Mobilizing games to go global: internationalization and localization
The days of the Cold War are long gone and replaced by the hotter topic of global warming. ‘Colonization’ and ‘superpower’ may have become dirty words these days when global harmony and fair play are the mantras for the survival of our planet.
However, in recent years, there has been a new power entity slowly but steadily rising on the horizon: Enter the Super Power app store!
In 2014, Japan and South Korea made big strides, surpassing the US in revenue on Google Play. Reports rank China in third place for revenue in Apple’s app store. Southeast Asia is a HUGE emerging market: Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam account for almost all of the gaming revenue in this area of the planet.
What is the conclusion of all this?
1. Language is not a barrier.
2. The appeal of gaming and mobile gaming is a worldwide phenomenon.
3. There is a lot of money at stake and this means fierce competition and careful planning to power successful apps and games.
4. The internationalization and localization of games and applications drive mobility in applications and games.
5. Not least, the search of human beings for easy entertainment is now literally in the palms of the hands, holding the mobile phone. Never has the opposable thumb been put to such vigorous use.
The game must go on!
A stationary stone collects moss
The driving force behind any business is profit. The world of video games is no different. This is a highly competitive world and the gaming market is killer. To survive, evolve, and bring home the bacon, apps and games must not only be entertaining for the boy next door: they must capture new platforms and markets. And they need to be fast and furious about it or stay by the wayside.
How can they do this?
Internationalization and localization
This two-step process is what allows a game to adapt to different regional cultures and languages. Must include:
Review the regional and language settings that will determine which location is used, as well as the date, time, and number formats.
Adaptation of the user interface
The code must handle text in multiple languages.
Regional settings (not language) should control the format of the data, as multiple countries may use the same language, as well as the same person traveling through different countries.
The UI should be ‘mirrored’ while using right-to-left languages; the only exception here would probably be phone numbers.
It is also necessary to test the internationalized application or game for auto-layout issues and strings that are not part of the internationalization-localization process.
Enjoyment MUST be stress free
The game is to enjoy; the player cannot be subjected to a confusing and frustrating experience. There is also no room for being culturally and politically inappropriate or downright offensive. The localization of the game must also guarantee that the translated, internationalized and localized version is faithful to the original.
Many gamers take their games very seriously. Game localization, including those on mobile platforms (iOS or Android localization), should allow players to fully immerse themselves. All the joy of the games is to transport the player to a fantasy world more attractive than reality, where lives can be replenished in battles with strange creatures in unknown exotic lands! Nothing should interrupt this ‘willing suspension of disbelief’.
The location must be from the word GO
Game localization cannot be an afterthought and game developers would benefit from shedding the ‘let’s see’ attitude. Successful developers have understood that game localization is an integral part of the development cycle along with coding, design, or writing. In the early stages, when games were designed and played on limited, limited platforms, this “afterthought state” might have been acceptable. But with the proliferation of mobile technology and the growing demand for games across linguistic, cultural, and geographic borders, video game localization has become a reality.
Localization – NO translation
It should be very clear by now that game internationalization and localization is not just about language. It encompasses cultural symbols, customs, ethos, environment…everything that goes up to make civilizations, in fact!
There are many pitfalls to avoid:
Concerns about hacking and the importance of timely market capture can lead to translations in incomplete games. Context must be clear when translating text, regardless of the game’s development stage. The whole picture must be taken into account.
Localization should be a consideration early in game development, as cultural concepts need to be clear from day 1. For example: scantily clad female characters can be a problem in some countries. If this is not considered early in the design cycle, it could become an expensive and intractable headache when the game has to move to more socially conservative markets.
Games must evolve with current events. Consider the example of how a series of pedophilia cases in Belgium discouraged the use of the word ‘pedometer’ in a weight loss game because of the negative connotation that prefix carried.
Separate text files make the game moddable and translated versions can be pasted into the localized version.
A text freeze or deadline for text changes is a very good idea to control translation costs and keep game development on schedule.
Be aware of cultural issues, taboos, and sensitivities early on.
Accents are important for voiceovers. A cowboy with a Texan accent plays a video game intended for the Chinese market.
Who does the localization?
Game developers by the millions in game development. Therefore, there is no point in taking shortcuts when it comes to game localization to break into new markets.
Cheap translations aimed at cost control can result in complete failure and make the developer an international laughing stock.
Whether it is artwork, translation, marketing, packaging, or bridging the cultural gap, it is highly skilled work that is the domain of trained and talented professionals.
Timing is of the essence to capture the mood of the markets.
Discretion and trust are absolutely necessary to combat the vicious threat of piracy hanging over intellectual property.