video games

The importance of video game localization

Video game localization adapts a game to the culture and language of different markets, involving dialogues, instructions, characters, and marketing materials. This complex process requires collaboration from various stakeholders, including a localization studio. This guide explains localization’s importance for global success, its benefits, and common pitfalls and offers practical advice for establishing a strong localization process.

Why is video game localization important?

Achieving global reach with a single version of your game in one language across all markets is unlikely due to numerous linguistic and cultural differences between your home market and target markets. Here are the key elements that typically vary by region:

  1. Language: Even though many global players speak English, there’s a risk of misunderstanding if the game isn’t adapted to their native language. For instance, the U.S. video game “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” was localized as “Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding” in Europe to avoid confusion with ice skating.
  2. Cultural References: It’s crucial to adapt references to local culture and history, as these can differ significantly between countries. For example, the popular Chinese game “Honor of Kings” was launched as “Arena of Valor” in Western markets. The Chinese title includes the word ‘Kings’ due to the historical importance of monarchs in China, whereas Western regions like the U.S. have never had a king.
  3. Local Tastes: Players are more likely to enjoy a game if its design and appearance align with local tastes and expectations. The Japanese video game developer Irem understood this well. In the localized U.S. version of their game, ‘S.O.S. In the Final Escape,’ most characters have blonde hair, compared to the dark-haired characters in the Japanese version.
  4. Local Legislation: Adapting or removing sensitive content may be necessary to comply with local regulations. A notable example is Nintendo’s “Super Mario Kart.” In the Japanese version, two characters drink champagne after winning a race. However, Nintendo of America’s policies prohibited depictions of drinking in games, necessitating changes to the animations.

How to Localize Your Video Game

Each game localization process is distinct, but delineating the essential steps can be immensely beneficial.

  1. Define Your Localization Requirements. Formulate a localization strategy to ensure your game resonates with its target markets. Consider the game’s genre, audience, countries, and budget. Evaluate your game’s content to determine localization needs. Key factors influencing the process include:
  2. Timing: Will localization occur concurrently with game development or afterward?
  3. Technology Provider: Which translation platform will you use? Ensure it centralizes projects and automates workflows for both development and localization teams.
  4. Responsibility: If there is no in-house staff, will you outsource to a service provider or freelancer?
  5. Create a Localization Kit. A localization kit conveys your strategy to translators, including details about the game’s story, characters, and tone. Providing comprehensive information helps translators and Q.A. testers work efficiently, minimizing the need for clarifications.
  6. Prepare Your Code for Localization. Internationalization involves designing and developing a product to be easily localized, thereby streamlining the process. Ensure your team extracts strings from the code to avoid hard-coding issues.
  7. Translate Content Assets. Effective translation requires collaboration between localization and development teams. Translators will use the localization kit to maintain the game’s tone and consistency. This step also includes translating audio content, such as dialogues and subtitles. For dubbing, ensure character voices are recorded in the target languages.
  8. Perform Language Quality Assurance (L.Q.A.). After text localization, review the linguistic quality. Proofreaders should identify and correct any spelling, grammar, or syntax errors to ensure high-quality translations.
  9. Assemble and Test Your Localized Game. Integrate all localized elements back into the game and have native-speaking testers review the localized versions. Allocate sufficient time for localization testing to ensure context accuracy, such as fitting translated text within allocated spaces.
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