The gaming industry is a very complex universe. In fact, it is a universe full of parallel universes. To successfully translate these universes into other locales is a process full of creative, technical, financial and linguistic challenges. A set of best practices put together by experts can be a useful resource for game developers seeking to expand their international audience.
What is localization when applied to gaming?
Game localization is the linguistic service aimed at creating new versions of a game, that keep the same quality and feel across different languages, or rather across different locales. This effectively means, taking any game and ensuring an equivalent experience for users in a different cultural or linguistic background. This is much trickier than it appears to be in writing, as it means the team of translators in charge of localizing a game will effectively need to be knowledgeable both in IT jargon and the language of the “universe” the game is representing (war, space, soccer, etc.). The possibilities are endless!
Why is game localization important?
According to IGDA, game localization is important for two main reasons. One: game localization allows game developers to reach a broader, more global customer population; or in more commercial terms, it generates revenue. Two: game localization matters because it promotes a more diverse and inclusive ethos in the gaming world.
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) is a non-profit organization serving the game developer community through advocacy and networking. Their mission is to help game developers can make a living and keep a sustainable business, so they should know! But they are also in charge of promoting good industry standards, and they have been supporting game localization for many years. Through the work of their Localization Special Interest Group, they have created a Best Practices document for Game Localization.
Game Localization Best Practices
The IGDA’s Game Localization Best Practices document is a comprehensive set of guidelines that we highly recommend you read. In the meantime, here’s a list of the main items in their list, along with some advice from our experience in the field. The document is a useful report because it not only includes advice for translators and linguists but also for game developers and project managers.
- Keep cultural aspects in mind before deciding on the markets to sell your game in. Make sure your game is appropriate for that locale. This may or may not involve having local users test your game in advance of its localization.
- Once you have decided on a market. Learn the local culture in more depth. This is called culturalization stage. During this process, you need to gain the awareness necessary to avoid any potential issues and unnecessary expenses later on. The key areas to consider are ethnicity, religion, politics, gender views, history and social landscape. You want the users to feel the game was made for them, so it needs to be localized to their sensibilities in all those areas. This may even prevent the game from being rejected by a certain community.
- Internationalization is essential. This is the process that allows for a game to be localized. It means there are no elements in the game that will be differ by locale and that the user interface, the architecture and the coding will be able to show content in different languages.
- Hire a localization specialist. If one vendor is in charge of localizing the entire game, the end result will be far more consistent than if you were to hire multiple in-house or freelance translators. Also, having an expert as your localization partner will ensure the right computer-aided translation (CAT) tools are used and a proper localization plan is in place.
- Allow time for familiarization. The translators need to see the game before they start translating, in order to understand the storyline, the context, the different levels and multi-player rules, etc. Depending on the length of the game, it is important that you allow a good amount of time for translators to dive in and experience all of the game’s dimensions.
- Do not include text in graphics. The IGDA has warned us all that when a specific graphic item is designed including text, the localization process can become very difficult and costly. In fact, having to redraw all graphical text for each language version of the game can be quite a nightmare.
- Avoid hard coding text into the program. Text that is hardcoded will have to be localized by hand by either the programmer or the translators, which is both time consuming and risky.
Best practices are the ones that overcome the biggest challenges
The bottom line to all of the technical and strategic advice on localization is that it should be planned as an integral part of the game development cycle. This means contacting a localization team as early in the process as possible, even during the development of the source language game version.
Too often, localization is an afterthought, considered only after all other technical, cultural and contextual details have been written, designed, artistically curated and programmed in the source language version of a game. This makes localization harder to implement, and it either costs more, or produces a patched-up result.
When games are designed for an international audience, localization must be introduced early on in the planning stages. The same can be said about the marketing strategies used to bring games to market, the earlier their localization is planned, the more cost-effective and efficient the process will be.