Localizing Your Game Into Spanish, Which Spanish Do You Choose?

2018-04-22 | Michael Souto

Localizing Your Game Into Spanish, Which Spanish Do You Choose?

You want to localize your game into Spanish, OK, no worries there. However, are you aware that you need to choose whether to translate your game into Euro (Castilian) Spanish or Latin American (LatAm) Spanish? There are around 480 million native Spanish speaking people in the world spread across 22 countries. Localizing your game is the best way to reach them but then you have a choice to make: Which Spanish do you choose?

Important: “Latin American Spanish” isn’t actually an official language, there is a “neutral” LatAm Spanish that can be provided, but in reality it would be a mix of Mexican, Argentinian, Colombian etc. If looking to release into Central and South America then perhaps you should target a specific territory?

Anyway, the decision you make should be based on your research into which is the best market for your game. Are there further factors that you need to bear in mind when choosing? We interviewed four Spanish translators and gamers about the pros and cons from a language perspective.

Questions posed to:

  • Ramón Méndez González - European Spanish (Spain),
  • Curri Barceló Ávila - European Spanish (Spain),
  • Javier Gómez - Argentinian Spanish,
  • Manuel Gordillo Gonzalez - Mexican Spanish.

image alt text

OK let’s get going.

1. What are the key differences between LatAm Spanish variants and Euro Spanish? Not just specific words but perhaps tone or usage?

Ramón, Spain: They are rather different. A Spanish user won’t easily accept a LatAm translation, as it may sound “not serious”. A few decades ago in Spain, we had LatAm dubbing for cartoons, and we made fun about that fact (we still do nowadays). The tone, the usage, even the pronunciation changes a lot and it’s rather difficult to have European users happy with a LatAm translation.

It’s the same the other way around: there’s no “LatAm Spanish”. In fact, Spanish is different in Spain, México, Colombia, Argentina, Peru… It should be adapted to every regional variety to offer the best value to each country. But, as that’s pretty difficult, the best option is to have at least Castilian Spanish and LatAm Spanish. In fact, it’s just a matter of doing a little adaptation from one to the other to make critical changes that are not accepted in the other variant.

Javier, Argentina: Simply put, LatAm Spanish tends to use simpler, more direct structures (simple verb tenses, less periphrases in some cases) and a more informal tone.

Manuel, Mexico: One element is attitude rather than phonetic aspect of it, I think that in Latin Spanish we “go round the bush” a whole lot more than European Spanish, who I think “cut to the chase” right away.

Curri, Spain: The biggest differences are in terminology and also how words are used, which may mean that a word that is totally normal in Spain, may be not that correct in Latin America.

For example, the verb “coger” (to grab/pick up) that we commonly use in Spain would be understood as “to have sex with someone” in Argentina. This may only make most of the Argentinian players giggle a bit, as they know that the word actually means “agarrar” (the word they use over there for grab), but rest assured that forums will have many screenshots of your game with the corresponding jokes.

On the other side, if you use “agarrar” for something that is just “pick up (from the floor)” it would be perfectly fine in Argentina, but it would sound weird in Spain (and some other Latin American countries) as it would mean to grab something with excessive force, as if it was going to run away.

Other changes can be found in the use of formal or informal. In Spain and most Latin American countries, formal mode (“usted”, for “you”) is usually left to more polite situations, like talking to:

  • the elderly,
  • people you don’t know for the first time and to whom you want to be polite,
  • people you respect (your boss, a teacher while you are at school or even university),
  • someone at a public service (doctor, hospital, council),
  • someone of a superior rank in the army, etc.

As the nature of videogames is rather informal, most of the text will be written in informal addressing (“tú”). Formal mode is left for just specific situations within a game where the formal mode is needed for characterization. For example, if your character is a soldier and the AI speaking to the player/soldier is meant to be the Captain, or when your character speaks to an old lady NPC.

However, in countries like Argentina, Uruguay and some Central American countries, they use the so-called “voseo” for the second person (use of “vos” instead of “tú”), which was quite common in the old Medieval Spanish. On the other hand, in Colombia and Costa Rica mainly, “usted” is used in both formal and informal contexts, so much so that a mother could address her child as “usted” as much as they would do to their own mother.

Usage of tu, usted, vos, vosotros in Spanish game loclaization

2. Is there (one) particular thing that clearly indicates you aren’t playing a version aimed at your particular locale?

Ramón, Spain: For example, in LatAm Spanish they talk in a formal way (“usted”, “vos”), while in Euro Spanish we use the informal way (“tú”). And, obviously, different vocabulary for common words as “car” (“coche” in Euro Spanish or “carro” in LatAm Spanish) that can result in difficult general comprehension of the text. “Carro” for a Euro user is “a cart”.

Curri, Spain: Terminology or abuse of English words (in cases where there is an existing common translation) are usually the things that make me realise a text was not translated into Spanish for Spain. For example, most Latin American software products use “ingresar” as the translation of both “log in” and “enter”, whereas in Spain we would use “iniciar sesión” and both “entrar” and “introducir”, depending on the context (enter in a place for the former or enter text in a text box for the latter).

Javier, Argentina: There are many things, but particular words like “vídeo” (which is “video” in LatAm, without diacritic) are clear signs. And of course, it’s totally clear if the game has dubbed voices.

Manuel, Mexico: The most obvious element is the accent, followed by the localisms and structures uncommonly used in that specific version of Spanish.

3. Are there words or phrases that jump out at you? Is it like playing a game where you would equip yourself with Armour only to find that it is Armor?

Ramón, Spain: The more complex the text are, the more difficult it can be to understand the text in another variant of Spanish. For example, “press” is a common term in video games that should be translated as “pulsar” in Euro Spanish or “oprimir” in LatAm. “Oprimir” would be understood as “oppress” in Euro Spanish.

Curri, Spain: As an example, we could use the “sea shell”. In Argentina, they would use “caracola” for ALL seashells to avoid the second double meaning. However, in Spain and most of Latin American countries, a “caracola” would be only the shell of a sea snail. If there was a game where you have to pick different shells from a seabed and we read “caracola”, non-Argentinian players may focus only on those coming from sea snail.

Javier, Argentina: Different translation for “you” (plural) which is “vosotros” in Spain and “ustedes” in LatAm. Interjections are also a marker (we don’t use “hostia”, “hala”, “enhorabuena” and several others).

Manuel, Mexico: “Loadout”, a very common term in shooters, and that in Mexico we know as “Equipo” and in Europe is known as “Equipamiento”, just strange. “Fusil” instead of “Rifle”, or “Granada fragmentaria” (frag grenade) instead of “Granada de fragmentación” in Ghost Recon, which drove me crazy every time I heard it from the NPC’s!

4. Would you play a game if you knew it wasn’t in the Spanish variant that you would want it in? Would you rather then play it in English? Would this affect your decision to buy?

Ramón, Spain: Unfortunately, the differences are so big that a game in LatAm Spanish can ruin the experience for you. In Spain, LatAm Spanish is never seen seriously.

In fact, Microsoft delivered a LatAm translation for Halo 2 and the game was heavily criticised due to that. For the Master Chief Collection, they deleted that dubbing for the Spanish market and delivered Halo 2 with English. This was criticised once again (as Halo 2 is the only Halo ever to not have Spanish translation and dubbing), but the English dubbing was preferred to the LatAm one.

Games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which are in LatAm Spanish, have been severely mocked and parodied by Spanish users, and I have friends that haven’t bought the game (despite loving TWD) due to that fact.

Feedback the Walking Dead Spanish Localization Source: Telltale Community

It’s also a game where you have to make decisions in seconds, but Spanish users do not always understand the choices they are given. Therefore, in a game where the dialogues and the text are so important, the language can be game-breaking and make it impossible to play for most users. Obviously, it’s better to have a game in LatAm Spanish than to have it just in English, but the ideal would be to have both variants and let users choose what works best for them.

Curri, Spain: I wouldn’t mind, as, personally, I love Latin American accents. However, if the differences between each locale may stop me from fully understanding the game, I would definitely play it in English instead.

The whole purpose of playing a game in your language is enjoying it and understanding what you have to do. Having the game translated in my own locale would save me some time trying to guess what here or there is needed, and in many games, that is the difference between success or failure.

Javier, Argentina: In a perfect world, we would have country specific versions. But we are used to the most common one (Mexican Spanish) because all the cartoons and TV series we watched as we grew up were dubbed into ESMX. I think that a game in Argentinean Spanish would definitely be weird for a Mexican player.

I’d rather play the game in English than in a Spanish - that feels weird for me.

Manuel, Mexico: I grew up in a bilingual environment, so English or Spanish would be just Ok for me, however, if I ran into the “wrong” version of Spanish in my game that would really put me off and would think more than twice before buying it.

I remember back in the day I played the first “Rainbow Six” for the original Xbox in English due to this, and never bought another in the series, regardless of how much I enjoyed the one I had, just because its Spanish version was “European”.

I dealt with this situation with Rally games too. The co-driver tells you what the road is like up ahead and you adjust and you prepare to negotiate the turn as best as possible. Since I speak “American English” and Rallying is basically dominated by Europeans, British co-drivers killed me back in the day of Colin McRae 2004-5 and Richard Burns Rally; I could not understand a word. Dirt, had a Spaniard co-driver that I that I just couldn’t stand listening to, ended up doing 100% in English.

5. Do you think that the game genre affects the Spanish variant, or is this just a market size decision? Perhaps Euro Spanish is more in keeping with a Castle Builder for example?

Ramón, Spain: I think it affects almost every genre. Maybe in games with little text, like shoot’em ups or fighting games, that fact can be forgiven, but in games with a medium or high quantity of text, it’s important to deliver the variant users expect the game to have. If not, users can have problems understanding the story the game is trying to tell them.

Curri, Spain: Having another variant in a movie would simply mean that that person was raised in a different country. So, for example, if in the game there was one character that was Mexican, then, yes, it is perfectly fine to use Mexican Spanish for that character, but not for the rest of the characters if the story happens, let’s say, in Germany.

Javier, Argentina: I don’t think so; genre has nothing to do with that choice. And I do think that if a game is going to be localized into Spanish, both Castilian and Latin American should be present.

Manuel, Mexico: Perhaps to provide a specific context or ambiance for/around a certain character, sure, why not.

6. What are your thoughts when asked to translate into “neutral LatAm Spanish”? How is this achieved?

Javier, Argentina: As a matter of fact, there is no such thing in real life so the concept of neutral LatAm is vague and mutable. However, it is possible to find a balanced variant that’s understandable in all LatAm countries. It’s what we LatAm translators do for a living.

You have to polish the text until it’s free from idiomatic expressions and local uses of certain words, and retain the tone, humour and flair of the source text at the same time. It’s challenging and it can be frustrating when the exact equivalent is perfect in two countries but means something entirely different in all the others. It’s all about balance between meaning, style and clarity for the whole Latin American audience.

Manuel, Mexico: In my opinion just by avoiding the “voseo” will render the translation more comprehensible for a larger audience in the case of Spanish. But, I see it more like making a version less Mexican, or Argentinian, in order to provide a more generic language rather than make it “neutral”. I think although all speakers share a base knowledge of a language, differences will exist at some point in one or more of its elements, syntax, lexical units, its tone or its attitude.


In conclusion…

The difference between Castilian Spanish and Latin American variants is a large one.

Don’t just assume that if you translate into a particular Spanish that this will suit all of the others. It’s been touched on a number of times by the respondents that they want to play their own language. It seems that if they don’t, then it creates a negative reaction, which is of course something you want to avoid. You want to connect with as many gamers as you can, you want players to spread the word and negative reviews will have an affect on sales.

If you are looking at global domination then perhaps you need to take the time and make that investment to localize into multiple Spanish versions; versions that cover the markets most important to you.