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Game Translation and Localization – A Definitive Guide

Game Translation and Localization – A Definitive Guide

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Embarking on your game localization journey soon and want to know your way around the territory? You’re at the right place.

There’s nothing more rewarding than localizing your game and overcoming all obstacles and hurdles that come along the way, to see your video game be downloaded and played (and replayed!) by millions of gamers worldwide.

However, the localization process is highly demanding and extremely time-intensive, and sometimes, you don’t even know where to start. From choosing the right regions for expansion to budgeting and the localization procedure in itself, there are many complications you’ll likely encounter before you see your game succeed.

Worry not, as in this article, we take you from A to Z and explain everything there is to know about game localization, including what it is, its benefits, all steps involved, major localization challenges and their solutions, and so much more. Read on to go from dazed and confused to a localization know-it all!

What is Game Localization?

Game localization refers to the process of adapting a game’s elements to match a foreign audience’s cultural, linguistic and regional expectations – in other words, it goes a step further than just translation. Localizing text, such as user manuals or item descriptions, is one form of video game localization. However, the process can be highly complex and involve adjusting many other in-game elements, such as voice or design.
The ultimate goal of game localization: Make the game feel as immersive and native as possible to a foreign market, so it appears as though it was originally made for that audience.

A brief look into the history of Game Localization

The video game industry has a history that spans nearly three quarters of a century, and the first video game to have ever been created came out in the late 1950s. Game localization then came into the picture in the late 1970s and started slowly contributing to the industry’s success.
The first games to get localized were Japanese games that were adapted for English-speaking audiences. Initially, it was the fluent-speaking English developers themselves that translated the games. Since the developers’ capacities for localizing their games were lacking, their efforts were limited to translating basic in-game text, as well as text on the physical packaging.
During the 1990s, when console emulators were becoming popular, game fans also saw an opportunity to start localizing popular video games. Most players during that time believed the previous translations of their favourite games were poorly made, and most international games didn’t have existing English translations anyway.
Therefore, due to the rise of badly translated games from those times, such as Zero Wing with its popular mistranslation error “All your base are belong to us”, it soon became apparent that the way companies go about localization had to undergo a dramatic shift.

Pokemon Part 01 - The meaning behind Pokemon's names in various languages.

The fact that game translation and localization had great financial potential only amplified this need for well-translated games. From then onwards, more and more companies started to double down on their game localization efforts to create a truly immersive gaming experience and win the hearts and pockets of gamers worldwide.

Video games’ popularity worldwide and the demand for Game Localization

Since the early days of video games, the number of hardcore gamers in the world has risen drastically. Today, most people consider playing video games to be a highly pleasurable and engrossing past-time activity. For example, video game such as Elden Ring and God of War Ragnarök, have received storms of praise for their highly-acclaimed gameplay and combat this year and are loved by players from all different parts of the world.
The proof is in the pudding, and as statistics tell us, there will be an estimated 3.32 billion gamers around the globe by 2024. Even more crucially, the video game sector is growing at an explosive rate, thanks to the increasing use of smartphones and consoles.
According to estimations, the industry’s value is set to surpass $200 billion in 2023 and is expected to reach $340 billion by 2027. The demand for game localization is becoming increasingly noticeable alongside this growth spike.

Top 10 gaming markets for expansion

You can’t be talking about the rise of the game localization industry without taking a sneak peek into the strongest markets for expansion. Below you can find a list of the biggest gaming markets today, according to data generated by Newzoo:

Game Translation and Localization – A Definitive Guide

Why is Game Localization so critical for your game’s success?

We get it – game localization is a big deal and presents many attractive, lucrative opportunities that game developers shouldn’t miss out on. But, why exactly can video game localization contribute to the game’s bottom line? There are a few reasons that lie behind this contribution.

Grow your audience

As already mentioned, there are many gamers from markets outside the English-speaking demographic. This means that there are also millions of gamers out there whose needs for localized games in their region remain unmet.
By localizing your game, you create a welcoming environment for gamers from all corners around the world, thus opening the door to a huge stream of players. For example, localizing your game in China alone could introduce several million gamers to your video game.

See increases in profit

Growing your audience doesn’t go without its own sub-benefits, that being no other than increasing revenue. That’s obviously because the masses hold the majority of the purchasing power.
If you consider expanding to the Chinese market, for example, you could be tapping into about 40% of the gaming market’s overall revenue. However, expanding to Chinese territory is an incredibly challenging task since competition for localizing in the region is skyrocket high. More information on selecting the right market for expansion can be found later in this article, in the localization strategy section.

Create a more culturally relevant game

A properly localized video game has the capacity to connect with your international players on a profoundly deep level. Going the extra length to change or remove any in-game elements that don’t make sense or misalign with what’s considered culturally appropriate to the market you’re expanding into will go a long way towards creating a loyal player base.
For example, there are certain symbols and imagery (e.g., skeletons and skulls) which are considered offensive to a Chinese audience, and it’s advised that those are entirely removed from your game if it goes out in that market.

Establish a reputation in foreign markets

If your game offers an enjoyable playing experience and is well-adjusted to your target market and meets their linguistic, cultural, and regional expectations, you’re undoubtedly going to boost your chances of establishing a strong reputation internationally.
The quality of your localized game will determine how favourably your brand will be perceived as a whole. First impressions are important – your international players will keep coming back for more, or for different games developed by your company, the more comfortable and familiar they felt about the initial gaming experience. In turn, that can translate to more profit from the game itself, other games you’re planning to produce, or from your fanbase’s purchasing of merch and other brand-related items.

Spare your brand from embarrassment

As shown in the “All your base are belong to us” example, mistranslation errors don’t go down very well. Naturally, a properly localized game introduces new revenue streams and attracts a global player base, while the opposite can be said about a mistranslated game – that can repel potential players, leading to a loss of money and a tarnished reputation.

Video Game Localization – All Steps Involved

It can’t be stressed enough that game localization is incredibly intense. It requires keeping a myriad of components in mind for a perfect final product that produces the highly desirable results we’ve discussed just now. The steps you need to take to localize your game (and do so with great success, of course!) are as follows:

Establish a game localization strategy

All localization undertakings start with selecting the best game localization strategy for your specific needs. Your strategy will be the biggest determining factor of whether you’ll publish the adapted version of your game on time and within your available budget. The more proactive you are at this stage, the better your chances of success. Below are some useful suggestions:
Select the regions you’ll target: Get crystal clear on the audience you’re targeting by conducting thorough market research. You might like to consider what the most lucrative, yet inexpensive markets for expansion are, as shown above, and go from there. Or, you can aim to localize your game in a region where success is more guaranteed, such as in markets where similar video games to yours have seen success in previous years.
Create a budget for the project. The final price you’ll pay for game localization will obviously depend on the market you choose for localization and the translation team you work with. It’s important to establish a clear budget as early as possible by consulting with your translation team and plan for unexpected expenses well ahead of time (because they’ll most likely creep up).
Lay the groundwork: Have certain information ready before kickstarting the localization process to eliminate inefficiencies and speed the process up. That can include a localization kit, a style guide and a glossary. Details about these indispensable tools can be found below.

Choose your game localization team wisely

Your localized game won’t shine unless you hire the right game localization crew. Regardless of whether you choose to work with a freelancing or in-house team, ensure they have the necessary translation and localization tools and a robust translation team.
The ideal team for the job has to meet certain criteria, including:
Subject-matter expertise: Your translators have to be familiar with gaming terminology that’s relevant to the type of game you’re localizing (e.g., a sports game will have significantly different language to an adventure game). Ensure you’re working with someone who has previously localized games similar to yours, and that the clients’ testimonials for those projects are rock solid. Generally, the best game translators and localizers are also gamers themselves.
Native-speaking abilities: As with any type of translation, it’s always better to choose a native speaker in order to make the game feel native and local to your audience. For instance, native speakers can more accurately translate culture-specific idioms and slang. It’s highly recommended that the translators are native speakers of the target language because the aim is to use language that appeals to a native-speaking audience in particular.
Cultural awareness: Are your translators from the market you’re localizing your game for? Since many cultural issues can came up when localizing a game, or anything for that matter, your localizers need to be exceptionally familiar with the culture. For example, Chinese, Indian, Korean and the Middle East markets are more sensitive than others and are significantly different compared to Western markets. This means that changes must be made to address any potential discrepancies between the cultures. Culturally-aware translators can tread these dangerous waters carefully and save you from common localization pitfalls.

Create a style guide and glossary

As we’ve already established, you must lay the groundwork for the localization of your video game by preparing some crucial information for your translation team. First, you must create a style guide, which goes over the style of communication you’d like the translators to use, and a glossary of common terminology that are of importance to your game; that’ll ensure those terms are translated correctly and consistently.
Your game localizers will have to do their part, that is to play your game and read background documentation. That’s in order for them to familiarize themselves with the game’s subject matter, take notes of important information and get an overall good idea about the game’s vibe. As for the style guide and glossary, the translation team will create their own versions in the language they’re translating into.

Build a localization kit

Next up, you should build a localization kit, also known as LocKit for short. This is an important tool to have prepared ahead of time since it clarifies your localization objectives and keeps the process focused.
But what is a LocKit? Specifically, a LocKit is an information package that includes detailed specifications about the localization project. That can be anything from details about the translation technologies you’ll be using to information about the game’s settings, the plot and characters, and other technical details, such as font size, formats, syntax and language structure, or the coding string.

Separate text from the code and use a translation management system

Before the translation process can begin, the first step is to remove the language strings from the game’s code, that’ll be subsequently translated, and transfer them to a translation management system (TMS).
A TMS is a smart translation tool that streamlines the entire translation and localization process for multiple languages at once. To upload the strings to the TMS with ease, you need to use custom-built connectors. If you’ve uploaded the strings and are translating your game for more than one language, your TMS can look like this:

Game Translation and Localization – A Definitive Guide

Automate the game localization process with translation memory

A translation memory is another incredibly useful translation tool. It stores previously translated language data that it can access to automate a major part of the translation process, saving you, as the client, both time and money.
If you’re translating the latest installation of a game series, many of the same terms and phrases will, in some fashion, be repeated from previous versions of the game. Those terms, such as character and item names, can be automatically translated by the tool, giving the translators room to focus on translating newer and unfamiliar information.

Translate and localize audio and text

With a style guide and glossary in place, a LocKit and with the aid of technology tools, the translators can then proceed with the translation and localization of your game. Here are the steps involved, as recommended by the best game localization practices:
1. Translate the recordings first (if any). If you’re translating subtitles alone and decide to leave the spoken dialogue in the original language, you can significantly reduce the legwork involved during this phase of the localization process. However, if you’re translating dialogue as well, the final translations for both the screen and subtitle text should be pitch-perfect before expanding your resources to record the audio portions.
The translators’ job here is to retain the original meaning of what’s being said and potentially reword any phrases that lack a proper translation equivalent. At the end, give your translators the opportunity to see the final translation on screen, so that they can make necessary alterations prior to the recording phase.
2. Choose the right voice actors. Go all out when localizing your character’s voices, so that each character sounds unique and native. To do this right, you must select a highly talented voice-over artist that sounds the part. For instance, if you’re translating your text to an Asian language, pick a voice actress that can do a high-pitched voice.
3. Team up translators with voice actors. To create great quality recordings, have a translator explain any of the material to the voice actors, if needed. Additionally, in case timing-related issues come up, the translator can quickly make edits to any game text and update the subtitles right on the spot.

Translate and localize humour

There are more specific instances translators need to pay close attention to, such as the translation and localization of humour. There are games that have been mistranslated and sound funny to a native audience as a result, but sounding intentionally humorous in the target language is a struggle in itself.
Jokes are loaded with cultural references and retaining a joke’s humorous tone in another language requires a great deal of both cultural awareness and creativity. However, a culturally attuned and highly creative localization team can switch up any references that don’t properly translate to ensure they hit the right tone for the intended demographic.
A great example of a humorous game that’s been localized appropriately for a US audience is the Japanese visual novel adventure game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Here’s a humorous portion from the localized version of the game:

Localizing irrelevant and inappropriate references

Cultural sensitivity is a prerequisite for both the translation of humorous references, as well as the localization of culturally-specific content that might otherwise be irrelevant to your foreign audience or straight-up inappropriate.
Cultural irrelevance. An example of being culturally irrelevant is seen in Persona 5. The game asks questions about Japanese kanji, politics, and history that most English speakers aren’t familiar with, but would only make sense to a Japanese person. That’s problematic, since the average Western gamer would be removed from the experience as a result.
In the image below, players are asked questions about the popular Japanese version of chess, known as “shogi”. If the localization team had removed those particular questions and replaced them with regular chess-related questions, for example, this would have easily been avoided.

Game Translation and Localization – A Definitive Guide

Cultural insensitivity. The more serious cases of localization fails can lead to backlash or even the ban of the game in the foreign locale. As we’ve previously discussed, localizers that are culturally aware or, even better, from that specific region, can more readily recognize when certain content is insensitive or inappropriate. They can then raise the issue, so it’s fixed before the game’s published.
When dealing with historical or geographical facts where uncertainty exists, you might even need to seek out experts from those specific fields.
Just keep in mind that this matter is serious and should be treated with as much care as possible from your team. A notorious example of a game that was discontinued due to a culturally insensitive reference is Kakuto Chojin: Back Alley Brutal. The game included an audio portion of the Islamic Qur’an, and the fact they failed to remove that particular section caused this highly damaging blow.

Localizing for the audience’s preferences

Always remember that there’s huge potential to create meaningful connections with your audience, and you should capitalize on that. Creating an authentically unique experience for your overseas gamers sometimes requires that your development team makes major changes to certain game elements, such as the character design or background. You need to think outside of the box to pull off these types of changes successfully.
A globally-acclaimed instance of a localized game that’s in perfect tune with the audience’s likes and preferences is the online multiplayer battle arena (MOBA) game Arena of Valor. To create a meaningful and resonant gaming experience for Western audiences from Europe and the US, the game was adapted to include highly recognizable superhero figures, such as Superman, Batman, and the Flash.

Game Translation and Localization – A Definitive Guide

Proofreading – checking for consistency

Following the translation and localization of text and any references, humorous or otherwise, and before conducting quality assurance (QA), a specialized editor or proofreader must check the consistency of the translation. Translation errors are bound to show up in one way or another and are completely normal. The overall aim here is to identify errors or inconsistencies and fix them prior to QA.
Although your editor doesn’t have to be as strong at the source language as the translators themselves, it’s highly recommended that they are to ensure greater consistency throughout your game’s translated content.

Conduct linguistic quality assurance

To make sure everything’s set, a team of testers need to go through the game during a process known as linguistic quality assurance (QA). QA goes a step further than just proofreading, because it ensures your game meets your international players’ cultural, regional and linguistic expectations.
Your testing team should include both native speakers of the target language, as well as game players. Each can provide their own valuable input about the language and game as a whole, identify potential bugs and suggest necessary changes.

Integrate the translated content with your game

After all the hard work has come to an end, it’s time to piece the content and the game together to integrate the translation with the game. At this stage, you’ll have to adapt the code so that everything is properly aligned, all linguistic data shows up appropriately on the screen and to fix any issues (e.g., strings overlapping with controls) if they do arise.

Transcreate your marketing materials

It’s not just your game’s content that needs translation – your overall marketing around your localized game has to be translated too, without a shadow of a doubt. In other words, you need to put your message out into the world about your new game after it’s been localized and do it with intention.
Translating your marketing materials requires transcreation expertise. Transcreation is a blend of translation and copywriting and takes the overall advertising message into account. Don’t forget to transcreate your website, advertisements, landing pages, and social media to announce your game and keep the gamers coming from multiple corners of the internet.

The Challenges of Game Localization and Potential Solutions

We’ve already gone over some issues you might encounter when localizing your game, such as finding the ideal region for localization or avoiding causing cultural offense. Here are some other challenges to keep an eye out for:

1. Inefficiency and lack of insight

Because there are so many steps to localizing a game, cutting corners and not planning out things thoroughly from the very beginning, whether purposefully or otherwise, happens often. Common problems that get in the way include:
Poor communication. The game development and localization team need to remain in close contact, so that everyone is on the same page about when deadlines are to be expected and about the project specifications as a whole. That, however, sometimes doesn’t happen, which can lead to developers providing insufficient context, translators missing a deadline, and ultimately having to push the publication date.
Not preparing a style guide and glossary. As we’ve said, providing sufficient context to the game localization team is important. Nevertheless, what’s quite commonly observed is for developers to skip the preparation of a style guide and glossary, which causes inconsistencies and poor localization outcomes.
Bad coding practices. Strings and sentences are removed from the code and are then transferred to a translation software, as we’ve mentioned. Sometimes, though, some strings can go untranslated because they might not show up properly in the software. That can happen if the code of a game has been hard-coded from the beginning of its development, which isn’t recommended.

2. Practical issues that diminish localization quality

There can be many issues that impact the overall quality and feel of the final video game translations, some of which follow:
Prioritizing quantity over quality. It’s natural to want to stretch out your efforts to localize your game for as many languages as possible, but unless you have the financial ease to do so, that can only lead to problems. Instead, always think quality over quantity, and focus on translating your game in fewer languages and go all out with those, at least as a starting point.
Expanded text. When translating from one language to another, text can expand significantly depending on the language. For example, certain Korean words might take up to an entire sentence to be translated in full. That can be a problem, especially if you’re localizing a mobile game, where there isn’t ample space to express a message. Taking font size into consideration during the planning phase can go a long way to overcoming this issue, as well as keeping translators informed about these specifications from stage 1.
Text on graphic images. It’s best to limit including text on images or avoiding it altogether in your game, according to game localization best practices. That’s because, your development team will have to recreate those images to include the translated text, since the quality of the graphics might otherwise be compromised.

3. Time constraints during the quality assurance phase

Since the QA is the final step to the game localization process, it might be tempting to go through it hastily. After all, if you’ve hired an incredible game localization team, there shouldn’t be any translation and localization issues in the final version of your game. However, rushing or skipping this process entirely is a big mistake.
The purpose of a QA is to experience the game through the players’ eyes and ensure the highest possible cultural and linguistic accuracy of the game. The linguists and gamers have to explore and play through the game at their own pace to really identify where it might have gone wrong (as we’ve seen with Persona 5).

Make Your Game a Global Hit!

In conclusion, the gaming industry won’t stop growing anytime soon, and localizing your game is key to seamless entry in the global gaming economy. The biggest takeaways from this article include:
Start strategizing as early as possible. Get clear about which markets you’ll be expanding to and the budget you’ll be dedicating to the project.
Work with a suitable localization team. Work with a team of native professionals that has vast experience localizing similar games to yours. They need to understand the culture of your chosen market as thoroughly as possible.
Provide all necessary materials. Prepare a LocKit, style guide and glossary to the localization team, so they can localize your game according to your set objectives and specifications.
Use cutting-edge translation technology tools. A translation memory tool and translation management system will save you time and money, make the translators’ job simpler, and streamline the communication between the teams.
Avoid taking shortcuts. Don’t be tempted to rush through the quality assurance phase, and make the quality and consistency of the localization a top priority.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and took many useful lessons from it. If you haven’t found the right game localization team yet, Pangea Global might be the right fit for you!
With 15 years of experience in our gaming arsenal, we have a deep understanding of the industry and know how to strike the perfect balance between game localization cost, quality and speed. Some of our past game localization projects include Merge Stories, Board Kings and the House of Fun, amongst many others!
Our robust translation team is made up of over 900+ translators, localizers and transcreators that speak over 75+ languages and know the ins and outs of your industry.
Whether you’re localizing your mobile, PC, or console game, you’ll be well on your way to making your game a global hit by sending your request our way through this form!

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