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Game Localization: What does a successful multilingual campaign involve?

by Laura de Figueiredo on 11/04/13 01:14:00 pm   Expert Blogs

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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.


Video games became popular in the 1970s, and as you must already know, the international demand for video games rises on a regular basis.

It was common to translate some product documentation or marketing stuff in the past, but not the game itself, right? However, “computer games have become a worldwide phenomenon, and successful gaming companies are finding that localization is now a mission-critical aspect of their business models”[i]

Indeed, a successfull multilingual campaign involves more than just translation:

  1. Adaptation to various cultures, which is called localization[ii]

English is enough?

The answer is “no”. There is a general idea that everyone in the gaming world speaks English, so why to waste money to translate my game? It maybe true that many people speak English, however, this is not their mother tongue. If your mother tongue is not English you may probably prefer to go for games that you can “feel” in your own language –that could be your game originally created in English and well-localized, well-adapted.

Let’s take into account that 50% of worldwide video game revenue comes from markets outside the US. Don’t you think those markets should be taken seriously and addressed in a professional way? You can see this study conducted by the European Commission and see that English is not even the most widely spoken “mother tongue” in Europe.

Google Translate is enough?

Many developers may go to Google Translate and think “that’s it -why to pay for professional translation if I can do this for free?”

Well, the fact is that Google Translate is machine traslation and as such it doesn’t understand words in context. This means that the results can be really disastrous. The users of the game will probably miss what makes it fun and find funny phrases which look non-sensical or even ridiculous.

As an example, you can read this post about 11 Worst Japanese-To-English Translations In Nintendo History

Aditionally, if you get poor localization you will probably start finding bad comments about your game in forums and social networks. This translates all your efforts into bad marketing.

  1. Good search results in Google

SEO is related to the visibility your game has in organic “un-paid” searches. For seach engine optimization (SEO) to be successful you need to highly consider keyword localization by professional translators.

One-to-one keywords relationships do not exist. “The keyword you think is tops, may not even exist in the market you’re targeting – and sometimes, it will have a completely different meaning. A word which only has one meaning in English, may have several uses in French or Romanian.”[iii]

Only professional translators can handle keywords in the right way. Why? Because it involves a close analysis of each keyword.

If people cannot find your game easily on the web, your multilingual efforts will probably have failed. If you want to get good search results and visibility, you need to get experts working on your game keywords.

A literal traslation will usually not work for the target cultures, a deeper understanding and special skills do not become an option here.

 It’s important that the translator involved is a native speaker –besides being a professional translator, of course- in the language you’re targeting. This translator will think as if he/she would search himself/herself for your game, will compare search results and find the best keywords.

To summarize

If you are ready to go multilingual you need to understand that games have a "spirit". Not all cultures transmit meaning in the same way, not all game users type the same words in Google when searching for a game –which might be yours- because they simply think and live differently.

The success of each game and its visibility on the Internet are closely related to its ability to be adapted to the target cultures and get high-rankings in Google Search.




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