Divorce any notion that expert translation of your content is even necessary. Push aside the importance of localizing culturally-sensitive topics, and dismiss anything you’ve ever learned about globalization, transcreation, and linguistic testing – just for a moment.
Sounds crazy, right? One could arguably say that localization has been around for decades and continues to grow at an impressive rate. Microsoft started internationalizing its products in the latter part of the 1970s, and by 1990 they were publishing in multiple languages. Xerox was one of the pioneers as well, producing multilingual versions of its documentation, and Apple led the way for internationalization, supporting multiple languages. Now, virtually every sector invests in localization and understands how the language services industry can be strategically leveraged to increase revenue. It would be foolish for international companies not to invest in localization, wouldn’t it?
Consumers from around the globe want meaningful content – content that is relevant to their experiences, their culture, and their perspectives. Consumers want to relate on a personal level with the products and services they purchase from the global market, and they want to feel more connected. So, it stands to reason then that the more expertly localized the content, the more satisfied the consumers – but what about the gamers?
In the United States alone, there are thousands of gaming companies that employ hundreds of thousands of employees. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the US gaming industry earned over USD 30 billion in 2016. The US is now considered the second largest gaming industry next to China, and the global games market caters to over 2 billion gamers worldwide. A recent report from Newzoo, estimated that the total global revenue for the games market currently sits at approximately USD 116 billion – and it’s steadily increasing.
With these high stakes in revenue and a keenly interested global market, wouldn’t localization be ideal? Wouldn’t it be extremely foolish not to invest in the best localization services available? Nintendo is one of the largest video game companies in the world, and the Americas generate the largest share of Nintendo’s revenue. Gamers in the Americas know this, and while some don’t seem to be bothered by the localization process, others are completely against localizing their gaming experience.
In the past, Nintendo wouldn’t even begin the localization process until after the Japanese version was essentially complete. This proved to be a very costly and time-consuming ordeal, so in order to streamline the process, Nintendo began to localize right from the building stage. By collaborating with localization experts right from the beginning, Nintendo not only saves significant time but strives to ensure that the content is more linguistically and culturally suitable for the foreign markets. Localization could – and often does – affect aspects of video games.
Some of the changes can be drastically altered in an effort to be more culturally sensitive, but not all fans necessarily see it that way. In fact, some Nintendo gamers are concerned that localization creates censorship. They understand that the language itself must be translated, but they want the original characters, the original costumes, and the original concepts. They like this exotic experience and anything short of this, makes them feel cheated.
The three most common pain points for gamers when it comes to localization include the changing of names, wardrobe, and certain cultural aspects of a game:
In Fire Emblem Awakening for instance, some character names have been altered so that they are more easily pronounced and understood by English-speaking gamers. To many, this is perfectly acceptable because the localized version is still very similar to the original name so the experience is as close to the original as possible. However, when names are completely altered with no obvious connection to the original name, some fans become annoyed.
ティアモ (Tiamo) being changed to “Cordelia” is one such example of name changing for localization. Another example is the acronym, BLADE in Xenoblade Chronicles X, which was changed from “Beyond the Logos Artificial Destiny Emancipator” in the Japanese version, to the western version of “Builders of the Legacy After the Destruction of Earth.” Protesters argued that this was religious censorship, claiming that “the Logos” is a religious reference to “God” and should have been left alone.
The original wardrobe of the female characters in Fatal Frame 5 includes scantily-clad bikinis, but the western version has replaced this with a more fully-covered attire. The western version of Xenoblade Chronicles X ensured a more “appropriate” attire for a 13-year-old girl which may have stemmed from fear that the western culture would see the original attire as sexualisation of a minor.
Sometimes, the original Japanese content in certain Nintendo games has a direct connection with American culture or history. In these instances, some might argue that localization is not even necessary. However, whether the content goes through a localization process or not, Nintendo could still receive backlash – “Bravely Second: End Layer“ is a perfect example.
As the sequel to “Bravely Default”, “Bravely Second: End Layer” is a Japanese role-playing game with characters fighting the forces of evil to save the day. The original Japanese version of the game has the protagonist, Aimee, dressed in Native American attire referred to as the Tomahawk class of outfits. Left alone and released to the American market, the ‘Tomahawk” class of outfits might have caused uproar, but localizing the outfit also did.
The western version supports Aimee in a cowboy outfit called the Hawkeye. With its release, some fans became incensed, claiming that the original outfit is a matter of pride and that changing it to a cowboy outfit is culturally insensitive considering the North American oppressive history that Native Americans endured for centuries – and arguably still do. Clearly, there are valid arguments to be made on both sides of the aisle.
The reasons for the localization of the gaming industry are obvious. Clearly, video game publishers fear that leaving a game in its original state could lead to serious financial losses and possible regional uproar. Hot topics such as suggestive content, sexism, religion, politics, and international relations all play a significant role in the decision to localize video games. However, while some gamers seem completely fine with the localization process, others stand fully opposed to what they refer to as both “culturalization” and censorship.
And with that thought in mind, keep calm and let the games begin!
We all know how quickly the video game industry has grown into a worldwide market. We also know how important localization and cultural adaption is for companies seeking to go global. But what is the best way to integrate language technology into game development? What technologies are available and which ones are the best?
With people forced to sit at their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global games market is getting stronger.
One of the most widespread assumptions is that in order to launch a successful game in multiple markets, studios just need to focus on having a good translation of the source content. It’s a good start, but there are a multitude of additional factors that developers must take into account when localizing their video game.