What Is Game Localization: A Complete Guide
Video games comprise one of the most popular entertainment industries in the world. According to Newzoo, the number of gamers worldwide will reach 3.38 billion in 2023. That’s almost 40% of the world’s population. And that number is growing every year. Along with it, the need for video game localization is growing.
Competent localization benefits both project creators and end users. For developers, it’s an opportunity to generate revenue from sales worldwide, not just in one market. A localized game has the potential to appeal to a much larger audience. Players, meanwhile, get an understandable and engaging video game in their native language.
In this guide, we’ll look at what game localization is, why it’s important, and how to organize it properly.
How popular are video games in the world?
Video games are hugely popular all over the world. According to the Global Games Market Report:
- The global gaming market will grow at a CAGR of 2.6% to reach $187.7 billion in 2023.
- The number of gamers in the world will reach 3.38 billion. That’s a 6.3% increase over last year. Growing fastest of all is the number of smartphone players.
- The number of paying players will increase by 7.3% to 1.47 billion. By 2026, there are expected to be 1.66 billion payers worldwide.
- By 2026, the global video game market will reach $212.4 billion. By then, the next generation of consoles and mobile games will have been released.
As the report shows, video games are enjoyed by billions of people around the globe. Therefore, localization is simply essential to enter new regional markets.
What is video game localization?
Localization is the adaptation of games to the culture and language of players in the target country, making a video game more understandable to local gamers. A good adaptation allows players to fully immerse themselves in the virtual world and enjoy the game without facing a language or cultural barrier.
Localization ≠ translation
Localizing a video game doesn’t just mean translating it into another language. It means adapting the game to the characteristics and preferences of players in a particular country.
Although translation of dialogues, menus, subtitles, and descriptions is the main part of localization of the textual elements of a video game, the work doesn’t end there.
Localizers analyze the country’s cultural code and historical context and make changes to the game where required. For example, references to the realities of the original culture may be incomprehensible or even offensive to a new audience. They need to be replaced with more appropriate references to local culture.
Localization involves developers, game designers, translators, testers, artists, voice actors, UX specialists, and other experts.
What elements of games can be localized?
Adaptation covers many different parts of a video game:
- Text translation — all words in the game are translated into the desired language. This includes dialogs, menus, captions, and instructions.
- Cultural adaptation — references and jokes are changed to be understandable to new players.
- Changing the controls — customizing the control keys to suit the habits of gamers in the country.
- Music — the soundtrack can be replaced or re-sung in another language.
- Graphics — characters and locations may change slightly in appearance to be more like the players and more to their liking.
- Legal requirements — content is checked for compliance with the laws of different countries. For example, age rating rules are checked.
This comprehensive adaptation makes the video game as understandable and usable as possible in new countries.
What are the different localization styles?
Different formats can be chosen when adapting a video game. The choice depends on the needs, budget, and scope of the project:
- Localization of packaging
Adapts elements of the physical disk box or description of the game in the online store. For example, if a game is coming out on PS5, it’s the text on the packaging that needs to be translated. If distributed via Steam, the description, screenshots, and additional materials are localized.
Menus, achievement lists, buttons, and other game controls are translated. Even if the dialogs are in English, the gamer will understand the interface in their native language.
- Translation of texts
The plot, dialog, notes, and quests are translated while retaining the atmosphere of the original. Players will be able to read subtitles and immerse themselves in the story.
- Character voicing
Professional dubbing of all character lines into the desired language. For example, the phrase “We need to go!” can be heard in Russian as “Нам нужно идти!”
- Graphics adaptation
Translating text on images, posters, and signage in the game so that it fits seamlessly into the context.
Why localize video games?
Game adaptations give developers a lot of opportunities. Here are the main ones:
- Revenue growth. A game localized for different regions guarantees greater audience reach and, consequently, higher sales.
- User comfort. Gamers appreciate being able to play in their native language and embrace familiar cultural references.
- Additional ways to monetize. Game adaptations can increase sales of related products. For example, you can launch sales of official products based on your video game.
- Consolidating your brand’s position. Localized games strengthen the developer’s image before future releases.
Newzoo predicts the global gaming market will reach $212 billion by 2026. Those developers who localize their products get a chance to take a significant part of this market.
Video games have become very popular all over the world. Several things have contributed to this:
- Many gaming devices and platforms have emerged.
- Technology and the internet have improved over the last 20 years.
- Now many countries are competing with the industry leaders — the US, China, and Japan.
To attract users from all over the world, you need to localize projects. Apple is a prime example. They localized the App Store into 40 languages for 175 countries. And it helped them make $2 trillion.
Although the gaming industry is dominated by English, many gamers prefer or even demand content in their native language. That is why developers invest in quality localization of their projects.
As a result, it’s an investment in the long-term success of a video game. Players like games in their native language better. Not only do they sell better, but they enhance the video game’s reputation in the world.
How to plan a game localization project
Thoughtful planning can save time and money, as well as help to avoid problems during the adaptation of a video game. Here’s what’s worth identifying and preparing for before adapting games:
Find out which markets you prefer and which languages are most promising for your project. Estimate the potential audience size and possible revenue from each region.
Decide what parts of the game need to be adapted: text, graphics, audio, interface, etc.
- Cultural characteristics
Decide whether there will be an adaptation to the cultural code of the region — humor, references, historical, political, and religious context.
- Resources for localization
Prepare a glossary, a translation style guide, product reference materials, instructions, previous translations, and other necessary materials.
- Technical training
Make sure the game supports a multilingual interface and the ability to add new languages. Also important is the ability to easily update and add new localizations without major code changes.
- Project team
You can create an in-house team or turn to outsourcing studios. Depending on the selection, the budget and timeline of the project may vary.
Estimate the cost of adapting each part of the project. Consider the additional costs of testing, adjustments, and marketing.
- Support and updates
After release, keep an eye on user feedback and be prepared to make adjustments if needed. Plan on localizing future updates and additions to the game.
Additionally: what else to consider when localizing
Beyond the basic steps, follow these tips for a smooth project:
- Set aside enough time to build up a complete set of materials for adaptation. This will simplify and speed up the whole process. Your list should include everything from character traits to formatting details to game strategies.
- When translating, always involve native speakers of the language you are translating into, not the source language. This ensures a more accurate and natural translation.
- Be especially careful about adapting culturally specific elements such as proverbs, jokes, and regional features. Proper localization of these aspects gives gamers a sense of immersion in the game world.
Approaches to localization
Developers have two main strategies for adapting games: create their own team of specialists or find outsourced localizers. Let’s break down both options.
Creation of a team of localizers within the company
To organize localization internally, you will need:
- A market analyst to assess the demand for the game in the target regions.
- A professional translator with perfect knowledge of the target language, preferably a native speaker.
- A technical expert to implement changes at the software and technical level.
- A game designer and an artist who customize graphic elements for different cultures.
- A lawyer who will advise you on age restrictions in different countries, packaging requirements, and other legal points.
Usually, this approach is very expensive for developers, as they have to keep a whole staff of localizers, then organize and control their work themselves. Not every game studio has this opportunity.
Turning to an outsourcing company
If a developer does not want to hire localizers in-house, they can order localization services from a third-party studio.
This usually costs less than working independently and maintaining a staff of translators, artists, and other specialists. And with this approach, projects get to market and start increasing their profits faster.
How localization is implemented
The adaptation process depends on what elements of the game you want to adapt for a new audience. Some games may only require text translation, while others may require a full adaptation including voice acting and graphics.
The standard localization process looks like this:
- Content evaluation
Before starting work on the project, the team conducts a thorough analysis of the game content. Find out if there are culturally specific elements in the game that may cause misunderstanding or resentment in a new audience.
- Collection of materials
At this stage, a package of documents and resources is compiled: texts, sound files, video materials, interface elements, etc. All elements of the video game are collected in one place.
- Exporting and preparing lines for translation
The lines of text to be translated are exported from the game engine. These lines are then optimized to work in translation management systems (TMS).
The translators are getting to work. It is important that they have experience in translating game content, as special sensitivity to context and genre specificity is required.
- Editing and proofreading
The quality of the translation is checked by editors and native speakers. This allows you to identify errors, typos, and inconsistencies in style.
- Adaptation of graphics and sound
Often, in addition to text, other elements need to be adapted: graphic images where there is text, voiceover, and even music if it has text inserts.
- Adding localized materials
Translated and adapted materials are integrated into the game. This may require code or design adjustments to ensure all elements harmonize.
The integration is followed by a testing phase. It checks the correctness of text display, voiceover synchronization, and operability of all localized elements.
- Receiving feedback and correction
Once a video game is released, it’s important to monitor user feedback and make adjustments as needed.
- Support and updates
Localization is not a one-time process. With the release of updates and add-ons, new pieces of content will also need to be adapted.
Examples of successful localization
Here are some successful examples of localizing video games for different regions:
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The video game is based on Slavic fairy tales and folklore and was naturally very well received in most Slavic countries, but the game also got a superb localization into many other languages and gained huge popularity all over the world. Including the Arabic countries, which were the most challenging as the localization team had to not only translate but also adapt some of the game aspects to make them more acceptable for the Muslim culture.
- Dragon Quest XI
The project has been skillfully localized into 10 languages. The translators conveyed the characteristics of Japanese humor to each culture.
- Final Fantasy XII
This Japanese RPG has also been adapted for several countries while retaining the atmosphere of the original.
Cultural adaptations of these projects have allowed players around the world to enjoy the engaging gameplay. The atmosphere and essence of the original stories were retained.
Where is the best place to go for localization services?
Proper localization helps:
- Attract more players
- Increase revenue from a project
- Make a video game globally competitive
If you want to bring your project to the international level, contact INLINGO localization studio. We have been working in game localization for over 10 years. We have adapted over 2500 projects, from small indie games to large AAA titles.
Leave a request and we’ll make your video game accessible worldwide.