Dr Miguel Á. Bernal-Merino is a lecturer at the University of Roehampton in London. He co-created the GDC Localization Summit, the IGDA Localization SIG, the Game Localization Round Table and Game Global.
A brave new world of game developers has risen from China, South Korea, Germany, Russia, Brazil and Poland. They are not only creating new opportunities and fans, but also disrupting old commercial flows. As growth stagnates in historically strong regions for the gaming industry due to high competition, game publishers seeking to expand their market share need to broaden their horizons and look to untapped areas of the globe, before competitors claim their crown. Only the most agile are likely to survive this battle royale for the $135bn (£105bn) global market.
When trying to sell games in other countries, the most enduring approach for companies has been to translate only the marketing and packaging of games. This is cheap and fast but not adequate. The next step up is partial localisation where only in-game text is translated. However, this does not take into consideration culture, politics, religion and historical references.
Using full localisation, which adds voiceover dubbing into the receiving locales (a language can have several locales such as US or UK English, Latin American or Castilian Spanish, and so on), games developers can be one step closer to enhancing players’ experiences. However, many companies, big and small, have had bad experiences implementing full localisation, which is often expensive and delayed because developers did not internationalise their design and programming.
Companies instead need to decide during pre-production which locales they are going to target and internationalise their engine from the start. Only this will guarantee an easier localisation process.
Last is glocalisation. This is not just a question of bridging basic linguistic gaps and avoiding legal challenges due to cultural offences, it involves adapting creative designs for regional audiences by providing some country-specific characters, teams, cars, items, storylines, cultural references, music, and so on. Working with developers, localisation experts can help to co-create localised versions of games that are more in-tune with regional tastes and legislation. This is even more important given the global simultaneous shipment of games to minimise grey and black market impact on sales.
Many games have faced localisation challenges which have all originated from the simplistic view that people around the world think the same no matter where they are from. The interactive nature of video games means that players are protagonists, primordial agents within the game world, and as such they are more sensitive to nuances than they would be when reading a book or watching a film.
This is why what is acceptable, appropriate and enjoyable can vastly vary depending on players’ cultural identity. It is not only the representation of violence, distasteful verbal exuberance, sexual themes or glamourising criminal activities. It is a question of bearing in mind players’ origins as this can increase ROI significantly.
For US companies capitalising on English as a global language, localisation brings 75 per cent of the gross profits, while for companies in other countries it may add as much as 95 per cent to their bottom-line given that the majority of their sales are abroad. The global market is not a digital treasure island but the bounty is real for those who know how to navigate the localisation seas.