Summary: If you want your game to have the best possible impact in a foreign market you will need to consider game localization for China & Japan – or any other new market you are trying to gain traction in. This will usually involve a mix of gameplay modifications and translation services.
A good marketing and distribution strategy is important, but all this is worth nothing if your game doesn’t click with your target market. This is what localization is all about, tailoring a game which has already proven to be successful in Europe or the US to work for a new (and pretty enormous) audience in the APAC region.
It’s no secret that language and culture vary enormously between the West and the East and no serious developer would take a game to a new market without careful attention paid to the changes in context. This is all the more important if you are taking a game from the West and hoping for traction in places like China where language and cultural context can vary in the extreme.
But just how much work is involved in localization? And how does this help you monetise your game for China? Many believe effective localization is the most important step in tapping into the Asian gaming market. However, the level of modification needed will vary by game and one thing we’ve learned over the years is to spot the games with the best potential.
Casual, or even hypercasual games, for instance, feature simple mechanics and a super accessible platform that foregoes a complex plot or background setup for the sake of progression and instant playability. In these cases, a simple name change and translation of the basic text might suffice.
More detailed games, however, might require an entire shift in premise. Nintendo famously looked at this from the other side back in the 80s. In bringing their games to the US market they removed much of the violence and intensity that worked so well in the native Japanese market to suit what was then a pretty conservative bunch of Americans (how times have changed).
All games are created within a cultural context and reflect this in gameplay to a certain extent. Much will depend on the type of game and its genre, but to prepare a title for sale in a new region, at the very least the basics will have to be modified.
You will need to consider switching to a title that local users will understand and connect with as a start before potentially making some changes to the names of characters or major features within the platform to enable it to be understandable and catchy.
More complex changes might involve complete adjustments to the storyline, dialogue and historical references. Obviously developers will have to weigh up whether these modifications are worth it – but when faced with the largest game market in the world, we’d suggest the answer will be a resounding ‘yes!’
Game localization is the process of preparing a game for sale in a new region or country. It’s a bespoke process, but might involve translating the text in a game, adjusting certain themes to account for local cultural contexts or even design elements if the new market has a preference or aversion to certain colours.
Language is the obvious starting point for localization. But this sometimes requires more than just a simple title alteration or translation of your navigation menu. To really connect with your new audience you might have to make more substantial changes. The goal here is to remove any barriers and give gamers an experience that will encourage continued engagement and participation.
Games that have found the most success in the APAC market either:
If your game relies on text or spoken audio, a simple direct translation of the text featured in your game isn’t going to cut it if you want to maximise your success in the region and the Chinese market in particular.
A particular quirk of the region is of course the fact that there are two different sets of Chinese characters used in writing, and you’ll have to decide which will best suit your game and audience.
While simplified Chinese language characters hold strength in some regions, other areas – such as Hong Kong – respond better to traditional characters.
Many game developers choose simplified Chinese with the additional option of traditional language support. But all developers need to think about everything from idioms to slang and context-specific terminology and just how they will create regional equivalents for anything Chinese gamers may find confusing.
Ultimately, some form of localization should be undertaken to maximise your potential in the Chinese game market. But some games such as hyper-casual titles that are largely intuitive and easy to navigate won’t need much game localization for China & Japan – or the APAC market as a whole.
Remember that this isn’t just about a new market, we’re also talking about the integrity and reputation of your brand and your image within the world of game development. Embarrassing or half-hearted localization efforts can mean more than just lower user acquisition; they also pose a risk to your reputation as a developer.
It is also worth noting that when it comes to protecting your IP, you will have a much better chance of deterring copycats if your game has good brand exposure in your target market. This will rely on effective localization to give your title the best chance of making an impression. Some developers have found that clones of their games have achieved greater success in China due to their being more effectively localized.
Obviously, the biggest benefit of effective localization is the prospect of reaching greater numbers of gamers and generating higher returns. The trick to success is to remove any potential barriers to your audience’s full enjoyment of the game. There is nothing worse than having a truly amazing game with vast potential to take the APAC region by storm and monetise your game in China, only to be let down by a poor translation of your game’s text or a storyline that just won’t click with your new market.
In the end, gamers prefer platforms that are modified to their own set of cultural understandings. We can see evidence of this in the popular classic Subway Surfers that effectively adapted its game structure to cater to the Chinese market. From characters to in-game environments, these alterations really helped the game engage with a whole new audience.
If you can get this aspect right, you’ll no doubt see the benefits in your engagement levels – and your revenue.
Back in the days of Street Fighter 2, developers hit a bit of a localization faux-pas when they told English-speaking players they “must defeat Sheng Long” in order to progress.
What they failed to note was that ‘Sheng Long’ was a mistranslation of ‘Rising Dragon Punch’, a special move that the player needs to master, not (as the translation implied) a new opponent to defeat.
PopCap’s approach to taking Plants vs Zombies to the Chinese market with its Great Wall Edition serves as a case study of ‘ultimate game localization’.
In taking the game to the APAC region they reviewed the entire context of the game and developed characters, maps and tasks all designed to specifically to appeal to the local market.