Chances are that when you sit down to play a new videogame, you’re not thinking about the translation and localization work that went into producing it. However, without those services, the gaming experience just wouldn’t be the same. In this article, we’ll run you through why translation and localization services are such an essential part of the final gaming experience.
What is the difference between translation and localization?
The translation is the process of converting words in one language into words in another language. Those words can be written or, in the case of audio and video translations, spoken.
What is meant by localization? Localization goes beyond the scope of translation. It takes the words, along with any images (whether still or moving), and shapes the whole to better suit the intended audience. The idea is to make the finished product feel as though it was originally created for the target viewers.
What is video game localization?
In the context of video games, localization means taking a game that has been produced in one country and turning it into a game that can be played by gamers in another country. Successful video game localization means that those players will feel that the game was created with them in mind originally, rather than converted from another version.
What do localization services contribute to the gaming experience?
Do you know that feeling of utter immersion in a video game? Those times when the hours tick by unnoticed as you keep thinking you’ll just complete one more level or do one more mission? Localization services help to make that happen.
To show the value of localization, think how stilted it can feel when you’re playing a game that’s clearly been translated, and not translated well. Instead of losing yourself in the intricacies of the plot and the gaming action, you end up distracted by the poorly worded dialogue. This detracts from the overall gaming experience. And this is precisely what localization is there to fix.
Even if the translation is good, a game that hasn’t been localized can still leave the player feeling less than fully immersed. Imagine a game has been created for players in Japan and is then played by gamers in other countries. If the popular culture references within the game all refer to Japanese culture, even the best translation won’t provide the players with the information they need in order to understand the references. After all, how many players in the UK or the US will be familiar with Japanese popular culture?
The same is true of all manner of elements of the gaming experience, from currency symbols to the characters’ names. Localization professionals review all of these through the eyes of gamers in the target country. Their goal is to ensure that the finished version of the game makes sense to the new audience and that it does nothing to jeopardise that feeling of being fully present and lost in the moment that the best games can create.
What do game producers have to gain by localizing?
In short, money. The better a game is, the more money those who produced it stand to make. This is why gaming companies pay such careful attention to the localization process.
Consider that the global mobile gaming market is projected to grow by as much as USD 44.64 billion between 2020 and 2024. That’s a vast amount of cash for developers to chase after – and that’s before you factor in non-mobile gaming! Altogether, the global videogame market is worth more than USD 93 million, with the COVID-19 pandemic doing much to boost sales during the first half of 2020 and beyond.
Developers who want a slice of the pie need to ensure that their game meets players’ expectations in each and every country in which they play it.
Problems with localization
Localization can also help videogame game developers to avoid some awkward situations. When Nintendo released one of its Pokémon games in Hong Kong using the Mandarin name for Pikachu, instead of the Cantonese version, gamers took to the streets in protest. Nintendo had failed to apply enough local knowledge to appreciate how sensitive gamers in Hong Kong were to their de facto national language, Cantonese, inexorably giving way to an influx of Mandarin-speaking immigrants.
The example shows how even the smallest element of a game, if not localized properly, can leave players feeling less than satisfied with the end result.
Unfortunately, localization is not always as clear cut as it might seem. The process itself is complex and requires superb attention to detail. This means using a specialist localization agency.
One issue that developers sometimes face is a lack of localization experts available for their desired language pairing. This can be traced back to the lack of video game translation and localization courses in translation undergraduate programs in many countries. One suggested reason for this is a lack of access to authentic materials that could be used as part of the learning process, due to videogame developers and publishers fearing their proprietary information could be leaked or pirated. While learning on open source games is possible, it is still not an ideal solution to this lack of videogame localization training for future translators as part of their formal education.
Localization experts can, therefore, be immensely valuable to videogame creators. They can help those producing the game to bring in more income by making the game more playable to audiences around the globe. They can also help gaming companies to enhance their brand’s reputation more generally, by becoming known for the outstanding gaming experiences that they provide – as well as for avoiding any cultural gaffes, such as Nintendo’s Cantonese/Mandarin Pikachu incident.
Ultimately, localization services are about providing the gamer with the best possible experience. About helping to create that feeling of being utterly immersed in the game. Doing so is a skilled art and one that will continue to be prized by videogame companies as their sector continues to grow over the coming years.