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The Power of Localization and Translation in Video Games

The Power of Localization and Translation in Video Games

In 2013 the Freemium games began to appear in earnest. In this business model, the game itself is provided for free, but the players have the option to purchase premium and exclusive items for the game either in-game or in online stores created specifically for these games. Both video game translation and localization strategies need to be included as part of the overall game development in order to ensure the success of these, and other video games if they are to have any real chance of success in the online world of gaming.

With the onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic, while many businesses have been shut down, online gaming has increased immeasurably. Video game translation ensures that the game can be enjoyed by as large an audience as possible.

Game localization is the means by which video games are adapted to local standards including the language used and accepted cultural norms. Localization strategies ensure that in-game names, locations and other translated work will not cause undue consternation or even offense to the gamers online.

This is imperative as the freemium gaming model depends on the growth and expansion of the gamer base in order to be financially viable. This is not because they depend on buyers to purchase the games, as the games are free to play. Rather, they rely on the fact that many of the gamers will be purchasing products within the game in order to retain an advantage over other players.

This seems especially relevant during the current global Covid-19 pandemic as according to the Hollywood Reporter, gaming is up by roughly seventy-five percent since the onset of the global coronavirus epidemic. While many industries may be faltering, the gaming industry is seeing unprecedented levels of growth.

The video game developers must be both willing and capable of gathering as much of the new market as possible, but the only viable means to do this, is by making video game translations and video game localization strategies an integral part of game development. Successful game developers cannot afford to include these strategies as an afterthought, but must include them in the process of game development to have a better chance of success.

Harry Potter series The Power of Localization and Translation in Video Games

Challenges of Video Game Translations

Video game translations can be exceptionally challenging, especially if there are not at least some members of the video game development team that are intimately familiar with the languages for translation and the cultural norms and standards within those locations. Fortunately in that area at least, beta testing can also assist game developers in assuring that the video game translations are accurate and beneficial.

Like many works of fiction, one added challenge of video game translation involves the interpretation of words that have been made up specifically for the game. In the Harry Potter series for instance, Diagon Alley was one of the secret locations where the shopping and social centers for the witches and warlocks was located.

In English, this is an obvious play on the word diagonally, meaning to go in an oblique or cross section or to move diagonally as a Bishop move on a chess board. Alley of course, is a small street, generally tightly squeezed in between buildings. Just as there are all manner of subtly nuanced linguistic plays in works of literary fiction, so too are these often present in video games.

Fictitious character names and locations are not such a major concern as a rule, though even then care must be taken. As a rule, these will not actually be interpreted in video game translations, but merely used as they are written in the original language. There may however, be occasions when even a simple oversight can create a great offense and alienate an entire market.

The name selected for a hero could potentially have an offensive or derogatory meaning in a different land or the name of a villain may resemble a very popular or heroic figure in foreign nations. Thus, it also becomes imperative to implement localization strategies into the overall area of game development, not relying solely on video game translations to make the game more user friendly on a global basis.

Video Game Localization

Video game localization is far too frequently looked at as being a chore rather than being considered as an amazing opportunity. As was briefly noted already, video game localization does not need to focus on anything more than the potential for causing offense in any serious fashion, thus alienating potential players, and customers for that matter. What is not considered however, are the opportunities to more fully utilize the principles of video game localization in order to reach the players on a more personal and intimate level.

Many of the more popular freemium MMORPGs online already use IP Portals or other geographic restrictions in order to ensure that people from Korea play on Korean servers, video game players in the US play with other users from North America and so on. Additionally, the video game ecommerce portals are set up in a similar fashion.

Each of these portals will already have separate downloads for a “localized” variant of the game, but how much more effective could these be with just a little added creativity in areas other than just the video game translations?

What if all of the foods in the Italian version of a game were selected from some of the more popular Italian dishes? What if instead of a chicken drumstick and glass of tea, the player could purchase pasta and wine? Discovering which foods are more popular in certain areas is as simple as a localized search using Google Trends.

This level of localization is more involved to be sure, but it should also help to establish a much more familiar connection with the gamers online. Food however, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg though … or should that be just the tip of the snow cone?

Take these same principles of localization and use them with clothing. A Knight’s Cloak may be more popular in the gaming markets for the United Kingdom, whereas in the United States, something more appealing to the average soldier may be more popular. The names for premium weapons, clothing and other in-game gear available for purchase may be much more popular if it has a more meaningful, recognizable, localized name attached to it, one that appeals particularly well to the people of that location.

Take the process of video game localization to the next level and focus on landmarks and structures within the game itself. An exceptionally dark and dreary forest in a video game played in the United Kingdom may do well to call that Sherwood Forest. The same location in the Japanese variation of the video game may be more recognizable to locals as the Aokigahara Forest.

The process of video game localization should be complete, ensuring that as many aspects of the video game as possible provide a direct connection with the gamer. Foods, clothing, weapons, locations, and even building and structures can all be named differently without any major changes to the game graphics or in any other fashion that may disrupt game play.

Mind you, care should also be taken to ensure that the extended version of the video game localization focuses on the domestic location in a way that encourages users to become more involved and elicits positive emotional responses from the players. There are some cultures where there is a very fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, and crossing that line can be very costly for the video game developers.

No matter how familiar the game development team may be with the local areas, beta testing should always be used in order to get both positive and negative feedback from real players. Even overlooking a minor detail can easily result in alienating an entire national block of potential gamers, costing the game developers much more than just a financial loss.

Beta Testing Video Game Translation The Power of Localization and Translation in Video Games

Beta Testing Video Game Translation and Localization

The beta testing of video games is an opportunity for the game developers to work out any bugs that may remain in the coding. However, once again this presents many opportunities for the development strategies for video game translation and localization used within the game. Beta testing should be made available in all of the markets where the game will be made available, even if the testing is staggered as the video game becomes ready to be introduced into new locations.

A recent article posted the eighteenth of April on the Motley Fool (financial) website shows the importance and real power of beta testing. This article was about the video game Valorant which is breaking records even before its official release.

“In a single day earlier this month, the video game Valorant drew 34 million hours’ worth of streaming views on Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) video game streaming platform, Twitch. That’s the site’s all-time single-day viewing hour’s record. That would be impressive by any standard – but what makes it truly eye-popping is the fact that Valorant hasn’t even been officially released yet.”

The advent of websites like Steam, Twitch and other video game streaming services where gamers can gather, play and even watch games, make it easier than ever to conduct video game beta testing. The beta tests will also show the success or failure of the video game translation and localization strategies.

Care however, should be taken to ensure that some type of comprehensive survey is in place that not only asks the video game testers to respond to questions, but to leave them plenty of room to generate more personalized responses at the same time. Questions should be asked regarding both the video game translation and the localization services that were integrated into the game during development.

On the one hand, this will allow the game developers to fine tune the translation and localization of video games before they are released, while at the same time ensuring that they have not crossed over any lines from cultural appreciation into the area of cultural appropriation. Video game beta testing should allow for the game developers to know whether or not their coding, in addition to their translation and localization strategies have been successful.

Translation and Localization for Video Game Development

There was a time when video game translation was as much an afterthought as it was any real consideration in the game development, and video game localization was entirely unheard of in commercial video games. Much like the rest of the gaming industry, game developers have adjusted as the times and technologies have advanced.

As game engine technologies increase, and as stories within the games become more fully integrated into the actual game play, both video game translation and localization services have become an increasingly important part of the game development.

Many games are evolutionary in that the interactions selected by the player will change the overall story line, leading to different gaming experiences on the same game. Virtually everything from character selection to the ongoing interactions during the course of the game will have different results based on the interaction of the gamer.

These games are often much more complex and involved, and as a result require increased attention to even the smallest details regarding the video game localization and translation involved with the game development. In an increasingly competitive gaming market, especially with the freemium gaming monetization strategies, there are three major areas where game developers need to continue to evolve.

Among the first thoughts would be graphics, game engines and the actual game play. However, if this were entirely true, it is very unlikely that the Minecraft video game would have ever become as popular as it has. While this should not be viewed as anything at all disparaging, Minecraft is essentially little more than a 64 bit approach to a 16 bit video game experience.

Graphics are important, but apparently not nearly as important as the actual game play. There should however, be a major focus on video game translation services, video game localization and adequate levels of beta testing to ensure that every aspect of the game is appealing to a larger audience while alienating nobody. In this way, the number of players can be maximized, as can the game developer profits.

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