Juliet famously said to Romeo, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Maybe she should have asked Pokemon fans the same question in Hong Kong in 2016 instead. A name change caused a whole world of Shakespearean drama which could have been avoided by a carefully planned localisation strategy.
To help you learn from Nintendo's mistakes, we look at what happened in Hong Kong and how to ensure you don't make the same blunder.
The Pikachu predicament
Most people are familiar with the yellow, fictional creatures from Pokemon, but do many really care if it is called Pikachu, Pi-Ka-Qiu or Bei-Ka-Jau? Apparently many thousands of Hong Kongers do. The plan by Nintendo to unify the spelling of Pokemon characters into Mandarin was not a popular choice. And that is an understatement. A petition of over 6,000 signatures was sent to Nintendo by the dedicated fans, followed by a protest at the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong. Why?
It was not just that the game would feel less familiar to those who had been using the name Bei-Ka-Jau for the smiley ball of yellow fur for over 20 years. The protesters thought it was also a matter of identity and an attack on their culture. While Hong Kong receives a degree of autonomy from China, some people, as indicated by the current turmoil, do not feel that they have enough independence from Beijing.
They planned to rename Pikachu and Co. to the mainland Chinese style of writing (Simplified Chinese) and Mandarin rather than the Cantonese and traditional Chinese writing used in Hong Kong. It was seen as a further erosion of Hong Kong's Special Administrative Area (SAR) status, and they were just not having it. They felt their identity and language were under attack. Nintendo reversed the policy of unification across China, Hong Kong and Taiwan and learned a lesson the hard way.
The protests in Hong Kong not only damaged Nintendo's reputation in the country but also cost them money as they had to delay or withdraw promotions and redesign their marketing campaigns. Could they have avoided all this? Yes. But how do you avoid "doing a Nintendo" with your game? Read on!
To launch in other markets takes more than just the translation of your game into different languages, localisation is the key to unlocking success. So what steps do you need to take to create a smooth transition to other countries?
Research: If Nintendo had properly researched their markets, they would have known that the Simplified Chinese-style of writing would not be acceptable to the Hong Kong and Taiwan audiences. Thorough research would also have informed them of the cultural differences and highlighted any issues before work began on the translation. Comprehensive knowledge of each audience is needed to understand what makes them laugh, what engages, and what offends.
Prepare: Before a line of code is translated, prepare to adjust your designs to allow for extended text, special characters and symbols used in some languages or for reading from right to left. It is also wise to test out the special textual characters to ensure that they are properly visible in your design.
When writing the game code, keep text in a separate file to make the process easier. Translate whole sentences, not just single words or you could end up with nonsense. Better still, hire a translation company with native speakers from the countries you are targeting. They may also help you avoid the pitfalls faced by ignoring or being unaware of cultural intricacies.
When asking translators to provide you with specific text, give them as much detail and context of the game and the audience as possible. This will aid the game flow and allow the continuity of the story.
By following these guidelines and hiring a reputable and reliable translation service, the localisation of your game should run smoothly.
At Andovar, we have a team of some of the best translators, and our localisation specialists are by your side as you journey from researching your target market to the launch of your end product. We aim to make your product as authentic to the target market as possible without compromising the storyline and characteristics your game requires.
Our team of experts employ different processes to fit with your company's development needs and timescale to protect you from unnecessary drama and costs. So get in touch today and avoid game translation tragedy as your game takes the world's stage by storm.