Video Game Localization: Tailoring Games to Local Markets
Ever since PUBG: Battlegrounds launched in 2017, the online video game from South Korea has turned into a truly global hit. With 12 localized language versions and marketing trimmed to specific geographies, it has a staggering base of 555M users worldwide and is the 5th best-selling video game of all time.
If you plan for your video game to rival global competitors too, making it fit for each of your target markets is crucial—satisfying players’ cultural requirements fosters adoption and long-term play. To make the most of it, you need to build a clear game localization strategy and rely on robust localization technology.
To help you get started, this guide outlines why localization is important for growth in the video game market and what its key benefits are. You’ll also get to know common pitfalls to avoid and guidelines on how best to set up your game localization process for lasting success.
The rise of the global video game market
The global gaming market is on a steady rise. In 2021, it was worth $185B, seeing rapid growth over the past few years, mainly through mobile games. Their advantage over console games is that they’re accessible to anyone with a smartphone.Global video game market revenue expanded by 26% between 2019 and 2021, and is expected to reach $321B in 2026—with China, the United States, and Japan being the dominant game markets.
What is video game localization?
Game localization is the process of adapting a video game to the culture and language of players in a target market. It encompasses elements such as spoken dialogues and instructions, characters, game manuals, marketing assets, and many more. That’s why localization in video gaming often involves many stakeholders, from product managers and developers to translators and marketing specialists.
Why is video game localization important?
As there might be many linguistic and cultural differences between your home market and your target markets, achieving global reach with the same version of your game in one language across all markets is unlikely. Below are the elements that usually vary from region to region:
- Language: Even if many global players speak English, there is a risk that they will misunderstand the game if it isn’t adapted to their native language. “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” is a localization example that shows the importance of linguistic adaptation. The name of the video game from the US is “Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding” in Europe so that customers don’t confuse it with ice skating.
- Cultural references: Adapting references to the local culture and history is important as they may vary a lot between countries. For example, one of the most popular Chinese games, “Honor of Kings” launched under the name “Arena of Valor” in Western markets. Indeed, only the Chinese version of the name contains the word ‘Kings’ because in the history of China, monarchs have played a central role whereas in several Western regions, such as the US, there has never been a king.
- Local tastes: Local players have more chances to enjoy a game if the designs and appearance fit their tastes and expectations because local culture has a significant impact on brand preferences and loyalty. The Japanese video game developer and publisher Irem understood this well. In the localized US version of their game ‘S.O.S The Final Escape’, most of the characters have blonde hair, whereas they had dark hair in the Japanese version.
- Local legislation: It might be necessary to remove or adapt sensitive content. One of the localization examples that shows how local regulation needs to be considered is Nintendo’s Super Mario Kart. In the Japanese version of the game, two characters drink champagne after winning a race. Nintendo of America’s policies didn’t allow depictions of drinking in games, which required changing the animations.
Mario Kart’s character Bowser in the Japanese (left) and American game version (right) © The Mushroom Kingdom
Why you should localize your video game
Many gaming companies invest in game localization because they can benefit from competitive advantages in the global market.
Localizing a game is a way to attract new customers and generate more revenue. Only 35% of all users on Steam, the most popular game distribution platform, have English as their main language. Therefore, localization is a way to boost your global reach.
Acquire loyal customers
Localizing your game is a way to show local players that you care about them. In turn, they can easily remember you and buy other games developed by your company in the future. This effect is even stronger in small markets where there are few localized games.
Leverage the initial hype
The release of a new video game is often welcomed with excitement, and launching a new localized video game has a multiplier effect. Potential customers in local markets are even keener to buy a new game if it’s available in their native language. Note that leveraging the initial hype is only possible if the game is released in multiple locales right from the start.
Localization is a great way to keep your place in a competitive industry, such as gaming. Especially, localizing games allows you to gain market shares if your competitors haven’t customized their games for your target markets yet.
Maintain control of the game
If your game is available in your own language only, players in local markets might create unofficial language packs. If that’s the case, there is a risk of bad translation quality. In-house game localization is a way to keep control of your game content.
Key challenges in game localization
A video game’s localization often poses some challenges. To help you anticipate these pitfalls and plan accordingly, here are some of the usual hurdles.
Inefficient procedures and lack of understanding
The process is challenging to streamline because of constant back-and-forth between keholders. For example, game developers have to answer a large number of questions—often leading to communication delays. Plus, translators often don’t understand the context well, causing translation mistakes.
Cutting language quality assurance (LQA) time short
As the LQA process consists of checking the translations for mistakes, it happens at the end—right before the release. That’s when the pressure on the release is the highest. Cutting the LQA time is risky as it causes mistakes in the localized game.
Little consideration for localization
It’s common that companies see localization as an afterthought compared to the design and development of the game. Therefore, you might be tempted to buy game localization services at low rates. This would be a risky choice as the video game localizer might not accurately translate.
This is a particularly sensitive point in game localization because there are usually a lot of technical terms in video games. Plus, if there are delays during game design and development, it might seem like an easy solution to cut the time allocated to localization.
You can implement game localization parallel to the general game development, or after. Both options have pros and cons. On the one hand, localizing during game development takes a lot of time and resources, and requires certainty about the markets to target. Moreover, it might be inefficient if game development takes place in a fast-paced and stressful environment.
On the other hand, it’s a good approach if your game is released on an international scale. Companies that have limited financial resources often choose the option to localize after the initial game release. However, it might be more difficult to adapt a fully finished and released game because it’s not possible to localize some of its parts.
How to localize your video game
Even if each game localization process is different, it’s useful to create a model that explains the key steps.
Define your localization requirements
The localization strategy is the long-term plan that will guide your product localization and will ensure that your game fits your target markets. At this stage, you should consider your game genre, your target audience, your target countries, and your budget. It’s also necessary to collect and assess the source content of your game to identify which text and non-text in-game content needs to be localized.
The main aspects that will influence the rest of the localization process and the final localized versions of your games include:
- When to localize your game: Will it take place parallel to game development or after?
- Which translation and localization technology provider you will rely on: Will the platform allow you to centralize your localization projects in one place and automate workflows? The tool should suit both your development and your localization teams.
- Who will be responsible for localization: If you don’t have any in-house staff who can handle localization, will you outsource localization to a game localization services provider or freelancers?
Create a localization kit
A localization kit is a way to convey the guidelines of your strategy to your translators. This document includes relevant information about your game’s story, your characters, and your voice. A localization kit will help translators and localization QA testers localize your game and, if they have all the information they need, they won’t ask you many questions during translation.
Prepare your code for localization
Internationalization is the process of designing and developing a digital product so that it can be localized. This step will save you time and effort during the rest of the localization process. Your development team should remove strings from your code to make sure that the game isn’t hard-coded.
Translate localized assets
This step is a lengthy process in itself and often requires a lot of back-and-forth communication between the localization and development teams. Your localization team will translate your strings on the translation editor of your localization solution. During the translation process, translators will use your localization kit to remain consistent with the tone of your game.
This part of the process is also about translating audio content, such as dialogues between the characters, and subtitles. For instance, if you choose to dub the dialogues, the characters’ voices should be recorded in your target languages.
Once all the text is localized, it’s important to review the linguistic quality of the text. Proofreaders will go through the translations to identify and correct any spelling, grammar, or syntax mistakes.
Assemble and test your localized game
Finally, you’ll need to pull all the adapted parts back into the game and have native-speaking game testers check the localized versions of your game. Allocating time for this step is important because translations without any mistakes outside the game might not actually fit the context, for example, if the translated text doesn’t fit the space allocated for it.
Best practices for quality game localization
Game localization quality implies that your video game suits local players’ expectations. Taking proven approaches during the process will help you achieve this.
Plan localization early on
Incorporating the localization strategy right from the design stage allows you to easily kick localization off later on. This approach implies separating the content from the code and ensuring that your game can cope with longer characters. Plus, by planning localization early on, you can provide your stakeholders with relevant information to use during the process.
Your external linguists don’t need to have a background in gaming to provide high-quality translations. However, they should perfectly understand your game and be committed to your project. To achieve this, you could offer your translators to join game testing and ask for feedback. A strong team atmosphere is another great way to achieve quality localization.
Foster direct communication
With so many different stakeholders involved in game localization and how complex a video game product can get, having too many intermediaries can complicate the process. Instead, allowing stakeholders to directly talk to each other reduces the response time to linguists’ queries. It’s also worth keeping track of queries that couldn’t be implemented to improve other games developed in the future.
Leverage localization technology
Relying on modern technology for video game localization can be the key to making the most of all best practices mentioned above. Specifically, localization solutions can allow you to:
- Manage your localization projects in one place
- Track the progress of your translations
- Get real-time insights about your localization costs to control your budget
Designed with the whole team in mind, the Phrase Localization Suite can make your game localization painless from start to finish. The complete localization solution is able to seamlessly integrate with the continuous development process of agile development teams. Among other game localization features, Phrase offers translation vendor management and workflow automation capabilities to make it simpler for teams of any size to adapt video games quickly and effortlessly.
Careful preparation and strategic planning are key to game localization
When it comes to taking a video game global, the stakes are high due to the rapid rise of the global video game industry. Customizing video games for local markets is often necessary due to the numerous local specificities.
Since game localization can improve the game adoption by local players, it often brings an increase in revenue and in the number of long-term customers. However, it can become a complicated process with many stakeholders involved.
To make the process a success, it’s essential to take localization into consideration as early as possible and ensure direct and quick communication between everyone involved. In that regard, relying on modern localization technology can help you make the most of game localization in the long run.
Last updated on November 28, 2022.