Chinese Game Localization 2024: Translate Games With This 4R Technique In Mind

2024-03-28 | Dolly Dai, Ngan Phan

Chinese Game Localization 2024: Translate Games With This 4R Technique In Mind

Learn what to pay attention to during the Chinese localization process and how to boost your game downloads in China with the 4R technique.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Translating in-game text into Chinese, you should choose between three versions: Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese Taiwan, and Traditional Chinese Hong Kong. Localizing voice-overs, select between Mandarin and Cantonese.
  • Your 4Rs for successful game localization to China: rewrite, rebrand, rename, and redesign.

Facts and Potential of the Game Market in China

In many reports and forecasts, China and the US often hold the top two positions as the largest game markets worldwide.

According to annual report on China’s game industry which was released during the 2023 China Game Industry Annual Conference held in Guangzhou, south China’s Guangdong Province, the actual sales revenue of China’s domestic game market in 2023 has reached around 303 billion yuan (about 42.7 billion U.S. dollars), up 14 percent year on year, according to an industrial report released on Friday.

The Chinese games industry is dominated by Tencent (#1 game publisher in the world) NetEase and miHOYO. Nevertheless, foreign game studios can target the massive gaming audience that plays smartphone games at least half an hour daily.

Due to the unavailability of the Google Play Store in mainland China, more than 20 Android stores have been operating in the country. Some major app stores include: Huawei App Market Store (华为应用市场) (the top Android app store in China with a market share of about 44 percent), Oppo Software Store (OPPO软件商店), VIVO App Store (vivo应用商店), Tencent My App Store (应用宝), MIUI App Store (小米应用商店).

To legally establish themselves in China, international developers need to partner with local publishers due to strict criteria such as ICP licenses, ISBN requirements, and the review process. For instance, in China, World of Warcraft is run by NetEase and Dota 2 - by Perfect World.

Chinese mobile gamers prefer shooting and MMO/MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games, such as King of Glory and PUBG. Social casino and racing (parkour) games became increasingly popular in 2018. Puzzle games take a lower share of the market due to the over saturation of these games in the app stores.

“Casual” and “Action” (e.g., platform games, fighting games) are the top two answers among Chinese consumers in a survey conducted in 2023 on the subject of “Preferred video game genre” as released on Statista.

How to win the competition battle?

Distinctive and creative games are key when attempting to attract Chinese gamers. Game reviews, genre, and IP recognition are the main purchase drivers for Chinese gamers.

How to localize a Western game for the Chinese audience?

Simplified Chinese vs Traditional Chinese

Now, the toughest part. Localizing to China, which exact Chinese do you need? As speakers in Argentina and Spain do not speak the same Spanish, Chinese has its variations too.

There are three similar but different types of Chinese:

  • Simplified Chinese (zhCN),

  • Traditional Chinese Taiwan (zhTW),

  • Traditional Chinese Hong Kong (zhHK).

    Simplified Chinese characters are used in mainland China. The traditional version is preferred by Taiwanese, Hongkongese and overseas Chinese in Singapore or Malaysia.

Pro Question: What about Cantonese and Mandarin? Well, they are spoken languages instead of written ones. But if you want to do a voiceover, make sure it’s done by people native to the regions you target: Cantonese for Hong Kong and Mandarin for mainland China.

Example: In Pro Evolution Soccer, Konami localized their football match commentary to Cantonese, the colloquial dialect of Hong Kong residents so that local users could easily relate to the game. Easy to say why the locals praised the game, isn’t it?

Regions with Chinese as an official or commonly used language.

One of the major linguistic issues that occurs with games translated to Traditional Chinese (zhHK) is that they might contain terms used only in zhCN or zhTW.

Possible reasons:

  • the translator is a native Simplified Chinese user instead of a Traditional one;

  • the translator is mistakenly adopting terms (proper nouns) that are used only in zhCN or zhTW.

    Such localization faults can frustrate younger Hong Kong gamers - anything that appears “too Chinese” could easily trigger them and lead to a boycott. At the same time, they are familiar with the international gaming terminology such as “solo” or “farming” - you can leave those words in English.

Example: Localizing mobile game Manor Café to Hong Kong, our translator amended the names of the characters Charles and Daisy from the original Taiwanese transliteration (查爾斯 and 黛西) to Hongkongese (查理斯 and 黛絲) to make it more idiomatic and appeal to the gamers in Hong Kong - even though the first one is commonly used as the name of Charles, Prince of Wales in Chinese newspapers.

Supporting all Chinese languages or only selecting one totally depends on your target markets and audiences.

Pro Tip: The vast majority of developers choose Simplified Chinese as they plan to conquer the massive market of the People’s Republic of China. Some add on support for Traditional Chinese. Discuss it with the localization project manager or game localization company.

Chinese is a uniquely concise language. The number of in-game characters is normally less than in English but as they are more complex it is advised to output the text in a larger font (it is especially important in mobile game localization). This requires a larger vertical space than the English version. Even with a larger font, Chinese usually occupies fewer characters (and therefore space) than the English text.

Important: Code scalable text boxes during game development - it will save you a lot of time during localization.

Pro Tip: As the sentences in Chinese are a way shorter than in European languages, UI bugs related to the space constraints and characters displayed are pretty common in English games localized into Chinese. To spot them, do the LQA before the official release.

80,000 font characters - yikes!

The main issue when implementing Chinese localization is how to deal with the font.

There are some 80,000 characters in Chinese and an understanding of around 5,000 - 6,000 is what is typically agreed to be an average literacy level. A minimum of 2,000 would allow the reader to understand most publications. In a game where you may have bitmap fonts, this can pose a memory problem.

One usual approach is to scan the translated text and output all unique Chinese characters on a large bitmap and then use this bitmap as font reference. This way you only have to spend memory on characters actually used. This approach has the downside that it does not work for a dynamic text structure that can change - such as player generated names as the input might introduce characters that are not supported. Another approach is to use a system font provided by the OS if available.

Differences between various Chinese fonts.

Payments in online gaming

According to a report from Statista, PayPal was the most popular payment method used by gamers worldwide as of March 2018. However, what works perfectly in one place may not be an ideal match for another. This is why many foreign game development companies have failed in the Chinese market. Perhaps only supporting PayPal, which may be accepted internationally, but may not be as trusted as local methods in China.

In China, mobile payments such as AliPay, WeChat Pay, and UnionPay are used more frequently than you might imagine. If possible, consider adding a QR code because Chinese gamers are accustomed to scanning and paying with a fingerprint instead of typing account numbers. Please take this into consideration because it’s the last step between you and millions of Chinese gamers.

Alipay, WeChat Pay, UnionPay payments in PRC

The most popular payment systems in China.

Game culturalization in China

One of the challenges that many developers face when handling game localization, which inherently contains a lot of cultural elements, is how much to foreignize and how much to domesticate the products. Do you always ask yourself, “Should I translate character names, place names, plot rewrites or transcreation?”

Here are the four Rs (4R) you should consider for successful Chinese game localization:

I. Rewrite. Politics has always been a sensitive topic for Chinese authorities. A number of games have been banned for “smearing the image of China and the Chinese army” (Command and Conquer: Generals, I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike). Football Manager 2005 was banned for recognizing Taiwan and Tibet as independent states.

Example: Sometimes the sensitive content is literally blacked out. In the chat of the Chinese version of PUBG Mobile (now replaced by Game for Peace), typing “Taiwan” or “Tibet” gamers got asterisks instead of the actual word.

Rewriting will help you avoid the pitfalls in the original text which may be offensive in some way to the target culture.

II. Rebrand. Titles based on western celebrities or intellectual property often cut no ice in China. Chinese gamers do enjoy many Western titles but the majority prefers localized content when the story is based on the popular novels like Three Kingdoms or medieval fairy tales. You’ll get bonus points for incorporating folk elements into your game.

Interesting fact: A few years ago, one out of 10 top grossing games in China was Dou Dizhu themed - a unique to China genre. “Dou Dizhu” is literally translated as “Fighting the Landlord”. The game imitates the class struggles during the Chinese “Cultural Revolution”. Originally a card game, it’s been recognized as the eSport by the Chinese government due to its popularity.

III. Rename. It always requires some thought when naming in-game items, people, and locations. You can either translate it literally or rename it. Just give your hero a name entirely unrelated to their original name in the game.

The most famous example of a bad brand name translation into Chinese is Coca Cola when it first entered the China market: the translation of ko-kä-kö-la meant something like ‘bite a wax tadpole”.

Coca Cola meaning in Chinese

Good to know: Some words like“CEO”, “WC”, “Okay”, “Cool” etc, are commonly used in China, so feel free to keep them in English. The vendors that provide Chinese video game translation services should suggest the appropriate option.

IV. Redesign. No blood, drugs, skulls, skeletons, gambling, sexual themes or defaming of the Chinese government. The games containing the listed elements are almost always banned from sale in PRC.

OK, if you publish the shooting game, you most probably won’t be able to avoid bloody scenes. The solution? Color the blood… black or green (at least, that’s what PUBG and Counter Strike: Go have done).

Expanding its popular shooter Rainbow Six Siege to Asia, Ubisoft removed the skeletons and tried to hide the sign of the strip club and slot machines. The company stepped back only after the Western gamers complained about the changes.

Pro Tip: Professional linguists are well-aware of these issues and should point out the possible inconsistencies and pitfalls in your game for the Chinese audience BEFORE you publish your title. You don’t want to risk this multi-billion market, right?

The last key point to remember

It is important for gaming companies and publishers to acknowledge that game localization involves both cultural convergence and cultural differentiation. All the English to Chinese translations depend on the type and the context of the games, so one strategy might be favored over another at different times.

If you’re ready to make a strategic move towards global expansion by localizing your games into Chinese, reach out to us. Share your inquiries, and let’s start a conversation about how we can help you tap into China’s massive and rapidly growing gaming market.

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