Would it be an exaggeration to say that video games have shaped the culture of several generations? Do video games bring the world closer or further from reality? How important is it to localize your game and what measures should you look for in such an endeavor? Should localization be taken into consideration during the game design process, or is it a mere afterthought? Questions, questions, and then some…
In this day and age, game localization is almost as thriving as game development itself. Why? Because it ensures gamers will feel the game was developed specifically for their market. When a game has been localized to a specific market, it acknowledges their culture and utilizes the essence of their very thoughts and communication – language! Take it from a gamer; it is a whole other experience to hear the protagonist use my everyday idioms, memes, and perhaps my dialect, to express their character and bring the game to life. Because, hey, a game is most of the time, no longer a game, but a parallel life(s) for the gamer (Hello Metaverse!)
Wouldn’t such a parallel life be much more influential, enjoyable, and fulfilling if it is perfectly localized? Enter the keyword: “Perfectly.” It’s no game to localize a game, but a sophisticated process that has many facets and should be planned for in the designing process to ensure a fine UX (user experience) and the most cost-effective process.
Truth is that if you, as a game development agency, want to keep (or improve) your place in an increasingly competitive market – where at least 15 games are released daily – you have to consider localizing your game in the languages of profitable markets. Needless to say that providing this customized UX to millions of gamers ensures a higher rating in-store reviews, and a significant sales increase.
The Process – Think Beyond Translation
Start with the end in mind and plan for localization in the design process. What markets would you like to penetrate? A well-formatted strategy is essential to determine the following steps that will take your game to new territories. This strategy includes designing the game to be language-independent, determining what content needs to be translated, deciding on the audience and their segments, and the extent of adaptation the game should need based on those audiences.
Back-end Design Process
In the design process, you need to ensure that the functionality of the game is language-independent. If your functionality is dependent on the user entering information in a specific format (such as date) the game may not work as intended since date formats are different in other languages. Your content should be in a translation-friendly format that will facilitate extracting the required strings, be those dialogues, UI (User Interface), instructions, small print, etc., into a repository that can later be imported into a translation management system (TMS). Custom-built connectors, which GPI excels in providing, are key to linking your content management system (CMS) to the TMS, where the real magic starts, the linguistic process.
This process consists of several steps, employs multiple skills, and has some challenges.
Linguistic Process The translation stage, which can either be performed by a complete team or one linguist, is the next stage in the process. While all the content could just be translated, we recommend a different approach that involves a bit of pre-planning. We have found that incorporating these steps helps improve the overall quality.
A bilingual glossary, a list of the key terms or words from the content to be translated, is built by a specialized copywriter, who is a native speaker of the target language. They scrutinize the extracted content from a specific perspective to build a glossary that will ensure consistency and fluent readability.
A style guide could also be authored in this step, which outlines the linguistic specifications, tone, cultural issues, and many other aspects for the translator(s) to follow.
These two products are created to ensure translation consistency. If you have native speakers of the target language, they could review the glossary and style guide at this stage to make sure that the content meets expectations.
With the prep work done, the second step of the linguistic process is the translation of the content. The translator or translation team will review the source copy in a translation memory tool and begin creating the content in the target language. This step can be more accurately referred to as transcreation. Given the nature of the material, it most likely will require adaptation to the target culture, which requires a more creative approach than translating a manual for example. What will be helpful to the translator during this step will be access to the actual product so that they can see the context of the text to be translated.
Following translation is editing, in which another linguist will review and correct the translation for the following: any linguistic or cultural issues, compares the target with source texts for accuracy and completeness, and confirms the translation adheres to the previously mentioned glossary and style guide. Generally, any edits are returned to the primary translator for review and acceptance.
Once translation and editing have been completed, monolingual proofreading of the content is then performed as an additional layer of quality control to eliminate any typos or grammatical mistakes.
Last but not least, a Linguistic Quality Assurance (LQA) is performed to assess the translation accuracy, good fluency, and appropriateness of the style.
Then the translated material is imported back into the game after any necessary regional adaptation is performed. Testing takes place as a Language Sign Off (LSO) step, which looks into post-editing issues like truncation, text direction, overall sanity checks, synchronization, and all text context-related issues.
Video games as a genre have a unique and diverse realm of content. Its localization requires an equally well-equipped linguist. Unlike any other subject matter, the game localizer needs to be deeply involved in the content they handle, i.e., a gamer themselves. The passion a gamer has for the industry, and the familiarity and hands-on knowledge of the UX, platforms, game environment, and general terminology are important tools that ensure the quality of the target text. This level of involvement also means the gamer/localizer is up to date with new gaming trends, e.g., trending genres and news, which heavily impacts the translation and ultimately the localized game’s UX quality.
Creativity and shrewd cultural awareness of the target market(s) are essential skills the localizer has to have since the cornerstone of game localization is to render the truthful essence of every part of the game in a way that is culturally and socially compatible with a whole other market and audience. No easy feat!
Game localization challenges fall into two categories: linguistic and technical. They differ according to the language and market of localization. Let’s look at Arabic localization as a solid example.
On the linguistic level, some of the most prominent challenges that face the linguist are cultural adequacy, respect for religious ideologies, and varied dialects. Arabic is the officially recognized language in 26 countries, and the native language of approximately 420 million speakers (compromising 6% of the global population). There are about 20 spoken Arabic dialects in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) and Gulf regions alone. This makes it essential for the developer to decide upon the required markets, and for the linguist to have a good command of the desired dialects. Furthermore, some sensitive topics require experience to be creatively tackled. These include issues like homosexuality, sexually explicit content, and religiously offensive content…
As for technical issues, localizing into Arabic (as a right-to-left reading language) could entail text-directional issues, especially if Latin-character words are also embedded in some of the strings. Length of strings, run-on lines, and character limits could be another issue.
Additionally, Arabic is one of the languages that assign grammatical gender to every noun. This affects the syntax of every string, usually lengthening it.
Why Arabic then?
There is tremendous growth in the game development industry and new technologies, platforms, and a whole new generation of consoles are being introduced to the industry.
By 2024, Newzoo’s Global Games Market Report 2021 predicts that the game industry will hit $218.7 billion with a sustained growth of 8.7% per year.
This growth is inevitably accompanied by a parallel increase in the number of gamers everywhere, and consequently in the Arab world. It can be greatly beneficial for the sales of your game to get a foothold in the MENA and Gulf markets, since the majority of their populations are below 25 years old, with a major interest in tech and game trends. Many game genres are met with tremendous success in the Arab market, like sports, arcades, action, battle royals, and even casual games. Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) role-playing games are the most localized from English into Arabic and are played by a huge – and increasing – number of gamers.
Grow with the Flow
Games are growing into completely immersive experiences, and their very concept is evolving to include more players and new generations. To achieve this on a global level, localization is a necessity. And as we step into the future all-encompassing, augmented reality gaming era, the experience of the gamer will not be complete, or even meaningful, unless their native language is supported.