BESMART: 7 Tips for Successful Game Localization
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Game developers understand the importance of localization when it comes to reach new markets and increase sales. Some games make almost 50% of their revenues from international sales. Pretty logical if we consider that English represents only a 27% segment of the market. A lot of iPhone App developers are turning to localization as a strategy to further increase their sales abroad.
The question is not if, but how. How should developers localize their games for them to be successful in other countries?
Each game tells a story. Developers must help localizers understand that story clearly to reach the objective.
BESMART gathers the 7 seven steps a game developer should follow for great localization:
Beforehand prepare instructions and requirements
Expand on context
Spotlight the importance of cultural aspects
Make certain quality is at the forefront
Allow for creativity
Research what makes a powerful App name
Take on-board the best translator
Let’s see the stories of successful games developers who got it right.
1-Beforehand prepare instructions and requirements
You have worked days on end to create and perfect your app.. But something that seems obvious to you may not be so for the localizers who never played the game and were not involved in the development phase. Avoid extensive message exchanges and pressure of a fast approaching deadline, make sure you provide your localizers with clear instructions from the very beginning.
Let’s start on the right foot!
Character limitations: Before releasing your app, test that all content fits in the spaces provided on the screen and go back to your localizer if needed for help in shortening the text.
Link to existing game and tone/style: developers of Mozart App – a game to help learn to read music – provided their localizers before translation started with a link to the relevant website http://ipad.rogame.com/pages/Mozart.html. Images on that page can be clicked to display full size, which might come in handy for viewing interface elements. They also indicated that the tone needn’t be too formal.
Formatting: other developers, this time Air CocoMon App informed localizers that game strings contained formatting characters, such as percentage symbols and floating number formatting, and that any such symbol that appears in the original text must remain as is in the translation.
BESMART tip: Good preparation leads to good performance, which in turn leads to success
2-Expand on context
Provide as much contextual information as possible. Lack of context may lead to poor localization, and ultimately failure.
Write a thorough description of main points that need be considered: read below a short yet great explanation related to context provided by developers for Xachi: Command in which they address who their public is, the tone the translation needs be in, formatting issue and gender issues:
“This is an iPhone game intended for kids and adults. The language must all be clean and parent-friendly. %d is always replaced by whole number. "Her" always refers to the character in the game. Her name is Ika (ee-ka). "The Player" refers to the human playing the game. The human controls Ika on the screen by telling her where to shoot and where to walk.”
Take a simple word like “received” and have it translated in Spanish. It is not as straightforward to localize as one may think as it will raise gender and number issues. This very same English word can be translated as “recibido” (masculine singular), “recibidos” (masculine plural), “recibida” (feminine singular) or “recibidas” (feminine plural).
Screenshots are also useful to see the whole screens, an helicopter view of what the game is about.
BESMART tip: taking 5 min to provide good context at the start may save you hours of you describing context while translation is in progress
3-Spotlight the importance of cultural aspects
Different countries and cultures express the same idea in different ways, even if they speak the same language.
Maintaining linguistic coherence and cultural sensitivity is key to a successful international release: Ask your specialists to make sure that not only words, but also graphics, symbols, sounds and references are culturally appropriate for the audience you are targeting.
Jeffrey Berthiaume from Putterball game wanted a feeling of authenticity. He needed professionals who would understand what that text was trying to communicate and transpose it in a way that would be relevant for their language and culture. He explained to localizers that the text comprehended a lot of "slang" terms that would not make sense or be culturally localizable in another language. He thus provided them with a PDF which made it easier to understand the entire game. He told localizers: “In other words, I would like the native language you create to have colloquialisms pertinent to a native speaker of your language. For example, in French the phrase "mon petit chou" would be used to express a term of endearment -- and is 100% correct -- even though literally translated into English it would read "my little cabbage". If, instead, the obvious "mon amour" is used, the translation wouldn't have the feeling of authenticity that I'm trying to achieve.”
Game localization goes beyond translating content; it requires to be appealing to other cultures.
Calling upon the services of a reviewer that will cast a fresh eye on the localized text will give you the assurance that cultural aspects are handled carefully and adequately.
BESMART tip: machine translation and non-native translators will never be able to grasp cultural importance. Call upon the services of more than a translator, a localizer.
4-Make certain quality is at the forefront
Grammar, punctuation and spelling needs be error free. Provide your localizers with an optimal text from the start to receive an optimized localization.
Make sure the linguist you hire does thoroughly understand the main concept of the game. If he does not, his work will reflect that and you will receive a poor to fair localized text.
For instance, if the game features a character who uses a lot of goofy puns, jokes, etc. and the localizer does not understand these jokes, these will likely be translated incorrectly. Therefore, instead of ending up with a funny character in the localized versions, you’ll get a silly one that may appear to talk nonsensically. Developers need to provide design documentation, a build of the game, screenshots, link to the existing game, etc. as this all will contribute towards quality.
For Buka game, for example, it is crucial to let localizers know that the main character speaks "baby-talk" which could be grammatically wrong but intentional. Players should feel that she is cute, like a baby who is trying to communicate with adults. If developer had not highlighted this, localizers would have thought “Gosh, this is full of grammar mistakes” and would have wasted time trying to fix this. Not only would the end result have been disastrous as the aim of the game had been lost but localization would have been totally unsuccessful and you as a client dissatisfied.
BESMART tip: Provide quality if you expect quality in return
5-Allow for creativity
Professional localizers know that it's not about translating, but "transcreating”: they need to create a new text, based on the original, that is appealing, funny for the target audience and reads as if written by a native. Localization will be successful if all users, no matter where they come from, can have fun with your game!
Let them know they’re allowed to do what they do best: creative writing.
Putterball developer encouraged his localizers “I would like the native language you create to have colloquialisms pertinent to a native speaker of your language.”
For Abacrux, localizers were told that: The string str_configurationTitles contained descriptive titles for different configurations. “These may be translated very freely where required. Roddy for example alludes to a slim cylinder, Spiro to a spiral. Again - feel free to be creative with these. It is important, however, to keep the length of these titles as short as possible - 8 - 9 characters maximum.”
BESMART tip: Professional game localizers will know what works in their language. Trust them and outsmart your competitors.
6-Research what makes a powerful App name
Research the store or market where your game will be listed to prevent any confusion or marketing mess. Avoid common names or too simplistic a name that will see your app end up at the bottom of the list.
To localize or not to localize: that is the question…Not!
Truth be said, players would be confused if games have different names in different countries. By having the same name in all languages, you consolidate the brand of your game, worldwide.
Emoji Free is synonymous with successful app and successful localization with 15,000 new users every day. Its developer explicitly asked to leave the phrase “Emoji Free” in English, but translate the word “free” if it appears by itself anywhere else.
BESMART tip: If the name bears a catch phrase, it’s however a clever idea to translate it.
7-Take on-board the best translator
Any speaker of the target language can say “I know Italian, I can translate your game”.
A professional translator has studied to become a translator. Translation requires special skills. However not every translator can localize a game. Only a professional localizer will take into account all the parameters here above-mentioned.
It is also important to consider contracting a reviewer who will do more than proofreading the text for typos, grammar and punctuation errors; this dedicated professional will address questions of style, tone, format, etc. as well as suggest alternative translations. Consistency will contribute to success.
Do you want a game that everybody enjoys? Do you want your game localization to be a success?
BESMART tip: Call upon the services of experts and contact the right professionals.