Video game localization guide


e often receive questions from new and experienced video game developers about the localization process. They want to understand the big picture as well as the fine details and best practices. Game localization is not something game developers think about all the time. But it is important, and when they are ready, they need our help.

Having this information early on and readily available is important. That’s why we’ve created this page to help game developers and other video game industry players better understand the localization process.

In this guide, we’ll cover all the major characteristics of localization including: what it is, how it can help grow your game, and important information to keep in mind when developing a video game for international audiences.

What is video game localization?

he best way to describe localization is a process. It isn’t done instantly, and like game development, should be iterative.

Game localization is the process of making your video game more visible to everyone, regardless of language, country, or culture.

The process includes translation and cultural adaptation. It also includes rethinking distribution methods and pricing.

On the international stage, localization is a sign of legitimacy, and can help your game gain more attention simply for being available in many languages and regions.

Localizing your game will increase its exposure — and your revenue.

What are the marketing benefits of localizing my game?

There are a number of benefits to localizing your video game. Localization will make some benefits immediately available to you while for others, it may simply open the door to those opportunities. Here are the main reasons indie game developers and game publishers alike look to localize a video game.

Increased visibility

The first reason is marketing. Many game platforms like Apple’s App Store and Steam include localization as a metric in their search results. Put simply, localization increases visibility. A game that’s been localized into a few languages will rank higher than a game with no localization. Similarly, these platforms may require localization into a set list of languages before they include the game in a curated list or on recommended games.

Increased sales

The second reason is international sales. Likely this is any game publishers primary motivation. There are many gamers around the world who are interested in your game — but will not be able to play in English.

Localizing your game will give you access to more markets and more users, but only if you do it right.

Even those who do read English might prefer to play in their native language. They are likely to choose a competing game that is available in their language over yours. In fact, they are more likely to find that competing game because they might filter their search for games in their own language or read only reviews of games in their own language. Catering content to players in other regions will make your game feel more local and convince them that you’re a developer worth their time and money.

Increased legitimacy

The third reason focuses on legitimacy and acclaim. Localization is the starting line for global success. A competent and professional game development studio is expected to localize their games to all the major markets. It’s an unspoken expectation by game enthusiasts, and basic requirement to reach sales goals. Localization affects ratings and visibility in various ways which create the conditions for a game to gain traction globally and reach international acclaim. To put it another way, all those localizations might help your English-language sales climb too.

What is the localization process like?

The localization process for video games is not as complicated as it’s made out to be. Like with all projects, you plan, execute, and review.

No matter which localization partner you choose, you’ll go through the following steps in some form.

Plan your localization

The first step is the planning phase. The main items you need to figure out at this point are the cost of localization and the timeline. The easiest way to get an idea on both is simply to ask. Reach out to localization vendors and ask them for estimates. You’ll need to share details about your game to get an accurate estimate, but it’s well worth it. We can give you an exact price instantly based on your text, and most other companies can too.

Beyond cost and scope, you will also need to prepare your game for localization. You can view the tips section of this guide to get an idea, but consulting a localization project manager about your specific case is the best way to go. The specifics depend on what platform you’re developing for, if you’re using Unity, for example, and so on.

Preparing the Localization Kit

The next step is preparing the localization kit, or "loc kit" as it’s often called. This kit will include contextual information on your game and the strings you send for translation. Context can include a summary of your game’s plot, bio on various characters, a glossary with key game terms, and most importantly, visuals. More than anything else, the translators and project manager localizing your game will benefit the most from seeing screenshots of text in context. It’s even more important with video games to provide as much information upfront as possible.

Preparing a loc kit may seem like a daunting task and you may be wondering whether the localization team really needs all this material upfront. Like all localization projects, the project managers and translators will need context to translate everything correctly. The more complex your game, the more you’ll need to prepare. Providing context will only help your localization team and make the process smoother for you so it’s always best to provide more.

Export Your Strings

This step is the most technical. You will need to decide on a file format that works for you and export all of your game’s text in that form. Once the translation phase is complete, the translations will be delivered in that format and you’ll import the translations into your game. This could involve writing your own script to export and import strings. Keeping that in mind, any competent localization vendor will be able to work with any standard localization file type, or an Excel spreadsheet if nothing else.

During the translation phase, they will use a dedicated translation management system (or TMS for short) which is a translation platform that streamlines and optimizes many aspects of the process. For one, a TMS ensures that translators will never touch any code or break any variables. They will always work within the TMS and never directly in the file you send. You may be tempted to copy & paste your strings to an .xlsx file, color-code it, and add comments about what precisely you need translated. Don’t do this. It’s inefficient and poor use of your time as your localization partner will re-work the file and upload it to the TMS.

Localization is Underway

Linguists are localizing your dialogue. Puns are being re-written. References are being culturally adapted. Assuming you prepared an amazing loc kit, you will need to do very little during this step. All you need to do during this phase is be available for questions and unforeseen issues that will require your creative direction.

Linguistic Quality Assurance

Generally, quality assurance and testing will be the last step. For video game quality assurance, the tasks and scope of this step can vary greatly. The size of your game, its complexity, and your budget will decide how much you spend here, both in money and resources. You’ll want to discuss with your localization partner what precisely you would like to do. This step can be as simple as reviewing screenshots to make sure foreign alphabets appear correctly and aren’t cut off, or as elaborate as an in-context review where the linguists meticulously check the translations in-game.

How much time to budget for localization

Typically, localization comes toward the end of your development timeline. Being so close to launch, you may be tempted to rush the process. Don’t rush localization. It means the world! How much time do you need? You’ll need to plan a strategy, prepare your loc kit, and export your strings. These initial steps happen BEFORE translation begins, so try to do a little during development. Translations and integrating/QA those translations, takes the most time.

The majority of the time required will be taken up by the actual translation stage and the quality assurance stage. The translation phase is typically calculated at words per day, with extra days set aside for processing feedback and making corrections after the translations have been integrated. Like other arts, rushing translations will result in taking shortcuts, errors, and sloppy work.

— Don’t rush translations. Put them in version 1.0.1 if you have to.

Should I localize marketing materials?

es, you need to localize your marketing materials, too.

Translating in-game text is only half the battle. You need to make international users aware of your game, understand why they want to buy it, and how to play it. Localizing your game will make it available to new markets, but it’s the marketing material that will convince them to try it out.

— If you don’t translate your marketing materials, it’s like baking a cake without eating it.

There are two main things to consider when localizing your marketing strategy. The first is your actual marketing content such as graphics, ad copy, and app store descriptions. Given that most of this text is creative, you’ll probably start seeing the word transcreation when conducting research and talking to localization vendors. Transcreation is the process of creatively re-writing content in translation. Most marketing copy will need to be adapted and rewritten to match the target market’s tastes. Visuals might need to be reworked and even the specific channels of communication might need to rethought. Which blogs or press outlets do they read in France, for example? Which social networks are active in China?

The second has to do with pricing. This one will apply more to mobile and free-to-play games than any other type. Gaining revenue in markets where the currency has less value than that of your source currency requires adjusting the price of your in-app purchases to match the value of the local currency. If you don’t do this, you are likely to see that users from those markets are spending less — if anything at all — than users in wealthier markets. The difference in currency means that the same offers will provide less value to these users and they’ll see your game as too expensive and not worth engaging.

Some money is better than no money. And good press, fan loyalty, are definitely worth something too. Remember that successful localization brings legitimacy and acclaim to your game and game studio. A positive review in another language could overall boost your entire brand!

Tips to enable game localization

Internationalize your code

Internationalize your code from the start of development. This means writing your code to accommodate for text expansion. Text length varies greatly between languages and many languages (namely European ones) tend to be considerably longer than English. Not accounting for text expansion in your code will make the game look broken and even unplayable in other languages. Additionally, certain languages like Arabic or Hebrew have unique requirements in that they read right-to-left, which your game will need to be able to accommodate. All controls are usually mirrored to reflect this bias of reading the screen from the opposite direction.

Do localized variables right

Whenever you use variables, they need to be written to include accompanying words in order to follow grammar rules in other languages. For example, in the message "You picked up {item_amount} item.", the word item needs to change to items for plural even in English. In Russian, there are 2 plurals! So don’t use shortcuts by trying to piece together sentences. Write a second "You picked up {item_amount} items." message as well so it can be pluralized correctly. Similarly, if the variable took object names as parameters, accompanying articles like "at", "to", and "the" would need to be included within the {variable} so they can modified individually for languages with gender and cases.

Use international frameworks for numbers and dates

Another component of internationalization is automating formatting for different locales. This includes, currency type, units, measurements, and formatting for dates and numbers. Typically, the best practice here is to use fictional equivalents that make sense within the lore of your game. However, if your game is based in the real world, this won’t always be possible. In every case, you still want to present numbers properly, and there are too many differences around the world to figure this out yourself. Use a framework to convert numbers, dates, and currency to the locale of the player.

Regional differences

In the age of Gen 5 consoles and digital game stores, it’s unlikely any major aspects of your game will need to change from region to region. For the few exceptions there are, your publisher will likely require you to make hard adjustments before the game can launch. Outside of that, the most common changes solely affect the flavor. They revolve around subtle characteristics like character, place, and item names as well as in-game descriptions.

Keep text out of graphics

Don’t place text in your graphics. Localizing text in artwork is costly, difficult, and complicated. Avoid it unless it’s absolute necessary, relevant, or harmless. Anything that the player needs to understand to progress — and thus require localization — should not be included in your graphics. In contrast, including a developer’s last name as an easter egg on a background wall is fun and problem-free. A popular solution to this is to create a made-up alphabet to simulate language in visual assets.

Save on voice acting

Giving a voice to your characters brings them to life, and can do wonders for the charm and appeal of your game. Unfortunately, quality voice acting talent is expensive. Localizing dialogue makes those costs even higher — but there is a workaround. If it fits the style of your game, take a page from games like Animal Crossing, Hollow Knight, and the Ori franchise. These games “voiced” their characters through creative audio work where the voices are made of jumbled sounds edited to sound like speech. It adds a memorable element to your game and eliminates audio localization costs.

How to choose a Video Game Localization Vendor

So you’ve decided it’s time to localize your game and you have an understanding of how the process will go. From here, choosing the right vendor is the next move in getting started. In fact, it may even be the best way to continue learning about localization.

Pick a vendor that is open, friendly, and helpful when you ask questions. Having a good rapport from the start is super important to ensuring the project goes well. Find someone who is going to care about your game and its future success. Localization vendors that specialize in video game localization should know about the video game industry and will likely play video games themselves.

The best part of working with a localization vendor is being able to consult an expert. The process of finding a vendor will involve back and forth emails with various questions about their services and their prices. This is a great opportunity to voice your doubts about localization or ask specific questions about your game.

How about you
You know that feeling when you’re waiting for the game to download before you play the first time?
That’s how we feel right now.