You’ve felt it, you’ve heard about it, you’ve seen it--badly localized games that are a bane to the local consumers. They’re simply ignored by the market. So, how can you make sure you avoid the five common mistakes in game localization and improve your localization game?
Game Localization for Dummies
Game localization means providing games for a specific audience in mind, based on their location. So that means English-language games localized for Chinese gamers, and so on. I won’t talk about the exact process of game localization at length in this article, but instead I’ll stress the importance of video game localization, talk briefly about the process, and then highlight what usually goes wrong.
Why is game localization important? Think Legend of Zelda back in the 90s when Nintendo games were literally bigger than your head. So, before the North American version of this Japanese-language game was released, English-speaking users must play in Japanese, which took out a lot of gamers in English-speaking countries based on language alone. If you were determined, you had to set up a Japanese account, buy it from Japan, and play it in Japanese. A lot of work for the gamer to do, simply because of the lack of availability in their language. To this day, now that Zelda has become a huge umbrella of games, there are still remaining Zelda games that never left Japan and were never localized into English.
If you’re not convinced yet that video game localization is important, take another example, Steam. They’ve gone from 71 games released worldwide on Steam alone in 2006 to 10,263 in 2020, according to Statista. That’s a huge leap in 14 years, catapulting Steam to being a huge platform in the gaming industry. One of the reasons is that Steam supports about 26 languages and 60% of users can use Steam in a language other than English. There’s a huge demand for games to be available in languages other than English, and video game localization is the process of doing just that.
The Process of Game Localization
So, the process of location must first take languages into account. It means translating in-game dialogue and instructions, and even visual signs or cues. It must keep in mind cultural slang or idioms, things that are different from one country to another. And, it should use hypowered technology, like CAT tools, along with human translators to do just that.
But translation is just one part of localization. There’s a ton of technical processes, too. So, that’s everything from HTML code to text-embedding translation management software to UI to unicode. That means taking into account different platforms and different devices. So you get the big picture: localization = languages processes + technical processes.
What Could Go Wrong In Game Localization?
There are five major mistakes to make in the arena of localization. Three of them have to deal with the language aspect, while the rest have to do with the tech part.
1. Localizing for a language but not specifying the region:
You’re looking to localize a Chinese game in English, and then you do it, job done. Nope, not yet. Which English are you referring to? Is the English you want British English (en-GB) or American English (en-US) or Autralian English (en-AU), etc? There are tons of language usage that are different in any of those regions. So, always specify a full locale instead of a language. If you don’t do it properly, you might end up with “Hello” as “G’day Mate” in a region you didn’t anticipate.
2. Using direct word-for-word translations:
I would highly caution against direct translations. Word-for-word translations in game localization is a huge no-no, or for any type of translation, for that matter. This doesn’t take into account cultural differences and language usage between countries, such as swear words or idioms. You might end up with mistakes at the very least, or worse, cultural misappropriations.
Also, grammatical sentence structure varies from country to country, so using strings that are complete sentences are best, rather than word-for-word.
3. Wrong unicode encoding:
Usually, you use UTF-8, but with Asian languages you need UTF-16. UTF-8 is ideal since it’s standardized for browsers and servers, but you’d need UTF-16 for Chinese characters, for example. If you use the wrong character sets, characters either look bad or don’t display at all.
4. Not editing the UI after encoding:
You have to make sure that vertical writing and languages that are read right to left are edited in the user interface. With vertical writing, strings aren’t rotated by 90 degrees. You’ll get disastrous effects when the UI isn’t configured properly.
5. Not conducting localization testing:
You need to make sure that the key fundamentals work properly. You need to make sure that the content and the UI compliment each other. You need to make sure UX is tweaked to suit different time formats, quotations, question marks, etc, of each country. You need to make sure the images, the icons, and all the visuals suit the location, and are integrated. This you find out once you do the localization testing. If you don’t do localization, you’ve got software that may contain tons of mistakes and functions that don’t work properly.
What Are Examples of Good Localized Games?
There are tons more mistakes, but those are the most common. Now that you know what not to do, what’s the best result of localization?
I’ve brought it up before, but in the video game industry, the best localized games really do belong to Nintendo. They don’t have watered-down western versions of their games, but their English-language games have been set for different areas in high-quality localizations.
They’ve been recently more open about their localization process, from when they started in the 1990s to now. One thing is for sure: the level of importance they place on localization has made them a multibillion dollar company.
So whether you’re just starting out in the localization process, or you’re a pro, make sure to always bring your A-game in your game localization.