One of the beautiful things about a well-constructed online game is its simplicity. Even a non-gamer should be able to enter, read a bit, then begin playing with confidence. So it’s a delight to come across an article about game localization which approaches the subject with similar elegance. This article by Ofer Tirosh, CEO of Tomedes, provides a good primer for getting started in localizing games. It takes just 10 minutes to read, but it gives you everything you need to get started localizing games. I aim to take half the time to extract its highlights. But check out the original for in-depth guidance.
Why Should You Localize Your Games and for Which Markets?
Naturally, you want to localize your games so that players worldwide can enjoy your creation. But mostly you should do it to make lots more money. Because, like Hollywood movies, sometimes the biggest box office returns are achieved in unexpected overseas markets. The video game market size globally was estimated to be worth more than $150 billion in 2019. it’s expected to grow at a CAGR of nearly 13% through 2027. That means it will more than double in that period.
As a rule, gaming companies make most of their money from sales abroad. For example, video games developed in China earned $5.6 billion from overseas sales in the first half of 2019, up more than 20% annually, substantially higher than domestic sales growth. That same pattern is repeated throughout the world. It should not be that surprising, given the fact that no one language dominates the world. Therefore, it is only logical that every game manufacturer should see foreign markets as their primary focus, making localization services a must.
Where to go first? China with its billion-plus population is a natural target for foreign game localizers as well, but India with its youth population is equally game-crazy and therefore an attractive localization target. Spanish and Arabic, both in the top 5 of languages spoken, are also desirable gaming audiences. Despite the importance of localization services, these account for a tiny fraction of gaming industry expenditures. It is reported that only about 1% of the total costs are allocated to localization services. Is that enough to satisfy the appetites of 2.5 billion gamers?
What Do You Need to Know Before You Start Localizing?
You need to love games and play them obsessively. Expertise is derived from experience. Where game localization services are today is vastly different from where it started a few decades ago. What is the localization of games, really? It’s the adaptation of the game experience for audiences in a different location and, often, speaking a different language. Localization is the process of making a game feel local and personal, so the player thinks: it’s made for me!
What needs to be localized in a game? Potentially, everything! Screen texts, marketing materials, dialogue among game characters, instructions, terms, and conditions. There are also technical things that need to be localized. Some of the bigger game developers can afford to throw millions at game localization, but we’re assuming you have a more modest budget.
How many should you aim for? 3-5 would be a good start for even a small gaming studio. Bear in mind that incremental costs of localization decrease with each language added, but some languages are more complex and therefore expensive to translate. Key factors contributing to complications and expenses are different character sets (like Mandarin) and right to left (RTL) directionality, such as in Arabic.
Localization Strategy, Step-by-Step
Create a project plan covering the steps and resources you’ll require. Which countries and regions are you localizing for? What is the inventory of content to be localized? Do visual elements, graphics, and backgrounds, also need to be adapted? Does the ethnicity and appearance of characters need adaptation? Is there anything controversial or culturally inappropriate concerning your game for a given local market?
Finding a Localization Agency
Now you need to go out and find a partner agency to help you do the translation and localization. The translation is the main component of any localization project, and there are some companies that focus on that and leave the technical aspects of localizing software to a more technical development company. But others combine the resources to give you a one-stop-shop.
Each company will give you a free consultation and price-proposal in response to your inquiries. Make a shortlist of professional localization agencies with deep experience in your kind of games and target markets, then interview each to find where there’s chemistry. Choose an agency that has the best of both worlds: linguistic expertise in translation and technical expertise in localization.
Create a Lockit
Localization kits –lock it, in industry shorthand – is a brief summarizing everything about your game(s) for the translation and localization teams. It should be comprehensive, the Bible of your game. Assembling this information in one place will save you time and money and will yield better-enhanced translations and a more successful localization.
Export Original Strings
You’ll need to extract all the variables and text strings from your code in its original language. These will be assembled as part of a localization matrix. Each localization services team – and there may be one for each language and locality – will be responsible for populating their column of the matrix.
Import Localized Strings
Each local team will translate all the terms and variables into a new language. Ensure that the translators will be mother-tongue speakers of the required target language. After all terms and phrases in the list have been translated, they will import this data into the translation management system.
Assure Localization Quality
You need to proofread everything. For videogame translations, make sure that your agency will provide qualified editors and proofreaders for languages you don’t know. Make sure that these are different people than the ones who translated. If you have staff who know a given language, put them on the case!
Last but not least, always keep in mind the concept of integrity. Your goal is to make each local version – from coding to packaging to marketing — authentic while staying consistent with the unique branding of each game and the standards of your studio. With that guidance, go forth and localize!