Making great games better for emerging markets – How we localized Call of Duty Black Ops 2 for Brazil
Synthesis has been localizing games for large publishers for many years now. We’ve focused on all the main markets on every platform, for many of the large franchises and found that there is one ‘truism’ throughout – players like playing games in their native language. Of course, it isn’t possible to localize a game for every single country and every single language, but localizing just into EFIGS and expecting the game to be successful in more than those core countries just won’t cut it anymore.
Synthesis as a company is continually evolving; watching what the market is doing and listening to what our clients are asking of us. So, we’ve been keeping an eye on emerging markets and we recently opened an office in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Brazil is a very exciting place right now. They have a stable government investing in infrastructure, a burgeoning and aspirational middle-class, a private sector which is growing and exporting and most importantly for us, a country which is quickly becoming one of the world’s key markets for videogames.
From a population of over 196 million, over 60 million Brazilian consumers now have internet access and there is an estimated 40 million gamers†. Brazil has a market value of $2.6bn (up a massive 32% from 2011)† and these trends are growing exponentially year on year.
In 2011, we were approached by Activision to fully localize Call of Duty Black Ops 2 into Brazilian Portuguese. No problem we thought as we’d localized a number of successful games in the language, but there turned out to be some challenges. We understood from the outset that full localization for a game of this stature required not just high quality translation, but the same high quality scripting and acting as in the original.
The first piece of advice we offer to developers and publishers wanting to get into Brazil and Latin America is that Brazilian Portuguese is a different language to European Portuguese in the same way European Spanish is different to Mexican Spanish. Both Mexican Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese languages evolved quite differently from their European mother languages.
For example, the same word can mean something totally different in Europe and in Latin America: in Spain, the most common translation for take is coger, but in Mexico it means to have sex! In Portugal, puto means a boy at a young age (the masculine for ‘child’), but if you call someone puto in Brazil, you’ll offend them as it means ‘a guy who sells his body for money’. So you have to be very careful.
And there are similar issues with the in-game texts as well. For example, Brazilian Portuguese text can be 25% longer than the English versions, which isn't very helpful when we have to keep things more concise so developers should bear that in mind.
With the Call of Duty Black Ops 2 localization, we also had to work around the military terms, radio speak and euphemisms. There are many war movies and TV series watched in Brazil, but for some reason, they were never translated with the same military terminology used in the Call of Duty series so Brazilians don't have that particular aspect in their culture. There are many words for ‘shooter’, for instance, but we had to be careful not to waste these on unnecessary synonyms throughout the game.
Another challenge was the ensuring that the player understood everything that was going on as the pace of the game is fast in some areas. Even though Brazilians have played games with English audio and subtitles before, most do not have a strong grasp of English and therefore have problems understanding the instructions, what a certain item is or does or what the story is really about and this slows down their progress.
When playing in a foreign language, in order to understand what you have to do, there’s no other way than using the “trial and failure” method which can be very frustrating. There were many scenes where events happened very quickly in-game and even with subtitles in Brazilian Portuguese, there was no time to read them, so being able to listen to everything in your own language as well made things a whole lot easier.
However, one of the biggest problem developers and publishers will face in localizing for Brazil is probably the gender issue, as the English language doesn't make gender distinctions like Brazilian Portuguese does. So, we had to refer to our players using masculine nouns and articles and work around the texts to make it more gender neutral so female players didn’t feel left out.
A game like Call of Duty Black Ops 2 has a strong storyline as well and we wanted to ensure that each Brazilian player could relate better to the story, context and environment. So, for example, we adopted different kinds of local slang and terminology. By using many references of Brazilian current pop culture, the player could actually relate better to the story and it made the overall gaming experience much more complete.
We were really pleased with the final result. The feedback from the Brazilian players has also been incredibly positive, which indicates the localization worked. Sometimes it seems extremely difficult to satisfy everyone´s needs but in this case we nailed it.
The key point we’d make to developers and publishers is this - having a local team, native translators and support is essential since there are always cultural, language-specific differences and particularities in every country that you’d just never know about and wouldn’t be able to identify or improve a game without them.
But the ultimate confirmation of how well the localization worked was how well the game sold. Country specific sales numbers are well guarded, but Activision’s CEO, Bobby Kotick, shed some light for us; he declared that in Brazil, Call of Duty Black Ops 2 recorded a 300% sales uplift in 2012, compared to previous years when the franchise wasn’t localized.
In summary, if you want to establish a successful presence in an emerging market like Brazil, view it the same way as you would for the US, Asian or European markets. Respect the player and give them an experience which they can relate to, understand quicker, enjoy more – in short, just speak to them in their own language.
†Newzoo 2013 Global report