Game Localization – What you need to know
Localization into a foreign language is a reliable way to increase a game’s audience. Without it, even English projects might not reach 75% of their potential users, let alone games in other languages. In this guide, we tell you how to prepare for and successfully conduct localization for mobile, console, or desktop games.
What is quality game localization?
Any gamer can answer this question with one sentence: “You don’t notice good localization.” That is the hardest part for developers. Players prefer complete localization, which means the entire game needs to be adapted simultaneously, including text, graphics, audio, and cultural adaptations.
For something as straightforward as a tower defense game, you can get away with a single interface translation. But what about more complex projects like RPGs or adventure games? The answer is simple — translate and adapt absolutely everything that can be translated or adapted and make sure to avoid the following errors (gamers hate these most of all):
- grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors;
- semantic errors and incomplete translations;
- illegible or small font;
- not using universal acronyms (for example, LU — level up);
- the translation does not suit the game’s style;
- graphics are not localized;
- subtitles don’t match audio;
- voices don’t suit characters;
- pronunciation does not coincide with character lip movements.
Localization testing helps eliminate these and other errors before users start installing the game. At this stage, testers thoroughly check the translation’s completeness and the localization of graphics and audio.
What does localization entail?
Game localization is a lot more than just translation. After all, to release a game in a foreign country, you also need to adapt it culturally, technically, and sometimes even legally.
Full localization of a project includes the following areas of work:
- Control elements should be translated first — buttons, dialog windows, and menus. In many cases, this is all a simple, intuitive game will need.
- In-game text. One of the most important stages of localization is translating all of the text used in the product. This stage has to account for the game’s interface, character limits, and other demands. Sometimes subtitles must be made to display all the characters’ speech in the target language. Here you can read more about which countries require dubbing and which use subtitles.
- Game dubbing. Dubbing is often required for complete localization projects. These projects require an entire team made up of a project director, dub editor, sound director, sound technician, and engineering team. It can take anywhere from two weeks to six months or more. During that period, the team will translate and dub all dialog from in-game clips.
- Graphics with textual information sometimes appear in games. Localizing these fragments helps to further immerse players in the game’s world. However, that’s not always easy to do. If images were created in an uneditable format, the graphical elements need to be redrawn in order for the text to be translated.
- Additional materials. These could include game descriptions for online stores, cover art, promo clips, press releases, advertising or marketing texts, websites, and other game materials accompanying the release.
But don’t forget about the game’s cultural adaptation. This is an important element to bear in mind at every stage – from translation to graphics and audio – but in some cases it represents one of the most important stages of localization.
For example, in the adaptation of World of Warcraft for the Chinese market, Blizzard Entertainment spent months redrawing textures. If they hadn’t, the game would simply not have met the country’s numerous cultural and legal requirements. Read more about localizing for the Chinese market here.
What to remember during the game development stage
It’s best to plan for localization in advance. The idea of saving money wherever possible in the development stage can be tempting, but it only leads to more costs down the line. It may not be possible to foresee everything before release, but anyone can take the right steps to avoid common mistakes.
- Choose which languages to translate the game into from the outset. Creating an exact list might be challenging, but you should at least know the primary languages for localization. The two most popular areas for translation are EFIGS (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish) and Asian languages (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and others).
This choice determines the approach to the interface. For example, texts in German are 30% longer on average than English texts. So, additional space must be provided for the German localization. And Chinese and Japanese players, because of their typography, are used to a dense and rich interface with “walls” of text because their languages don’t use spaces. By selecting the target languages for localization in advance, you can predict these types of peculiarities early on and know how they will impact the interface in the future.
- Have a “safety cushion” for the interface. The length of text in interface elements depends on the language it’s in. Sometimes titles are shorter, and sometimes they’re longer. To avoid problems with insufficient space for the translation, build extra space for text into your game in advance. If you also select your target languages for localization ahead of time, this process will be much easier.
- Don’t put text into a graphic. Stick to this rule and you will greatly simplify graphics localization. If you don’t, the text in images will need to be translated, redrawn, and placed back in the game, which takes a lot of time and energy.
- Select fonts in advance. Unfortunately, a lot of creative fonts for games only support a limited number of languages. So, if you want to avoid seeing □□□ instead of translated text, pick the right font in advance.
- Build a glossary during development. The earlier you start to build a list of terms that must be translated consistently, the better. The list usually includes names of in-game artifacts or character names. Without a glossary, the same item might get translated in different ways. For example, in some places you’ll have “sword” and in others “blade”. What if successfully completing a quest depends on the translation?
How to prepare for localization
Once development is finally over, all that’s left is to prepare for localization. So, what do you need? At the very least, you’ll need two important documents: the lockit and technical assignment. Let’s take a closer look at these:
- Lockit stands for localization kit. It consists of documents for the translators. It contains everything you need translated, including texts, graphics, audio recordings, and video clips. It might also contain a glossary and any reference materials about the game’s features, its audience, and localization requirements – such as preferred stylistics and player form of address. For larger projects, these requirements might be included in a separate document called the style guide.
- The technical assignment contains the general list of tasks, the volume, and deadlines for completing the work. It also tends to provide relevant project information like requirements for file formats (TXT, XLS, etc.) or audio recording (microphones, file parameters, static, levels, post-production).
Don’t be afraid of giving translators as many reference materials as possible. Any information about the game could be helpful, such as character descriptions or object images. This is particularly important during dubbing, since voice actors often work “blind”, which can lead to inaccurate character representations.
How to pick a localizer
The game localization market is highly active and serves a huge number of players. But obviously not all studios translating casual mobile projects will be able to handle large-scale AAA games. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the localizer’s portfolio and what kinds of projects they have worked on in the past.
If a company works in your weight class, take the next step – read reviews about them on the market. If that all checks out, then why not check the translation quality yourself? Contact the studio for a test translation. Many companies offer a free translation of a small portion of text, 200–250 words long.
Another way to get a better idea of your localizer’s work is to play a game they have localized for a few hours. That way you can tell if their work is the right fit for you.
Finally, simply contact the company. The manager’s response will give you a good idea about whether you’ll be comfortable working with that localizer, which is pretty important.
Valentina Chernova, Account Manager of Game Localization at Logrus IT