What Is Video Game Localization? And How Do You Localize a Video Game?

A good video game can create an immersive and interactive storytelling experience. However, every story must be able to relate the characters and their motivations in a way the audience will understand.

Creating this interactive experience is tricky in the first place, but only becomes more complex as it spreads to other languages, cultures, and communities. What may make sense in the original language may not quite land the same way when directly imported to another part of the world.

Video game localization is the process of preparing a video game for various international markets. This goes beyond a direct translation of the text because the text is only one part of the video game experience. Localization includes creating new packaging, altering art assets, recording new audio, and editing or removing existing parts of the game to match cultural sensitivities and local legal requirements.

The goal of video game localization services is to transition a game to meet the specific cultural context of international players while still being true to the original material.

Localization Starts with Translation

For many games, localization focuses mainly on translation. A poor translation can ruin a game or even make a great game become a laughable internet meme.

The best translations keep the meaning and message the same, which goes beyond a word-for-word translation. This is because different languages have very different grammar rules and unique vocabulary and ideas.

For example, when you’re walking through a group of trees on a sunny summer’s day, and the light creates that filtered yellow-green with hints of sunlight poking through the trees, wouldn’t it be nice to have a word for that? In Japanese, they have a single word to describe that exact situation – komorebi (木漏れ日). You could try to translate it as “sunbeams,” but that’s minimizing the entire experience and leaves something missing about the way sunlight shines through a grove of trees.

 

 

Languages can also affect how you think and understand the world around you. Translation for video game localization has to tackle all of these issues to make sure important ideas and messages in a video game remain accurate while still being understandable and relatable.  

Localization Matches New Cultures 

A good game should help players feel as though they are the intended audience. Localization makes sure that the same feeling of inclusion is in more than just the language used; that the game also meets cultural expectations. 

For example, in Chinese culture, it’s bad luck to have images of skeletons or skulls. It’s not illegal to show a skeleton or skull, but it can create a culturally insensitive moment where the audience won’t feel as comfortable with a video game. That’s why some Chinese localizations will remove skeletal references and adapt assets to something more culturally acceptable. 

Localization is more than just a translation; it also makes sure that the tone and feeling of the original dialogue and text is respected and maintained. Your game’s dialogs carry emotions, tone and changes in volume, that need to read correctly in the localized version. SYSTRAN helps do this by building specialized engines to help indicate the need for vtext-to-speech to match those emotional and stylistic changes in tone to show agony, create tension, or display anger in a way that is understood and accepted by the target audience.  

Localization and Legal Responsibilities 

While there are some cultural sensitivities to be aware of, localization also has to be aware of local laws that affect video games. What may be legal to produce in one part of the world may be illegal in the next.  

For example, the German game rating board (the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle, or USK) is one of the strictest censors of violence in video games. All games released to the public must first receive a certificate from the USK. If the game includes any inappropriate material like violence, blood, gore, or Nazi iconography, it will not be certified, and will be banned from sale. 

 

 

How to Localize Your Game 

The best way to localize a video game is to work with a game localization partner like SYSTRAN. Choosing the right partner for your project is critical and can make the difference between an awkward final product and a natural feeling experience.  

The video game localization process can be broken down into five straightforward steps.  

Make a Plan 

If you’re a smaller developer, you don’t have the budget to enter every market simultaneously. Make a plan that includes deadlines and budgets for the markets you want to target. As part of your plan, consider which elements, both linguistic and artistic, to consider for localization.

Remember, that localization includes more than just the audio or text in your game. Key art assets should be included in your localization to ensure that players are able to get vital in-game information. For example, environmental cues like a “no swimming, shark infested waters” sign have to be updated so that players have essential information. 

As part of your localization plan, remember to include assets outside of your game like a user guide, walkthrough, tips, title art, slip covers, and art galleries. While not part of the main game, these pieces of content will directly impact how your game is perceived and can influence sales.  

Make a Localization Kit 

A localization kit includes relevant information about the characters, storyline, background, theme, and artistic direction for your game. The localization kit is the first thing translators will turn to when they have questions about what voice, style, or emotion they should be trying to convey.  

Export 

To get content localized, it has to be shareable. Make sure you include every asset in your localization plan. It can get awkward when everything is localized except for one item, character, or level. When exporting content, organize and categorize each asset to make it easier to import once it is translated.  

Import 

Insert the finalized translation into your game. Strictly follow the outline you created when creating your export file. It can become very easy to mismanage lines of copy and misplace a translation. Be meticulous to ensure that the right translation is imported to the right place in your game. 

Test the Final Product 

In theory, the localization process shouldn’t affect the core mechanics of your game. You remove content, have it localized, and then replace the content. For most games, the actual code should never be affected by localization. 

However, localization can have some undesired side-effects in your game that should always be caught and fixed. For example, if your game provides accessibility options for subtitles, after localization the subtitle text may be a different size than previous. The text may wrap around to a second line, be partially visible, or may cut off and be out of view. This test catches those small quality of life bugs to ensure the best final localization. 

Before a localized game goes to publication and distribution, take the time to completely playtest and catch any remaining issues.  

Localize Your Game with SYSTRAN 

SYSTRAN helped MGI Group improve the quality of their localization process with Neural Machine Translation. 

With over 50 years of experience, SYSTRAN makes it easy for you to localize your video game. With SYSTRAN’s video game localization services, you’ll get an affordable language solution that stays true to the feel and tone of your game.