Game localization is becoming an increasingly important topic for localization service providers. It has been a long time since video games stopped being a niche hobby aimed mainly at children and teenagers. Thanks to the rising popularity of genres such as free-to-play games, mobile games, and casual games, games have recently reached many new audiences, which are made up of people who usually do not play video games. We see our parents and grandparents playing puzzle games on their phones even though, just 10–15 years ago, they were complaining about us playing "useless and boring video games" all the time. Even toddlers seem to take up this hobby before properly learning to walk or speak. There were 2.2 billion mobile gamers in 2020. Everyone and their mother is playing games, literally. It’s very hard to deny that the gaming industry is on the rise, and seeing how many young children are playing video games, this trend will most likely continue in the future.
Although the budget and the time allocated to AAA games (industry term for games created by major publishers) is mind-blowingly high and gets even higher each year, games created by independent publishers and small gaming studios (a.k.a. "indie games") are also very popular and have very dedicated fan bases. In today’s gaming world, there are many industry players, both big and small, and many different genres. While this means that gaming can be a lucrative industry to work in, it also means that there is fierce competition. Getting just one step ahead in this competition and having a small advantage over other game studios might have a cumulative effect on your studio’s success and might end up making your game very popular. This blog post is the first part of a game localization blog series, in which we are going to discuss in detail how game localization can help you in this competition and how to make sure your game localization process goes smoothly. In this article, we will focus on the reasons for localizing your game and how to choose the languages to localize your game into so that you can maximize your game revenue without having to pay steep localization costs.
Benefits of game localization
Considering that the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom are among the leading players in the game industry, people who do not know much about video games might be under the false impression that localization is not as important for the game industry as it is for other similar-sized industries. As someone who mainly grew up playing games in English, even though I do not natively speak it, I used to think that localizing games was not as important as translating movie subtitles. I thought that everybody already spoke some English, or at least was studying English at school, and they could understand the mechanics of games if they looked up the words they did not understand. Later, I realized that playing games with a dictionary in hand was not a common practice. I saw that even people who have no problem conversing in English usually avoid playing games in their non-native languages because it seems like extra work. People generally do not like to feel like they are working or studying when they are just trying to relax. Also, we should not forget how popular gaming is as a hobby. Nowadays, people of all ages and backgrounds play games each and every day. Considering how diverse the gaming community is, we can’t expect the majority of gamers to speak English or even to be willing to spend the mental energy to play games in a language they do not understand as well as their mother tongue.
Gain access to new audiences in a cost-effective way
At the most basic level, localizing your game gives you access to new audiences that would never have played your game otherwise. Video game localization is especially important for games aimed at older and younger audiences because the likelihood of them being proficient in English is comparatively low. For example, if you are a game studio that creates educational games for toddlers and preschoolers, video game translation is a requirement rather than a choice. Similarly, a 70-year-old grandmother will probably not download your English crossword puzzle app if there are other options available.
Localizing your new game into a language you have never published games in before is a great way of gaining new customers. First of all, when it comes to promoting your game to new players, video game localization is much more cost-effective than large-scale marketing efforts. Let’s say that you are serving your gaming ads on major social media platforms. I am not even going to talk about TV ads or billboards because those kinds of ad formats cast a much wider net and usually end up also targeting irrelevant people. While it is true that online ad targeting is getting eerily precise, it still has a way to go. For every correct consumer you target, dozens of other people are shown your ads, and the cost can add up. We are all sometimes shown ads for stuff we have already bought or for products we would not even consider buying.
Video game localization, on the other hand, is a one-and-done process, and there are not many recurring costs. Especially if your video game translation is for a language that is not widely spoken, you will have fewer competitors. Also, as the target audience does not have access to many games localized to their mother tongue, when they come across a game that is actually translated and translated well, they are more likely to recommend it to their friends. There are many untranslated video games that I love but can’t recommend as much as I would like to. After all, when I am talking to a person who can’t speak English, I can’t recommend a game they won't understand, can I? Simply put, word of mouth marketing is both free and highly effective. You wouldn’t want to miss it!
Gain loyal and long-term customers
Speaking of not so widely spoken languages, people who do not have access to many well translated games in their language might be one of the easiest audiences to promote your game to. While game localization is a much more common practice today, it was not so when I was a child. As a result, almost every single game that was translated into Turkish ended up being insanely popular even when they did not offer any other benefits compared to similar games. One of the best examples of this phenomenon is the popularity of a game called Metin2. Metin2 is a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) that was published by a Korean game studio in 2004. When I was in middle school, almost everyone who was into gaming was playing it. If you are a big MMORPG fan and have never heard of this game, I am not very surprised. The main reason why it was so popular was that it was one of the small number of computer games localized into Turkish. It was like any other MMORPG, and its popularity in Turkey dwindled as similar games started to be localized into Turkish. However, believe it or not, there are still people who are playing this game in 2022. If that is not a great example of customer loyalty, I do not know what is.
Game localization does not only help you with the games you are localizing, either. When one of your games becomes popular for one reason or another, people who liked one of your games will probably want to try out your other games. For example, if you only have the budget to localize one of your games but not the others, it might be a good idea to go ahead and localize the game that you think has a higher chance of being more popular. If your calculations are right and your game ends up being successful, you will have captured a loyal customer base. Some of your new customers will want to try out your other games and will be more likely to wait patiently until you have more budget to spare for video game localization services.
Reap the benefits of the "initial hype"
People working in the game industry will know how important "initial hype" is when it comes to how successful a game will become. Initial hype, in a gaming context, means the audience being very excited and eager to play a game that has just recently launched. In today’s game industry, marketing your game heavily before its launch and right after its launch is crucial to its success. If you work hard during this time frame and manage to get a certain number of gamers to be very excited about your upcoming game, it will have a ripple effect on your game’s popularity. They will talk about your game on social media platforms, pre-purchase your game, recommend it to their friends, and cause the number of your fans to increase exponentially.
Reaping the benefits of the initial hype is particularly important for online game developers because, let’s face it, many people would not want to play unpopular online games. If you ever played an old online game, you will know the reasons for it. First of all, when there are not many players online, entering a game takes forever, and people usually do not want to wait too long. Personally speaking, being an adult with adult friends unfortunately means that I can rarely find the time to play games, and on top of that, scheduling them with friends is a logistical nightmare. If we decide to play games for an hour after planning it for several days, we will just not wait for the game to place us in a group for more than a couple of minutes. In today’s fast-paced and busy world, I do not think that there are many people who can afford to or are willing to wait five minutes for a game that will only take twenty minutes to play.
As a result, when the number of an online game’s audience drops below a certain threshold, the game enters a death spiral. The number of players starts to dwindle, and it becomes almost impossible to find a game. The decreasing player count brings another set of problems. For example, less popular games tend to have more bugs because there are not enough players to encounter and report issues. When there are fewer online players, games have trouble matching you with players who have a similar level of experience and expertise. They may even match complete beginners with experienced players who have more than 1000 hours of gameplay. Also, if there is a part of the game you do not quite understand or if you think you are not good at the game and want to look for gaming strategies online, you are out of luck because there will not be many resources online. Lastly, when the game developers see that their game is not very popular, they usually publish fewer expansion packs, updates, and bug fixes. They may even stop supporting the game entirely or shut down the servers. When there are fewer updates, even the last remaining die-hard fans of your game will start to look for other games, thinking that you have given up on your game.
There is one other benefit of localizing your online game into as many languages as possible that we have yet to mention: having players in different time zones. According to Arbitron Inc, the peak time for gaming is between 6 pm and 10 pm, and the number of players quickly declines after 10 pm. When many people around the world play your game, your players can easily play games even in the quietest hours because it will be the peak time for gaming in some other regions of the world.
There are two approaches to game localization: either you localize your game before the release date or you localize your game after publishing it. If you want to benefit from this critical period, you need to both localize it before it is published and publish the game in many supported languages. As gamers are more likely to talk about new games, initial hype is important for every game’s success, and I highly suggest localizing your upcoming games to as many languages as your budget allows. However, if you are publishing online games, you should not forget that initial success can literally make or break your game. When it comes to online games, it is highly important to allocate enough budget for marketing, even if you are working with a very limited budget. As we have discussed, localizing your game is a very cost-effective method for increasing your game’s popularity and gaining access to new audiences.
When you’re in the process of localizing your game, it is important to avoid common mistakes. And to learn more about this particular subject, check out our blog “7 Mistakes You Should Avoid in Game Localization.”
Have control over the experience your customers are having
Let’s say that even though you have not localized your upcoming game to many languages, you managed to run a very successful marketing campaign, or got very lucky, and now your new game is a great success. Every gamer around the world has heard about your game and wants to get their hands on it, even if they do not speak any of the languages you have localized your game into. In this situation, people will create unofficial language packs whether you want them or not. You might say, "Doesn’t that mean that I get to have my game localized and I do not have to pay anything?" That’s great! " When you are working in an industry that usually requires high budgets to succeed, it is very understandable to want to cut costs wherever you can. However, we need to keep in mind that unlike game localization services, people who are working on these types of mods are not professional translators, and the quality of the resulting translation is likely to be subpar. Language mod creators are just fans who most likely have little experience in game localization and might even not speak the source language very well. Unfortunately, when you rely on amateur mods, the likelihood of you having your game localized without many problems is very low.
People who play your games with language packs will experience your games through the lens of the language the pack creator decided to use. When the translation quality is low, it can lead to players not understanding the game mechanics, having the wrong impression of the game, and having negative gaming experiences. This negative impression can also lead to long-term problems for your studio, as gamers might not even consider playing your other games, thinking that you publish confusing and unpolished games.
Leading nations in the gaming industry
While it is true that localizing your games is very important for your game’s success and is a viable and cost-effective marketing strategy, not all languages are equally profitable. First of all, there are many languages with so few speakers that even if every single one of them decided to play your game, it still would not be a good financial decision to localize your game for them. It is always a good idea to check how many speakers a particular language has when deciding on the languages you will localize your game to. Secondly, gaming is not a very common hobby in all countries. Sure, more and more people are getting into gaming as time goes by, but this trend is slower in some countries than in others. It might be a better idea to invest in countries where playing games is more common. Luckily, in the age of the internet, it is very easy to access such statistics online. However, if your marketing department has the resources to spare, you can also decide to opt to do your own research and conduct your own surveys. This way, you can make sure you are getting accurate results and ask questions that are more relevant to your situation. To get a general idea about which countries and languages might be a better investment for game studios, let’s look at some general statistics about games.
In which countries do people play games the most often?
When choosing the languages you want to localize your game into, the first thing you need to consider is the size of your potential audience. By potential audience, I mean the number of people who speak one of the languages you will publish your game in and play games somewhat regularly. Let’s take a look at this statistic about the share of internet users who play games on any device. The Philippines comes first with an impressive number. According to a survey conducted in the 3rd quarter of 2021, 96.4% of internet users in the Philippines play games. Thailand ranks second with 96.7%, and Indonesia ranks third with 94.5%.
Much to my surprise, Japan and Belgium ranked the lowest, with 71.7% and 70.5%, respectively. This survey is a good tool for understanding how common a hobby gaming is in a given country, but as the populations of countries vary greatly compared to each other, it does not say much about the actual size of your potential audience. For example, while Taiwan's (93.4%) ranking is much higher than that of the United States (80.9%), the number of American people playing games is bound to exceed that of Taiwanese gamers due to the difference in population. When we look at the number of players instead, China comes out on top thanks to its population of 1.4 billion. According to newzoo’s ranking, China ranks first, India is second, and the USA is third. Considering that there are 685.48 million Chinese gamers, it might be a good idea to prioritize traditional Chinese when deciding on the specifics of your game localization strategy and work with a localization company that have native game localizers.
If you are publishing online games and one of your main goals in game localization is to make sure that you have many online players at all times, it might also be a good idea to check how often people play games in each country. According to the report published by Lime Networks, German video game players come out on top with almost 8 gaming hours per week. The United States came in second place with 7.61 hours per week and Singapore came in third place with 7.44 hours per week. So, if you are publishing online games such as MMORPGs or MOBAs, you need to keep these countries in mind.
Which countries spend the most on games?
Of course, although many people play games, not everyone is willing to spend a lot of money on them. The popularity of free-to-play games shows us that there is a significant number of video game players that do not want to pay much for games. If you are prioritizing the revenue increase you will achieve through video game localization, there are many things to keep in mind. Firstly, a country's GDP plays a huge role in determining the amount of money people in a given region will be willing to pay for your game. For example, a gamer in France probably will not think it is a big deal to pay $20 US dollars for your game, while a person in the Philippines probably will think that this price is outrageous as $20 is almost worth two days of work in the Philippines. If you want to maximize your profits, it would be more prudent to prioritize localizing your game into French rather than Filipino.
You should also keep in mind that pirating games is more common in some countries than others due to lax privacy laws and relatively low purchasing power. People in countries where pirating games is a common practice will be less likely to buy your games legally. When we take a look at this survey, we can see that game piracy is more common in countries like Serbia, Romania, and Armenia and that it is less common in Scandinavian countries. So, if you need to make a choice between localizing your game into Serbian or Swedish, it would make more financial sense to go with Swedish.
Now that we have examined the different factors that help determine the revenue you will earn from each country, let’s look at the combined effect of these factors. The newzoo Global Games Market Report which I have mentioned before, ranks the countries by game revenue as well. Thanks to the sheer number of people residing in China, China comes in first when the countries are ranked according to this metric. According to the 2021 report, game revenue earned from Chinese players is valued at $49,251 USD. Following China are the United States ($47.32 billion USD) and Japan ($21.78 billion USD).If you are planning to prioritize the potential revenue increase you might get through game localization, the top 5 languages that you should consider localizing into are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, German, and French.
While making your decision based on the potential revenue increase seems like an easy and straightforward solution, which languages you are better off localizing your game into depends on your goals, marketing strategy, and priorities. As we discussed before, localizing your game into less commonly spoken languages can earn you loyal fans that will be more willing to try the other games you publish. When you look at the statistics, it may seem like a bad financial decision to localize your game into those languages. However, such localization efforts might have a positive effect on your long-term success. For example, if you decide to make a bold move and localize your high-budget video game into the Uzbek language, many gamers in Uzbekistan will want to try out your game just for the experience of playing a game professionally localized into their language. Alternatively, if you are publishing an online game, you might decide to prioritize countries where people play video games for longer hours. Which would be the most beneficial language depends on your unique circumstances. However, I believe closely examining game statistics will help you find the languages you will benefit from the most.
Learn more about game localization
As I have mentioned before, this post is the first part of a game localization series that explains the ins and outs of game localization in great detail. In the second blog post, we will give an overview of game platforms and genres, and then we will discuss common game localization issues, ways to overcome these issues, how these issues present themselves in different platforms and genres, we will examine how the game localization process works and what to look for when choosing a video game localizer.
While I hope these two posts will help you start with game localization, if there are any areas I have not covered or if you want to learn more about game localization services please feel free to contact the MotaWord support team. You can easily start chatting with the support team by clicking the blue message button at the bottom right of MotaWord’s website. The support team is available 24/7 and a representative will answer you in a few minutes. So, go ahead and take the first step of your game localization journey and start reaping the benefits of reaching new audiences!
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