Ready Player Uno: Why Video Game Localization Matters

The video game industry is booming with 2.2 billion active gamers in the world according to a report by Newzoo. In fact, Newzoo estimates the global gaming market will reach revenues as high as $143.5 billion by 2020. As the number of gamers continues to rise across the globe, so does the need for quality video game translators. As you know, localization of the game and marketing materials is often outsourced and hiring the wrong translator can have gaming companies wishing they could hit reset.

The art of video game localization is more than just converting text word for word into another language. There needs to be a deep understanding of regions, cultural norms, cultural sensitivities, language nuances, and slangs of the target market. Metaphors, idioms, jokes, and sarcasm can be difficult to localize translate region to region and a good video game translator should be able to catch these issues and fill in the gap. In addition to linguistic skills, excellent translators also understand gaming worlds and cultures knowing terminology and how to localize within that specific genre.

Localization Should be the First Step, Not Last

Video game developers are now designing games with localization in mind. To better reach international markets, developers have started making graphics and texts as editable as possible to avoid additional coding down the line. Large video game publishers will expect localization for all non-audio assets with no written word left untranslated. That’s why developers should avoid hard-coding into the games’ core files. When a game is properly localized, there stands a higher chance of the game to receive higher ratings by players. Gaining higher ratings will increase the popularity of the game and ultimately increased sales.

Immersion Disrupted

Video games are designed to be an immersive experience. They create spatial presence when the user starts to feel like he or she is within the world of the game. Vibrant graphics, environmental accuracy, and a strong narrative all contribute to this immersion. For a moment in time, the player forgets about their true surroundings entirely. Localization builds this experience and is intended to be so fluid, consistent, and natural, as if it’s “invisible” to the player. However, one small error in localization can result in an inharmonious experience, disrupting the player’s connection to the game and quickly pulling them back into the world they had previously escaped.

Translations Gone Wrong and Viral

Unfortunately, translators don’t always get it right and now their mistakes are going viral. There are countless videos, memes, books, and entire websites dedicated to making fun of bad video game localizations. “All your base are belong to us” is a highly popular internet meme that is a screenshot of a poorly translated English phrase found in the opening cutscene the arcade Zero Wing. One YouTube video featuring the game’s poor localization has accrued over 2.5 million views alone. The bad publicity from a translation mistake gone viral can negatively impact sales and cost companies millions in PR recovery.

Focus on the Latin America Market

A driving force in the emerging industry of video games is the Latin American market. In 2016, a total of 110 million Latin American paying gamers generated $4.1 billion, a year-on-year growth of 20 percent (Newzoo). One of the leading Latin American markets in the world is Mexico with 55.8 million players that will spend $1.6 billion in 2018 (Newzoo). According to Competitive Intelligence Unit (CIU), Mexico’s gaming market will continue to grow at a rate of more than 13 percent. Argentina alone has over 18.5 million gamers that spent $423.4 million in 2017, making it the 25th largest games market in the world (Newzoo). To maximize profits, localization in these markets and their different Spanish variants are particularly important. The revenue from properly localizing to a Latin American market will recoup the investment of utilizing a translation service.

Localization mistakes are often avoidable when developers and publishers invest in the right translation team. Localizing video games, especially when text-heavy, can appear to be a daunting task. However, an expert localization team can make the process streamlined and seamless, expanding the game’s international reach and saving its reputation.

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