By Gang Seung-jin (Looa@inven.co.kr)
This article was originally published on Inven
It has been a long time since developers targeted single countries when developing games. For many of the games being developed these days, effort is put into reaching the global marketplace and attracting a variety of customers. However, thought must be put into whether some games are appropriate for certain markets as well as whether certain countries possess sufficient market potential. In addition, when it comes to accessing overseas markets, the one thing that must never be neglected is the process of localization.
At one point, people thought localization and translation were one and the same. However, localization is by no means limited to simply converting game content from one language to another. The process includes a wide variety of considerations for making a game appropriate for specific markets, from the conversion of weight and other measurements to ensuring content matches the historical and cultural expectations of a consumer base. When these aspects are included in localization, gamers will develop a sense of affection and loyalty for the product. In essence, developers will have tapped into the expectations of the gamer.
Won KyoungYeon, CEO of Logrus IT Korea spoke about game localization strategies and issues developers need to be aware of in order to access the global market.
Localization is not just translating text; it is capturing the hearts of gamers
Localization: This is the term used for the process of tailoring a game and its content to meet the expectations of a certain market. More specifically, this means transforming the content of a game to match the tendencies and expectations of that target market, and can even include changing the graphic elements of a game when necessary. We are often asked what the difference is between localization and translation, but language translation is just one step in the process of transforming game content for specific markets.
Take, for example, translation of the term 'social security number'. This cannot be directly translated into Korean because our equivalent is actually the 'resident registration number'. This may not seem like a serious issue, but such small details are found throughout games and must not be overlooked.
Beyond the content of a game, localization also requires converting currency units as well as weight and other measurements. An example of this is the use of meters for distance, something used in many countries, but not in the United States. In particular, the conversion of currency units cannot be casually overlooked, given that in-game transactions are now a common business model for many games. The conversion of dates as well as addresses and other zoning formats must also be considered during the localization process.
But what is the purpose of undergoing such a localization process? It is to give the impression to users that the game was developed specifically for their market, in terms of both appearance and feel. Not only will this make the game a more immersive experience; giving users the impression the game was developed with them in mind will inspire loyalty and attract more dedicated customers.
Certain countries are more marketable than others
With that in mind, how should you decide which countries to target for localization, and with which games? To answer these questions, the first thing that needs to be considered is the current market scale of video games.
Compared to the same time last year, the market scale of video games has grown 13.3% and is now approximately $135.4 billion dollars in 2018. That's roughly one third of the market for semiconductors, which are used in most electronic devices and have been referred to as a booming industry. Most notable is the average annual growth rate of the video game industry. It is estimated that the industry will have increased by no less than an average of 11.1% per annum from 2012 to 2021. Not only is this higher than the 3-4% growth rate that would be considered successful for any industry, it even surpasses the market growth of semiconductors.
But let's take a closer look at the mobile game market, which at a growth rate of 26.8% accounts for the greatest increase in the gaming industry. In 2018, the money spent on app purchases reached approximately $79 billion dollars. Game apps accounted for roughly $61.45 billion dollars, or nearly 80% of these purchases.
Let's have a look at some figures that are worth considering to understand the advantages of undergoing localization for this enormous market:
1. English speakers account for 27% of the game consumer market.
– This means localizing into English will enable one quarter of the gaming population to access your products
2. 100% of the top 100 apps in China have been localized into Chinese
– This is a prerequisite for targeting the Chinese market
3. App downloads increase by 138% per country after localization
4. Profits increase by 26% per country after localization
5. It takes just one week for the results of numbers 3 and 4 to obtained
(Numbers 3, 4, and 5 are the localization results obtained by certain global businesses)
The growth rate of users also increases after localization. You can see the wide margin of market growth after localization in certain countries in particular. German users have increased from 8.56% to 10.02% and Russian users from 6.38% to 7.78%. Most notably, Korean and Japanese users respectively increased from 2.54% to 6.29% and 1.04% to 5.69% after localization.
This shows the significant role localization has to play in accessing overseas markets. However, it is impossible to localize to all languages due to costs, maintenance and administrative issues. With that in mind, which languages should be considered for mobile game localization?
Let's take a look at the top ten countries in terms of global mobile game sales, accounting for 50%-80% of mobile game sales each year. China and the United States, both countries with large-scale game markets and populations, occupy the top two positions, while India, which boasts a game population of 210 million people sits in third place. Though the total number of gamers is far lower in Japan, Korea and England than the top three countries due to their smaller populations, they all boast a rather high ratio of game-users to non-game users.
The most noteworthy thing here is the amount users of a particular language in these countries. In terms of Chinese, Logrus IT divides the language into four categories for localization: simplified characters, traditional characters, Singapore and Hong Kong. We also categorize English into US and British English. The influence of consumers continues to grow. If effort is not put into customizing content for the language differences of each country (for example, England compared to the US), consumers will get the negative impression that they are being overlooked in terms of service. With that in mind, though India does have a gaming population of 210 million people, the number of languages used in the country is extremely diverse, as high as three thousand.
This means countries with large populations in which one language can be used to reach a high number of gamers must ultimately be prioritized when it comes to localization. So, it isn't simply a matter of distinguishing countries by the number of game players alone. Developers must consider the costs incurred prior to turning a profit.
The average revenue per user (ARPU) in Japan is $89.88, one of the highest in the world. However, at $2.81, its cost per installation (CPI) is also a global high. Conversely, Korea's ARPU is $88.94 (about the same as Japan), but its CPI is just $0.34, one-eighth of Japan's. This is why small indie game developers from abroad are also localizing and releasing their games in Korea in addition to large-scale overseas game companies.
Indonesia's ARPU is $10.09, which is less than China and France, but at $0.55, its CPI is one of the lowest in the world. This fact along with its extremely large gaming population of 51 million people enables product development that is cheaper than other countries, permitting a business model based around a high volume of sales at a low profit margin per unit. In localization, developers must consider not only the transformation of game content and product concepts, but also strategies tailored for specific markets.
Steam has much different language rankings than the mobile game market. While the rate of English-speaking users is the same at 30%, speakers of Russian, a language not present in the mobile top ten, also account for 10% of gamers. Spanish speakers from Latin America rank second in terms of the overall number of Steam users. This means that localization strategies must be differentiated depending on the gaming platform.
Localization changes everything about a game, so who should you entrust with the process?
Once you have determined a market for localization, you must decide what aspects of the game need to be localized. Localization can involve all elements of a game, from the in-game text such as the UI, dialogue, explanations, and tutorials, to even graphic text such as that in logos.
There are also many things that need to be considered beyond in-game elements. In order to attract users, the localization of marketing content must not be forgotten. Notifications and announcements are yet another element of the localization process. Users will feel deceived if updates don't actually take place after lengthy forewarning, update notifications or information appears without being translated. This almost certainly will cause users to stop playing. Usage terms and conditions are also important. There are limits to the utility of machine translation applications like Google and Naver when it comes to such information.
There are various ways to approach localization. The main methods are community-based, through crowdsourcing or by hiring a professional localization vendor. There are positives and negatives to each of these approaches.
▲ Attention must be given to each and every aspect of a game when it comes to localization
The first approach is depending on a community of users to localize content. Localization through a community of users requires little initial cost and their direct participation in the development process has the added effect of creating a base of gamers who are passionate about a project. However, it also requires developers to deal with the inevitable series of negative comments they are bound to receive.
But far worse than negative feedback are the nightmarish additional administrative difficulties that tend to emerge. Each time the content of a game is changed, the person verifying the changes tends to differ, which leads to localization continuity issues and eventually requires additional personnel input. Further, the repetition of such instances leads to a gradual increase in localization maintenance costs on top of a deterioration in the game's level of completeness. Once an emerging trend in localization, crowdsourcing also suffers from the same issues –difficulty retaining the same workers for the duration of a project along with asset management problems.
While localization through a professional vendor requires higher front-end costs than the aforementioned methods, financial input can be reduced down the road after the creation of a database that enables repeated use of translated content. However, this only bears fruit for projects with a minimum of ten to twenty thousand words. Still, vendor localization permits the creation of a style guide, something that is hard to do through a community-based approach.
Vendors are very useful when it comes to time-sensitive localization, such as for announcements and notifications, as well as for the creation of style guides and other elements that individuals find hard to take care of on their own. It can also be useful to take a dual approach – using vendors for complex projects and a passionate community of gamers for simple content such the game's user interface.
However, Won warned that if money is involved in the process, the once-passionate community of fans may become more like a group of mercenaries for hire. As alternatives to financial compensation, developers can offer beta and offline play invitations, conference sponsorships, or other rewards in return for localization work.
Game localization largely undergoes four main stages before completion. This begins with 'pre-production', which is followed by the 'production' stage when actual translation takes place. The next step is 'post-production', which mainly features quality assurance and proofreading. The final stage is called 'pre-flight'. This is when any issues that emerge are resolved and the localization is given final approval. The most important project within this process is the base language source text review during the pre-production stage.
Below you'll see two examples of common errors found in source text delivered by game developers.
- Example 1 -
Reflects damage dealt to all players and prevents poison for <&s> seconds.
In this sentence, the subject reflecting the damage is unclear, and it is unknown which character won't be poisoned. This sentence should be fixed as follows:
This skill reflects the damage dealt to all players and prevents the user from being poisoned for <&s> seconds.
- Example 2 -
Water Spirit - Uses the power of water to destroy strongholds and attack enemy units.
Fire Warrior - wields the power of flame at will to sear enemy units.
Sky God - shakes heaven and earth, causing enemies to collapse.
In these three sentences, the gender of the water spirit, fire warrior and sky god are all unclear. In English and in other European languages, articles, adjectives and verbs may vary depending on gender. In these circumstances, it is helpful to send along images of characters and items or other supplementary data when assigning text for review to enable the confirmation of gender. Alternatively, developers can edit such content to include masculine, feminine or neutral pronouns.
But when is the best time to start localization? It is important to begin the process before the game is developed, or, at the latest, while development is underway. In order to undergo localization, the internal elements of a game may require significant revision and this could lead to added production costs.
The following are some recommended localization strategies that can be implemented during the production process.
1. Unicode O: Sometimes does not support special characters.
2. Text hard coding X: Do not include strings or data in the program source code.
3. Font supporting hard-space O
4. Text box expansion O: German text tends to be 20-30% longer than English source content.
5. Graphic text X
6. Concatenated string X
7. Remember to use long strings
8. Clearly express plural forms
9. Consider whether to use paid / free font
▲The thorough culturalization of 'Rainbow Six Siege'
A far greater undertaking than the translation of language and terminology is the adaptation of game content to suit the particularities and cultural expectations of the gamers in individual countries – a process called 'culturalization'. Ubisoft's 'Rainbow Six: Siege' includes cultural and historical content specifically for Korea, including labeling Namsan Tower with its previous name of Mongmyeok Tower and clearly displaying Dokdo Island as Korean territory.
It's important to remember that localization and culturalization are not merely for improving the mood of users playing a game, but key strategies for creating loyal consumers and extending the productivity and lifespan of the product.