- Damien Yoccoz
9 Steps to Easier, Cheaper and Faster Game Localization
Good video game localization is as much about preventing changes as making them. With the right preparation, you can drastically reduce the development cost of your games – not only in financial terms but also the time it takes to produce them. So, aside from adapting your games for international markets, preparing your localization projects correctly saves you making expensive design and development mistakes further down the line. Follow these game localization best practices to slash the cost of developing your game.
#1: Start everything with localization in mind From the early concept and writing stage until the last line of code – start everything with localization in mind. By far the biggest mistake game studios can make is leaving it until their game is fully developed before they think about adapting it for other markets. Doing this only creates more work for you and drives up the cost of your game. Many of the changes you need to make at this point will have been completely avoidable, if you had prepared early enough. Leave localization too late and there’s a good chance you’ll have more work than you can handle in the later stages of development. Worse still, you may have made localizing certain parts of your game impossible by coding it the wrong way. Think about localization at every stage of the development process and you’ll save yourself a lot of time, money and hassle. #2: Know what needs localizing (and doesn't) The first thing you need to know is which elements of your game need localizing – and those that don’t. This way you can prepare your resources for localization in advance and reduce friction between the different stages of development. This starts with knowing which markets you intend to localize for (if you need to localize a game for Steam, we've got some hints for you), after which you can focus on these five key aspects: 1. Internationalization/culturalization 2. In-game localization 3. User interface 4. Visuals
5. Marketplace content localization (game/app description, keywords, screenshot captions, etc.) 6. Press kit translation The elements that do/don’t need localizing can also vary between different languages and markets. You’ll find Japanese and Korean are more similar linguistically than English and Chinese, for example. Which means more elements will often need to be localized in the second scenario than the first. #3: Make everything accessible, readable and editable
Various people will be working with your resources throughout the localization process: translators, artists, developers, testers and more. So you need to prepare each resource in a way that’s accessible, readable and editable to all of them. For example, your code should be written in a way that’s easily readable for other developers – that’s a minimum requirement. But what about translators? Are your text strings readable enough for them to interpret or do you need to create a separate spreadsheet for them (there are pros and cons to each approach)? Finally, you absolutely need to make resources accessible for further localisation in the future. If a problem crops up later or you decide to localize for a new market, you’re in serious trouble if your text strings and other files are difficult to access/edit. #4: Get professional game translators on board ASAP The sooner you start working with your game translators, the more potential problems they’ll help you avoid. Work with them while you create the initial script and they’ll even be able to help you write in a way that’s easier for translation. The more time they spend working on your title, the easier and more accurate their translations will be as well. Context is vital when it comes to game localization and it’s your responsibility to provide it. Provide your translators with as much reference material as possible. This can be a style guide to give them pointers regarding the tone and writing style you would like for your game, or character bios, or a description of the plot and connections between characters. Anything that helps the translators understand what your game is about will have a positive impact on the quality of its localization – and nothing is better than having translators involved in the creative stages of game development. Professional video game localization companies will ask for such reference material and their translators will have questions for you during the translaton process. Working with translators early can save you a lot of time and money on development costs too. They’ll be able to advise you on what language features need localizing later on – things like grammatical elements that change depending on the language your users choose. Which brings us on to our next point. #5: Create text strings with variables for grammar changes Grammatical changes are probably the trickiest part of translating/localizing the text in your games. First of all, the word ordering will change drastically between different languages – and you’ll also find things like gender, plurals, possessives and other grammatical rules vary a great deal. Consider the following example:
Credit: Pablo Muñoz Sánchez, Improving Game Localization Quality: Internationalization as the Holy Grail In this case the word “bueno” should actually be “buena” because the character being referred to is female. So imagine what kind of complications this can cause when gamers choose the gender of their character, which then changes every reference to them throughout the game! #6: Save full sentences as text strings With all the grammatical changes you have to deal with it can be tempting to break sentences into multiple text strings. This way you could change every “bueno" into a “buena" and be done with it. However, this approach will leave you in a mess with word ordering. For example, let’s say you break the string “You have 1 new message!” into three separate strings so the number can be stored as a variable: String 1: “You have” String 2: [number] String 3: “new message!” Looks good at a glance but there are several problems here. First of all, when you translate this text into Japanese (and many other languages) the word order will become “new message 1 you have”. So suddenly you have to change your string order into: String 3: “new message!” String 2: [number] String 1: “You have” Note: Look at where the exclamation mark (!) and capital letter (Y) are now placed! You can see how quickly this turns every sentence into a jumbled mess, forcing you to forget about word order completely or write a ton of extra code. Instead, create a single string for every sentence, including the necessary variables and translations. So, in this example, you’ll end up with two strings that look something like this: English: “You have [number-en] new [message-quantity-en]!” Japanese localization: “New message [number-jp] you have! Those strings are much more workable but you may be asking what the [message-quantity-en] thing is about. So let’s move on to our next point. #7: Create variables for quantity too In our last point we looked at two example strings – one for English and Japanese versions of the same sentence: English: “You have [number-en] new [message-quantity-en]!” Japanese localization: “New message [number-jp] you have! The English version ends with [message-quantity-en] because of how plurals work in English. A user could have one message or multiple messages and you want to avoid setting “message(s)” as a default in your string. Plurals work differently in other languages too. In Japanese the word “message” remains the same, regardless of how many there are, but a quantifier is added after the number instead. Meanwhile in Spanish the adjective “new” will also be singular or plural to match the noun message/messages. #8: Test every font for every language Don’t wait until your game is fully developed to test your text strings and fonts. You need to know how much physical screen space your text will take up in each language before you design your user interfaces, dialogue boxes and any other elements containing text strings. Otherwise you may end up with broken interface layouts, text cut-offs and be forced to make changes to your script or awkward abbreviations. Test every language before you design the interfaces for your game and you can avoid these problems. A simple change of font, wording or text size might be enough to save some vital space. Either way, when the time comes to design your interfaces, you’ll always leave enough room for the necessary text Extra hint: choose variable width fonts to make your text strings more adaptable. #9: Plan ahead with visuals We talk a lot about localizing text strings in games because this is where the most common errors occur. That said, you need to plan ahead when it comes to localizing the visual elements of your game as well. The first thing to do is avoid having text in any graphic files as much as possible. There’s no point creating multiple versions of the same icon for different languages when you can use one and place translated text over it. You also need to choose your graphics carefully. Using national flags for languages or fixed symbols for currencies are simple mistakes you don’t want to be making. Bonus tip: Create a localization process When you get localization right it’s not only your current game that benefits; every title you develop in the future benefits too. Your goal is to create a game localization process that minimizes the chance of human error, speeds up the development process and keeps things cost-effective. With the right process in place following these best practices, your entire team should have clear instructions on how to do their job with localisation in mind. You can obviously refine it and make further improvements over time. Just think of every localization project as preparation for the ones that follow.
Hopefully, you can see localization is about far more than translating games for overseas markets. This is a large part of it, of course, but a solid localization process is as much about creating a cost and time effective approach as it is to do with developing games for a global audience. Now that you know the best practices for game localization and you are ready to rock, work with our game translators to make sure you get professional and specialized game translations. Why not drop us a line now?