary programs for localizing and marketing games on the global market.
Among its competitors, ZenDesk is arguably perhaps the most popular HelpDesk platform that offers adequate user support for video gaming industry consumers, but there are viable alternatives for modern HelpDesk support for game product users.
Automated systems enable such advanced HelpDesk platforms to index tickets and users, and to track open items, as well as to capture time-sensitive activities for escalation in order to routinely manage massive volumes of user and service data at rates that would have seemed impossible a decade ago.
VR and AR
Both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies promise to disrupt the video gaming industry in years to come. Enhanced with AI technology, both may reach heights of sophistication that have yet to be imagined. As these technologies become more prominent in gaming, they can also be expected to play an increasing role in localization as well in many facets of the process.
VR and AR applications can be expected to range from enabling a greater depth of characterization and immersion, to sharpening technical precision. Currently, there remain many impediments to fuller realization of these technologies in the gaming field, including adaptability and gross limitation on user accessibility. Ultimately however, these future technologies will become the mainstream of the market — literal game changers.
Neural Machine Translation (NMT)
NMT actually works through an manmade neural network. It's used for predicting word sequences and modeling them to produce translated sentences. NMT technology is becoming useful for more and more complex applications in localization work. However, only a more extensively equipped games localization company these days can be expected to be leveraging NMT. Currently, we can only speculate on the degrees of efficacy that the ambitious future generations will achieve through NMT technology.
Given the highly complex nature of games localization and its sub-processes, modern demands of the industry require technologies that are up to the job. An LSP's compound challenges to accurate translation and culturalization factors, intricate internationalization steps, and myriad project planning, management, testing, onboarding, communications and other daily activities are substantially facilitated by the best available technologies. In fact, it's fair to say that localization service as we know it today would not be feasible without the support of these critical tools.
Part 7: Best Practices
Succeeding in the current global gaming market means successfully matching the character and quality of the source-language version of a game in all localized versions. So, localization specialists must make sure that translators effectively portray regional dialects, use cultural references, use slang, and apply affects and other nuances. To meet the high standards of the industry requires a meticulous process of addressing vast volumes of considerations. Following this, today we look at games localization industry best practices for achieving high-quality game localization.
Understand the culture in your chosen market area
Research the culture and the gaming market in the country where you want to introduce your game. Know the most popular game genres there and learn about any games that have failed in that area and why. Test your game's content to discover how any cultural features and other aspects of it will be received in the area. See Part 4 on game culturalization for a discussion on collaborating to test and culturalize a game. Per IGDA recommendations, focus on and be conscious of the following four areas of strong cultural sensitivities:
- History — Inaccurate portrayal of histories that are dear to the cultural memory can trigger surprisingly strong and targeted backlash.
- Religion — Culturally inappropriate use of and allusions to religious symbols and concepts can offend and even cause serious consequences for in-country game developers and employees.
- Ethnicity — Ethnic stereotyping or failing to appropriately handle diversity in-game can lead to outright rejection of the game product in the target market.
- Geo-politics — Some countries do not permit media products portraying boundaries that conflict with government's claims to external land areas as part of its sovereign territory.
Facilitate quality translation
First, hire a games localization company with translators who love video games. They're likely to have the best understanding of the gaming niche market and can communicate with terms and styles that will more easily resonate with the gaming community. Once you have your team in place, turn your attention to these basic localization checklist items:
- Tools — Equip your translator(s) with the proper tools to do a quality job. See the section below for more information on the types of industry tools used for translation of game content.
- Fonts — Translated phrases are often shorter or longer than in the source text. So watch out when localizing text to ensure that the end results appear professional. See Part 2 on localization for more on this point.
- Text in graphics — Avoid using text in graphics if possible. Instead, consider replacing the text with symbols that gamers worldwide can understand. See Part 2 on localization for more on this point.
- Context — Provide translators with context to help them better understand the richness of the game's narrative and characters for your chosen international target audience. Help them first in order to help players fully engage with your content.
- Feedback — Gather as much input about bugs and other flaws in your game before releasing it in a new international marketplace. Like translators, game testers should be excellent linguists in the target language and should be experienced gamers.
Promote teamwork and free communications
Maintain transparency and promote a collaborative team relationship between game developers and localization professionals to make the localization process smoother, thereby making it easier to maximize the quality of outcomes and making the whole experience more satisfying for everyone involved.
Effective communication between developers and localization teams increases the ability of all involved to make the most of the process, which in turn benefits gamers and the game's success.
Complete all pre-production work
Determine whether or not your game is ready to undergo the localization process. Create a checklist, and use it to complete pre-production tasks, including: choosing languages for localization, executing legal documents, creating a budget, creating a localization workflow, testing in target markets and other pre-production work. See Part 1 on pre-production for details on important tasks and considerations to be addressed prior to launching your localization project.
Test and collect feedback
Gather feedback across your game's multilingual consumer base. Collect feedback from gamers on games similar to yours. Establish well-functioning channels for submitting and receiving feedback. After localization is completed, game company clients are advised to perform testing, per standard industry practices. See Part 9 for a discussion of recommended QA testing methods and other quality assurance processes.
Rushing research, translation work and other localization tasks lends to errors and the compromised quality of outcomes for game users and game company stakeholders. Appropriate localization project planning and preparation allows methodically executed processes and the ability to maximize the amount of attention to quality, instead of wasting time dealing with improperly organized and ill-equipped operational systems. Skill in time management is much of what separates average performing games from games that become international hits.
Quick list of video game localization best practices
For a comprehensive assessment of localization industry best practices, see the publication IGDA Best Practices for Game Localization. In the meantime, here's a good starter list of some key basic best practices for localizing games:
- Look to identify and remedy potential localization problems as early as possible in the design and development process.
- Write source code to allow localization with minimal rewriting.
- Leave room for translated strings to occupy larger space than the original text.
- Use CAT tools for pseudo-location and machine translation to locate internationalization issues prior to starting translation. See Part 6 on localization technologies for discussions on these and other important industry tools.
- Have your game tested by native gamers to help discover cultural issues in your game prior to starting localization.
- Be aware of national and local government constraints and cultural sensitivities. Make sure you're choosing a viable market for your game before you embark on localization.
- Provide translators with a thorough understanding of context. Leave notes in text strings to help translators understand their use in the game.
- Emphasize to translators the importance of not altering variables temporarily coded in the strings.
- When putting together localized strings, ensure that translators can reorder words in any way they wish.
- Limit substitutes you use in coding to a number or a single word.
- Set up a system for tracking changes to source text in order to prevent duplication in ordering strings and to avoid difficulties in integrating translated strings back into the game. This can be especially important when releasing frequent updates with added content.
- Make sure your localization efforts observe the differences between languages in grammar, possessive and plural forms, gender addresses, numbers, dates, currency formats, etc.
High-quality localization helps game developers and publishers maximize a game's value, facilitate its success and avoid potentially serious costs of lost revenues, public relations failures and brand damage. Beyond providing accurate translation, successful localization should enhance the player's experience through engaging and naturalistic interaction. Remember, achieving this outcome largely depends on the success of the collaborative relationship and open communication between developers and localization experts. Employing best practices further helps maximize accuracy, minimize risks of errors, time wasted and the needless duplication of efforts.
Part 8: Challenges
Game localization is a highly complex project. There's research, planning, pre-production, administration, communications, personnel management, multimedia engineering, internationalization, translation, culturalization, voiceover, integration, testing, scheduling and several other contingencies the process entails. It's always good to fully appreciate the magnitude of games localization so that you can get a realistic sense of such an undertaking from the outset vs. jumping into the process completely unaware.
To visualize the full scope of localization for a given game, multiply the above task set by the number of international markets for which a game developer needs to have a game product localized and identify the challenges each market could present. That number is likely to include markets in the US, China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Germany, France and other large international gaming markets.
Zero in on the most common problems in game localization
So there's a lot to do and it all has to be done accurately, economically and with all results being of the highest quality. But even the foremost game localization experts in the global industry can be expected to make simple mistakes occasionally. For perspective, it helps to know that the majority of issues in game localization occur during implementation, and less than half actually involve translators. Most are due to an absence of context information, or are source string errors or file issues.
Localization professionals thoroughly research potential culturalization issues that can impact the marketability of a game in a targeted international market. They advise game developers of these and possible linguistic concerns that can compromise accuracy, as well as any other issues that can impact the quality of the outcome.
Common causes of localization problems
To avoid typical mistakes, work from a localization quality checklist that consolidates as many of the common games localization challenges as you can identify from all the sources you research and from your own experience.
Here are some examples of the kinds of tasks you should include to fit your process when building your checklist for your localization team. You can help prevent numerous errors by confirming that some basics have been handled properly, such as:
- Ensure that all strings in the source files are localized.
- Avoid placing text in graphics.
- Test fonts for each language to check for scaling.
- Select fonts for each language that complement the game's design.
- Ensure that UTF-8 is the appropriate choice of coding format.
- Make room to scale text size for the target language, if needed.
- Wrap text as necessary for multiple lines.
- Apply proper gender references, formatting of number expressions, dates, currencies, etc.
- Obey possessive and plural forms, noun/adjective order, tenses, and other grammar rules of the target language.
- Perform localization quality testing to confirm that the localized content makes sense in the game.
Less obvious problems in localization
Beyond the typical errors that can be largely avoided by checking to ensure conformance and making quick corrections, there are more subtle and pervasive localization problems that can emerge. Here are some examples:
- Translator biases — Translators may not be aware that their work is influenced by their own style or language biases, which can impact the quality or accuracy of their translations. Make sure they use proper forms of address and that the UI, instructions, notifications and other on-screen elements are expressed in ways suitable for the culture.
- Vague context — When translators are left to guess the context for games, they may wrongly assume that they're going in the right direction only to find out far too late that they've been on the wrong track. Game developers should provide abundant contextual information.
- Inaccurate intonation — Translators sometimes apply their own culture's intonations, which can result in inappropriate translations. Use the expressive manner that is natural to speakers of the target language to help players experience game interactions that feel natural to their area.
- Failure to maintain brevity — Provide information on display screens using the shortest messages possible without leaving out necessary information or sacrificing clarity.
- Source file or text issues — Incorrect object names for configurations can go undetected until testing a game. Apply prescribed naming conventions to ensure proper functioning.
- HTML coding errors — Small pieces of missing or corrupted code can stop the progress of the localization project while simultaneously burdening the client's code writer with having to locate and correct the issues. To maximize efficiency in game localization, consider building skills in basic code writing.
- Violating placeholders — Numbers, words or characters left in text strings as placeholders must not be removed, replaced or altered during translation. These are meant to be replaced with permanent code entries at some later point in development. Deleting or changing placeholders can cause serious programming problems in the game.
- Lack of familiarity with games — The best video game localizers play video games. Appropriately applying common terminology for games requires an understanding of gaming community vernacular at the very least.
- Poor creativity in translation — Literal word-for-word translations can create interpretations that are not necessarily engaging or can skew far from the actual message the character intends. Strive to convey the undulating levels of drama that the game designer intends in characters' behaviors and speech.
- Inappropriate quotation — Mistranslated quotes can cause game characters to say bizarre things. Try Googling the right translation. If necessary, replace the quote with an expression of the point that actually makes sense in the target language.
- Unfitting use of slang — The general appeal of a game can be significantly reduced when slang is used in a disingenuous way due to translations that fail to convey a character's persona as intended. Learn the slang equivalent in the source and target languages. If necessary, discuss alternatives in order to maintain integrity of dialogues.
- Inept cursing — In some places, swearing is taken more seriously than in others, and in some other places it is absolutely prohibited. Obey all local rules and restrictions. Strive to convey the meaning that the swearing character intends vs. just a literal word translation.
- Unrealistic expectations — Skipping localization quality testing to cut localization costs is a high-risk tactic that does not balance logically against the potentially major financial consequences. Ask your LSP about better cost-cutting alternatives.
The overarching challenge for a games localization company is discovering any and all issues that can negatively impact the user experience and threaten the success of the game product in the target international market. Collaboration between game designers, developers and localization specialists is the big-picture solution to identifying and correcting such issues before they become serious problems. Working together, all parties to the localization effort can backup each other's efforts to maximize accuracy and the overall quality of project outcomes. Since everyone is susceptible to making mistakes, it is teamwork and a collective focus on quality assurance that protects the game and all its stakeholders by ensuring a positive experience for gamers in every international target market.
Part 9: Quality Assurance
Various quality tests to catch and correct issues, as well as to maximize the overall quality of a game, can be performed at any time during the localization process of a game, whether it's before, during or after the development process. After the LSP delivers the localized game, complete with translated and reintegrated strings and files, game designers, developers or publishers receiving the finalized version should always consider post-localization testing.
Common localization test methods
There is a fairly extensive range of options for in-process, pre- and post-localization tests that can help stakeholders ensure their games' quality and minimize any risk of problems emerging after the game has gone to market. These are some of the industry's most commonly used approaches to testing:
- One approach is for game developers to simply provide translators with screenshots of localized UIs. Translators then review the photos and provide lists of errors, usually through an online repository, or just in a shared spreadsheet in Google Sheets (for example) as indications of what needs to be corrected.
- A more robust approach is for game developers to supply translators with abundant contextual information by having them actually play the game through to the end before obtaining their feedback on localization issues. In some cases, developers can provide translators with cheat codes to help move them through the game faster.
- Working with abundant information on how the game's logic works during play is immensely helpful in achieving quality translations. Development teams should leave notes for text strings to provide translators with as much information as possible. Combined with full-scope linguistic testing post-localization, game developers can better ensure top-quality results.
- Having translators play the game is a superior approach on several levels. It ideally provides the necessary context and allows translators to fully engage with game, thereby forming a first-hand connection to the game's characters and environment. Be sure to communicate in advance with any legal teams to ensure that it is permissible for translators to acclimate by playing the game.
- It is recommended that the localized game product be subjected to a third-party translation review (this is a standard approach in the industry). After localization is complete, a third-party reviewer can evaluate the work using a range of QA metrics.
- If budget or time limitations prohibit a full review, at least try to conduct brief QA checks in-house before reintegrating the localized content back into the game build.
- At a minimum, it is recommended that stakeholders compare two post-edited translation variants using TQAuditor, Change Tracker or any other tools for monitoring translation quality.
- Interim test measures can include using Xbench or CAT tools, for example, to conduct in-house quality checks of the localized multilingual files before reintegrating them back into the game's architecture.
- To help ensure the smoothest and most productive localization project possible, start early with implementation of CAT tools and the establishment of QA environments. Using these resources and QA strategies early in the process is essential, especially when working with budgets that does not permit full review. Applying QA tools will also help you to identify who are the producers of the best quality translations.
NOTE: Some file formats may not support the QA software applications you want to utilize, so please do find out about compatibility before you select your testing tools.
Today's game makers usually depend on beta testing to locate flaws of any kind in a game before officially releasing it. Such testing should be conducted before the initial release of a localized game into an international market as well. If possible, choose testers who are highly proficient linguists in the language in which the game has been localized and who are skilled gamers.
Guidelines for game testing
Here are some things you can do to increase the efficiency, robustness and benefits of your game localization quality testing:
- Provide clear directions for testers — Write a list of objectives that clarify what testers are evaluating, what the recognizable benchmarks for quality are (accurate translations, words, symbols, images, behaviors, references, etc.) and what may be offensive in some cultures, among other quality measures.
- Provide methods of sharing feedback — Your game testers need someplace to submit their feedback. Compose clear instructions for submitting feedback and distribute these to your entire body of testers in order to give everyone the opportunity to offer their input. The more feedback you generate from your team, the less likely your project will be to encounter negative feedback from gamers who buy and play the game.
- Assign team roles — Assign translators, QA testers, lead translators, lead testers, etc., to establish a chain of authority for resolving disagreements on translations, test findings and so on. This should subsequently maintain forward momentum throughout the process.
- Test during development — Testing during game development can reduce the risk of negative surprises after the product is released in the international market for which it is being localized.
- Thank people — Remember to demonstrate your brand's business etiquette — incorporate a method of thanking people for taking time to help improve the game by providing their feedback.
Testing throughout all phases of game development and localization, right up to the release of the game into international markets, is the first fundamental for meeting a game developer's obligation to deliver a quality experience for consumers who buy and use a game. In-country reviewers can arguably provide the strongest line of defense against quality issues, and testing with gamers in the international target market is among the ultimate QA testing options. Discuss the most practical testing options for your game based on the unique properties of your game, as well as on time and budget considerations.
Part 10: Localization Markets
The global games localization market contains many avenues for developers to localize their games. While a handful of mega game companies like Sony, Nintendo, Activision, Blizzard and others have their own in-house localization teams at hand, there still exists a plethora of general localization service providers (LSPs) as well as a growing community of single language vendor (SLV) freelancers. In addition, a large number of volunteer localizers often pitch in to help independent avocational game creators who may monetize their games through subscriptions, donations or ads, thereby building a user base that can create a need for localization.
Most LSPs, whatever the size, offer some additional localization-related services, such as localization testing, game design and development support, audio support, user support for localized games, and other services.
Due to the immense and ever-growing global video game market, in 2018, game localization services projected a stunning industry-wide annual increases of 20-30%, which included very little work in mobile game localization, the industry's fastest growing market sub-sector.
It is worth noting that a primary source of revenue for LSPs is subcontracting for larger providers. Larger LSPs often outsource to familiar freelance SLVs and others. Despite this being a common practice, there are some localization providers like Andovar that do not subcontract out their services and instead perform all localization processes for every client directly.
Current developments in gaming and localization markets
In 2018, the global gaming market was at around US$138 billion, of which the localization services sub-sector accounted for about one percent. The gaming industry is predicted to grow by about 10% CAGR until 2021, to a volume of around US$180 billion, which would commensurately spur the localization sub-sector growth to around US$1.8 billion by the end of the same annual period.
In 2019, a few major market trends converged to reshape the global gaming industry. These transformative shifts offer exciting opportunities for any top-quality games localization company:
- Video gaming has grown into the world's most popular pastime.
- A few geographic regions are developing into burgeoning global game sales markets.
- Game companies are transitioning business models from single-sale to games-as-a-service.
- Game localization is increasingly integrated into game development at much earlier stages.
- Continuous game localization is a growing market force, providing for game content updates, DLC, software patches, and other additional content and transactions.
Deciding whether a game should be localized
Some games are only localized a few times, just once for a few markets, or are not localized at all for international distribution, though they can generate revenues in a variety of ways over many years. The decision to localize a game is usually based on a given market's estimated potential for spending on the game, or on the degree of expectation that consumers in a given market will continue spending on a game in micro transactions over time.
Most popular countries for video game localization
There are over 2.5 billion gamers worldwide always looking to try out the most recent version of the games they like. This translates into enormous demand for high-quality game translation service in order for game makers to deliver a state-of-the-art gaming experience that today's players expect.
Top languages for game translation
Today, Asia is the fastest growing gaming market on earth. The continent's mobile market sub-sector alone accounts for a large percentage of the growth rate. In addition, Western European countries also include some of the world's most thriving gaming markets. Based on revenue reports, here are some of the top languages for the translation of video games:
Japan is home to about 67.6 million gamers and is one of the world’s top three video game markets, along with China and the US. Last year, the Japanese game market generated around US$19.2 billion. The country is a major game exporter to the west. LAI Global Game Services (Tokyo, California and Beijing) is a major market force in Japan's gaming industry, with games accounting for about half its revenues. Role-playing games in particular are exceptionally popular with Japanese gamers and have an ever-growing western fanbase. Japanese players are well adapted to imported video games as well with some western titles doing exceedingly well in the country despite differences in culture and gaming attitudes.
China is the world's largest video game sales market on earth, generating 41 percent of global market revenues. About 90 percent of China's PC gaming market is dominated by the multinational conglomerate Tencent and a couple of other Chinese game makers. However, western games are still in very high demand in China and continue to sell well. It is important to note that game censorship in China is strict and so are Software as a Service (SaaS) regulations, which applies to many games now sold as-a-service. With this in mind, it is clear that only top-quality localization specialists should be consulted when bringing games to the Chinese market.
In 2018, South Korea registered US$5.6 billion in game sale revenues and remains among the global gaming industry's most profitable national marketplaces. South Korean gamers are usually adept at picking up both English and Chinese, so finding important terms in those languages in video games is not surprising or necessarily that difficult for them. The South Korean audience has been found to have very similar preferences in games as the Japanese.
Over 44.3 million gamers in Germany make their national language one of the most common for video game translation. In 2018, the German video game market generated nearly US$5 billion. German gamers want games that are highly engaging, immersive and fun. Localization providers for German games typically need to be game lovers themselves with the skills necessary to bring out all three aspects in a game.
French gamers spent nearly US$3 billion last year, among the country's 33 million current video game players. Keep in mind, when localizing for French gamers, that they don't necessarily like having to use English. They do want natural dialogues and appreciate French cultural references, and they welcome use of native slang.
It is clear that video game localization opens up international markets to game makers. However, the key to success in overseas game markets is in first determining which ones make sense for the sales of your particular game. Localizing for one of the above listed highly active national gaming markets is usually a relatively safe place to start. These are all proven sustained major spenders on recreational video gaming. Nevertheless, diligence in researching the suitability of your game for any international market before embarking on localization is a basic for success. Finally, to increase your likelihood of success, employ localization industry best practices in translating, culturalizing and internationalizing your game for one of these or any other foreign market in which you plan to release your game product.
So we've now reached the final chapter of our comprehensive games localization guide. After covering so many topics, what are the key takeaways and core message that this guide should have given you? Well rather than ask you to re-read everything all over again, this conclusive chapter will serve as a quick refresher on all the most important parts of the translation journey, sending you on your way with the knowledge to succeed as well as some final parting messages.
By now it should be clear that what makes the difference in an average video game and one that captures the imagination of the global gaming community is often in the amount of care taken when bringing them to market. A pretty good game can deliver a mediocre experience to players in Asian and Western European markets when translation and localizing efforts have fallen short. A truly successful game gives players in every market an engaging and seamless experience that has been ideally adapted for international markets by a world-class localization team using the industry's most robust processes.
Once you've determined that it's time to start working on the localization for your game, you'll find yourself engaging with an entirely new and broad field of knowledge, encompassing expert linguistics, wide-ranging technology, nuanced multicultural studies and intensive process management systems, with industry experts ready to help you through every phase of the exciting process.
Start localization as early in the development process as possible
Starting early is key to ensuring optimum quality of the localization process. This advice really can't be overemphasized. Assuming localization can be tacked on after all the coding in the source language is finished as a hasty process with minimal resources frequently leads to disappointing results. Localization needs to become a part of development or even of design. It needs to be understood as an integral process of blending adaptations for international users organically into development, to deliver the global gaming community the most authentic experience possible.
Start with information gathering, identify a localization service provider and move to complete pre-production, diligently completing budgets and legal documents that constitute the structure within which your project can be realized as early in the product development as possible. You'll thank yourself later.
Carefully choose and equip translators
Video gamers are a digital media consumer population apart from all others, with a shared language and understanding of the unique skills and satisfaction involved in the ideal experience of a great game. That sets a high bar for game translators who are charged with conveying exactly the same experience that the game creator intended to internationally located players and markets. To communicate with gamers through a game, strict technical accuracy is not nearly enough. Translators need to be both skilled linguists and skilled gamers in order to relate to gamers and fully appreciate the experience of gaming.
Follow best practices
Adhere to a set of proven best practices. Make sure to test your localized game through as many QA channels as possible, including final pre-market product testing with your target international audience. You've brought your game a long way up to the point of a pending overseas market launch. You've already determined that it's a time for calculated risk taking, so the point becomes about making sure you've factored all key considerations into your assessment.
Understand your international target market
Educate yourself on the data that supports or fails to support entry into a given foreign market with your game product. Make a well informed decision about how well your game should be expected to fare in a particular country, region and local market, before you embark on localization for that area.
Gather insights from game market performance data, consumer market data, product development consumer research, localization market experts and other knowledgeable sources. Watch for trends and pay attention to global gaming market forecasts and broader economic projections to help you formulate strategic growth plans for your game enterprise.
Only entrust your game creation to a team with a compelling track record
The games localization company you hire will manage all staffing, translation, culturalization, quality assurance processes, and technology applications. Your LSP will be responsible for these major project management components and everything else involved in localizing your game assets into a package that is positioned for success in the international target market you've chosen to enter. So, the point here is that you need a well-experienced team of localization specialists with an industry track record of consistently top-quality project outcomes.
Build the game you want to play! Just bear in mind the multicultural players whom you'll want to experience the game exactly as you designed it to be experienced. Those are the gamers who'll make a great game a global success as long as it's well-localized for their use.
Along the way, maintain realistic expectations. Mistakes are a fact of life in the localization industry, as in any other, even for the most talented and diligent teams of localization experts. Learn from your own past experience and from others' mistakes. Read some peer articles, talk to game localization experts, talk to gamers around the globe and test, and then test again, and maybe test once more for good measure.
Be a part of the gaming community. Immersing yourself in the gaming realm will help you keep perspective and manage your own expectations. Ultimately, insist on quality and surround yourself with others who share your deep commitment to it.
So at long last we have reached our conclusion. We hope you have found this guide as helpful as possible in understanding how the translation and localization process works within the gaming industry. The goal of this guide first and foremost is to provide you with the information necessary to ask the types of questions that can help you find the best processes and services for your projects, ensuring you make well-informed decisions that will determine the future of your game in the global marketplace.
For more information about video game localization
If you're preparing to localize your video game and would like some expert advice on pre-production steps, localization processes, industry best practices, game translation, key technologies, international gaming markets, quality assurance testing or anything else, feel free to get in touch with us here at Andovar. With years of experience in games localization, we're happy to answer your questions and help you make sure that everything that needs to be done is being done to realize your gaming vision.