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Game localization done right – BESMART

Game developers already know that to be successful, they need to localize. English, being the #1 language on the net, represents only a 27% segment of the market. The other 73% are out of reach without localizing.

The question is not if, but how.  How should developers localize their software to make it successful in many countries, while sales boost?

Each game tells a story. To bring it to life in different languages, developers must help translators get into that story to reach the objective: a successful localization.

BESMART gathers the 7 seven steps a game developer should follow for great localization:

  • Beforehand prepare instructions and requirements
  • Expand on context
  • Spotlight the importance of cultural aspects
  • Make certain quality is at the forefront
  • Allow for creativity
  • Research what makes a powerful App name
  • Take on-board the best translator

We’ll walk you through it and share the stories of successful games developers who got it right.

1. Beforehand prepare instructions and requirements

You have worked days on end to create and perfect your app, professionally going through every aspect to optimize it and it is now ready to market. While a lot of thinking has gone into your work, do not assume that the translator can read your mind!

Make sure that something that seems obvious to you will be clear to the newcomer on the project. To prevent extensive message exchanges, pressure of a fast approaching deadline, nagging marketing departments, make sure you provide your localizers with clear instructions from day 1 for them get started on the right foot.

Character limitations for your game: mobile phone apps often require text to be short, powerful yet straight to the point. Before releasing your app, test that all content fits in the spaces provided in the screen and go back to your localizer if needed for help in amending the text. If this is still not enough, think about adapting the font size.

Link to existing game and tone/style: developers of Mozart App – a game to help learn to read music – provided their localizers before translation started with a link to the relevant website. Images on that page can be clicked to display full size, which might come in handy for viewing interface elements. They also indicated that the tone needn’t be too formal.

Formatting: other developers, this time Air CocoMon App informed translators that game strings contained formatting characters, such as percentage symbols and floating number formatting, and that any such symbol that appears in the original text must remain as is in the translation.

BESMART tip: Good preparation leads to good performance, which in turn leads to success

2. Expand on context

Chances are the translator never played the game you’re localizing so you should provide as much contextual information as possible. Lack of context may lead to poor localization, and ultimately failure.

Write a thorough description of main points that need be considered: read below a short yet great explanation related to context provided by developers for Xachi: Command in which they address who their public is, the tone the translation needs be in, formatting issue and gender issues:

“This is an iPhone game intended for kids and adults. The language must all be clean and parent-friendly. %d is always replaced by whole number. ‘Her’ always refers to the character in the game. Her name is Ika (ee-ka). ‘The Player’ refers to the human playing the game. The human controls Ika on the screen by telling her where to shoot and where to walk.”

Provide enough contextual information: provide context and briefly explain where certain phrases or words appear and what they refer to in order to help translation flow. Doing so, you will prevent extensive email exchanges between you and your localizers, saving you time.

Take a simple word like “received” and have it translated in Spanish. It is not as straightforward to localize as one may think as it will raise gender and number issues. This very same English word can be translated as “recibido” (masculine singular), “recibidos” (masculine plural), “recibida” (feminine singular) or “recibidas” (feminine plural).

Screenshots are also useful to see the whole screens, an helicopter view of what the game is about.

BESMART tip: taking 5 min to provide good context at the start may save you hours of you describing context while translation is in progress.

3. Spotlight the importance of cultural aspects

Different countries and cultures express the same idea in different ways, even if they speak the same language.

Maintaining linguistic coherence and cultural sensitivity is key to a successful international release: Ask your specialists to make sure that not only words, but also graphics, symbols, sounds and references are culturally appropriate for the audience you are targeting.

Jeffrey Berthiaume from Putterball game wanted a feeling of authenticity. He needed professionals who would understand what that text was trying to communicate and transpose it in a way that would be relevant for their language and culture. He explained to translators that the text comprehended a lot of “slang” terms that would not make sense or be culturally localizable in another language. He thus provided translators with a PDF which made it easier to understand the entire game. He told them:

“In other words, I would like the native language you create to have colloquialisms pertinent to a native speaker of your language. For example, in French the phrase ‘mon petit chou’ would be used to express a term of endearment – and is 100% correct – even though literally translated into English it would read ‘my little cabbage’. If, instead, the obvious ‘mon amour’ is used, the translation wouldn’t have the feeling of authenticity that I’m trying to achieve.”

Game localization goes beyond translating content; it requires to be appealing to other cultures. Calling upon the services of a reviewer that will cast a fresh eye on the localized text will give you the assurance that cultural aspects are handled carefully and adequately.

BESMART tip: machine translation and non-native translators will never be able to grasp cultural importance. Call upon the services of more than a translator, a localizer.

4. Make certain quality is at the forefront

Quality of source text: Grammar, punctuation and spelling needs be error free. Provide your localizers with an optimal text from the start to receive an optimized localization. As simple as that.

Quality of target text: Make sure the linguist you hire does thoroughly understand the main concept of the game. If he does not, his work will reflect that and you will receive a poor to fair localized text.For instance, if the game features a character who uses a lot of goofy puns, jokes, etc. and the translator does not understand these jokes, these will likely be translated incorrectly. Therefore, instead of ending up with a funny character in the localized versions, you’ll get a silly one that may appear to talk nonsensically. Developers need to provide design documentation, a build of the game, screenshots, link to the existing game, etc. as this all will contribute towards quality.

For Buka game, for example, it is crucial to let translators know that the main character speaks “baby-talk” which could be grammatically wrong but intentional. Players should feel that she is cute, like a baby who is trying to communicate with adults. If developer had not highlighted this, translators would have thought “Gosh, this is full of grammar mistakes” and would have wasted time trying to fix this. Not only would the end result have been disastrous as the aim of the game had been lost but localization would have been totally unsuccessful and you as a client dissatisfied.

BESMART tip: Provide quality if you expect quality in return

5. Allow for creativity

Professional localizers know that it’s not about translating, but “transcreating”: forget about the source text and create a text that is appealing, funny for the target audience and reads as if written by a native. You want those users, no matter where they come from, to play the game and have fun with it! And above all recommend it to others, don’t you?

Let them know they’re allowed to do what they do best: creative writing.

Putterball developer encouraged his translators:

“I would like the native language you create to have colloquialisms pertinent to a native speaker of your language.”

For Abacrux, translators were told that: The string str_configurationTitles contained descriptive titles for different configurations.

“These may be translated very freely where required. Roddy for example alludes to a slim cylinder, Spiro to a spiral. Again – feel free to be creative with these. It is important, however, to keep the length of these titles as short as possible – 8 – 9 characters maximum.”

BESMART tip: Professional game localizers will know what works in their language. Trust them and outsmart your competitors.

6. Research what makes a powerful App name

Research the store or market where your game will be listed to prevent any confusion or marketing mess. Avoid common names or too simplistic a name that will see your app end up at the bottom of the list. To localize or not to localize: that is the question…Not! Some developers or marketing teams decide to have the name of their app localized while others don’t.

Truth be said, players would be confused if games have different names in different countries. By having the same name in all languages, you consolidate the brand of your game, worldwide.

Emoji Free is synonymous with successful app and successful localization with 15,000 new users every day. Its developer explicitly asked to leave the phrase “Emoji Free” in English, but translate the word “free” if it appears by itself anywhere else.

BESMART tip: If the name bears a catch phrase, it’s however a clever idea to translate it.

7. Take on-board the best translator

Any speaker of the target language can say “I know Italian, I can translate your game”.

Beware of cheap imitations: A professional translator has studied to become a translator. Translation requires a special skill set and the professionalism that goes with it. However not every translator can localize a game. Only a professional localizer will take into account all the parameters here above-mentioned. Said linguists will not only translate but adapt your game to the culture it’s aimed for. It is also strongly advised to contract a reviewer who will do more than proofreading the text for typos, grammar and punctuation errors; this dedicated professional will address questions of style, tone, format, etc. as well as suggest alternative translations. This expert reviewer will cast a fresh eye on the localized text to ensure consistency with your requirements.

Do you want a game that everybody enjoys? Do you want your game localization to be a success?

BESMART tip: Call upon the services of experts and contact the right professionals.