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Video Game Localization

Have you ever wondered how video game localization works? In this blog, I will cover which aspects need to be considered when it comes to localizing games.

Video Game Market

Video games are often localized into FIGS languages (French, Italian, German and Spanish) and CJK languages (Chinese, Japanese and Korean). However, other markets like the Middle East, Turkey, Latin America and Eastern Europe are also becoming attractive markets to consider for video game localization.

Each market has their own particularities, cultural differences and language variants to consider during the localization process so the video game is well-received by the target audience. A well-known case of incorrect localization was Resident Evil 4 by Capcom. The video game takes place in Northern Spain but the dialogue and voice over were localized in Mexican Spanish. So basically, the Spaniards in RE4 spoke an incorrect Spanish dialect.

The Differences Between Video Game Localization & Software Localization

Video games distributed in global markets are subject to GILT (globalization, internationalization, localization and translation) and face similar challenges to software and audio-visual localization. But, there are a few differences between video game localization and software localization. Despite sharing some assets, the process is entirely different.

  • Purpose: Video games are entertainment, rather than utilitarian. Unlike software, games are subjected to censorship or ratings, just like the film industry.
  • Type of Text: Software has a wide variety of technical text compared to literary text in games.
  • Genre and Platform: Games can cover numerous genres and be multi-platform or platform exclusive.

Assets in the Localization Process

The assets involved in video game localization include:

  • In-Game Text Assets:¬†User interface, system messages, narrative and written dialogue scripts.
  • Audio and Cinematic Assets: Voice over, songs and environmental sounds.
  • Printed Materials: Manuals and packaging.
  • Online Materials:¬†Promotional websites, social media posts, etc.

Technical Viability

Video games started simple, without many assets to translate. It was mainly just the packaging and a few lines of instructions, without any kind of communication. Now, multimedia localization is much more complex and includes subtitles, dubbing and intricate adaptations of culturally specific aspects.

There are many technical obstacles that arise when localizing video games, including:

  • The game engine should support special characters when a different alphabet is used in the source and target language.
  • The user interface should be designed to allow text expansion/contraction with translated strings. Text boxes should be adaptable to accommodate longer text strings.
  • The target markets’ culture or specific references and features in the game need to be considered and addressed.
  • Address the country-specific rating systems (the U.S. has ESRB, Europe has PEGI and¬†Japan has CERO, for example).

Team integration is also something to consider as it’s going to define the fate of the project. Localization project managers, L10N engineers and the development teams should work side by side to provide good translation kits in advance.

Levels of Localization

The level of localization depends on how much the publisher wants to invest and where the game is going to be distributed. For target languages like FIGS, the publisher might want to distribute only partially localized versions if the game is not a high-profile title, while some other countries will just receive the English version.

The levels of localization include:

  • No localization: The game and packaging are not going to be localized. The game is distributed in its source language.
  • Box and docs localization: The game is not localized, but the packaging, manuals and other printed materials are.
  • Partial localization: The game is partially localized. All the in-game text is localized and the voice over is subtitled.
  • Full localization: Everything is localized including voice overs.