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Making great games better for emerging markets
by Jan Werkmeister on 11/25/13 08:29:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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

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Panino Manino
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My two cents?
Avoid using "porra" and "caralho". Some games made use of those two magic words excessively..

And above all: do not use that damn dubbing studio in Miami!
We have very good dubbing studios.

Luis Guimaraes
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While I fully agree, I would never want to have my childhood games being localized from English and Japanese back then.

I say that from the perspective of a game designer, the player's experience improves a lot with good localization, but playing games with a language barriers is something every game designer should do as a learning experience. So thank you for not localizing your games when I was a kid, that thought me most of the few thing I know about games and game design.

Maybe that's the magic that's lost in time now when I think games are not as good today anymore, the thing that changed might be just the fact that I understand the language they come in. Maybe.

Edison Henrique andreassy
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I always play games in English, but I recently tried Battlefield 4 campain in Brazilian Portuguese because some merchandise saying that they used some know actors. For my surprise, I had an incredible positive experience, they made an amazing job localizing the game. Was some kind I was playing inside one of famouse movie here - Tropa de Elite. Moral of story, I recomended the game for 2 other friends and they bought just because of that and had alot of fun too.

@Panino Manino, pô, mas o "porra" e "caralho" são as melhores partes das dublagens! :)

Igor Hatakeyama
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As a brazilian gamer/game design student, I can say that my experience with translated games is not good at all.
The first brazilian portuguese dubbed game i've played was Halo 3. In the spaceship battle scene, some chatacter said, on the original transcript "Burn their mongrel hides!". That was translated to "Queimem seus esconderijos!" which translating back to english is something like "Burn their hiding places!" which is ridiculous.
When GTA V came out I couldn't believe that they translated the classic "Wasted" to "Se fodeu" which means something like "You got fucked" and "Busted" to "Perdeu Playboy" which is a term that people from the favela, drug dealers and sometimes cops say, which means something like "You lost it, playboy". This is ridiculous. I know that are some cultural barriers that make perfect translation impossible, but i'm sure there can be more alternatives.
I agree with Panino. The excessive use of "porra" and "caralho" and some other curse words can ruin any experience for me.
I didn't play Black Ops 2 but reading this post gave me an idea of the quality of the localization. It seems to be pretty professional.

Maurício Gomes
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I am Brazillian, and experienced game dev with a bunch of released stuff localized in several languages, I also like localization in general.

PLEASE 1: Hire brazillian actors, in the animation industry it is well known that brazillian actors kick ass (it is even frequent to hear that people that know several languages, frequently prefer the brazillian version, because of superior acting and recording quality).

PLEASE 2: Stop using Rio de Janeiro-isms on translations, and specially, stop using poor-people-isms in the translations... I know that most translations studios are in Rio de Janeiro, and that poor-people-isms are kinda "cool", but most games go REALLY overboard with it, I think it is terrible to hear slang after slang and swearing after swearing from a place that I don't know, this is so bad that many times is easier to understand the story in spanish (a language that I don't know), because of the absurd amount of pop-culture specific to Rio de Janeiro and its slums. (like Igor mentioned, the "Perdeu Playboy" for example...)