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Game Translation & Localization – What’s the Difference?

Game Translation & Localization – What’s the Difference?

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To translate or localize your game? That is the question. Although game translation and localization may seem similar at first glance, there are in fact significant differences between them. In this article, we reveal the one biggest difference between game translation and localization and discuss why, at times, one approach might just more effective than the other.

The key distinction between game translation and localization & why it matters

Game translation involves the conversion of meaning of in-game text, dialogue and voice-over from one language to another. While translation is about words and retaining meaning, game localization goes far beyond that – instead, it involves the entire game’s adaptation in accordance with a market’s linguistic and cultural expectations. Basically, while translation is about meaning, localization is concerned with the product itself and its reception by gamers from a particular locale.

But why is knowing the distinction between these so commonly-confused terms so crucial? Because, sometimes, translation simply isn’t enough to fully convey the essence of a game to its players. Instead, to elevate a game to greatness, we need to go beyond the surface language level and take a game’s entire cultural context into account. Let’s explore when it becomes time to divert from regular translation practices and why.

The 3 biggest reasons to go beyond translation (with examples)

While certain video games are fairly basic, containing little to no text at all, or lack a complex world-setting, storyline and characters, others are more intricate and nuanced. The latter games are often loaded with culturally-specific elements from their country of origin, including, but not limited to, character and location names, numbers, symbols, jokes and puns, as well as historical references and information.

When aspects of this nature that might differ from culture to culture are involved, translation doesn’t cut it and a more radical approach might be required – and that’s exactly where localization fits into the picture. All in all, a localization approach may be more appropriate for a variety of reasons:

1. To minimize confusion

Communication mishaps occur so frequently in the game translation scene, not only thanks to inappropriate word-for-word translation practices, but also due to key, missed localization opportunities. For that reason, avoiding confusion is high on the list of priorities when adapting a video game for a different market. Thankfully, proper localization can be a remedy to potential cultural discrepancies from which confusion can arise. The conversion of numbers, including units of measurement, currencies, as well as time and date formats, into their relevant equivalents is a prime example of this.

Take The Last of Us Part I as an example, in which the Italian translator failed to convert the American month-day-year format to its Italian counterpart, which follows a day-month-year format (e.g., not switching up 3/23 with 23/3). If you were in the Italian gamers’ position, wouldn’t you just find this mistake so jarring, given there are only 12 months in a year (rather than 23)? Not to mention that players expect to know what’s going on during a game, when it’s happening and why, since that only adds to the game’s realistic feel.

Notice how this adaptation doesn’t revolve around language at all. Instead, it’s a non-linguistic change that helps facilitate meaning for an individual from a different cultural background.

2. To eliminate the potential for cultural offense

Localization can help protect against another major pitfall commonly associated with a video game’s release in a new and unfamiliar market – causing accidental cultural offense. Once again, localization goes beyond just language, this time entering into the territory of censorship.

Fundamentally, localizing a game additionally involves the alteration, censoring or removal of certain references and imagery that’d otherwise be considered culturally offensive. Are you trying to break entry into the Japanese locale, for instance? Then, be prepared to censor any scenes featuring nudity or violent content… or at least change the drawing of male body parts for… tentacles? That’s what the Japanese localization team for The Last of Us Part II did, alongside its removal of sexually explicit scenes and gory imagery, such as blood spattering.

Ultimately, a game localization agency can provide appropriate advice on matters of this nature and remove, change or replace culturally inappropriate references, symbols, or even entire scenes and conversations. These elements are almost always localized, particularly if you’re attempting to break entry into highly regulated markets, such as China.

3. To increase your game’s authentic appeal

Finally, localization can help with heightening your game’s appeal to your target demographic. Sure, translation helps communicate your points across in the different language, but it’s only with localization that creative magic happens. Ultimately, taking advantage of the creative opportunities that localization has to offer is key in helping you create a one-of-a-kind gaming experience – making your game truly resonate with its players.

Look at how the Japanese localizers for Undertale went above and beyond in the images that follow. Interestingly, they chose to align the text a particular way to differentiate between the two characters and brothers, Papyrus and Sans. Since Papyrus speaks using a papyrus typeface (left image), they aligned the text vertically so that it reads from left-to-right – the exact same way that people used to write in ancient Japan. By contrast, Sans’s dialogue (right image), written in a comic sans font, reads like normal. Fans were so happy with this change that they raved about it all over social media. That’s localization magic at work.

Game Translation & Localization – What’s the Difference?

To translate or localize? The key questions any translator must answer

In cases when items can potentially confuse or offend your audience, localization is a must. However, localizing every asset from your game isn’t necessary, and sometimes a simple translation can suffice. There are always exceptions to the rules and in some cases, some items can even stay the same. For instance, American players are so well-versed in the Japanese gaming and anime scene that Americanizing the names of Japanese game characters, wouldn’t make sense and would be deemed unnecessary.

Luckily, to make it easier for a translator to choose the best approach for each game asset, there are some basic questions they can ask:

● Do the names of characters, locations, items and weapons, sound appropriate, easily pronounceable and recognizable in the target language?
● Does this text, dialogue or overall setting produce the feeling that it’s meant to? For example, is this sentence equally funny in the translated language as it is in the original?
● Are there any references, such as to historical events or famous, local figures, that are unfamiliar to my audience?
● Do characters speak and sound natural to a native speaker’s ears?

The answers to these questions will come easier to experienced translators that possesses a deep understanding of the culture and the market as a whole. They’ll quickly know which method suits the purpose best and make any necessary changes wherever those seem fit.

Pangea Global – your trusted partner for game translation & localization

Are you curious to know more about the game localization process and every detail it entails? Then make sure to check out our game translation and localization definitive guide next!

And if you’re ready to take your game to the next level and reach new audiences, then say hi to Pangea! Our game localization services cover all aspects of the process, from market research all the way to transcreation.

Get in touch and our expert team of 900 translators in 75+ languages will be delighted to help.

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