Complex video games are a powerful art form, offering more interaction and multi-faceted immersion than any other entertainment genre. The video games people love transport them into a virtual world where nothing interrupts their unique experience there. The character names, narrative phrasing, audio, video, and imagery are all harmonious and the UI/UX flawless, no matter the origin or target languages. Video game localization is a time-consuming, detailed process.
Take the example of a video game created in China with a release planned in the U.S. Because of the game’s complexity and the vast differences between the two cultures, it’s possible that almost everything about the game will need to be transcreated. The huge Chinese hit, Honor of Kings, was basically given a full cultural overhaul to localize it from a game based on traditional Chinese myths and values, to one with more universal features and themes. For the American version, called Arena of Valor, the bright blue cartoon-like look of the original animation was changed to a dark, realistic aesthetic, and only 3 of the original Chinese characters remain.
Because of the need for such extensive changes, localization for foreign audiences must be planned well in advance of the actual introduction of the game to new markets. To prepare for this multi-faceted process, the game itself should be originally written in a way that makes translation possible. Game developers thinking ahead will leave room for alterations like text expansion or UI that can accommodate Arabic or Hebrew. Language Service Providers (LSPs) with video game localization expertise will manage this process for you. The ideal time to consult with them is before you’ve finalized and released the original version of your video game in your home market.
When you have chosen which languages you wish to localize your video game for, it’s time to begin by addressing the following questions.
1. Analyze in detail the content of your video game – what elements will need to be localized for each new market?
2. From your deep understanding of the game, what translation guidelines must you generate for your localization team?
3. Are there portions of text you can nail down early and start translating, even if the mechanics of play are not yet perfect?
4. Which platforms will you need to support? iOS had a market share of about 61% in the US as of 2020 November according to Stat-Counter, but just 31% in Europe, 16% in Asia, and 3% in India. And movement of game play is toward smartphones and smartwatches, with consoles and PCs becoming less commonly used. It’s a field that must be watched closely for each market.
5. Do you have access to a Translation Management System (TMS) where strings of text can be separated from code for translation? The LSP doing your localization work will know exactly how to do this to facilitate consistent, efficient translation.
6. Are there special features that require creative translation solutions you can address ahead of time? Game localization expert Martin Michi has spoken of the time limitations translators face, in part because they are often paid by the word. “It is simply not possible to spend half an hour coming up with a brilliant name for a monster in the game.” Yet the immersive experience depends on creative excellence.
7. Will you use dubbing or subtitling for your game? Different cultures have different preferences in this area as well as others. Czech audiences, for example, much prefer dubbing.
8. How does your target audience and its government feel about violence and other elements that might prompt censorship? A game rated “M” in the US can’t be legally sold to anyone under 17 there, but in some countries it can’t be sold at all. Locking gory scenes out of some versions of the game is an option, such as those for New Zealand and Australia.
9. When text is integrated back into the game, and all features are working together, what Quality Assurance (QA) do you have in place? To ensure the spell of your virtual world is not broken during play, everything must work pretty much perfectly, and all those strings of translation have to fit into the context where they belong. Established LSPs have proven QA processes, and your expectations for the final version of each localized version of the video game should be made clear to them.
10. When will you release your localized video game in new markets? Again, plan your strategy ahead of time. “Post-gold” releases after the original is on the market allow translators to work with a finished product, which brings many advantages for the localization team. “Simultaneous Shipment,” on the other hand, has special challenges as you prepare localized video game versions for export before the original is 100% complete; but there is the benefit of potential global “buzz” about the release.
One third of the entire planet’s population plays video games, and the industry is expected to exceed $180 billion this year. There are well over 1 million video games in existence today with new ones being developed all the time. So much choice for video game consumers means your game has to offer a rich, smooth experience or video game players will turn elsewhere. Billions of players ensure that opportunities are limitless for the well-developed, well-localized game.
J. V. McShulskis