Localization Strategies for Popular Game Genres

2024-06-19 | ANASTASIIA OSYPENKO

Localization Strategies for Popular Game Genres

Localization is essential when you want to reach new markets and regions with your game. But what approach to choose, what kind of team you’ll need, and how to make sure the localization is done right? To answer these questions, a lot will depend on a particular genre of the game and the types of content it involves for translation.

In this post, we’ll talk about the different levels of localization that are suitable for different needs and different localization strategies applicable to game genres. 


What’s covered?


Different scopes of game localization

A game might only require some UI/UX element translation (for example, when the game is not reliant on textual content but is built on visual images alone), while on the opposite side, a game might need a full adaptation of the created fictional world, its characters, dialogue, etc. Let’s see what ranges of localization effort can be suitable for different games.

Minimal localization

If you have a simple puzzle game or a mobile arcade game that doesn’t feature dialogues and characters, it will be enough to translate the menu and other UI elements, as well as the description of the game on the platforms it’s presented on (App Store, Steam, etc.). 

Plus, it’s always a great idea to localize marketing materials and cooperate with local marketing agencies to make sure your game makes it to the target audience.

For this type of localization, you don’t need a whole translation team and you won’t need to integrate them with a development team.

Genres and types of games: casual mobile games, visual brain puzzles, non-narrative racing games, non-narrative strategy games

Example of a simple localization of a casual game.

Example of a simple localization of a casual game Mini Motorways. Only the menu and short instructions need to be translated.

Medium-complexity localization

When a game involves a kind of storyline and custom terminology, localization gets trickier. This is when you’ll need to have style guides, glossaries, and other materials ready prior to the process of translation. 

It’s also essential to reserve some time for translators to get familiarized with the game and choose a suitable localization tool that, among other things, allows including screenshots for context. 

You’ll need to prepare for this type of localization in advance and involve native speakers in localization QA checks. If a game features a lot of domain-specific terms (for instance, types of weaponry), it’s also a good idea to have domain experts on the translation team.

Genres and types of games: story-rich strategy games, shooters, adventures, sports simulation games

Hardcore localization

If there’s a whole fictional universe created in your game and there are many characters, each with distinctive demeanor and speech patterns, then you’ll need to go big or go home with your localization strategy. 

This is when culturalization is a more appropriate term—you’ll have to adapt the context of the game to the target audience. This involves changing the names to culturally familiar ones (instead of literal translation), revising sensitive topics (which might get censored in certain countries), and so on.

With this scope of localization work, it’s best to have the localization team embedded into the dev team, as video playthroughs and a profound understanding of the nature of the game are crucial for correct translations and the transcreation of the story. 

Genres and types of games: RPG and MMORPG, complex adventure and detective games, action-adventure games, stealth, sandbox games

While the above distinction is not 100% genre-specific, let’s move on to particular genres (focusing on some of the most popular ones) and the ways to build an appropriate localization strategy for each of them.

Localization strategy for different game genres

Localization of RPG and action-adventure games

Action-adventure and role-playing video games are based on the narrative element, and developed storylines and characters are the major characteristics of this genre. These games are always set in a particular world, which might involve real historical locations and eras or completely fictional universes with their own rules. They might also have the real-world historical element intertwined with fiction.

The best localization strategy for RPG and action-adventure games involves 

  • culturalization (domestication), which means adapting the language and cultural references to the target region, 
  • or transcreation, which means shifting the story to make it more relevant to the audience.

This is one of the genres that allow maximum creativity in the translation process. But you’ll still have to maintain a balance between being true to the original story and adapting it to the target culture.

Here are some of the best practices for localizing RPG and action-adventure games:

  • Give translators time to explore the game. This applies to practically any type of game but is especially crucial with narrative-heavy, immersive games. Translators need to understand the world they’re going to recreate in their target language, the different nature of characters, locations, events, and so on.
  • Create extensive style guides with character art and description. It’s important to prepare for the localization process and create style guides that include character descriptions. It will save translators time each time they are not sure what the gender of the character is, whether they have a specific accent, etc. 
  • Adapt the names of characters, locations, items, etc. It makes sense to get creative with the names and adapt them using local words or phenomena. For example, a Japanese game called Ace Attorney features a character originally named Ryuichi Naruhodo, but for Western audiences, he appears as Phoenix Wright, which is easier to understand and pronounce. 

However, if a game has a historically accurate setting (for instance, it’s set in 1950s’ America), then you should stay true to all the names and references. 

  • Make sure that each character has its distinct speech pattern in translation. Game dialogues should feel like real-life, colloquial speech, and it’s crucial to pay attention to each character’s patterns.
  • Don’t correct spelling mistakes. Given the idiosyncratic nature of dialogue, there might be deliberate mistakes (characters might mispronounce words, use some obscure vocabulary, use particular curse words, etc.), and translators shouldn’t correct them.
  • Take into account local sensitivities and regulations. It’s important to research if the target market has some specific regulations and can perceive certain topics as inappropriate. You might need to either remove some sensitive topic mentions or rethink some plotlines. 

For instance, for the launch in the US, Final Fantasy 6 changed the text to remove implications of suicide in order to comply with Nintendo’s content policies. Another example is World of Warcraft which censored most bones and skulls in the Chinese version:

Removal of a skull in the Chinese WoW

Removal of a skull in the Chinese WoW. Source

  • Avoid literal translations of word plays and humor. Humor is one of the hardest things to localize, but it’s what makes the localization truly great. When translators see some particular puns or culture-specific jokes, they should think of an alternative that would be relevant to the region. A literal translation will add confusion. 

For example, in the localization of Like a Dragon: Ishin!, translators would add curse words in English when adapting curse-free Japanese lines because it would be the way to make the same impact with a joke. Sometimes, translators might even go further than the original text and add a cultural reference to the originally neutral phrase. For example, in Ace Attorney localization, the repeated phrase “guilty not guilty” was changed to a popular English schoolyard counting song:

Added cultural reference in the Ace Attorney localization. Source

  • Consider localizing non-textual content (songs, visual elements, etc.). Sometimes, you might include audio and visual changes as part of a localization strategy. For instance, some local versions of Grand Theft Auto replaced songs with explicit lyrics or controversial themes to comply with regional requirements or cultural sensitivities. 

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a compliance issue—you can opt for adapting the soundtrack of particular songs and sounds by integrating local artists. 

  • Collaborate with local stars for voiceover or promotional campaigns. To win local audiences over, engage local actors or other stars to be featured in the game, provide voiceovers, or act in promotional videos. 
  • Make local dub when it’s relevant. Dubbing a game in the local language is a great way to attract more local players, but it’s a very resource-exhaustive process. Some cultures generally prefer subtitles when playing games so don’t jump into dubbing without researching the preferences of target regions.

The case of foreignization: when you should do the opposite of cultural adaptation

While we’ve said that you can get creative and adapt RPG and action-adventure games to the local cultural context, sometimes, it makes sense to do the opposite. This is when the game is already placed in a particular real-world location and era, and historical details and the “foreign” mood are what makes the game what it is.

For example, Assassin’s Creed Mirage is set in Baghdad during the Islamic Golden Age. It includes some phrases spoken in Arabic even in the English-speaking version of the game to make the experience more immersive. Game developers also released the full Arabic dub not as a version for Arabic-speaking markets only but as a launch proposition relevant to all players. As Ubisoft’s localization manager said, “it feels more accurate to play in Arabic even if you’re not Arabic,” because the game intends to immerse players into the Middle Eastern world. 

Localization of sports simulation and racing games

Racing and sports simulation games usually don’t contain as much translatable content as narrative RPG and action-adventure games. But they might feature extensive item libraries or a lot of specific terminology, which goes beyond simple translation. They might also incorporate some storytelling elements, which makes the localization more complex and potentially more creative. 

Let’s explore some of the best practices for localizing a sports or racing game:

  • Engage local stars. Sports games are a great opportunity to involve local teams or sports stars. FIFA is exemplary here, as the game is localized to plenty of markets where stars of the most representative local football teams are not only engaged in promotion but also are present in the user interface. If a game displays a particular nation or league, make sure that the local one is displayed by default.
  • Domesticate locations, items, or other things. To make a game more relevant, make sure it includes something from the local reality. For instance, in the Gran Turismo game, car availability slightly differs by location to represent local manufacturers: all Japanese car manufacturers are available at the start in the Japanese version, while US and European versions replace Subaru and Toyota with Aston Martin and Chevrolet. 
  • Localize names. Your localization team can put an effort into making game elements more familiar to local audiences. For example, in the racing game Mario Kart, each course has its own name in each country, even when those countries speak the same language (there are different names for the UK and US markets, for instance, “Alpine Pass” and “Rock Rock Mountain”).

Different course names in Mario Kart.

Different course names in Mario Kart.

  • Create a term base. It’s important to prepare for the translation process and gather terminology, sections of the game, menu items, etc. It might also make sense to bring in consultants into the localization team if there are a lot of words and expressions related to niche subjects (weapons, cars, etc.).
  • Don’t over-localize. Sports simulation and racing games involve a lot of technical terminology that doesn’t allow for much creativity. Translators shouldn’t insert some humor or culture-specific references when the textual content doesn’t serve storytelling purposes. However, it’s a good idea to localize the names of locations, racing tracks, etc. 
  • Consider creating a local soundtrack. Collaborating with a local composer or replacing original songs with local ones might make the game sound more relevant to the audience. 

As you can see, localizing a sports simulation or racing game might combine domestication strategies and some literal terminology translations. It doesn’t give much freedom in adapting the game universe to the local reality, but there are still lots of aspects to localize and lots of opportunities to make the game more culturally relevant. 

Localization of puzzle, arcade, and other casual games

Casual games have simple rules and rely solely on the visual element. Textual content in them is usually limited to short names and phrases, and there are no storylines or dialogues. While there isn’t much room for creative localization of in-game components, your strategy can have a bigger focus on localized promotion and monetization.

Here are some of the recommendations for proper casual game localization:

  • Consider space limitations. UI elements are normally very short, especially in mobile games, so your translation team has to always be ready to find suitable synonyms that don’t extend the limits. 

Example of menu translation in the Hidden Folks game. French words take a little more space than English words, and sometimes, two lines are replaced with three lines in smaller font. 

  • Take into account language grammar when working with variables. Variables are those strings of text that will be repeatedly used in the game. You can save time by not translating them every time they appear, but in this case, you’ll need to carefully consider the nature of a target language, as it might change the form of the word based on the grammatical person, connected verb, etc. 
  • Adapt the menu layout if needed. You can change the layout if you’re adapting a game in English into right-to-left languages so that the navigation feels more convenient to local players. 
  • Adopt different monetization schemes. When there are in-game items that can be purchased, there are opportunities to localize them and offer some of them on some markets exclusively. It’s also a good idea to adjust pricing to each region. 
  • Partner with local brands for promotion. When marketing your game, partner with local companies to boost its presence in different regions. For example, the casual puzzle game Angry Birds is known for cooperating with brands in different regions: in Latin America, the game developer partnered with McDonalds in China, Brazilia, and other countries to create themed Happy Meal toys, while in Spay, they released plush toys in cooperation with Telepizza. 

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Choose the right game localization strategy 

A localization strategy heavily depends on the game genre, as the genre defines how much textual content is in the game and how much storytelling is involved. The more creative elements are there—different characters, dialogues, plot lines, locations, etc.—the more complex the localization process. 

It will be enough to simply translate menus and other UI elements for a casual mobile game, while a narrative action-adventure game will require translators to grudimmerse themselves into the functional world and adapt a lot of its aspects to a target culture. Some genres are in between those extremes and might combine direct translation with some creative adaptation. 

Whichever strategy you choose, don’t neglect to localize promotional materials. Marketing localization is a sure way to win over local audiences regardless of the genre. 

Another thing that applies to all game genres is localization QA. Always test the localized version with native speakers before releasing it. This way, you’ll avoid player frustration if something is incorrect or irrelevant.

We can help you bring your localization vision to life and ensure that the translated game truly speaks to the target culture. Reach out to us for a custom quote, if you’re interested in game translation services or game localization testing.

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