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February 6, 2019 |

Top 5 Best Practices for Video Game Localization

The world of video games knows no borders thanks to the internet and video game localization. For the past 25 years, developers in this industry have been taking advantage of global opportunities. Many have built empires by making their video games accessible to international audiences (with revenues expected to reach some $136.5 billion this year).

Yet video game localization is tricky because gamers are a sophisticated audience. They have particular tastes and cultural mindsets, different from the average consumer. In this industry, translation errors and bugs can lead to significant drops in sales,  far more drastic than in any other niche.

Gamers spend hundreds of hours building their characters and passing from one level to the next, discovering tricks and shortcuts, and sharing their experiences with their peers. Your localized game should be perfect to meet their expectations since every bug or problem will be shared with an active community

With this in mind, here are five best practices for video game localization to help you deliver a unique experience to your audience.

1. The Game Should Be Relevant to Local Audiences

Popular video games generate a “global culture.” They unite international audiences around them. Players from any part of the world speak a common language, as they dive into a new virtual world.

These games are so successful because gamers can relate to them enough to feel comfortable in the world developers have created. For this to happen, the game should be relevant to every local audience.

For instance, a video game based on European mythology will never become popular in Asia without proper video game localization, since people don’t know the legends and can’t understand the storyline.

Think fire-breathing dragons from Western cultures. They would make no sense to the Chinese audience, where these creatures are seen as lucky and good fortune.

In such cases, you’ll need to re-invent characters, narratives, or themes, and rethink your story to make it feel local. Not only will the game be easier to follow, but it will be more captivating for native gamers.   

2. Video Game Localization Needs Flexible Design

When localizing a video game, you change significant parts of the original version every time you translate into a new language. It’s not just the storyline, but the entire interface.

Depending on the language you translate into, you may need to allow more space for dialogues, to change time formats, introduce different units of measure or add special symbols and characters.

Avoid hard-code and go for a flexible design to make video game localization easy and cost-effective.

When you encode your game, make sure your developers implement a friendly architecture in which all elements have well-defined places. You want all localizable game assets to be separated from the code and well-organized for each language.

3. Translators Need Context to Create Natural Dialogues

Video game translation isn’t a word-to-word translation from one language to another. Translators need context to understand the characters, the world they live in, and how the narrative develops throughout the game. That’s why it’s important to use a software translation provider that enables language specialists to translate directly into the game.

This way, they see where every line and word fits in the general picture. If you use a spreadsheet instead, for example, your translators can only make suppositions about the context, making translation difficult and inaccurate.

Without context, the conversations between characters will sound robotic or won’t make sense at all. So, when you test the localized version of your video game, you’ll have a large number of errors to fix. This will lead to additional working hours for the entire team, missed deadlines, and extra costs. That’s because redesigning a video game every time someone’s made an error is hard and expensive.  

4. Specialized Translators Are a Must-Have

Gamers expect niche-terms in the gaming world. The characters and terminology are nothing like everyday conversations from movies, books, or web content. If your translators aren’t familiar with the video game industry, gamers will know.

Specialized translators, on the other side, spend time researching a video game before translating. They understand how important continuity is in this industry and dedicate a lot of time to getting familiar with the world they’re approaching.

The best video game translators are gamers. They’ve been on forums, and they know what terms other players use for expressing concepts and naming items in the game.

They become familiar with names and terminology as well. Specialized translators know how to use transcreation techniques to enrich the video game and turn it into a better experience for the gamers.  

Often, what may be the correct translation of a word or phrase may not be in line with the words the gaming community has adopted. So, when translating video games, the translator should know which terms to translate and which to keep in the original language. Otherwise, you risk confusion and frustration among your loyal gamers.

5. Subtitles vs Dubbing – Which Way to Go?

The debate on subs vs. dubs is still hot in the video game localization industry. Many developers tend to use subtitles since they’re more likely to create an authentic experience. However, the answer depends entirely on the target audience.

For example, Chinese gamers prefer subtitles for video games in English or Japanese, to keep the game’s “flavor” intact. On the other hand, Spanish speakers often look for Spanish dubbed video games, as they’re not familiar with subtitles.

As a guideline, you should look into how each local population prefers movies and TV shows. Reading subtitlings is a habit, so keeping the original voices works only in those regions where people are already used to subs.  

Remember that the sound is a crucial component in the video game industry. From music to intonation, every element creates immersion, which is what gamers are looking for in a video game.

Final Thoughts on Video Game Localization

Video games are a cultural phenomenon, so people have very high expectations from each new video game they download. That’s why you need to treat every localized video game as if it were the original version.

Above all, you need in-depth knowledge of your audience to conquer gamer communities. Research their gaming habits, as well as their cultural backgrounds, to gain a clear image of their preferences.

There’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for video game localization. The only key element is to build around gamers, give them what they like, and help them immerse in the game by introducing native cultural factors in each local version.

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