5 Tips for Game Localization from East to West

2020-05-06 | Sharon S. Milne

5 Tips for Game Localization from East to West

Localizing or adapting games is not just about translating a game from language A to language B. On a much broader scope, it’s about bridging cultures – knowing which elements to remove or modify, being aware of cultural nuances during translations, ensuring that you’re providing what the local adoptive audiences want, and other considerations.

So here are some tips to keep in mind when localizing games from the east for players and audiences in the west.

1 - Stay True to Your Content as Much as Possible

Addressing language barriers should never result in sacrificing being true to your original content. This is perhaps best illustrated by American publishing company XSeed, which has established a reputation for authentically translating and publishing niche Japanese games for western audiences. Through releases like Granblue, Rune Factory, and Senran Kagura, the company has proved that audiences have a deep appreciation for authentic content. Likewise, you need to make sure that your own titles and content stay true to the source material even while addressing language barriers. Case in point, online slot platform Cheeky Bingo stays true to their Chinese titles like 年年有鱼 or ‘Nian Nian Yu You’, which means ‘Abundance Year After Year’, only translating the Chinese characters to the English alphabet.

The same can be done for your game, as Ken Berry of XSeed explains that it’s best to give people a choice, which in the context of their games meant keeping the original Japanese voiceovers while also providing good English dubs. “We feel the fans should have a choice to be able to listen to the original Japanese voices if they want.”

2 - Translation Entails Cultural Adaptation

Translating an eastern game and giving it context that’s relatable to westerners entails understanding cultural differences and adjusting accordingly. “We’re a big believer that you shouldn’t develop the game in one language and then translate. Translation and adapting to local culture is part of development,details Wooga CEO Jens Begemann. “For example, a football in America is an egg, in Europe it’s round – there are plenty of differences. We believe that translating isn’t enough — local tastes and culture adoption are really important.” Likewise, your development team should be fully aware of all the nuances that can make your translation work much more effective in bridging cultural gaps. The better you can bridge these gaps, the more you can develop truly immersive localized versions of eastern games.

One of the best and earliest examples of this is EarthBound, a Japanese role-playing game from the ‘90s which was originally called Mother 2 before it was translated for the North American audience. In 2006, the sequel called Mother 3 was translated by fans of the series who were fed up with waiting for an official localization that never came. This translation became the most well known English version of the game, underscoring the success that can come when such projects are approached from the perspective of local fans and gamers in mind.

3 - Go Mobile

Take a cue from China, where you’ll find the largest game market in the world. As per the latest data, the number of Chinese mobile gamers is estimated at 626 million. In 2018, this translated to revenue of 134 billion yuan ($20.6 billion) for their local mobile games market – that’s 62% of the total gaming revenue in the country with the largest population on the planet.

If you want in on the action, developing games for mobile is the way to go. Where Chinese gamers go, the rest of the gaming world is bound to follow.

4 - Understand and Apply App Store Optimization

App Store Optimization (ASO) is the process of tweaking the elements of your game’s branding on local app stores towards attracting the right audiences. As with any other localization element, applying APO entails carefully considering local cultural nuances. For instance, while Chinese players prefer bulleted lists of game features as well as gameplay examples, western audiences are more open to long descriptions that explain the gameplay and other details.

Another factor to consider is that while eastern gamers are attracted to brightly colored images even for darker-themed games, western gamers are more open to either dark or colorful images depending on the genre. Understanding these seemingly small differences can go a long way towards establishing a loyal fanbase for your game.

5 - Plan for Local Customer Support and/or Community Management

If there’s one thing gamers hate about playing foreign adapted games, it’s running into problems and not having any support from developers. This is why it’s important to have a customer support plan – and a community management plan if necessary – way ahead of your targeted release date. However much you prepare for the release, you’re bound to run into bugs just like any other game – at which point having the people and resources to assist players will surely come in handy.

Pokémon Go is arguably the best example of an eastern game with strong localized community support and management. From frequent official updates to consistent player interaction through local fan communities, the game’s developers have always been on top of player concerns from day one.

Aiming to do this for your own games can solidify the support of initial players as well as cultivate long-term player loyalty, which can make the difference between the failure or success of any new gaming endeavor.

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