If you are an indie or solo game developer with a finished game you would like to release, you are probably excited to get the ball rolling! But, before you hit that “Publish” button on your chosen sales platform, make sure you have taken the time to complete proper game localization strategies. It is likely that your game will be available to far more people than just those who live in the same country you live in!
For the sake of an example, let’s assume you have created a mobile game to be released on the major smartphone app stores, such as Google’s and Apple’s app stores. (Even if you have made a PC game or a game for a different platform entirely, keep reading, as these principles will still apply to your situation.) As you upload your game to these stores, they will ask you for a list of countries in which you would like your game to be downloadable. If you are an American developer, checking the box next to “United States” is a no-brainer. But, what about everywhere else?
You are probably tempted to run down the list, hit every checkbox there is, and go for full worldwide distribution.
If you are prepared for all of those varied audiences to download your game, attempt to play it, get frustrated when they can’t understand the language, and possibly leave a bad review, then go for it. However, if you want to maximize the chances that each and every end-user will enjoy and appreciate the game you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into over the past months (or years!), think twice before you go for mass distribution without a thorough game localization strategy.
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This post has been updated in August 2021.
What is game localization, and why is it important?
Game localization is the process by which you prepare your game for release in a region other than the one for which it was originally developed.
Following along with our previous example, you might want your American-made mobile game to be playable across Canada, including in the French-speaking areas.
Rather than uploading your game to the United States and Canada and hoping that your neighbors to the north will have enough of a background in English that they will understand your game, you would instead want to localize your game for Canadian French speakers in addition to native English speakers.
Taking the time to localize your game for its intended audiences gives your end-users the best possible experience when playing your game.
Think of a time when you downloaded a game, application, or document that wasn’t in a language you can read or speak. Chances are, you glanced through it for a few seconds, deleted it, and moved on to something else. Do you want players in other countries to have the same reaction to your game?
If you have gone through the localization process, users will enjoy the game more and likely leave better reviews for it on the sales platform, generating better sales for you. If you plan to release more games in the future and build a brand, pleasing your audience should be your number one concern.
Though game localization is a tricky and sometimes intimidating process, don’t skip it. When you put forth the effort to release your localized game the right way from the very beginning, you set yourself up for the best possible outcome of success.
So, how can you accomplish this?
Game Localization in 20 Steps
1. Choose your target audience(s).
Where will your game be released? Make a list of destination regions in which you will be publishing your finished game.
2. Pick a region to start with.
You may have more than one destination region on your list for publication. That’s fine!
If you have a large enough team to develop multiple versions at once, you can absolutely complete the following steps simultaneously for each destination region. However, this article assumes you are a solo game developer or a developer with a small independent team. In those cases, it would be best to focus your resources on completing one localized version at a time.
3. Investigate that region.
You will need to know the following information before you can get to work on a localized game version for your target region:
- What language do they speak?
- Does their language read right to left, left to right, or perhaps even vertically?
- Do colors have any associations or meanings within their culture?
- Are there different customs in their culture from that of your game’s original region? For example, you will want to be careful if your game includes hand gestures, as these often mean very different things in different countries around the world.
4. Tackle the language translation.
If the audience in your target region speaks another language that then one in which your game was developed, the first and most important localization step is to have all of the necessary text files or audio scripts translated into that destination language. Save yourself a headache down the line by hiring a high-quality translator right off the bat.
5. Have your audio scenes re-recorded or dubbed.
If you choose to provide dubs in the destination language (as opposed to simply providing translated subtitles for users to read during audio scenes), now is the time to hire some quality voice actors to do it. Provide your script and any clips to be re-recorded, so your voice actors can get to work as soon as possible.
6. Consider a redesign.
If you have a design team, send the information you gathered on your target region to them so they can adapt the game for those specifications. For example, they might need to change any or all of these elements:
- Color scheme. Some cultures associate different meanings with colors than other cultures do. Make sure your game is sending the right message by changing important color schemes.
- Text formatting. Some words in other languages take up more or less space on the screen than they do in other languages. Additionally, languages that read in a different direction (right to left, for example) or use a totally different character set will require a completely new format from the original one.
- Images. Culturally sensitive images, or images that don’t make sense in other countries, will need to be replaced with appropriate counterparts.
7. Don’t forget marketing and promotional materials.
Advertisements, game jacket covers, installation instructions, etc. will all need to be translated or have their audio re-recorded or dubbed. Don’t get too focused on the localizing the main game files and forget this important step!
8. Review the localization changes you receive back from your translator/voice actor/design team.
First, go over these changes yourself and make any requests for revisions that you require.
9. Add the translated/dubbed/redesigned files into your game as a new version in development.
If you’re indie or solo, this is a step to be careful with. You will want extensive backups of your finished version in the original language before you make any changes.
10. Send this new version to proofreaders and game testers.
Testers in the destination region can point out any mistranslations, inaccurate phrasing, clunky design problems, or other glaring issues. Have them keep idioms, proper nouns, and possible synonym issues in mind as they play.
11. Iron out any kinks your testers find.
Fix the problems that arise, and then move on to round two of testing.
12. Run more tests!
Even if it seems like a hassle, you should do several rounds of testing. And, if possible, you should have new testers play through your game for the first time in every round. New testers playing for the first time will catch errors that may slip by people who already know what to expect.
This repeated testing step is all about refinement. Players should point out any lingering issues and help you smooth out the game so the play-through, design, and language aspects all feel natural to native residents of the target region.
13. Repeat steps 10 and 11 as many times as necessary until your game is smooth, polished, and intuitive for players in the destination region.
Ideally, players should not be able to tell that the game was not originally made in their language.
14. Integrate this polished, localized version.
Make plenty of backups again! These versions will be the final, finished versions that get released to the world.
15. If you have more than one region for which you’d like to localize your game, pick another target.
For every new region, start over again from step 3.
16. Once you have all target versions finished…
Choose a strategy to gather your localized versions for distribution:
- Compile them all into one game version for distribution. This relies on the end-users’ settings to determine what language, design and subtitles or dubs will be used during play. For example, an Italian player would select Italy on the game’s installation menu, so all the files they need for the Italian version would be downloaded and installed.
- Compile separate versions of your game depending on the region. You might want to do this, for example, if one of your destination countries has strict laws about content and you’re worried one version of your game might violate those rules. In these cases, it is almost always better to play it safe.
17. Set your marketing plan in motion.
Before your game goes on sale, you will want to begin any pre-sale promotions and advertisements so your target audiences anticipate your game release with excitement.
18. Release your game.
Upload your game files to the sales platform of your choice for digital distribution, or send them to a game publisher to be made into physical copies.
Any game release is a huge accomplishment for an indie or solo developer. Take a moment to appreciate the completion of a job well done.
20. BONUS STEP: Continually accept and respond constructively to user feedback.
More than likely, end-users will find bugs, further mistranslations, or other issues that were missed during the development and testing process. That’s okay! Part of being a successful game developer is fixing these issues and letting the player community know that these issues have been fixed.
Remember that you will probably need to keep having game updates and changelogs translated into your destination languages as well! Keeping a game live and well-maintained is an ongoing process. If you follow these game localization steps every time you begin a new cycle, you will be on track for making sure audiences around the world will have the best experience playing your game.
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