Features of video game localization

How to keep making money from games after release

Any new game is potentially an international hit. At least this is how the developers dream, because if you don't dream of causing a wild frenzy that will accompany the release of your game, you should probably look for a new profession.

There's nothing wrong with ambition; it was great ambition that led a modest Croatian studio “Croteam” to the worldwide hit “Serious Sam”, and made a small Polish studio “CD Projekt RED” a real flagship of the game industry with two worldwide hits - “The Witcher 3” and “Cyberpunk 2077”.

These examples are just some of the few that come to mind in the first second of reflection. There are enough motivational stories from GameDev for three thick printed volumes, but today we will talk about something else.

Today we're going to talk about the thing that developers have to deal with when developing games that promise to be international hits - localization!

In order to begin with, we need to understand what localization is, and how it differs from the usual translation?

In layman's terms, localization (L1ON) is a process of adaptation of software (in our case, game software) to another country's culture!

Got it? No? Let me explain it to you on my fingers!

Localization is a much more labor- and energy-consuming process than simple dubbing of replicas or translation of game texts.

In addition to the text and replicas, the localization process may change the graphic images and symbols, which may be misinterpreted in another country.

For example, in Germany, there's the strictest censorship which doesn't allow blood in the video games (just imagine how less spectacular the killings in “Sekiro” look in the localized version for Germany), in Turkey, it's prohibited to draw the crosses, in China - the skulls and skeletons (and how did Nito from “Dark Soul” look like the lord of tombs? ), and in India, the cow is a sacred animal, that's why Microsoft refused to release “Fallout 3” in this country (In case you've forgotten, the cow in the game is represented as two-headed mutants).

As you have understood, localization is not only a translation, it is a much more complex process. Also, in the process of localization, besides the graphic images and characters, the whole game mechanics may change, which conflicts with the laws of the region where the game is going to be published. On top of that, the process of localization for a foreign market is directly influenced by the specifics of the region, the historical realities, the significance of a particular color, and even the peculiarities of writing.

Okay, well, we understood with the concept of localization. Now, let's dig a little deeper, trying to understand its features and specifics.

Assuming that localization is a multi-level process, we have to understand at what levels it occurs.

The levels of localization depend on the terms of the contract and the type of your product. Based on these criteria, we can distinguish the following levels of localization:

1) “Off-The-Shelf” localization is carried out strictly for off-line products released on physical media;

2) Interface localization, i.e. translation of the main control elements, item descriptions, tutorial pages, etc.

3) Text localization is the translation of all game texts and subtitles for voiced dialogues.

4) Graphic localization is the translation of the non-text elements of the game. Signs on the streets, signs and graffiti - all this is just necessary for a more detailed immersion into the world of your game.

5) Deep localization means a full adaptation of the product to a certain cultural context. The plot, dialogues, and even the appearance of the characters can be changed.

We also figured out with the levels, once again making sure that localization is a time-consuming process that goes far beyond “simple” translation.

Now let's try to understand what regions are in need of localization. What are the most popular languages?

It's pretty simple and obvious. Based on data published by the analytical firm "Newzoo" in 2019, the top ten countries with the most revenue from video games looks like this: China, USA, Japan, South Korea, Germany, UK, France, Canada, Spain and Italy. They account for 80% of the world's revenue (almost $110 billion).

They are followed by Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Thailand and the Netherlands. Together, these countries bring in another 8% of global revenues ($11.5 billion).

As you might have guessed, localization of games for these countries is the highest priority in the gaming industry.

However, despite the rather high game revenues in these countries, before making any decisions about game localization, you should analyze several aspects:

1) Will your game's genre be in demand in that country?

2) What is more important to you at the moment: maximum downloads or maximum profit?

3) How many languages do you have enough budget for, considering the volume of all game texts?

How much does it cost to localize the game?

Naturally, the cost of localization depends on the number of words in the game and the languages of translation. It’s obvious that localization of AAA project with scenes and a total time span of three hours will cost dozens (or even hundreds) of times more than localization of a small indie game. The localization of the indie game will cost ten times more than the localization of the game for mobile devices.

Based on the data published by “LocalizeDirect”, the cost of the game translation ranges from 0.11 to 0.15 € per word or character (for Chinese). The price for the editing is 50% of the translation cost.

To summarize, localization is a complex and resource-intensive process, whose peculiarities directly depend on cultural features of different countries.

If you are suddenly interested in this topic more than usual, and you want to learn even more about localization, we can advise you the book “The Game Localization Handbook”, which is a veritable bible on localization!

Nowadays it is obvious that it is not enough just to release a high-quality game with exciting gameplay: you need to make it accessible and understandable to an audience from different regions.

In this article we are talking about how the localization process works.