An Interview with Crytivo, Part 3: Localization – Where Should You Start?
The third part of our interview with Crytivo founders Alex Koshelnikov and Sasha Shumsky is dedicated to the advantages of localization, the unique features of foreign markets, and tips on how to choose the right languages for your game.
Oleg: We know from experience that localization has a major role to play when it comes to promoting games. Can you tell us how you choose the languages you translate your games into? What’s the first thing you consider?
Sasha: I agree that localization is definitely a powerful promotional tool. But when it comes to choosing languages, things get a little complicated. On the one hand, there are a few core languages that make sense for just about every game. They’re English, Chinese, Russian, French, and either Spanish or Portuguese depending on the project. On the other hand, a lot also depends on the game’s genre.
Oleg: When do you usually start working on localization? Do you have a step-by-step “road map” for selecting potential target languages?
Sasha: We usually don’t start worrying about localization until the project is almost done, since the text can change so much during the development process. The first thing we do is look at the genre of the game, then we pick countries where that genre is going to be the best fit. For example, if we’ve got an anime-style game, we might pick Japanese. And if the game has soccer-related mechanics or a soccer theme, we pick Brazilian Portuguese. Then we start talking about the game in those countries and analyzing player feedback. If we get a good response, then that country’s language becomes our main candidate for localization.
The second (and probably most important) factor we consider is Steam Wishlists. They’re grouped by region, so you can tell right away which countries are most interested in your game. That’s when we make a final decision about localization languages. If we see that a ton of players in China are interested in a game, then we’ll absolutely translate it into Chinese. If we get good results in South Korea, we add Korean. This is how we choose the five or six languages the game is going to be released in.
But there’s a third step too: we look at reviews after launch. Sometimes users will just keep asking for another language to be added to the game. For example, it happened with The Universim – whenever we’d post news about an update, people would always say the same thing in the comments: “Are you gonna add Turkish support?” When something like that happens, we realize that localizing the game into another language will probably give us a good return on our investment, since there’s clearly a demand for it in that country.
Alex: I’d also like to add that localization can easily double your game's sales if it comes out in English first. And that’s to say nothing of games that go viral thanks to their translation, like Among Us did. It literally blew up the South Korean market!
Sasha: And Slay the Spire went viral in China thanks to a Chinese streamer.
Nikolai: By the way, you mentioned Steam. According to that platform’s data, only about 35% of users play in English, followed by Chinese (26%) and Russian (9%). What do these stats tell us?
Sasha: There’s a very important thing to keep in mind here: you need to make a distinction between gamers who play and gamers who pay. For example, players spend way more in Germany than they do in China. Let’s say a developer sets the price for their game at $15 in the US. German players will pay $16-17 for the same game, and Chinese players will pay $3-4. Because of this, you can always count on getting good revenue from Germany, but your revenue from China can end up being less even though you have more players.
Nikolai: It’s pretty common for a game to have its main player base in Indonesia or Brazil, but make most of its money from Europe, the US, Japan, and South Korea.
Alex: It doesn’t really matter if people are buying 100,000 copies for five bucks a pop or 20,000 for 25 bucks a pop. At the end of the day, you’re making the exact same amount of money. The important thing is to localize your project into five or six carefully-chosen languages, then keep an eye on the stats and make adjustments as needed.
Sasha: And trust Steam’s algorithms! The platform analyzes traffic. It knows how many people are playing a game, how much time they’re spending on it, etc. So let’s say a hundred people are playing your game in the US and a thousand people are playing it in Indonesia. Most of your revenue is going to come from the US. But since you have a lot of players in Indonesia, Steam is going to consider your game popular and start promoting it to other users. Then you’ll start getting new players from Germany, Russia, and China, and they’ll bring in even more traffic. So these stats have an upside: they can affect your revenue, just not directly.
Nikolai: So if you’re getting traffic from countries where people aren’t paying much for your game, the platform will still promote it to “wealthier” users.
Alex: Right. The formula is pretty simple: the more people who play your game, the better. It doesn’t matter where the traffic comes from – Steam doesn’t discriminate based on geography. If it sees that lots of folks are playing a game, it’s more likely to actively promote it. And if a game is a bestseller or a new release, it’ll have the numbers to match.
Oleg: Now that we’ve chosen our languages, how to do we find vendors?
Alex: We work with localization agencies because we can be confident they’re going to do a good job. We tried crowdsourcing a translation on Crowdin once, and we really weren’t happy with the results. Over a hundred people joined the project, and the translation we ended up with was a real hodgepodge of different styles and techniques.
Some people think you can save money by hiring freelancers, but if you ask me, you don’t want to pinch pennies when it comes to the quality of your localization. If you’re going to localize your game, you should do it right.
In the fourth and final part of our interview with the Crytivo team, our guests share some tips for new developers, including participating in game expos, the importance of game design, and working with feedback.