Existing in a world as culturally diverse and rich in traditions as we do, there’s bound to be a plethora of characteristics that differentiate us from one another. Vernacular only being one key factor of this, two countries may speak the same native language, but can have completely different values and traditions embedded in their society. Keeping that in mind, adapting a project to its corresponding country of need is vital to avoid misunderstandings within the communities of the respective nation. Fortunately, there’s an arsenal of strategies that help guiding developers in the right direction of successful localization.
In this post, we will bring you some tips that will help you localize your game worldwide, avoid cultural misunderstandings and legal restrictions, and have your game loved around the globe.
The 4Rs of Game localization
Localization is the heart of every gaming project; It encompasses everything that is needed to adapt a product, in our case games, to the social complexities of the desired target country. Since every game contains cultural elements that its creators have placed intentionally to express part of their own culture, it is imperative to the core meaning of a game to keep those elements intact in other languages or adapt them to something of similar cultural value. Since handling these societal nuances can be very tricky, there is much room for error in understanding someone else's upbringing.
For a lot of developers, trying to navigate through this space seems to pose a literal minefield of potential cultural inadequacies, leading a lot of questions to arise early in the process; What languages should I translate my game to? What visual aspects need to be changed? What kind of content is inadequate for what particular audience? How is that going to affect the further game design process?
We will address all these questions and more in today's post, exploring the right way to localize your gaming projects in the future and how you can apply the 4R-system to help you succeed in the foreign market.
Here are the 4Rs you should consider in your game localization strategy.
1. Rewrite: The most common of all the “Rs”; Rewriting. Most of the games these days we can see being released on the foreign market, have probably been re-written in some form or another. A game’s dialogue not containing explicit language does not guarantee it being publishable in just any country. Keeping in mind awareness for political and cultural sensitivities as well, any parts of a game that could be regarded as “touchy subjects” to address, should be rewritten in advance. There have been many of examples of authorities prohibiting a title’s release; Chinese officials, for example, prevented the launch of PUBG Mobile China since it was deemed overall too violent.
PUBG Mobile Banned!
2. Rebrand: If one of the biggest selling points to a project is the fact that developers make use of specific culturally iconic property, considering individualized regional rebranding is recommended for a successful international launch. Rebranding, even if it goes as far as redesigning most of the game, can bring a title from the “foreign market niche”, to being a possible new cult classic. Developers of the Japanese game "Roger Rabbit" made use of this strategy; released in the USA as "The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle" and in Germany as "Hugo", developers decided to change not only the game's title but also its main character and thematic design according to popular regional culture, making the game more recognizable and iconic in their countries of launch.
The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle for the American market and Roger Rabbit for the Japanese market.
3. Rename: Watch out for “false friends”. In linguistics, this term describes the phenomenon of having two, or more words from different languages that look or sound similar but differ significantly in meaning. Therefore, verifying that a game’s contents do not create confusion within the addressed community is crucial, since disparities in the meanings of these “false friends” are quick to miss. Content that is subject to verification includes, but is not limited to: items, people, and locations. An excellent example is Midway Games changing the name of the French installment of their title “Mortal Kombat: Deception” in 2004 to “Mortal Kombat: Mystification”, since the word "déception" in French means disappointment and letdown, obviously deviating from the title’s original meaning. This way, Midway was able to avoid any misunderstandings on the broad consumer spectrum.
Mortal Kombat: Deception (for the worldwide market) and Mortal Kombat: Mystification (just for the French market).
4. Redesign: Changing potentially inadequate visual elements of your game is probably the most time intense, and most delicate part of the localization process. Since any ever-so-small visual insensitivities will be picked up very quickly by regional players, a lot of knowledge, designing, evaluation and re-evaluation is required to make sure public outrage is being avoided. Imagery like blood, skulls, sexual references, depiction of drug use and similar might be commonly enjoyed by western audiences, but be might regarded as too explicit for others, making it unlikely for your game to be published in substantial parts of the global market. We recommend researching media restrictions of your designated publishing region before beginning the developing process. Wolfenstein 2, for example, had to have significant parts of its visual elements changed to maintain cultural awareness towards Germany, avoiding politically delicate subjects and symbolism related to World War II.
Who can make use of this strategy?
There are several regions in the global market that have seen an impactful increase in video game consumption over the last few years. In 2019 alone, game sales in Latin America and Pacific Asia had respectively increased by around 10%. According to WePC, China, the USA, and Japan are the most valuable markets that hold majority share of the gaming industry revenue, raking in around 48% of all profit. While that sounds like an attractive opportunity for small and big developers alike, it’s vital to keep the complexities of these cultural markets in mind while preparing a title for launch. That's why we suggest the straight-forward 4R-Guideline when localizing a game. The general course of process, however, depends on the ultimate goal of the developer or shareholder. Aiming to sell to a big market might generally sound like a good idea but can go wrong quickly if the market's expectations of a game are not being met, possibly causing more profound financial damage.
Why is it important to localize gaming projects?
Video games are becoming one of the most popular forms of entertainment for all demographics worldwide. According to Investopedia, in 2020, the video game industry made more than 150 billion US Dollars, and speculations predict 2025 to be generating more than 260 billion. It is now, more than ever, a vital time for developers to expand to these markets and find their specific niche in localization. Having quality localization in your game ensures that your product stands out from the current competition. When developers take the time to include small cultural in-game details, they are usually more than certain to receive a lot of appreciation from the consumer base. Things like regional colloquial expressions, renamed characters, and culturally accurate traditional elements will leave users with a feeling of having experienced a more personal and “alive” game.
Supporting new projects
Although applying the 4R-system might sound challenging to apply to your current and future projects, the right gaming localization company can support you and help you reach your goals, while new profitable markets are waiting for you to publish your game.
Keep in mind, the more research that was put into your title, the better the overall feedback. Know about the culture, customs, political restrictions, and other external and internal variables that could affect the launch of your video game in the short and long run.
Have you decided where your next launch will be? Altagram has the experience that you need for your projects. Our team has worked with game studios of all sizes, localizing more than 5500 games in over 50 languages.
Game localization and culturalization are our specialties. Our team of trained professionals is composed of game localization specialists, audio producers, localization quality evaluators, and many more, making sure you have everything you need to present your game to foreign audiences at your disposal.
No cults, no politics, no ghouls: how China censors the video game world https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/jul/15/china-video-game-censorship-tencent-netease-blizzard
Lost in Translation Retrieved from https://www.blockfort.com/other-lists/rebrandedgames/
Así es la versión censurada de Wolfenstein 2 en Alemania Retrieved from https://vandal.elespanol.com/noticia/1350699012/asi-es-la-version-censurada-de-wolfenstein-2-en-alemania/
Cómo Wolfenstein II Censuró a Hitler en la Versión Alemana Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTQ1eBiRRRo
Video Game Industry Statistics, Trends and Data In 2021 Retrieved from https://www.wepc.com/news/video-game-statistics/
How the Video Game Industry Is Changing Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/053115/how-video-game-industry-changing.asp
10 Video Games That Got Weird Name Changes In Other Countries Retrieved from https://kotaku.com/10-video-games-that-got-weird-name-changes-in-other-cou-1694827509
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At Altagram, we use our years of experience in the gaming industry to help game developers and localization managers get the results they want as efficiently as possible.