Expansion Pack: A Video Game Localization Process Walkthrough

Last Updated May 1, 2023

Make sure your video game is playable by anyone, anywhere by putting it through the localization process.

If you’re in the game world, you already know how massive the market is.

In fact, the global gaming market size hit US$ 202.7 Billion in 2022. IMARC Group expects the market to reach US$ 343.6 Billion by 2028, exhibiting a growth rate (CAGR) of 9.08% during 2023-2028.

Additionally, and according to Slator, game localization is the language industry’s fastest-growing vertical and one of its most promising niches.

With Asia Pacific dominating the gaming market, Slator adds “game publishers and developers are increasingly turning to language service providers (LSPs) to provide localization and culturalization expertise at scale.”

So, let’s look at the video game localization process and why it’s so important.

What is video game localization?

Video game localization is all about creating the equivalent experience for players anywhere in the world. This isn’t the same thing as creating the original game in different languages.

It’s about making versions of the game that feel authentic to the player, wherever they are in the world.

That includes:

  • In-game story elements
  • Technical aspects
  • Marketing campaigns

Localizing ensures a smooth transition not just linguistically but also in terms of design.

Imagine being told the princess isn’t in this castle, she’s been moved to another one, but the text cuts off due to lack of screen space. You’re left not knowing where to go next.

Sentences can get much longer when you translate from English to German, for example. “Thank you, Mario, but our Princess is in another castle” translates to “Danke Mario, aber unsere Prinzessin ist in einem anderen Schloss.” That’s an additional 10 characters in that one simple phrase.

So, it’s not just about getting the content and context right in other languages, but accounting for the space the characters will take up on the screen.

Testing the localized version on an actual device is therefore necessary in the quality assurance stage.

That’s the final stage of the process, which we’ll look at more in depth below.

5 Steps of the Video Game Localization Process

To be honest, the localization process can be quick and easy or long and complex, depending on the size of your game, the number of culturally sensitive elements, and how many regions you’re targeting.

Technical barriers also prolong the process.

Here’s an overview of the steps that go into a successful localization project.

Plan to Localize from the Outset

Thorough planning at the creation stage of your video game helps ensure you’ll complete the work on time and budget.

This process should include pinpointing countries you want to target. This will help you prepare the game for localization by making its technical infrastructure adaptable to any market.

Prepare text character encoding and source code function for different regions and adapt for date and time formats and user interface, for example.

This will all make localization projects faster and more efficient. It’s especially important when localizing large games or localizing into several languages simultaneously. It also includes creating a list of elements—both linguistic and non-that you feel you should localize.

Create a Localization Kit

Further to the planning stage, a localization kit (or lockit) is a single package of data that helps your localization partner understand your game.

It should include everything from information on the backstory and characters, to more abstract information like tone and theme. The more comprehensive the lockit, the faster and more accurately your localization partner can work.

This information includes:

  • Translation glossary
  • Style guide
  • Useful visuals, such as screenshots
  • Details about dialogue subtitles
  • Biographies of major characters

It’s like how TV shows have their series bibles to ensure that the nature of the show wouldn’t change as those new writers come in. It creates consistency and keeps everyone on the same page.

The localization project manager is equivalent to the showrunner here. They’ll serve as directors and liaise between developers and localizers.

Populate a Translation Management System

This goes along with the translation glossary mentioned above. A translation management system (TMS) is specialized software used in the localization field that helps the team collaborate on your project.

There are many benefits of using a TMS, like increased consistency, accuracy, and faster localization.

Write your source code so that you can easily access, translate, and re-import language elements into the game. XML is a popular format for creating resource files, but there are many alternatives like JSON and YAML to explore as well.

By giving each string its own ID, you can not only make localization easier, but you also help the localization team increase consistency and reduce costs.

After you extract the text strings from your game, the localization team will load those strings into a TMS and address any technical requirements specific to your project, setting the stage for the next major phase.

Adapt Your Game

This is where your internal team or a language service provider (LSP) will begin the localization work.

While translators start working on the strings of text exported to the TMS, another team will start working on whichever non-text elements you’ve chosen for localization, like character clothing (which can have varying cultural significance), backgrounds, color schemes, and a variety of other in-game elements.

Remember: Localization goes far deeper than translation. Character names, place names, weapons, or other story elements shape the experience, and it should all feel as though the game is made with each target market in mind and not as an afterthought.

For example, back in 2018, the Arab version of FIFA 18 included Faris Awad, a well-known Emirati sports commentator. Providing Awad’s voice allowed Arabic fans to connect with the game. After its release, EA Sports sold 10 million copies within the first eight weeks!

Elements that don’t fit will create a literal and figurative disconnect between game and player.

Quality Assurance

This is the last phase in the video game localization process. A team of reviewers will methodically go through the game, perform linguistic testing, evaluate the interface to judge usability, and run compliance and functional tests.

Test all elements, including:

  • Storyline
  • Dialogue and narration
  • UI (user interface, i.e., what a player sees on the screen)
  • Subtitles
  • Live online support

Once the game has been tested and your team signs off, the game localization is complete.

Choose the Right Video Game Localization Partner

Video game localization requires a specific blend of know-how and tools, which is why most game developers choose to work with a partner who handles the entire localization process for them.

Summa Linguae Technologies provides you with a team of translators who have experience working with video game projects.

We also provide a single point of contact for all the other skill sets and specialists that you need to ensure successful game localization, such as subtitling and voice-over work, graphic design, animation specialists, and more.

So, if you’re a game developer who would like to learn more about the video game localization process, or get your new game ready for international success, contact us here.

We’d be happy to discuss how to bring your game to a global audience.

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