How to Localize a Mobile Game for the Asian Market
With the Asian market rapidly growing, almost every ambitious IT product sooner or later faces the challenge of localization for this region. And without knowing all its facets any localization project is rather doomed to fail. That’s why we at Alconost have decided to translate and share with you the article on localizing games for Asia by Plarium, a global game developer with solid experience in game localization. We found here some useful approaches that are also valid for our localization projects and hope that you’ll like the reading, too.
For Western developers, entering the Asian market is like entering outer space, only 30 megabytes heavier. Localizing games into Japanese, Chinese, and Korean requires a Herculean effort. You need to account for certain technical requirements and scrupulously research the market and the target audience’s mindset. But if this is your dream, keep reading — our experience should stand you in good stead.
A Smooth Operation
In Plarium games are translated in 12 languages. And the localization department has 4 different focuses:
- Mobile games
- Browser-based games
- Social games
- Non-game texts (translating and adapting internal company documents)
The department is made up of three mini-teams of three to four people, each of which handles the entire language suite for its focus. Each teammate is responsible for up to three languages. All editors and translators are native speakers of the target language and work with various teams.
Our own experience has convinced us that the wheel has to be reinvented every time — there is no universal localization algorithm.
Every project is unique not only in terms of its genre, setting, and mechanics but also the particular nature of localizing games for various platforms.
Tweaking the Engines
According to the statistics from the American analytics company Superdata, the mobile segment accounts for 59% of the Asian game market and is worth USD 20 billion.
General Key Phases of Localization
Research. Study the market and scout gaming communities. When working with the Asian market, the language barrier can be felt particularly acutely — Asian gamers usually don’t know English well enough to game in it. Things get even more complicated with China because the Chinese have their own version of the internet with restricted access that people in other countries can’t use.
Culture. The cornerstone of localization is paying attention to the unique cultural and historical features of countries and the mindsets of players there. In the game Pirates: Tides of Fortune, for example, the main antagonist is the king of Spain. We didn't change the nationality of the big bad in the Spanish localization, and gamers took it as part of a fictional setting, nothing more. In the Chinese-speaking segment of the market, however, a similar situation wouldn’t exactly have a positive influence on user attraction.
Another example is the care that must be taken with slogans and calls to action. For instance, for Germany, we advertise our strategy games without using the German words for “wage war,” “attack,” or “build an empire” despite the fact that these actions are an integral part of Plarium’s games. Over several years of working with translators, we’ve developed special methods for sanding down these harsh phrases.
Feedback about the localization of a specific language is gathered little by little from a variety of sources. The best thing to do is to collect opinions from native-speaking marketing experts, analysts, sociologists, translators, and gamers.
Logic and flexibility. Every language has its own flexibility and logic. For example, if you’re fluent in Russian, you can easily adjust to software requirements. However, Russian isn’t as compact and concise as English. And German, for example, has a fixed work order.
Uniqueness. The new localization needs adaption to the existing interface and code as much as possible. The challenge is to account for the unique characteristics of all supported languages. You can try to create a universal interface, but you’ll still end up having to tweak it to match the grammatical structure of the language.
Lore. The mobile version has no descriptions of units. This fact does not affect the story, but still has an impact on the depth and sophistication of the game world. Thus, when moving from the social and browser-based segments to the mobile segment, there’s a great temptation to make texts as brief and functional as possible. This originates from the widespread opinion that people come to mobile games to play, not to read. Nevertheless, we don’t want to completely lose the rich lore we've developed, so we try to use quests, timelines, and side quests to introduce new characters and delve into the universe’s history. We try to strike a balance between the storyline, atmosphere, and maximally functional texts.
Preparing for Launch — Checking for Compatibility
Taboos and preferences. Japan has its own relationship to gaming culture in general — it’s more fanatical and more commonplace at the same time. Video games are an integral part of Japanese life. Japanese people mostly play games on the way to work or home, since their commute often takes up two to three hours of their day. Japanese people tend to get completely swept away by a single trend. They even have a whole TV channel dedicated exclusively to video games. However, the games that are in the lead can change very quickly. For strategy games that people play for years, this is an interesting challenge.
In Korea, bright neon colors (especially pink) are favorable in game design. Everything needs to be colorful and flashy.
When working with the Chinese market, don’t get carried away with unreal, eye-catching phantoms. And avoid using the same shade of red found on the Chinese flag.
Just truth, just hardcore. Games in English are popular in Asia despite the fact that most users, including young people, aren't all that fluent in foreign languages. Localization is very important for the Asian market, but there’s one caveat: if your game looks obviously Western, don’t try to jump higher than the rising sun and transform the app into something that is supposedly Asian through and through. You can try to change the game until it’s unrecognizable, swapping out everything up to and including the mechanics, and pretend the app was made in China, but it’s probably not going to work. No matter how hard you try to copy the Asian style, Asian players will smell a rat. Gamers don’t like being tricked, so avoid creating a dissonance between the game’s design and its text.
Try to be as honest as possible, and don’t pawn the game off as an Asian product when it isn’t one. The localization should be professional and use lively, natural language. Gamer culture is pretty receptive to experimentation. There's nothing wrong with leaving a Western game the way it is and preserving its terminology. Borrowing concepts from English-language games is okay. For example, there’s no need to find a Japanese or Korean equivalent of the word “quest,” since this term is familiar to Asian gamers. Moreover, the tide of globalization has yet to be stemmed, and there’s no law against focusing on worldwide pop culture in games. In general, users from Asia are interested in the unique nature of Western culture — it’s considered a progressive trend.
Technical requirements. Asian characters are heavy. In Latin alphabets, each character equals one byte. In the Cyrillic alphabet (used in Russian, Bulgarian, etc.), each character is equal up to two bytes. But each traditional Japanese character can weigh up to four bytes. A full set of traditional Chinese characters weighs about 30 megabytes. Adding this set to a game will make the app a little bit bigger. We use fonts with simplified typesets of Chinese characters that only weigh about 18 megabytes.
As part of the reform of the Chinese educational system in the mid-20th century, the appearance of many characters was changed in order to make them easier to remember. Nowadays China has almost completely switched to the simplified version, but the traditional set of characters is still used in Hong Kong. In Stormfall: Rise of Balur we prepared two versions of the game’s localization, which, needless to say, had an effect on the size of the app: about 36 megabytes. Later on we're going to test the audience’s reaction to both locales and decide whether or not to keep both sets of characters in the game. Things are a little simpler with Korean — its writing system is just an alphabet masquerading as logograms.
How to find editors and translators. The requirements for choosing translators and editors for Asian markets are much harsher. For translating into Western languages, the candidate just has to have the minimum amount of localization and gaming experience. When it comes to the Asian market, we need translators with particular experience in localizing Western games, and preferably mobile strategy games.
At first, we had our translations edited by native speakers who play our games on Facebook. Now and then we would get feedback from them such as, “it’s a good translation, but that’s it.” Gamers would say that the atmosphere had been conveyed inaccurately or that a term had been used incorrectly. For example, casual games have “lives,” but strategy players are used to talking about “energy.”
We got feedback on our translations not just from players, but also from journalists and writers who evaluated the literacy and quality of the translation, as well as the purity of the language and the balance between borrowed terms and concepts from the target language. Taken together, this feedback helped us find suitable translators and editors.
Special testing. In order to evaluate usability, we captured videos of our Japanese testers playing the game. This approach was more effective than getting a written or oral review of the game. Politeness is paramount in Japanese culture, so Japanese people often feel uncomfortable giving someone an objective evaluation or admitting that there are certain aspects of the game they don’t understand or like. Japanese testers are more likely to provide a generalized, but utterly useless review. On the video, however, everything is crystal clear, even without words. By watching the gamer’s fingers move across the screen you can see how they played through the tutorial, which reactions and emotions they experienced while playing, and what they were caused by.
And We’re Off
Localizing a game for the Asian market is a long, labor-intensive process that demands a lot of effort. But if you approach it responsibly and create a high-quality translation, users will appreciate it.
About the translator
Alconost is a global provider of localization services for apps, games, videos, and websites into 70+ languages.
We offer translations by native-speaking linguists, linguistic testing, cloud-based workflow, continuous localization, project management 24/7, and work with any format of string resources.
We also make advertising and educational videos and images, teasers, explainers, and trailers for Google Play and the App Store.