Category: Culturalization

The Cultural Dimension In Games Localisation

Games are a cultural experience for the people who play them. If you are developing games for a single market, you may have a blind spot as to the culture that you build into your games. This is fine if you plan to keep your games in your primary market. If you want to touch the world, you will need to learn how to localise from a cultural perspective!

Translation is not enough.

One of the top mistakes that expanding developers make is to think that literally translating a game is enough to move into another market. “Transcreation” is a better word (it means “connotative translating”), but even this is not enough.

Gamers around the world are looking for the most entertaining experience they can find. This comes from a quality called immersion, or the ability of the gamer to suspend belief. For a game to maximize its immersion, it can’t have translations that require the gamer to think about the meaning of what is being broadcast. If this happens even in the slightest, the developer risks a less entertaining experience. This will eventually turn into lower sales, low virality and less market share outside of the primary market.

Understanding culture is the answer.

The same game in two geographic areas will not elicit the same response from gamers in either of those spaces. The purpose of localisation is to change the game so that each version of it gives the most positive experience possible for all users, regardless of geography.

Gamers look to games that mirror their culture. When the words in games are translated into another language, they oftentimes miss core elements of the connotation behind the words. To take this into account is called transcreationMuch of the dialogue in action games, for instance, involves slang, innuendo and plays on words. This content must be transcreated, not simply translated, in order to maintain any sense of culture.

Localisation has led to some of the most famous gaming tropes in history. In 1980, the Japanese game Puck Man became the world icon Pac-Man after Japanese gamemakers adapted the name for Western audiences. The Japanese game originally known as Hitler’s Revival: Top Secret became Top Commando (luckily), and many swastikas visible in the game were changed into other symbols.

Government censorship is a huge factor.

Any gamers who played Final Fantasy Legend II outside of Japan may remember the mission that called for your heroes to stop a gang of banana smugglers. The Final Fantasy series is known for being quite a serious brand – banana smugglers seem quite out of place. However, it remains one of the most popular missions in the entire Final Fantasy series.

A bit of research shows the reason for the bananas – a localisation because of possible government intervention. In the original Japanese game, the smugglers were dealing in the much more serious industry of opium. However, Nintendo and the American government at the time were completely against selling the game to children with the mission in place. A quick decision was made, because the studio did not want to lose out on the Western market, and opium was changed to bananas.

Subtitling vs. dubbing – a way to preserve more of the original feel

Different localisation methodologies work in different ways. Researchers have found that gamers will respond more positively to a less localised game if the game is subtitled than if it is dubbed.

When a game is subtitled, the original audio still plays in the game prominently. However, international audiences can still follow along with the flow of the game without losing immersion because the text is easily accessible. If a game is dubbed, the original language is not anywhere to be found. Gamers expect the rest of the cultural changes to take place if they hear a transcreated audio. That is not necessarily true with subtitles.

Game designers who do not have the money to completely transcreate or localise a game will sometimes scale down and include subtitles instead of taking on a dub. The result is useful for smaller studios with smaller production budgets. However, blockbuster AAA games will almost always have full tailoring complete with dubbing.

Dubbed games tend to sell more, because the immersion is more complete than in subtitled games.

The cost of localisation is coming down, and the payoff is going up.

AV studios that are made specifically to internationalise games are popping up everywhere. It is much easier to hire a translator than ever before. The blueprint has been set, and new game developers have only to look to past success in order to find an example of great localisation.

The payoff for good localisation is rising as the global world of gaming gets smaller and demands more opportunities to collaborate. App stores are global, not local, marketplaces. Game studios looking to scare up investment money will find that localisation is on the tip of every angel investor’s tongue.

In short, it pays to go global with localisation in the modern gaming industry.

If you are looking to the global audience that gaming has attracted, culture is your linchpin to the world. Consider all of the connotations that the language in your game is cultivating. Take the time to adapt your game to the audience that you have in mind. Your investment may be the catalyst that will catapult your product into international success.

Game Localization Tips

It can be difficult to navigate global politics when all you want to be is a game designer. If you don’t localize, however, you can find yourself at the business end of some incredibly difficult and unprofitable situations.

Western game developers looking to crack Asian markets have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. Paradox Interactive lost out on 173 million gamers in the Chinese market when its otherwise popular Hearts of Iron strategy game overlooked how its depiction of history might run afoul of the Chinese Ministry of Culture.

Red Storm Entertainment did not change the warmongering North Korean general character in its Ghost Recon 2 game before marketing to South Korea. As a result, the South Korean government refused to allow the game to be sold within its $2.5 billion market. Both of these situations (and so many more) could have been avoided with just a bit of localization to these markets.

So how should game developers localize games to maximize reach?

Converting into the Local Language

Southeast Asia has a $2.2 billion total gaming market with 126 million gamers and growing. Many of the gamers in those countries have low English proficiency, even though English may be an official language of the country.

Translating a game into the local language of the area is one of the most important ways to localize. Not only does translation allow the gamers to better understand the game, but it also helps to create an emotional connection that can only come from a mother tongue.

Translation into the local language should be a priority even in better developed countries such as Tokyo and China. More people in these nations may understand basic English, but the nuances of the language do not make the translation in many cases. With so many games now driven with emotional content, this means a less immersive and therefore less popular game.

Targeting the Proper Platform

Internet access in the Philippines increased by 800% between 2004 and 2014. Were you to venture into the poorest districts in the country, you might find a gaming cafe in the middle of otherwise Third World conditions. Targeting desktops and desktop experience gaming like MMORPG and FPS would work here.

In Japan, however, the number one game genre is puzzle, followed closely by strategy RPG. The majority of these games are played within the mobile environment. If you want to get the biggest piece of this $12.4 billion market, then you want to invest in marketing for smart phones. The Japanese market is also dominated by local publishers, so you will need to localize your language to even have a chance with Japan’s 69 million plus gamers.

In general, everything is moving into the mobile space, however. If you want to be safe, you can’t go wrong with a long term marketing program for smart phones.

Culturalization

Taking a translation from the US into Asia or Africa over literally will not earn you any brownie points in the modern gaming industry. You also need to culturalize the game to the area that is being marketed.

What is culturalization?

In order to really connect with an audience outside of the home market of a game, it must fundamentally connect with that audience. Leaving this out is the equivalent of trying to have an academic conversation with a Japanese scientist on analytical physics using Google Translate. It’s just not going to work.

Changing the culture of a game means looking deeply into the values of the target audience. Your gaming experiences must be familiar to them. For instance, if your war game vilifies Africans and you try to sell it in Addis Ababa, you will probably get your studio banned from the country.

Many games coming from the West have built in ethnic and cultural stereotypes. These stereotypes are so ingrained into Western culture that the developers do not even consider them offensive. For instance, if your heroes are Christian as in Castlevania Chronicles, you might want to stay out of Indonesia and the Southern Philippines where the primary religious culture is Islam.

Game producers must also consider their own geopolitical biases before pushing a game into another market. Automatically vilifying a certain race, religion or ethnic group even mistakenly can get your game banned in an area.

Finding Your Issues

So how do you find your problems if you have a natural blind spot for them (the “no one thinks he speaks with an accent” syndrome)?

The first step is usually indoctrinating yourself into your target culture. The number one way to build an understanding for a group of people is to experience life from their perspective. Many gaming studios now pay for international outreach trips on important games if they know those games will be marketed beyond national borders.

Use translators that come from the target country. Many studios will record audio in target languages at the same time so that a game can get a simultaneous rollout around the world while saving money on studio time.

Present your game in a way that is familiar to your target audience. Asian audiences are used to fonts that are very different from those in American games. Text boxes and fonts should be resized to account for the difference in the lengths of words in different languages.

Regardless of the precautions you take, remember that everything is a calculated risk. You must decide if a market is important enough to spend the time and the money to make cultural changes in a game. If you take this path of localization, you will probably find the international market more open to your efforts!

An interview with Nutchayun AKA ‘GAME’ – EQHO Games Account Manager

Game – do you find Games Testing fun?

YES! The best part is being involved in the creative process. Whether it be interpreting something for a new culture, or making improvements that include actual gamers, it’s incredibly rewarding. When you can see your hard work in action on the final release of the game, it makes it all worthwhile.

What are the key components or methodologies of Games Testing?

There are 4 types of tests. First, there’s the Build Verification Test. The build verification test, or subsequent smoke testing, share the similar objective of eliminating potential bugs before localization testing starts. Typical build criteria include, is the build installable? Does it run? Is it free of major flaws? Can it be tested further?

The second is the Smoke Test. The typical sequence of steps in this brief and inexpensive test includes installing the application, starting it, creating a file using the application, saving and closing the file, and then restarting the application again. Next, open the file just created, make a few changes to it, save it and close again.

The third type of test is Graphical User Interface (GUI) Testing, which is performed once a build is accepted. The usual types of defects found include text expansion, resulting in truncated strings; GUI alterations, resulting in overlaps of GUI elements and controls or misalignment of their automatic hotkeys, resulting in duplicated hotkeys; hard-coded strings, resulting in untranslated strings; and missing or extra controls, resulting in missing or broken functionality.

And the fourth is Linguistic Testing, conducted by language-aware or native language testers on the actual localized product, running exactly as it would be used by local users in their own languages. Such testing is required, since much of localization takes place out of context, and much of the software testing is conducted by test engineers rather than language specialists.

There are different methods as well. Standard linguistic testing can be performed with language resources located onsite or in-house, in dedicated test centers or via local in-country staff.

Linguistic testing using screenshots of the localized product is another method, which can be conducted onsite or offsite. In this model, the language aspects of linguistic testing are separated from the engineering aspects. Non-linguistic test engineers prepare screenshots of all the requisite parts of the localized GUI and provide them to the language specialists, and remote access to a centralized test environment provided to linguistic testers.

What are the challenges you typically face in Games Testing?

One of the first challenges is the mythology the game is based upon, and the creative development required to adapt it to a foreign culture. For example, many ideas, characters, and lore that may exist in one culture do not exist in others – in fact, they may well be completely unknown! A game developed in one culture or country may even contain elements that another culture has never imagined.
The next biggest challenge is the fonts. Many games use typical Roman fonts, but when localized into other character sets, you have text expansion, contraction, tone marks, and many other additions that developers may have never considered when originally coding the game.

Are there any particular languages that are more troublesome than others?

Any language outside of Roman characters provides many challenges. Of course, Hebrew and Arabic present their own unique challenges, but generally, if you are outside the Roman language set, you’re going to run into issues that many developers never even considered when the game was first designed.

Is there any standard on how Bugs are defined and resolved?

Yes, we have a severity level as well as certain types. The type will always depend on the game. It is also important to prioritize the bugs and their severity.

Severity expresses the impact of a bug on the end user, usually scaled from 1-4.

1) Crash or hang bugs refer to loss of functionality, copyright issues, offensive text, etc.

2) Major bugs mainly impact functionality (or critical text is not visible).

3) Minor bugs are mainly cosmetic errors, and

4) Trivial bugs, which are the very small bugs like missing punctuation, for example.

After logging all bugs into the appropriate bug database, any outstanding issues or questions should be logged in the Master Question and Answer document. This document should be provided to the client each time updated source files or bug reports are sent.

The types of bugs that are typically found are hard coded strings in the code (that are not translated), concatenated strings in the code (that cause the ordering of a translated string to not make sense), key mnemonics mapped to native characters on the keyboard that don’t work (both accelerator keys and shortcut keys), GUI layout (often changes due to resizing of labels for text), some apps might need specific drivers for your target market (locale), if you have help files, they will need to be tested, and if you have web links, make sure they also point to the appropriate location (especially if those pages are localized)

What are the Top 3 Tips that will save money and time for a Games Localization project?

The #1 tip is to start early! The earlier you start to look at your code and prepare it for some of the bugs listed above, the more time and money you’ll save. Tip #2, start small. If you’re not completely comfortable going into multiple languages at once, start with one, learn the ropes, find mistakes, make a corrections plan, and build on it for future languages. Tip #3, invest in tools. At the end of the day, a human touch will always be required, but the technology available will make everything way more streamlined as well as consistent.

Challenges to entering the mobile gaming market abroad

Breaking into Asian mobile games markets is no cakewalk. While some games, like Clash of Clans, enjoy multi-year runs of wild popularity, they are the exception rather than the rule. Most mobile games release quickly, gain popularity fast, and fade away to make room for the next game just as quickly. Time is of the essence, but there’s good news: Since mobile games usually rely on action-oriented game play with simpler graphics, less text and character restrictions, and little or no voiceover work, they don’t take very long to localize!

That’s a good thing, because to stay on top of the market, you have to come in already localized with a system in place for simultaneous delivery (which a full-service localization company can facilitate). You’ll also need a local partner for distribution and/or monetization.

From there, you’ll need to master the finer points of what makes each country’s mobile players tick – or tap, as the case may be.

A few top-tips on what makes who tick (or tap) in Asia

Japan

Japanese players expect in-game social interaction, like combat between guilds.

South Korea

South Korean gamers have come to expect frequent game updates and special in-game events.

China

China has more than 15 app stores – which is a significant change from just dealing with two (Apple and Google’s) – as well as networks selling games, and middlemen at telecom companies and hardware manufacturers.

In general, Asian gamers are better conditioned for more complicated games than Western audiences – your game might be too simple for them. There’s a reason Angry Birds took off in the U.S. and not so much in Japan!

Find out more by downloading our eBook…

Finding out which cultural issues may affect your game

In our last post, we spoke all about the 4 pitfalls of Culturalization – History; Religion; Customs & Beliefs; Cultural/Ethnic Friction; and Geopolitical Perspectives. Now it’s time to discuss how you actually go about avoiding them.

4 top tips to avoiding cultural issues in your game

Build culturalization into the development cycle.

As you’re developing a new game, consider the perspectives of different cultures, ethnicities and religions and incorporate diversity and sensitivity from the beginning (or don’t – but don’t be surprised when there’s backlash!).

Gain awareness of your target culture by asking questions.

Request that your translators alert you of any potential offensive material or content that doesn’t carry the same nuances or connotations in the new language that it did in the original (another reason why in-country, native translators are valuable resources!).

Use in-country translators familiar with the gaming culture of your target audience.

Some cultures are more apt to shrug off material that doesn’t match up with their belief systems; others become militant; most are in between. But, even if the gamers in your target location aren’t sensitive to cultural differences, you’ll still want to tread lightly – it’s not the players but their governments, religious leaders and parents who often lead the charge against “offensive” content.

Decide between deal-breakers and “reasonable risks.” Remember: you don’t have to change anything about your game.

Any changes are at your discretion, though many developers are willing to alter potentially offensive material so their games appeal to wider audiences.

 

Find out more..

The 4 Game-Overs of Culturalization

OK, so you’ve got a seriously great game that blows people away in the US. It’s bound to have the same impact in China, Japan and South Korea, right? Wrong. What makes a good story in one country may not work so well in another, worse still it may even cause offense – call it what you wish, a ‘culture clash’, but this is where culturalization comes in.

Culture

When approaching culturalization, there are four major potential pitfalls to consider:

History, beliefs, cultural/ethic friction, and geopolitical perspectives. Run afoul of any of these, and your game might well be banned from the most sensitive markets.

Let’s look at them one by one:

History
Victors may write history, but rewrites may be in order before that history is presented to foreign markets. Past events are among the most sensitive topics when entering into foreign markets since most (especially non-Western) cultures are very protective of their historical legacies.

Religion, Customs & Beliefs
When entering into markets with strict religious codes, any problematic content can cause backlash. Consider the dominant religions of your target audience. In Indonesia, Malaysia and the Southern Philippines, Islam is the most widely practiced religion; in Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, it’s Buddhism; Christianity and Catholicism in the Philippines and eastern Indonesia and East Malaysia.

Cultural/Ethnic Friction
Ethnic conflicts in Asia abound (at least 24 ethnic minority groups with potential for conflict have been identified in Southeast Asia alone). But mostly, conflicts arise when there are ethnic or cultural stereotypes within games, or plot points that reinforce negative bias towards specific groups.

Geopolitical Perspectives
Wars are generally fought over three things: Religion, resources, and land. Geopolitical problems arise from the latter as nations vehemently defend their borders and geopolitical perspectives. Usually, these issues result from a nation claiming a territory and requiring that territory be shown as part of their nation in game world maps.

Find out more by downloading our eBook..

The importance of understanding different cultural nuances in games translation

Translating any work of art into a new language brings with it a wide range of challenges that must be overcome. It is not enough to merely convert the text word-for-word into another tongue, as there are usually a number of nuances and subtleties that you will miss if you take this approach. If you are not careful, this could completely change the meaning of certain sections of the work.

This is especially important in the world of video games. While this is not always the case, many games contain significantly more text than a film script would. There is also the possibility of having dialogue trees with multiple options, all of which need to be distinctive and carry a different meaning.

Getting this right is crucial. In order to produce the best work that you can, you will need to look out for some of the following roadblocks that can make a translation job twice as difficult as it should be.

Multiple meanings

If you’re accustomed to working in a language such as English, you will be used to most words meaning one thing and one thing only. This is not always the case – such as with ‘minute’, which can be taken to mean ‘small’ or as a measurement of time – but where there is a double meaning it is usually easy to understand it from context.

However, when converting a work into a new language it is easy to miss these contexts, and you could end up mistranslating a word by taking it too literally. This actually caused one of videogaming’s most famous translation errors, when a sentence from Street Fighter II was completely transformed from the Japanese to the English editions.

In the Japanese game, a character says: “If you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!” However, a translator misinterpreted the characters for Rising Dragon and instead took them to be the name of a new character called Sheng Long. The English version therefore instructed players to defeat Sheng Long, a character that did not exist.

This is a great example of a simple error that completely altered the gameplay of Street Fighter II, with fans fruitlessly searching for a way to get past that level. This shows the importance of making sure that any instruction you give your players is clear and well-translated, otherwise your game could end up confusing people.

Censorship

Another hurdle that must be overcome is that of censorship. Dialogue that might seem completely well-meaning to you might offend people in another country, which could result in the game being given a higher rating. This will affect sales, as it will shrink your game’s potential market.

An unusual example of this can be seen in the 1989 side-scroller Final Fight. One of the bosses in the Japanese version was a sexualized woman referred to as ‘Poison’. However, this was deemed unsuitable for American audiences, so in the US release of the game all references to Poison use masculine pronouns.

Hearing the character referred to as ‘he’ rather than ‘she’ sparked a debate about whether or not Poison was transgendered, which continues to this day. This kind of change is inadvisable, as it can be clumsy and cause more problems than it solves.

Cultural differences

Of course, there are some games that need to have text and dialogue changed from place to place so that they make sense in context. References to curry might be altered to something like pizza in the American release of the game, as curry is not associated with junk food in the US.

Similarly, a character might talk about playing cricket in a western game, but the Chinese release might talk about table tennis instead. This is simply a matter of changing the dialogue so that it evokes the right impression to players in different cultures.

The Pokemon games have done this a lot, perhaps most notably with the series’ villains Team Rocket. In the original Japanese games they were supposed to represent the Yakuza, but in the West that was changed to the Italian Mafia. As such, the group’s leader was renamed to Giovanni to suggest Italian heritage.
There are so many differences between cultures that translations need to be as flexible as possible so that the meaning of the game comes across correctly no matter what market you are selling it in. As such, you should constantly watch out for these potential pitfalls.