Guidelines for Taking Games Global
Have you ever noticed how serious gamers seem to have their
own unique language and culture? From old-school Zelda and MMORPG World of
Warcraft to Halo and Half-Life, virtual universes are where today’s hardcore
gamers spend several waking hours a day; many have even grown up in these
alternative worlds. So what does this mean for your effort to release your game
in new language markets?
There’s a host of game localization success stories out
there and your game can join their ranks. By sensitizing yourself to localization
elements in your personal gaming endeavors and following the seven basic guidelines
below, you’ll be ready to conquer the hearts of gamers around the world.
1. Hire the gamers.
In order to re-create your in-game experience for players in
other countries, you’ll want to work with linguists, translators, voice talent and
testers who have extensive experience playing games (whether for console,
computer, mobile device or other). Ideally, they’ll also be familiar with your
game genre and have an appreciation for the unique setting and terminology. When
this isn’t possible, look for linguists who are experienced in transcreation
(or copy re-creation) and cultural nuances specific to both your regional
markets and gamer demographics.
2. Develop a thorough test plan.
The French, Russian or Korean version of your game will only be as good as your
QA testing. Testing should be comprehensive and performed on high-quality
machines so the details of the game come shining through. Critical to testing
is the development of a thorough test plan to capture every nuance a player
might experience. Typically, testing follows a multi-level process to ensure
- Grammar and spelling are correct and that there
are no truncations due to text expansion — an all-too-common result of
translation into many languages
- The onscreen text makes sense in context
- User directions come up in the right place
- Any and all issues identified above have been
corrected and implemented
3. Focus on the details.
Pay attention to game details, like graphics, music and characters, and keep
them consistent throughout the game for each locale. Attention to detail is
important as gamers will catch badly translated messages during play, à la the
your base are belong to us”, probably the most well known of video game
localization blunders. If you’re not already familiar with this, this odd
translation is from the introduction of the game Zero Wing, released in 1991
by the now-defunct Japanese game developer Toaplan. While this meme caught on
like wildfire and seems to have drummed up publicity for the game, you can’t
afford to bet on getting this same reaction from your users. It’s a global
world, and linguistic errors are no longer considered cute — especially in
high-intensity game play. The repercussions can be disastrous as players,
momentarily distracted by an odd translation, risk losing critical play time or
even getting penalized for not understanding what’s going on.
Another example is Fatal Frame (Tecmo 2001). Here,
the main characters, Miku and Mafuyu, written as sister and brother, were given
distinctly different features by the game designers. In the Japanese version,
both characters are Japanese. American and European versions of the game
featured a more “Westernized” version of Miku, while her brother Mafuyu
retained his Japanese features. Although the game designers may have overlooked
this detail, it did not go unnoticed
by the general public.
4. Know your region and video coding
In some countries or regions, you’ll have to submit your game content to
organizations that determine legal age ratings, like USK
These organizations not only determine who can purchase your video game but
also what content is authorized for each age range. The video coding (PAL and
NTSC) required for your target regions may also affect
how the game is displayed to users.
5. Make sure all user
input is functional.
You’ll want to check and double-check that interactive user-facing details are
functional in all of your languages. This involves ensuring that hotkeys,
shortcuts and other user input are mapped accurately according to what makes
sense for your regions. “F” for “Forward”, for example, needs to be
reconfigured for the equivalent non-English command. Also make sure that if
accented characters are used, the users can input them and the game will understand
them (hint: use Unicode).
6. Avoid cutting
Audio, music and onscreen text are common features in many games and are a few
of the areas where localization corner-cutting is noticed. Aside from getting
good voiceover talent who can scream with realistic enthusiasm, make sure there
is enough space for localized onscreen text. Many languages expand in
translation, and you’ll want to give your players enough time to absorb what
they’re reading. If you’re using music, double-check that you have the legal
licensing rights to publish it in your target countries.
7. Don’t forget about
localizing packaging, marketing and user documentation.
Promoting your game in each new language market plays a huge role in your
lasting success abroad. Investing in high-caliber marketing translations
is one way to develop and maintain a new user base. You’ll also want to
localize help components and user documentation to ensure that your players fully
understand your game features and have access to resources should they need
assistance. It’s not uncommon for an international
game launch to fail due to low user ratings caused by insufficient
local-language user support information.
Finally, don’t forget that your translated packaging design
must allow for regionally-specific symbols, such as ratings, UPC codes and fine
print that your English packaging might not require. Get all of the specs and
norms for each market before finalizing your international packaging design.
When video game localization is done right (e.g., World of
Warcraft), the flow of play feels so natural and suited to their language that
users around the world can barely tell that the game was localized at all. If
you take time to pay attention to details like those listed above, then
(we couldn’t resist mentioning yet another famous video game mistranslation meme)
A Winner Is You!
Contact Acclaro to learn more about our game localization