Practical and Effective Strategies for Successful Video Game Localization

Over 3 billion video gamers across the globe eagerly await the next big game. Do you want to be a part of that? The fastest way to global reach is to create a virtual world that is in your target market’s language and perfectly aligned with their culture.

Enter video game localization: adapting a video game’s elements to resonate personally and culturally with gamers worldwide. Over 3 billion video gamers across the globe eagerly await the next big game. Do you want to be a part of that? The fastest way to global reach is to create a virtual world that is in your target market’s language and perfectly aligned with their culture.

The Importance of Video Game Localization

Given that a significant 62% of PC and console players stress the importance of games tailored to their native language and regional specifics, it’s clear that effective localization is a necessity for global success. But you have to do it right: Poor translation and localization can quickly go viral within gaming communities—which is an immediate hit to your game’s reputation.

Evolving Standards in Game Localization

From Early Days to Modern Standards
In the early days of video gaming, game translation errors were somewhat commonplace, often resulting in unintentionally humorous or confusing dialogue. Remember Zero Wing’s “All your base are belong to us”?

The High Stakes of Localization
However, the video game industry has matured, and so have the standards for video game localization. Today, the market is fiercely competitive and highly lucrative, with revenues projected to grow significantly. This evolution leaves little room for error—you need help to localize games impeccably and meet the expectations of the international audience.

Effective video game localization is exactly like playing a sophisticated strategic video game, where each move must be calculated and precise, the objectives are complex, and the environment continuously evolves. Here’s how you win this game.

Strategies for Effective Localization

Know Your Target Audience
Before spending money on video game localization, find out whether the potential returns justify the investment. Identify the geographic markets with the highest potential, considering factors like gaming popularity, economic strength, cultural relevance to the game’s genre, and existing competition in that market.

Promising target markets are typically ones where similar games have been successful or where there’s an obvious demand for the genre. As a general guideline, Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs) and First-Person Shooters (FPSs) are universally popular—think Fortnite, League of Legends, or Call of Duty.

However, preferences will also differ depending on the country or region. Most European markets prefer simulation games, sports, action, and adventure. Gamers in Japan and South Korea strongly prefer Role-Playing Games (RPGs) with complex storylines and deep character development. Latin America is perfect for sports games (especially soccer) and free-to-play mobile games.

Analyze the demographics of potential gamers in these markets, including age, gender, preferences, and spending habits. You’ll apply that extensive research to guide your localization efforts, improving the game’s impact and success in every region.

Complete Essential Activities
The localization team and developers must bring together four closely related activities:

Preserving Your Game’s Essence
All game elements, from storylines to character behaviors, must be contextualized. The complexity of cultural adaptation varies significantly depending on how similar the target audience’s culture is to that of the original game. For instance, localizing a game with a Western cultural background for an audience in Japan involves a profound cultural recalibration to ensure that themes, humor, and references are meaningful and engaging. At the same time, your game needs to retain its original essence (vibe, style, and storyline) so players worldwide have a consistent experience.

Overcoming Language Barriers
The translation team does more than translate dialogues and instructions. Names, symbols, and icons may need adjustments to be more relatable to gamers with various preferences. It’s about making decisions about memes and idioms and how they can be adapted to maintain relevance and impact in every target language. A notable example of best practices is The Witcher 3, where the localization team creatively adapted riddles across 16 languages with new rhymes and humor that were culturally resonant.

Navigating Technical Challenges
Your localization teams must handle different technical standards, such as video formats, hardware preferences, and software compatibility. It’s a long list of must-haves, from managing text expansion or contraction to fit UI layouts to handling data privacy, online payments, and age restrictions. The devil is in the details—localized versions of your game will require meticulous adjustments to button sizes, menu layouts, and dialogue boxes to accommodate new text lengths without compromising the design or user experience.

Complying with Laws and Regulations
Most countries have rigid laws for media content, particularly with themes involving violence, nudity, gender representation, and religious references. Let’s use the same example: the localization for The Witcher 3, which involved several changes in the game content, like skipped scenes, cut nudity, and retouched visual elements to make the video game more modest.

Before the localization process begins, you must comprehensively understand each target market’s specific requirements and preferences. This is the only way to plan and adequately budget your international quest for success.

Aligning Assets for Efficient Localization

A detailed localization kit and a clear strategy get your team and the localization provider on the same page for the game’s vision and technical requirements. These assets help you avoid potential technical issues and allow you to maintain consistency in tone, terminology, and style across multiple localized versions of your video game.

Localization Kit (LocKit)
The localization kit allows game developers and localization teams to work directly from original files, ensuring consistency and accuracy. Without it, localizers must rely on adaptations or console-specific versions, increasing the risk of perpetuating errors and inconsistencies introduced in earlier localizations.

It happened with Final Fantasy IV, which underwent significant alterations in its various versions for different markets. Localizers notably simplified the original Japanese game for its Western release as Final Fantasy II. These initial content modifications led to further translations featuring drastically changed or made-up dialogue and characters receiving new, often inconsistent, personalities.

A complete LocKit must include:

  • Game build: a playable version of the original game that translators and localizers can use to grasp the full context, mechanics, and immersive elements
  • Text files: dialogues, UI elements, tutorials, and in-game messages in the original language, provided in easily editable file formats like XML or JSON
  • Audio files: original audio files and scripts for subtitles and accurate dubbing
  • Art assets: graphic assets that require modification, like textures with embedded text and culturally specific imagery

Style Guide
The style guide gives the localization team all the information necessary to translate your game’s entire essence, so all versions keep the original game feel. It also helps game developers handle visual elements and UI/UX design in a way that fits with the linguistic content.

What to include:

  • Tone and style: a clear description of the desired tone and style of the game’s text
  • Character limitations: guidelines on text length for UI elements so the text fits within designated spaces
  • Font guidelines: acceptable fonts, particularly for languages that use non-Latin scripts

The glossary contains proprietary terms or unique slang and is the reference point for correct usage, accurate translations, and quality assurance. This way, translations stay true to the original content and maintain the game’s coherence across multiple languages.

Before considering cutting corners by skipping this step—not having a standardized glossary will likely lead to inconsistencies. A clear example is the PlayStation release of Final Fantasy Tactics. Here, a character named Olan in the original version is inconsistently referred to as Orlan in later versions within the game’s dialogue—not how you want your localized version to go viral.

Points to be covered in the glossary:

  • Terminology: all the key terms, character names, cultural references, proprietary nouns, invented languages, and “untranslatable” words
  • Contextual information: explanations for ambiguous terms or phrases and notes on cultural adaptation, advising translators on how to handle culturally sensitive terms

Technical Requirements
Gathering all tech requirements in one place ensures compatibility and functionality across different platforms and systems. This preparation sets the stage for efficient resource allocation and compliance. Collecting these details upfront also simplifies future game updates and expansions.

Elements to consider:

  • Encoding standards: text encoding standard to prevent issues with character display across various systems and platforms
  • Platform specifications: all platform-specific localization requirements for PC, consoles, or mobile devices
  • Legal requirements: censorship laws or regulatory compliance requirements for each targeted market

Even though you might refine these materials further with your localization provider, a solid base will speed up the localization process. This preparation also positions you as an informed and dedicated partner, making negotiating and managing the project easier.

Planning and Budgeting for Localization

Below are the services required at various stages of video game localization. Use this list to plan your global expansion and accurately calculate costs and potential return on investment.

All text content in the game—from dialogue and menus to user interfaces and help files—must be converted from the original language to the target languages.

You need a team of experts to change symbols, colors, and references to suit the cultural contexts of different regions.

Graphic and UI/UX Adaptations
Depending on the target market, you may need to change artwork, user interface elements, and even character designs to accommodate translated text and culturally specific aesthetics.

Voice-over and Audio Localization
You must re-record the game’s dialogue and potentially adjust sound effects and music to better local tastes and cultural expectations.

Localization Engineering
Development teams must adjust the game’s software to handle different languages, which may involve supporting new character sets, altering text layout, and ensuring that the game runs smoothly on region-specific hardware.

Testing and Quality Assurance
It’s crucial you check the cultural and linguistic accuracy, ensuring that the game’s translated content works well within its context. Experts will identify and fix issues like text overflow, ensure that hotkeys remain functional, and verify that no part of the game breaks due to translation.

Legal and Compliance Review
You need legal support to ensure your game meets the local regulations and legal standards of each market, including age ratings, privacy laws, and content restrictions.

Marketing and Packaging Localization
Native copywriters and localization experts support your team as they adjust marketing materials, game packaging, and promotional items to engage local audiences.

Optimal Setup for Localization

Optimal setup guarantees speed of delivery and high quality regardless of the project’s complexity. It begins with establishing a framework where responsibilities are clearly defined, and experts are equipped with the right tools to excel in their specialties.

Engage The Localization Team Early
Bring together the localization and game development teams in the early stages of development. This integration facilitates a proactive approach, allowing the design and coding of game elements to be naturally adaptable to different markets.

Having the localization team involved from the outset allows them to identify potential risks and address them before the localization process formally begins. Developers and localizers who work together can prevent delays and errors in translation, ultimately leading to a smoother release of the game in various markets.

Provide Detailed Role Assignments
Successful video game localization depends on precise role distribution among team members. The game developers provide the essential game documentation and set requirements, the project manager coordinates the process, and the localization team manages translation, cultural adaptation, technical adjustments, and quality assurance.

Work closely with your video game localizadhk tion team to define solid processes and information flows so everyone understands their responsibilities. Robust processes and frameworks deliver high quality from the initial translation phase to the final testing phase. Nothing falls through the cracks—partly because everyone understands their role in the process and because it creates dedicated space for testing at every stage.

Use State-of-the-art Technology
The technical setup is equally crucial when your development team needs to adapt the game to
global requirements—different screen sizes, payment methods, and currencies. Without a solid technical foundation, even the most creative content could be lost due to bugs and usability issues, impacting the game experience. No one likes a video game where the voice dubbing isn’t in sync or special characters aren’t displayed correctly.

Choosing a Professional Localization Service

A proficient localization team will navigate complex challenges to help you achieve your quest. With advanced tools, automation technologies, creativity, and impressive language skills, translators and localization experts can handle everything so your game gains players globally.

Also, working with an established provider gives you access to cultural consultants and insights beyond basic translation. They’re experts in local customs, values, humor, and taboos and can make your game’s content appropriate and engaging for each audience.

At Hansem Global, we bring over 30 years of expertise to the complex world of game localization services. Our in-house team is composed of experienced linguists specializing in game script localization and project managers who are well-versed in version control, terminology management, and adherence to industry best practices.

Hansem Global proudly serves renowned clients such as Blizzard, Roblox, Riot Games, and Madfinger, bringing world-class localization services to some of the biggest names in the gaming industry. Contact us and take the first step toward a successful localization strategy for your video game.