Category: Strategy

The cultural dimension in games localization

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 on a tight budget – tips when choosing game translation languages

Congratulations – the Internet has opened up the global gaming market to you like no generation before! However, if you try to market to that entire audience at once, you will only hurt your game sales and business reputation. To go global, go local! This advice  goes double if you are on a tight budget.

Localizing your game means translating it into the mother tongue of the people you are targeting. If you’re going for Brazil, translating your game into Portuguese automatically increases downloads, reviews and app store rankings. Why? One word – immersion.

What is Immersion?

Immersion can be defined as many things, but as a game developer, connectivity is what you should be worried about. Does your game allow the player to get away from reality and dive into the world of the game? If a person hears the game in his local language, immersion becomes much easier. Subtitles are ok, but let’s face it – there is nothing like the local language.

If you want to target the total world population of 7 billion people, then you need 6,500 different translations. This is probably impossible for you, and that’s ok. 2,000 of these languages have 1,000 speakers (or less). If you are going for volume, then Mandarin Chinese is your best bet (there are more than 1.2 billion people who speak it).

However, you may be promoting a game that the Chinese government is averse to. They are notorious for banning games. If so, then your money is better spent translating into Spanish, Yoruba or one of the other major languages in the world. Let’s take a look at how you choose the language(s) that you localize to.

What is Your Chosen Platform?

The platform that is distributing your game will make a huge difference in the languages that you choose to localize in. It may be your primary driver, actually.

For instance, if you are planning to distribute on STEAM, Russian is the top language spoken. On iOS, Chinese and English are the top two languages. If you are going for downloads, then Chinese is the number one pick. If you are going for revenue, English is your language.

Google Play has a similar divide: If you want downloads, English should be your priority language. If you want revenue, Japanese is number one.

Learning the numbers on language can tell you a lot about the way that people across the world play games as well.

Immersion Across the World

Russian games are 18% of the downloads on the STEAM platform. The PC is still outpacing the console as a gaming platform in the expansive country, which explains the high number of downloads from Russia on STEAM. The gaming platform also affects the types of games that are played. Russians love MMORPGs and first person shooters, possibly because these games allow the rather isolated country an outlet to the rest of the world!

The total gaming market in Latin America is expected to grow to $2.7 billion with a CAPR of 8.4% in 2019. If you want to have an inroads to a huge market across the world, Spanish should be high on your list. However, you can drill down a bit more – Mexican Spanish and European Spanish are different enough from each other that they should be separated and targeted specifically in your localization budget. If you have to choose a location, choose Mexico. The country will be 33% of the total Latin American gaming market in 2019.

Portuguese is just as big as Mexican Spanish, however! The huge economic improvements across Brazil have given rise to a new gaming market – one of the fastest growing in the world. If you thought the Mexican 33% was impressive, get this: Brazil will hold 39% of Latin American gaming sales in 2019.

If your game is a simulator, then Germany is definitely a great market for your game. The country has the highest overall revenues for the gaming industry in all of Europe. Germany also loves PCs and has not caught onto the tablet trend just yet. 93% of German gamers are playing from a PC screen.


China is such a huge market that it deserves its own segment. China is also the most difficult market to penetrate. Not only do you have to impress gamers, but you also have to get past the censorship of the government. If your game is in any way detrimental to Chinese culture or military, forget it.

Your translation should be impeccable if you want to compete in the Chinese market. Their billions of consumers are already being served by a growing contingent of game producers with inside knowledge of the local customs.

Going into China means going into PCs as well. Like Germany and Russia, China has not quite taken to the mobile market. However, the rate of increase of players looking to PCs as a primary platform is slowing.

There is more opportunity than ever around the world as a game producer. The $25 billion market can be yours – but not the whole thing. Decide what part of the pie you want and focus on it with localization services that appeal to your targeted audiences. Your language selection is of primary importance. Study the culture of your targets and make sure that your investment is going to a market that loves what you are doing!

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.


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:

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.

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Mobile Gaming on the Move – Challenges of Casual Gaming Localization

China, Japan and South Korea comprise the world’s largest mobile gaming market with $12.2 billion in total revenue as of 2014.

If you’re counting, that’s 48 percent of the total global revenue for mobile games from just those three countries, and numbers of users are rising quickly.


Here are a few more vital statistics on the Asian mobile gaming front:

  • Android phones are far more popular than iPhones. In China, for instance, Android devices have a 64.2 percent market share, which is more than twice that of all iOS devices.


  • Thailand loves their Samsung and Apple phones nearly equally, with Nokia as a close third. However, inexpensive local brands are common too.


  • Indonesia, Cambodia, and Vietnam prefer Nokia, but Malaysia and the Philippines sit solidly on the Samsung fan wagon.


  • Japan’s market for both iPhone and Android games is the largest in the world, with a value 1.33 times the size of the U.S. market (as of October 2014)


Challenges of Mobile Gaming


Find out more by downloading our eBook on The Strategy Guide to Winning in Asia with Games Localization

Challenges to entering Asian mobile games markets

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


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 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…

Why games localization in South East Asia?

We’re starting in Southeast Asia precisely because so few people do. You know you want into the South Korean and Japanese markets. And China? That country is the largest gaming nation in the world.

But the six countries that make up Southeast Asia are vital, active, game-hungry markets too.

Meet the Big Six
Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Newzoo estimates that revenues in the Southeast Asian games market will double to $2.2 billion by 2017.

These regions are young – as in the majority of their populations are in the target age ranges for game playing – between 15 to 54 years old.[i] Newzoo also estimates that these countries hold a total of 126.2 million gamers, 59.7 million of whom pay for the privilege.

Find out more…

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.


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.


Tackling the Tempting, Yet Perilous Japanese Mobile Games Market

“The largest mobile games market in the world” sounds awfully tempting, doesn’t it?


It’s like the Wonka Factory to a chocoholic, or Comicon to a Joss Whedon fan. It’s true, the Japanese love their mobile games. Step on any train platform in Tokyo, and you’ll see well-heeled young professionals furiously tapping at their phones (and odds are, they’re playing Monster Strike). What could be dangerous about introducing your game into such a welcoming country? Just take a gander at the statistics!


Here be dragons!

Specifically, a game called Puzzle & Dragons, which along with Monster Strike runs an effective duopoly on Japanese mobile gaming spending. Yes, Japanese gamers have been estimated to spend a whopping $65 a month on their mobile games, but 70 to 80 percent of that money went to either Dragons or Monsters. Between 2001 and 2013, not one foreign-made video game title broke the top 100 in Japan.

“yoge kusoge”

Which brings us to our new vocabulary term: “yoge kusoge” – or, “foreign games are crap.” That’s a loose translation of an idea that has pervaded the Japanese games market. It’s up for debate whether this attitude is changing – from what we’ve observed, well-localized Western games are in demand, at least in consoles and PC. But the mobile market? It’s a tough one.

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