13 Jan Video game localisation: what is it and what does it consist of?
This is certainly not the first time we’ve discussed video game localisation on our blog. There’s an easy explanation: the gaming industry’s growth has been exponential in recent years, and according to the data it shows no sign of stopping.
According to Newzoo, 2.1 billion people play video games. There are 26 million male and female players in Italy alone. It therefore goes without saying that video game localisation, or the process by which video games are translated and adapted for a particular market, is a key piece in enabling the product to reach as many people as possible. According to Nimdzi’s data, the video game localisation industry has an estimated value of $330 million, set to increase in the years to come. Mobile gaming (which we already extensively discussed in this article), virtual reality, games-as-a-service are the trends to keep an eye out for within what is the most profitable media industry on the planet.
Video game localisation: what is it?
The process of localising a video game to expand its user base to people of other languages and cultures is not limited to mere translation. First, because a video game is a transmedia product, meaning it contains multiple forms of multimedia – text, audio, video, and images – video game localisation is often a challenge that requires skills and knowledge in different areas of translation: from subtitling to editorial translation, from dubbing to editing graphics.
It’s about entirely transporting the product to another language and culture while keeping its look and feel intact: those who receive and enjoy the product should not notice that the video game was originally produced and conceived in another country.
The choice to localise a video game by a particular software house and which languages to localise it into is naturally dictated by market choices: which countries will be most profitable when localising a video game? What target audience prefers playing a video game in their own language over playing it in the original English?
A video game from Japan, which still leads the industry along with the United States, will have little appeal outside its borders, because obviously there are very few Japanese speakers in the world compared to the industry’s potential globally.
Video game localisation is critical in providing players and gamers around the world with a quality experience. And yes, quality is obviously a key aspect.
A localised video game is often first and foremost perceived with more familiarity and positivity by the user than a non-localised product, while on the other hand, a low-quality localisation can be the downfall of that same product.
To this day there are examples of video games that are mocked or criticised for their poor localisation quality; news outlets that publish reviews and analyses will not be slow to criticise the localisation of a video game if of poor quality, leading to reduced sales and potentially the failure of a product. Ultimately, video game localisation is a necessary process in today’s market, but it is also a delicate and complex one that must be carried out in the best possible way.
Practical aspects of video game localisation
The video game localisation process has evolved over time, hand in hand with the evolution of video games themselves which, from their beginnings in the 1970s and 1980s with a few lines of text and a handful of pixels, have become extremely high-quality multimedia products with cinematic ambitions, monumental action scenes, sublime three-dimensional graphics, and of course massive amounts of text.
For this reason, video game software houses have begun to introduce localisation departments that handle the entire video game localisation process in-house. However, because of the ever-increasing volumes of translations, but also because of the games-as-a-service model itself, meaning products that are constantly being updated and expanded, many more companies are relying on translation agencies or freelance translators to localise their product.
Nowadays, a video game is usually prepared for localisation from the early stages of development (internationalisation), so that the process is easier in its later stages. Then the markets for which the video game will be localised is decided; this process often begins in parallel with the development itself. As mentioned above, in most cases it’s not a question of mere translation: the adaptation must consider both the local aspects of the title (precisely, localisation) and the cultural aspects (culturalisation).
Anything that a person using the product in the target language and culture might have difficulty understanding, such as a reference to the country’s own popular culture, or a historical element, must be adapted to the target language and culture. The texts in subtitles, dialogues dubbed by professional actors and actresses, in-game texts, promotional materials, legal notices, the website of the video game itself, etc., are all part of the complete picture that is video game localisation.
For each of these pieces, it’s fundamental to ensure that the adaptation is both faithful to the original in the feelings it wants to convey, but adapted culturally and linguistically to make the experience easier and frictionless for the player or gamer who does not speak the language in which the game was originally developed.
What to expect from the future
Something striking about this industry is that despite the myriad innovations that have affected the sector over the past decade, it does not seem to want to stop, and in fact is growing rapidly. The last few years have been dominated by mobile gaming: video gaming on smartphones to be enjoyed at any time of day has taken the industry by storm.
To date, it is the most profitable sector: the vast majority of those who play video games do so on mobile devices. However, virtual reality (VR) is gaining momentum as a new avenue for bringing innovation to the industry. Many of the virtual reality viewers developed by large companies consider gaming one of the primary uses for their product, consequently leading game companies to develop titles for those platforms.
However, let us not lose sight of innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which will enable developers to create worlds and adventures that are ever deeper, richer and more lifelike.
What is certain is that step by step, video game localisation will follow the industry whatever direction it takes, and will remain necessary for a truly complete product.
If you’d like to localise your video game, contact us obligation-free: we will find the most effective and economically advantageous localisation solutions for your game, guiding you through market expectations and helping you to target the markets with the highest ROI (return on investment) for your localised games.