Game Localization To Arabic: Trends, Challenges, and Best Practices

2024-04-30 | Anastasiia Osypenko

Game Localization To Arabic: Trends, Challenges, and Best Practices

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • The game market in the MENA region is predicted to grow up to $22 billion in revenue by 2029, and a significant part of it belongs to Arabic-speaking audiences.
  • Some Arab countries are doubling down on the gaming industry, with the boom of investments and continuous gamer engagement growth. You can profit from this boost of interest by creating localized versions of your games.
  • Arabic language and culture have some unique aspects to consider: for instance, bi-directionality and sensitive topics. 
  • To ensure localization success, use culturalization: besides providing correct translations, consider incorporating local characters and realities to bridge the cultural gap. 

When considering the localization of a game to different parts of the world, don’t overlook the MENA region, as it offers an increasingly profitable gaming market. 

MENA refers to the Middle East and North Africa and includes 19 countries. Even though Arabic is not the only language of the region, it is the dominant one. If you want to enter this market, you’ll need to consider Arabic localization. 

In this post, we’ll talk about the challenges you might face when localizing games to Arabic and the best industry practices to make sure your game translates right to Arabic-speaking audiences. 

The potential of the Arabic-speaking game market

Arabic-speaking countries are looking to diversify their oil-dependent economy and, among other things, are investing in entertainment technologies, while the predominantly young population is creating an increasing demand for games, especially mobile ones.

So, why should you localize your games to the Arabic-speaking markets?

1. The industry is on the rise 

According to Statista, the gaming market in the MENA region is expected to reach over $22 billion in revenue by 2029. In the Middle East alone, as estimated by Mordor Intelligence, the gaming market size is valued at $6 billion in 2024 and is expected to grow to over $10 billion in the next 5 years.

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Revenue of the game market in the MENA region. Source

2. You can reach hundreds of millions of gamers 

In the whole MENA region, there are more than 375 million gamers, and a significant part of them speak Arabic (as there are over 300 million native speakers in the world). The Arabic-speaking population is getting increasingly interested in games. For instance, the number of gaming streams has grown by 221% in just half a year in 2021.

3. The ARPPU is record high

Some Arabic-speaking countries are the world leaders in consumer spending on games. According to Tamatem’s internal data, Saudi Arabia can boast the highest average revenue per paying user (ARPPU) in the world: $270. The region is also famous for so-called gaming whales who spend up to $1,000 per month on in-app purchases in mobile games. 

4. The majority of the Arab population is young

Around 55% of people in the MENA region are under 30, which makes this market fruitful and open to innovations. Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia especially exemplify this fact. In the latter, for example, more than 90% of their overall number of internet users played online games in 2022.

5. Arabic-speaking countries show great interest in the gaming industry 

Even though some of the Middle Eastern countries have been historically conservative toward video games and banned them, they are changing their attitudes dramatically. Saudi Arabia, for example, invests a lot of money into gaming and esports, aiming to diversify the economy and become an international gaming powerhouse. 

6. Arabic-speaking audiences fuel the popularity of many mobile games 

The Middle East has one of the highest smartphone penetration levels in the world, with some countries (for instance, Bahrain and UAE) exceeding 96%. The interest in mobile games is consistently growing, as is the demand for localization. 

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Types of games that succeed in the Middle East

Sports simulation and immersive action games are among the most popular ones in the region. As per Tamatem’s research, the top-5 localized games the Arab world has been the most engaged with are FIFA, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Fortnite. 

Among mobile games, the most popular genres include puzzles, sports, racing, and adventure. The most popular name titles vary by country but generally include both international products and locally produced games.

The only thing you can be concerned about as a game developer looking to expand into the Arabic-speaking markets is the issues related to profanity, sexuality, and alcohol. Arab culture is still holding on to some conservative traditions, and games with triggering topics might get censored or banned altogether. There have been cases of globally popular games being banned in some Arabic-speaking countries: for instance, Assassin’s Creed II or Resident Evil 6. 

Sensitive and taboo topics aside, you can aim for Arabic localization of practically any game genre, especially if you target mobile markets or have mobile versions of your games. 

The top 5 challenges of localization for the Arabic-speaking markets

Each culture and language poses its own challenges for the localization processes, and it’s especially true when you need to translate a game made in English into a language that has very different underlying principles. 

Let’s discover what are the biggest challenges in Arabic localization of games.

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1. Language directionality

Arabic is a bi-directional language, which is a unique characteristic. It’s mostly written from right to left but can include separate parts written from left to right. Sentences involving numerals or special symbols are typical situations when this might become a problem. 

When working on the Arabic localization, outline all the types of content that should be translated and see if your games feature specific parts that should be read left to right when inserted into right-to-left sentences.

2. Natural UI layout

In the context of language directionality, localized games should consider how native speakers think and how they use navigation in digital products. What feels natural for a Western user might not feel so for an Arabic-speaking person. For example, an English native will look for a menu button on the left side of the UI, while an Arab gamer will search for it on the opposite side.

3. Cursive script

Arabic uses a cursive style and features a lot of diacritical signs, but not all fonts support that. You need to make sure that your game code supports this style and displays Arabic sentences correctly. Without the cursive script support, letters may appear not the way they’re supposed to.

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Disconnected Arabic letters without the cursive script support. Source

4. Variables

Variables are challenging for the localization in any language that has different grammatical genders and forms of numbers with different subjugation. Since English uses gender-neutral words, it’s essential to provide some context for translators when it comes to characters or other aspects that reflect gender. The same applies to numbers: there are three forms of them in Arabic, and if you’re using automated translations for numeral values, they should be reviewed by a native speaker. 

5. Subtitling conventions

Some issues may arise when preparing localized subtitles. For example, proper names are not marked by capital letters in Arabic. Games that have already been successfully translated employ punctuation marks to indicate proper names (parentheses, inverted commas, etc.). There’s no industry standard here, but you’ll have to develop a unified approach to handle such issues. 

Best practices for localizing your game to Arabic

We’ve asked our Arabic translators to share some recommendations. Here are her 8 tips for a successful Arabic game localization:

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1. Give translators time to familiarize themselves with the game

Even the simplest games have their own story and environment that impact perception and translation. Make sure that your localization team first learns the game and then proceeds to translate it. 

2. Ensure the right-to-left text orientation

The interface should be oriented to suit Arabic speakers used to the right-to-left direction of their language. As we’ve mentioned before, Arabic is actually bi-directional, so you should be careful about possible situations when right-to-left writing is combined with parts written left to right. 

As Ubisoft’s operations head said about Smurfs localization, reshaping the whole UIs so that they naturally fit right-to-left thinking helped the company engage 1.5 million Arab players and gain higher revenues than from the English version. 

3. Consider grammatical nuances

Like many European languages, Arabic uses grammatical gender, which has to be taken into account during localization from English. Not only the forms of the words should be modified but it also usually means longer strings. 

4. Beware of sensitive topics

Cultural differences are important to factor in. Arabic-speaking countries might have strict censorship policies when it comes to topics related to religion, sexual scenes, or alcohol consumption. It might be tricky if the original game includes triggering subjects, but you’ll definitely need to accommodate them to the Arab audience. 

5. Apply culturalization 

People love it when the elements of their own culture are incorporated into localized games. If it’s appropriate to the theme and setting of your game, you can add some local celebrities or landmarks to make it more familiar to the Arab audience. For instance, the Arabic version of FIFA featured local stars.

6. Don’t underestimate testing

Game testing is crucial, and you’ll need to have native speakers try out the localized version to make sure that everything looks and sounds correct. It’s also a great idea to run tests in focus groups if you have the capability to do so. 

The Paramanyu game by a Korean developer offers an illustrative example of how user testing helped achieve localization success. The company ran tests and discovered that some UI elements and cultural nuances might be localized to make the game more enjoyable for different target markets.

Some of the recent failures also demonstrate how important it is to test the game among native speakers. For example, the Arabic version of Minecraft Legends was unplayable due to incorrect translations and layouts. The company had to remove localization and apologize, promising to work harder for the next release. 

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Minecraft apologizing for incorrect Arabic localization. Source

7. Use dialects when appropriate

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the most commonly used in localized products. However, in some situations, it might feel too formal and fail to translate the same meaning as intended in the original. 

If your game features informal dialogue or some specific concepts that might not be understood in MSA, consider using Arabic dialects. For instance, FIFA 2012 that is mostly translated to MSA features a Tunisian dialect in voice-overs.

8. Follow a separate procedure for voice-over

Voice-over is even more complicated than textual translation as it involves creating scripts that need to be narrated. In this context, your localization team should understand how to maintain the desired length of script lines so that they fit the original scenes. 

Many simple sentences that are quite short in English will be way longer in Arabic, and translators will need to somehow balance between the original meaning and language specifics. For example, a simple greeting like “hi” will sound much longer in Arabic (“marhaban” if transcribed).

Bring your game to success in Arabic-speaking markets

Just like with any other language, localizing a game to Arabic should consider unique linguistic characteristics and cultural preferences. The MENA region, and Arabic-speaking audiences in particular, can bring you significant earnings—the region is full of online users who are ready to invest time and money into gaming.

To bridge the cultural gap and achieve localization success, follow the best industry practices: pay attention to language directionality and grammar, include local elements, exclude triggering topics, and test the game version among native speakers.

If you’re ready to make a strategic move towards Arabic-speaking markets, reach out to us. Share your inquiries, and let’s start a conversation about how we can tailor a localization plan specifically for your game.

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