Learning Languages with Video Games!

One of the first things I do when I start playing a game is to check the language options. I am genuinely curious how many languages developers/publishers chose to localize to, as well as which languages. (I also love testing my language skills by playing games in other languages, usually French, Spanish, or Swedish when available.)

It is usually difficult to find ample language options in games, particularly for voiceover.

Acquiring New Language Skills

Even though I haven’t studied Portuguese, I played WoW on a Portuguese server for a while and ended up picking up a fair number of words by questing with others. I typed to them in Spanish (using my rather limited Spanish language knowledge at the time), and they typed back in Portuguese. Although some words are similar, Spanish and Portuguese are very much two separate languages.

It actually didn’t take long before I was able to use some Portuguese words while playing WoW. It was a whole different way of experiencing the game, and a whole lot of fun!

How to Change the Language

It can be surprisingly tricky to find the language options for different games. In your Steam library, you may have to right click the game in your library and then select a language option, rather than being able to change the language in-game.

Even for consoles, it is possible (for some games) that you will need to turn your console’s language into the language you want to play the game in, as a select number of games don’t have a language menu option available. 

Before we move onto our list of games that are good to learn from, I want to take the time to cover UI/menus and why it can be complicated for even intermediate language learners to understand games that automatically change menu languages as well.

Complex vs. Simple Menus

Pillars of Eternity      vs.      Broken Age

In the majority of games, changing subtitle options also changes the menu text. This can make it particularly challenging to play a game in a language you aren’t already familiar with.

…And I don’t mean you’re familiar with words commonly used in modern day France or Germany

…I mean that, in order to understand most game menus, you need to understand genre and game-specific words.

This may include words like:

  • “Screen resolution,” “magic system,” “poison status,” “durability,” and “weapon repair kit”

…plus detailed descriptions of items, such as:

  • “Used for repairing steel and iron weapons”

  • “Increases relationship points with peasants and farmhands.”

This is a particular challenge in playing RPGs in other languages, especially in games where pop ups are frequent and in-game menus are extensive. It can be extremely challenging to navigate when you don’t have advanced language knowledge (or very specific vocab!).

Let’s dive into the list of games that are good to play in other languages!

5 Games to Increase Your Language Skills!

1. Broken Age

Double Fine

Subtitles: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian

Voiceovers: German

Good for the following skill levels: Intermediate and higher

What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • Dialogue selections don’t impact gameplay.

You have time to read each dialogue option carefully (if you wish), and after you select an option, the character repeats the selected option in English. It is an excellent way to test your language skills and learn new words!

Plus, dialogue selections don’t impact gameplay, so (as far as we’ve seen), you won’t unintentionally select an option you didn’t mean to choose.

  • Limited in-game UI.

Since the inventory menu is image-based in Broken Age, the only menu you might have to read is the option menu, with languages and the ability to save and exit the game. This requires relatively minimal language knowledge. As long as you know the word for “Subtitles,” you can easily navigate back to the English option and change any settings before continuing on with the game.

My experience playing Broken Age in other languages:

This is a game I now thoroughly enjoy playing in French because I am able to practice my comprehension and learn new vocab. Because the game has such limited UI, I am still able to enjoy the game without being a complete master in French.

I could see where it wouldn’t be as enjoyable to play with only basic knowledge of a language, but for increasing intermediate language skills, it’s a great learning tool!

Although German isn’t one of the languages I’ve studied, I gave the voiceovers a shot. If you wanted to level up your German language skills, the voiceover option is a fantastic way! You can change the voiceover and subtitle language separately, so you can have spoken German and German subtitles, English subtitles, or any other subtitle language option.

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  2. Alan Wake

Remedy Entertainment 

Subtitles: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese (traditional), Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian

Voiceovers: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese

Good for the following skill levels: Intermediate and higher

 

What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • It is possible to enjoy Alan Wake with intermediate-advanced language skills.

Even if you play with voiceovers in another language, the storyline and dialogue is relatively easier to understand than in most other games with voiceovers.

It isn’t an overly complicated storyline to follow if you don’t understand a cutscene entirely, (and if you want to understand a cutscene more completely, you can look it up on YouTube to catch what you missed). As always, it helps if you have some familiarity with the storyline already (i.e. this is your second playthrough).

You’ll notice that further down in this list, I marked another game with voiceovers as more appropriate for advanced language learners – Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This is because Deus Ex has a lot more happening at once story-wise than Alan Wake (due to multiple storylines, background dialogue from NPCs, more intense reading comprehension, in addition to complicated UI/menus).

Have a different opinion about Alan Wake and Deus Ex in other languages? Leave a comment below, or tweet us @LAIGlobalGame!

What makes this game complicated to play in other languages?

  • As with many other games, all in-game instructions are in the target language.

You may have to double check key mappings if you aren’t familiar with how to play the game. Since it had been a while since I played Alan Wake, I had to look up what the key “maj” was in French. (It turns out “maj” is sometimes used for “Shift.”)

My experience playing Alan Wake in other languages:

This is a game I can see myself playing multiple times in different languages in languages where I have intermediate comprehension. My knowledge in Japanese isn’t high enough yet to enjoy the voiceovers with the subtitles (since the voiceovers and subtitles seem to be a package deal), but it is enjoyable to play in languages where I do have intermediate language knowledge.

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3. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

The Chinese Room 

Subtitles: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese (Iberian and Brazilian), Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Polish, Russian

Voiceovers: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Russian

Good for the following skill levels: Intermediate and higher

If you think it’s rare to find games with voiceover language options, it’s extremely rare to find an indie game with voiceover options, and the voiceovers in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture are done extremely well!

I tweeted The Chinese Room about it, and they credited their publisher, Sony, with providing language options for players:

What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • You can change the voiceover and subtitle options separately, plus it uses an icon-based UI system!

I ended up trying voiceovers in French and subtitles in Swedish (German subtitles shown in the below image). What I didn’t catch in one language, I was able to pick up from the other. The UI is limited (and in-game posters, etc. are still in English), so you can understand the full game by changing either the voiceovers or subtitles to a different language and retaining the other in English. 

This is a game I could see myself going back to simply for the language learning value!

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4. The Last of Us Remastered

Naughty Dog

Subtitles (European game version): French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Czech, Greek, Turkish

Voiceovers (European game version): French, Italian, German, Spanish

Good for the following skill levels: Any

 What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • You don’t need to be a language wizard to enjoy this game.

This is one of the only games I’ve seen so far where players can separately change subtitle language, menu language, AND voiceover language. Major props to Naughty Dog for allowing users to change each of these language options separately!

What makes this game complicated to play in other languages?

If you decide to play through the game with all text in the target language, it can be challenging to say the least.

There are a lot of letters scattered throughout the game, and they can be rather long and dense (filled with words beyond a regular language learner’s intermediate vocab), but if you’re willing to spend a little extra time, it is a rewarding game to play in another language. (You can always switch the text back to English if needed, although it does take some time to restart the game.)

Before playing The Last of Us with Swedish subtitles, I had no idea how to say words like “infected” or “explosive,” but even made up words like “clicker” (“clickare” in Swedish) were easy to follow. A lot of the new vocab you pick up in games isn’t necessarily the most useful for everyday life, but you certainly learn a lot of useful vocab along the way too.

Crafting can also be complicated to understand the first time you see it in another language. I don’t think language teachers are likely to teach students words like blade, binding, rag, or explosive. Fortunately, the text for the crafting system is rather limited (and includes icons), so it doesn’t take too long to pick up.

My experience playing The Last of Us in other languages:

Since it’s harder to find games that include Scandinavian languages (the majority of Scandinavians prefer to play games in English), I thoroughly enjoy the fact that Naughty Dog offers both Uncharted and The Last of Us in Swedish (at least, in European versions of the games).

I don’t have the most advanced knowledge of Swedish, but I was able to get the gist of most in-game letters on my second playthrough of The Last of Us. Some, I could even read in their entirety. There were some though, where the words baffled me.

I asked a Swede why the word “dagar” (days) became “dar” in one of the letters (“dar” was a word I’d never seen or heard before). It turns out some of the text uses shortened versions of words people use only when speaking, not writing.

It’s a little like how people bunch words together in English when speaking. Instead of distinctly saying each word, “What do you want?” it can become “Whaddya want?” (A dictionary is unlikely to have spoken slang or shorthand (i.e. “whaddya”), so it can be an extra challenge as a second language learner.)

I had a lot of fun playing through The Last of Us again with Swedish subtitles. As I mentioned, the UI can be a major hurdle, but if you’re patient with a dictionary, have a bilingual friend to play with, or can find the same text online in English, it can be a great way to pick up new pieces of a language fast!

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Voiceover Options++

The following game will test your spoken language knowledge, as well as written. It can be rather difficult to find games that have a lot of voiceover options, as it is more common for games to have subtitle options only or limited voiceover options.

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Eidos Montréal

Subtitles: French, Italian, German, Spanish

Voiceovers: French, Italian, German, Spanish

Good for the following skill levels: Advanced

UI note: If you change the game into a language you don’t know and try to get back to the menu option to change, it can be challenging to say the least. There are a couple layers of menus you need to go through to find the language selection option.

What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • This game will really test your knowledge!

As far as I can tell, there is no way to separate voiceover language from subtitle language. If you change the game into Italian, your Italian should be at a pretty advanced level already in order to fully appreciate Deus Ex.

That being said, it is less common to find games with localized voiceovers in so many languages. If you played through Deux Ex at least once already (so you are familiar with the story and won’t miss anything!) and have an intermediate skill level in French, Italian, German, or Spanish, you can really up your language skills by playing through it again in one of these languages.

My experience playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution in other languages:

I haven’t played Deus Ex all the way through in another language yet, but this is one game I plan on returning to multiple times to boost my language skills!

Thanks for Reading!

We’re a nearly 25 year old game localization and publishing company here at LAI Global Game Services, and we are passionate about giving gamers the option to enjoy video games in their own languages.

With people now playing games all over the world, it is becoming more commonplace to offer games in a variety of languages, and we are glad to be a part of helping to make games more accessible to a global audience!

Have a different opinion about playing these games in other languages or have other games to recommend? Leave a comment below, or tweet us @LAIGlobalGame!

All language option information (subtitles and voiceovers) gathered Fall 2016. Broken Age, Alan Wake, and Deus Ex were tested using Steam. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and The Last of Us Remastered were tested using the European PlayStation console versions.

2015 Video Game Conferences

An updated list of upcoming video game industry conferences for 2015, around the globe. Please feel free to contact us if you know of other conferences that you do not see listed here!

 

January 6-9, 2015: CES 2015, Las Vegas Hilton & Casino, Las Vegas, NV, USA

January 13-14, 2015: Pocket Gamer Connects London, Vinopolis, London, UK

January 19, 2015: NexGen Developers Day, London, UK

January 19-21, 2015: MGF London, 155 Bishopsgate, London, UK

January 22-25, 2015: Central European Games Conference, Vienna, Austria

January 23-25, 2015: PAX South 2015, Henry B Gonzalez Convention Center, San Antonio, TX, USA

January 23-25, 2015: Global Game Jam 2015, Worldwide

January 28, 2015: GameDevHacker: Past Trends and Future Bets, Microsoft Corporation, NYC, USA

January 28-February 1, 2015: Taipei Game Show 2015, Taipei World Trade Center, Taipei, Taiwan

February 3-5, 2015: ICE Totally Gaming 2015, ExCel London, London, UK

February 3-5, 2015: D.I.C.E. Summit 2015, Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, USA

February 3-5, 2015: GameOn-Arabia ‘2015, Arab Open University, Muscat, Oman

February 4-6, 2015: Casual Connect Europe 2015, Beurs Van Berlage, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

February 9-10, 2015: Winter Nights Mobile Games Conference 2015, Park Inn Pulkovskaya Hotel, Saint Petersburg, Russia

February 9-13, 2015: Animex International Festival of Animation & Computer Games 2015, Teesside University, Middlesbrough, UK

February 13-15, 2015: IndieCade East 2015, Museum of the Moving Image, NYC, USA

February 15-17, 2015: Digital Kids Conference, Javits Convention Center, NYC, USA

February 27-March 1, 2015: i3D 2015 (ACM SIGGRAPH Symposium on Interactive 3D Graphics and Games), San Francisco, CA, USA

March 2-5, 2015: Mobile World Congress 2015, Fira Gran Via, Barcelona, Spain

March 2-5, 2015: Game Connection America 2015, City View at Metreon, San Francisco, CA, USA

March 2-6, 2015: GDC 2015, Moscone Center, San Francisco, CA, USA

March 4, 2015: Cartoon Games 2015, Centre de congrés de Lyon, Lyon, France

March 6-8, 2015: PAX East 2015, Boston Convention Center, Boston, MA, USA

March 12, 2015: PCR Awards 2015, Royal Garden Hotel, London, UK

March 12-14, 2015: EGX Rezzed 2015, Tobacco Dock, London, UK

March 13-17, 2015: SXSW Interactive 2015, Austin, TX, USA

March 13-15, 2015: SXSW Gaming 2015, Palmer Events Center, Austin, TX, USA

March 14, 2015: Futurefest 2015, Vinopolis, London, UK

March 16-20, 2015: CeBIT 2015, Messegelände, Hanover, Germany

March 17-20, 2015: GPU Technology Conference 2015, San Jose McEnery Convention Center, San Jose, CA, USA

March 17-20, 2015: NVScene, San Jose McEnery Convention Center, San Jose, CA, USA

May 11-12, 2015: Pocket Gamer Connects San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA

June 10-12, 2015: Mobile Gaming, USA, San Francisco, CA, USA

June 16-18, 2015: E3 2015, Los Angeles Convention Center, Los Angeles, CA, USA

August 11-13, 2015: Casual Connect, USA, San Francisco, CA, USA

September 7-8, 2015: Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

October 2-4, 2015: XPO, Cox Business Center, Tulsa, OK, USA

October 25-27, 2015: GDC China 2015, Shanghai, China

November 19-22, 2015: G-Star 2015 Global Game Exhibition, Busan, South Korea

 

How To Be A B2B Pro When Working With Chinese Mobile Game Companies

How To Be A B2B Pro When Working With Chinese Mobile Game Companies

By Michelle Zhao, Managing Director – Greater China, LAI Global Game Services

Before we get into the data, let’s take a look around China:

Waiting in queues

In the subway car

The lucrative market

By the end of 2013, China had a $13 billion revenue game industry and 490 million players according to GPC, the China Game Publishers Association Publications Committee. Accounting for $1.8 billion, with 310 million mobile gamers, the mobile gaming market has been especially hot, seeing the largest growth in 2013 after rising 246.9% from the previous year. With the open policy of 4G license issuing (Dec. 2013) and economic growth in 2nd and 3rd tier cities, more people are expected to play mobile games. It is estimated that hardcore mobile games will be taking over half of the mobile game market in 2014. (Hardcore game mobile growth: 8% in 2008, 42% in 2013, 52% est. in 2014[1])

(From Newzoo’s report on Chinese Video Game Market 2013)

Though a business partner is not required for mobile games (according to Chinese law, foreign companies must partner with a Chinese service provider to run their online games in the country), the complex and highly fragmented market structure raises the bar extremely high for foreign companies to enter. Many times, local partners and 3rd party agencies are necessary to assist you with localization and publishing.

Characteristics of the market

 The Chinese mobile game market shows different characteristics from western markets:

 

  • Most Chinese mobile gamers started playing online games first, so they are more into games with interactive modes (playing with groups, or pvp fighting).

 

  • There are over 200 publishing and distribution platforms and stores in China. Since Google Play is not widely available in China and the Android market has captured over half of the market, major app stores like 360 Mobile Assistant, Tencent MyApp, Wandoujia, UC AppStore, Gfan Market, the Baidu app store, Anzhi Market, and Alibaba are considered the key to the market.

  • Android stores operated by the three main mobile carriers (China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom) have a very significant market share (up to 30% by some estimates[2]); carrier billing is the dominant billing channel for Android apps.

 

  • Revenue share doesn’t favor game developers (just last year it was between 90/10 and 50/50 publisher/developer) but it is getting better for developers.

 

  • Preloading by handset manufacturers plays an important role in distribution.

 

How to approach developers and publishers

 

Mobile game developers in China often work in teams of 10-15, or sometimes even smaller. With limited capital and unfavorable revenue share, they seek publishers to put up all the money (revenue share and a minimum distribution guarantee) so they are often passive during negotiations.

 

As mentioned earlier, publishing a mobile game in China is more complex than in the West due in part to the number of app stores, overlapping roles of publisher/app store/3rd party companies, and multiple revenue shares. Publishers usually lead the marketing campaigns, and perform other necessary adaptations and efforts.

 

Talk the talk

 

The most frequent word you will hear spoken by industry people at industry gatherings is “distribution channel” (“Qudao” or“渠道”). Compared to its neighbor Japan, China has more variety in terms of marketing and distribution channels. In Japan, the marketing approach is more straightforward: 3 to 4 marketing companies and ads on TV (6 channels). Game quality speaks more than distribution. However, in China, the big players show their own prowess to sell their games: Punchbox (Chukong) will seek money from VCs and make huge investments on ads; Tencent uses its platform to get all the consumers’ attention; Shanda puts more effort on branding their games.

 

English acronyms are often used in China as industry jargon. However, be aware of the differences– they might not mean what you think. Here are a few examples: At a game show event in the B2B area, you will often hear lots of BDs (business development folks) say they’re looking for “CP”. “CP” here stands for “content provider”. However, it is actually equivalent to “game developer” in English-speaking markets.

 

Another common term is “SP” (service provider), which refers to companies who offer B2B services such as monetization, app store optimization, and in-game ads.

Also, some famous mobile game titles are often referred to by acronyms like “COC” for “Clash of Clans”. Similar acronyms are often used when referring to game genre.

 

Cities

 

  • Beijing: This is where more established companies and many indie gamers are located. Zhongguan Village is considered to be the next Silicon Valley by many international investors.
  • Shanghai and surrounding area: Also has more established companies.  Usually companies have their marketing office in Shanghai and R&D in neighboring cities, Suzhou and Hangzhou.
  • Chengdu: Tianfu Software Park is where most video game companies reside. Bigger companies like Perfect World, Tencent, Ubisoft and Shanda have their R&D center or development team here. This area also has many smaller, newer companies, many with an overseas market focus.
  • Guangzhou and Shengzhen: This area has many game developers who were originally in the online game business, and are now shifting focus into mobile gaming.
  • Nanjing: Big carrier companies have their gaming operations here.
  • Dalian: Many video game and software parks with a long outsourcing history are located here (a large percentage are devoted to IT outsourcing for Japan).

Major conferences/shows and inside-circle parties

 

Shanghai: ChinaJoy (largest, national), Game Connection Asia, GDC-Asia

Beijing: GMIC, GMGC, TFC

Chengdu: GMGDC

Guangzhou: Guangzhou Game Show

 

Inside-circle parties are usually hosted by large publishing companies during a conference or show week. Sometimes they are closed-door events. You often need to get an invite from a connection/friend in the industry and pre-register, as the seats are limited. Be prepared for a huge crowd and bring a few hundred business cards and a happy face. Usually there are no rules about formal dress, and most attendees come dressed in business casual. Some events are hosted in a casual atmosphere: a huge café shop, a roof club, or even in nightclubs. As a well-connected industry BD (business developer) during a major conference week, it’s common to attend several parties in one night. For example, last GMGDC (Nov. 2013 in Chengdu), there were 20 inside-circle parties in 4 nights. A well-connected BD in China knows who is the key contact of your potential partner/clients to talk to and always follows the market trends and their competitors’ next move.

 

Social Media

 

WeChat groups (US equivalent: WhatsApp): you can register a few local game community groups and add friends here. Each day you can monitor what is going on by reading their posts.

QQ group chat (US equivalent: skype): Some event organizers will invite you to join their chat group too, e.g.: ChinaJoy.

Weibo (US equivalent: Twitter)

Doubai/Renren (US equivalent: Google+/Facebook)

Buzz.com (US equivalent: Meetup)

(Social Media Marketing Channels in China in 2014)

 

Know how to follow up

 

Chinese B2B contacts appreciate more direct communication compared to the West. Many of them prefer to keep in contact with you via phone and WeChat.

 

The video game industry is a young industry in China, and so is the average age of its industry professionals (born in 1980s and 1990s). It is not hard to start a conversation as almost everyone in the industry carries a passion for games and an open mind to new things. However, one thing you often find is that these highly mobile professionals won’t stay with one company for too long. I know of a few cases where people changed their email address after only 3 months – because they had already changed employers! At a party, someone once told me they considered themselves to be an industry veteran because they stayed with one company for a surprisingly long time – two entire years(!)

 

When making contacts at Chinese game companies, the BD is the first person you’ll talk to. Once they understand your purpose to engage with their company (or say they are convinced that your service provides potential value to them), they will refer you to the director of the internal department you are interested in talking to.

 

Though most industry professionals are from the younger generation and many have studied overseas, you still can’t ignore the importance of Guanxi (connections) when you are doing business in China. It is a unique skill to have – it is a combination of art and techniques of building your network with real work, friendship, trust, favors, dinners, and parties.

 

Final remarks

 

Chinese companies view western companies as prestigious but they tend to worry that foreigners do not understand the business culture necessary to get work done in China. Larger companies or some small companies whose founders have overseas experience should be able to communicate with English-speaking companies adequately, but for deeper engagement and networking, it is necessary that you have some employees who are proficient in Chinese. If that’s not feasible, you should consider working through 3rd party companies who have the expertise and the necessary language skills.

 

LAI Global Game Services (a unit of Language Automation, Inc.) can help you navigate the complex business climate and marketing and publishing challenges needed to achieve success in the China market.

 

Feel free to contact me directly (michelle@lai.com) and I’ll be happy to provide assistance and guidance.

 

 



[1] Data from App Operation Group (App运营之家, A Chinese industry WeChat group)

[2] Reference: Newzoo’s  2014 China Games Market Trend Report

Video Games & Global Valentine’s Day Traditions, Part 1

A Brief History of Valentine’s Day

 

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,

All in the morning betime,

And I a maid at your window,

To be your Valentine.

Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,

And dupp’d the chamber-door;

Let in the maid, that out a maid

Never departed more.

-          Hamlet

 

Valentine’s Day is already here! To some people, it means doing something romantic for a loved one. And to some game developers, it means adding holiday-themed content to their games. This may mean adding hearts, Cupid arrows, and pink items, such as in Angry Birds Seasons, or it may mean letter and gift deliveries depending on relationships with in-game characters, such as in Animal Crossing.

 

The holiday, as we know it today, is said to have its roots in 14th century England. According to scholars, February 14th first became associated with love and romance thanks to Geoffrey Chaucer, the “Father of English literature” and notable poet of the Middle Ages. Chaucer’s writing supposedly incorporates the first written record of Valentine’s Day:

 

For this was on seynt Volantynys day

              Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

-          Parlement of Foules (1382)

 

There are many legends and stories associated with the birth of this holiday, including feasts that gave rise to courtly love and the belief in the Middle Ages that birds actually paired couples together. Over the centuries, Valentine’s Day evolved into a day to express love to others via flowers, candies, and cards, spreading from Medieval England to other parts of Europe and, more recently, to Asia, which is often attributed to the spread of American pop culture, as some Valentine’s Day celebrations didn’t begin until just a couple decades ago.

 

Although this holiday is now in many countries around the world, it certainly doesn’t mean the day is celebrated uniformly throughout. While many people globally are familiar with the way Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day, that doesn’t mean gamers in every country know of American Valentine traditions or would even appreciate the integration of these customs in local video games.

 

In this multi-part article, we will cover the different ways Valentine’s Day is celebrated internationally and how game content based on real-world traditions necessitates adaption (or localization) for each given market:

 

 

Age-Old Tradition of Romance – China

China’s equivalent of Valentine’s Day stretches back many centuries to the Han Dynasty (a dynasty lasting from 206BC to 220AD). This celebration is known as the Qi Xi Festival, and it takes place on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar (this year on August 2nd). (It is also called the Magpie or Double Seventh Festival.)

 

There are multiple legends surrounding this holiday. These legends speak of two lovers, the Cowherd (Niu Lang) and Weaver Maid (Zhi Nu), who are only able to cross the Milky Way once a year in order to be together. One legend says that the Weaver Girl came down from heaven to marry the Cowherd and have children with him, but when the God of Heaven realized this had happened, he ordered Queen Mother of the Western Heavens to return Zhi Nu back to the heavens. Another legend says that Niu Lang and Zhi Nu were fairies on the opposite sides of the Milky Way, and when they were together, they would neglect their work, so the Jade Emperor of Heaven only permitted them to meet once a year.

 

Game Examples

There are many aspects of Chinese legend and history that game developers can draw upon when creating game content for the Chinese market, and Chinese gamers respond positively to this cultural content. Thus, numerous games have been created for the Qi Xi Festival. Perhaps a more well-known game example is from Google. Last year, Google released a Google Doodle game for the Qi Xi Festival, where users create a bridge of magpies so the two lovers can meet.

 

Larger games, like MMOs, also work to incorporate local content when possible. There is an MMO set in ancient China, Conquer Online, that had a Qi Xi quest a couple years ago, where players gathered items and summoned the magpies to bring “happiness to the Herd-boy and the Weaving-girl.” This kind of culturally-focused content tends to have positive effects on sales, as gamers appreciate game content that incorporates local traditions.

 

While it is now common for women to receive chocolate or flowers on White Day, in some parts of China, traditional aspects of the Qi Xi festival are still celebrated, with girls displaying their domestic skills. Common celebrations in the past for girls included competitions for threading needles under low light conditions, praying to Zhi Nu for wisdoms, reciting prayers, and wishing for a good future husband. In addition to competitions for young girls, the Qi Xi Festival was also a time of celebration for newlyweds. Young women would also place fruit, flowers, tea, and face powder out for Niu Lang and Zhi Nu, throwing half of the face powder onto the roof and using the other half amongst themselves, signifying shared beauty with Zhi Nu.

 

 

Beware! – Not Everyone Celebrates Valentine’s Day

When bringing Valentine’s Day-themed content to other countries, it is crucial to keep in mind that there are a number of countries that do not permit Valentine’s Day celebrations, due to religious beliefs and/or political parties. This is because some people believe Valentine’s Day has associations with Christianity or is symbolic of the penetration of Western culture.

 

It is important to keep this in mind and to learn which countries do not allow the celebration of Valentine’s Day, as often the sale of red items, romantic cards, flowers, and other such gifts is banned (such as in Saudi Arabia). There have even been reports of protesters and volunteers in some countries attacking couples and burning Valentine’s Day cards (such as in India). Despite the widespread animosity toward the holiday in some areas of the world, some couples in these countries may celebrate Valentine’s Day in the privacy of their homes, buying flowers and gifts on the black market or vacationing in a country like Dubai in order to celebrate the day.

 

It follows that Valentine-related content would not go over well in countries where there is unrest surrounding the holiday. Instead, game developers that typically create holiday-themed game content (such as Rovio) find other ways to stay relevant across global markets. It was reported last year by IGN that Rovio is studying the Middle East in order to effectively communicate stories from the region. As Rovio’s COO, Harri Koponen said, “There is a long Arabic history and lots of interesting stories that need to be told in the region, like One Thousand and One Nights. We are always developing more local content – we have been focusing on themes recently.”

 

While Valentine content could cause intense problems when released in certain parts of the world, there are ways to pay homage to historical traditions without unintentionally making a cultural or political statement with the inclusion of the Western version of the holiday in games. For example, game developers looking to integrate local traditions related to love and romance may look to ancient India, where the Kamadeva, the Lord of Love, was celebrated.

 

 

In the next part of this article, we will take a closer look at other global traditions surrounding love, romance, and Valentine’s Day.

Perspectives on Game Localization for the Emerging Chinese Console Game Market

Perspectives on Game Localization for the Emerging Chinese Console Game Market

By Michelle Zhao, LAI’s Managing Director for Greater China and Rory Schussler, Special Correspondent

Earlier this January, China lifted a 13 year ban on the sale and manufacture of gaming consoles. This has generated great excitement about the future of the video game industry in China, but it is still too early to know how successful the big console players will be in taking advantage of this opportunity. (Nintendo has said they have no plans so far for entering the Chinese market; Sony is making ambitious plans to sell 5 million PS4s by March, 2014.)

We’re still waiting on more details from the government on how the change in regulation is going to work. Restrictions on content are an issue for game designers. Piracy and the grey market are major concerns. The biggest challenge is how to adapt to the differences of the Chinese market.

Let’s go back in time 13 years. Nintendo’s Mario was almost as much of an iconic presence to Chinese children as he was to Americans. While China was closing its doors to consoles, in the rest of the world gaming was entering what is known as the sixth generation of consoles, where the major competitors were the Sony Playstation 2, the Microsoft Xbox, and the Nintendo Gamecube. From the beginning of the video game industry, games were targeted towards an audience that was mostly male and aged child to young adult. The target audience (a group which is now referred to as “hardcore gamers”) demanded more complicated and challenging games with better graphics. Despite having the longest history in the industry and a line of well-known franchises, Nintendo was falling behind its competitors. When the industry continued with the same design philosophy working on a new generation of consoles in 2005, Nintendo went with a different strategy. With the Nintendo Wii, the company went against the conventional wisdom and discovered an entire new market that had been ignored before. In contrast to the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, Nintendo released a less powerful console with a radically different motion control system. The simple and intuitive games were a hit with families and older generations. By saving money on cheaper hardware, Nintendo’s sales outdid its competition so well that Sony and Microsoft both came out with their own motion control systems a few years afterward.

What’s going on now is a similar situation. A market of over 1.4 billion people has opened up. According to IDC analysts, in the next few years, China is going to be the largest console game market once the ban is lifted completely. The big question is what kind of innovation or strategy can be used to capture the formerly ignored population. Quality localization is necessary to win Chinese gamers. There are a few aspects of localization to consider: culturalization, legal issues, monetization, and technology.

Culturalization

Besides artwork, the first thing to get gamers connected and immersed in your game is the UI that is written in their own language. When talking about the language “Chinese”, many people get confused by a few terms: Cantonese, Mandarin, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Cantonese and Mandarin usually refer to dialects.

There are actually many different dialects in China. Cantonese is spoken by people from the Canton area which is in the very south of China (many early immigrants in the US are from Canton.) Mandarin is the national/official language, originating from Beijing and the Northeast of China. People from Taiwan and Singapore also speak Mandarin.

Simplified and traditional are usually referring to writing systems. Simplified is used in Mainland China and Singapore, while traditional is used in Hongkong and Taiwan. Many people who understand traditional may not read simplified very well, and vice versa. The good news is that since the language is concise, most of the time you don’t have to worry about the maximum length of the characters for UI design.

A good translation offers vivid story-telling and period-accurate language, which is essential to a great gameplay experience. Providing subtitles or voice-overs in the targeted market are necessary for dialogue. In many circumstances, character and plot adaptation are preferred in order to appeal to the local culture. It is always necessary to fact check, if historic events are included in the game. Asking local gamers to verify the correct use of symbols and religious elements is often important during the testing phase.

 (showgirl @ Taipei Game Show)

(Showgirls @ ChinaJoy – China’s largest video game exhibition)

Differences on cultural notions are not always obvious for game developers. Take colors for example – when Chinese people see red, generally they relate it to auspicious, happy and festive feelings. Its usage seems quite opposite in most western cultures – it is associated with violence and blood. However, don’t assume that “Red is good luck” in all situations. A Chinese person could feel quite offended if offered a red pen to sign the bill in a restaurant – in historic times, only prisoners who were sentenced to death had their names written in red ink. Many Chinese people still believe it will bring them bad luck.

Raccoons are cute and used as a mascot in branding in China, but are considered pests in America. Dragons are another well-known example. There are plenty of other things to be aware of in culturalization: superstition surrounding numbers, display of dates, and Chinese holidays under the lunar calendar, etc. The best way to make sure you’ll get it right is to consult with an experienced internationalization/localization professional working in the game industry. They will be able to make sure all the taboos are untouched and give you better alternatives to boost your game sales in China.

Social media are very helpful and trendy tools to support game marketing, but Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are not available in Mainland China, even though they may be used widely throughout the rest of the world. China has a totally separate social media ecosystem, but it can be confusing at times (see the following chart showing the correspondence with other platforms). At LAI, we are experts at navigating China’s social media ecosystem and frequently help our clients with marketing initiatives in China.

Marketing opportunities can vary in each area. In Taiwan, the game industry takes advantage of typhoon seasons since everyone stays at home and plays games. In mainland China, the busiest period is before Chinese New Year.

Legal Issues

Compared to cultural awareness, government regulations are even harsher. We talked about the color red in the cultural section earlier. In Germany, gore is replaced by green or blue in games. Many other countries also have their ratings boards to classify games as appropriate for certain age groups.

Though China does not have a system for age rating, its censorship is also very strict. A month ago, Battlefield 4 was banned in China because the government viewed it as a threat to national security. According to Chinese video game information portal 17173.com, more than 40 foreign games have not been allowed to be sold in China over the years.

This Chinese game industry official website provides video game publishing rules and regulations in China.

A few things for developers to note:

  1. Content restriction- these are forbidden: obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, superstition, illegal trade enrichment and endangering national security, etc.
  2. All imported online games (including from Taiwan/Hongkong/Macau) need to find a Chinese local game company to publish: either co-publish or self-publish.
  3. There are strict rules on selling games to gamers under 18. Often, real name log-ins are required to play certain types of games.

Monetization

The current business model for console games doesn’t fit China very well. In the existing console market, a game tends to cost around $20-$30 million to make, and sells to consumers at $60. Even cheaper and older games only drop to about a third of that, and 120 RMB is still very high for a Chinese gamer. The majority of Chinese gaming works on the free-to-play model due to the high degree of piracy. Most gamers who are interested in consoles have already purchased illegally imported systems, and are accustomed to playing bootlegged games. Consumers would refuse to pay the same prices that people do elsewhere in the world.

(copycat consoles)

Different pricing models have already taken root though, and are becoming more popular. All of the current-generation consoles have online marketplaces where classic games or smaller and less expensive games can be purchased and downloaded digitally. The sale of downloadable content is becoming increasingly prevalent in big-budget console titles, although it is different from how the present Chinese market works. (While the free-to-play model has had some success with American casual and mobile gamers, hardcore gamers tend to reject any game where players can pay for a competitive advantage.) What is important is that the market has started to move in new directions, and structures are already in place to accommodate a unique pricing model for the emerging console market.

Digital sales of games and content is promising for the Chinese market. Online systems are increasingly used to prevent piracy. (Shenzhen) Zero Power Intelligence’s research shows about 4 million consoles (including handheld) were bought in China from the grey market before the ban lifted in 2012. However, such consoles are unable to play anything other than local multiplayer, and cannot connect to other players. Establishing an official network for a console can prevent anyone from playing on an illegally modified console or game disk, and ban them from the network. Digital sales on consoles also avoids the physical costs of shipping to retail stores, eliminates the middleman, and prevents resale of games.

Technology

Huawei unveiled its first Android powered game console Tron at CES in LV, only a few days after the government’s policy change. TCL also has plans on manufacturing its own console.

(Huawei’s Tron)

Domestic companies are making their debut in the console field, though Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony Computer Entertainment are considered by many as the best poised to benefit from the lifting of the ban on consoles. Console games require huge investments and long production times; companies without mature technology and industry know-how will easily fail.

Once AAA games become widely available, the landscape of the market will shift and the demand for high-tech visuals, sound and gameplay will increase. Ten years ago, 3D gaming became prevalent in the rest of the world, while 2D/2.5D is still the most common technology used among Chinese game developers (Cocos2D instead of Unity3D). Technology compatibility difficulties often occur when publishing on different platforms. Domestic companies usually have limited resources and talents in experienced console game design and publishing.

Domestic companies have advantages on user preference (stylistic, plot and trend) and game metrics. They also have more experience in modifying gameplay of an imported game. Microsoft took the first step to form a joint venture with Chinese company BesTV in Sep. 2013. The future of the market should give an advantage to similar partnerships between established foreign companies and domestic designers, allowing both to profit from the synergy of the relationship. An alternative solution for companies that do not want to undertake such an extensive partnership is to work with experienced localization and publishing agencies.

Conclusion

The opening of the Chinese market to consoles brings plenty of challenges to ambitious game designers and console manufacturers, but the potential for rewards is commensurate. The first companies that work out a successful formula for marketing to Chinese gamers and establish themselves will gain a solid competitive advantage by getting in on the ground floor.

At LAI, we have worked closely with Sony and many other successful video game companies worldwide since 1993. With a complete range of game localization and overseas publishing solutions, we can help you get the experience you need to work through the necessary steps of publication and get your product to market.

 

LocaLAIse This! – Interview with Executive Director of the IGDA, Kate Edwards

LocaLAIse This! (pronounced “Localize This”) features an interview with Kate Edwards, Executive Director of the IGDA. Kate has worked extensively as a geopolitical strategist and localization expert at leading companies such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. She has worked on numerous AAA titles, including the Dragon Age series, Modern Warfare 3, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect 3, and Halo 4.

 

In this episode, Kate discusses emerging markets, proper culturalization of games, and her work consulting on AAA titles. You can check it out at this link, or download it for free from the iTunes Store. 

 

The Regional Differences of Languages and Their Impact on Game Localization: Exploring Spanish Localization across the Americas

 

Localization is one of the few parts of the production process where you know you’ve done a good job when no one ever mentions it.  A good localization isn’t intrusive and should make the player feel that no matter what language they’re playing the game in, that is the original.

-    Capcom’s blog for Dragon’s Dogma

  

I recently returned from DevHour, an incredible industry conference in Mexico City.  The organizers have done a fantastic job of bringing together game development talent from states across Mexico, making DevHour the largest conference specifically for game developers in Latin America.  As a result, the conference is gaining more traction from organizations abroad, this year including talks by the IGDA, King.com, YetiZen, and TechBA Vancouver.

 

Since very little has been written about the nuance of game localization, particularly for languages outside of Japanese and English, I interviewed Language Automation’s Latin American localization team and gamers from the region, in addition to scouring gaming forums.  This article reflects the compiled information – how linguistic differences across 20 Latin American countries affects immersion in games and how translators are able to compensate for these linguistic variations.  I’m publishing this article in follow up to my DevHour presentation about game localization, in which I spoke about the complexities of global markets and why proper localization (and culturalization) is key.

 

Muchísimas gracias a todos ustedes al DevHour por 2 años maravillosos a la conferencia en DF.  Espero que disfruten este artículo explicando más de las idiosincrasias de su mercado.  Si pueden escribir de sus opiniones y experiencias con los juegos localizados en español, por favor, lo escriben debajo por los otros desarrolladores aprender más de la importancia utilizar la localización de una buena calidad (¡y con espero, recibir más juegos buenísimos en español!…a menos que prefieren los traducciones como “Yo soy cola, tú pegamento.” : ) ).

 

A Brief Introduction to the Wide Distribution of Spanish, French, & Portuguese

My first experience with regional differences in a language for which I wasn’t native was when I spoke Spanish with a Venezuelan.  Until that time, I spoke Spanish exclusively with Mexicans, so it surprised me to hear the Venezuelan say, “¿Qué?” (“What?”) in response to not having heard what I said.  I learned very early on when speaking with Mexicans that “¿Qué?” is often considered rude in that context and that “¿Mande?” should be used instead.  When I asked the Venezuelan why he used “¿Qué?” instead of “¿Mande?,” he asked in response, “What is ‘mande?’”

 

When that conversation is contextualized within the field of game localization, it puts a new spin on the localization of video games for widely translated languages like Spanish, French, and Portuguese.  After all, Spanish is spoken from Mexico down to the tip of South America, Europe, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and throughout the U.S.  French is spoken within Canada, Africa, Europe, and parts of Latin America, among other locations.  While Portuguese may immediately bring to mind Portugal and Brazil, it is also spoken in parts of Africa and even Southeast Asia and India.

 

Due to the wide geographic spread of these languages, it isn’t as simple as merely translating an English or Japanese-based game into Spanish, French, or Portuguese.  Even if Spanish is pared down to Spanish of the Americas, translators are likely to encounter problems with in-game jokes or words that don’t easily translate across the entire region.  (For a detailed description of the differences between translation vs. full localization and culturalization, see our previous blog post “When to Forgo the Culturalization of Video Games: Contextualizing Globalization within the Mobile Marketplace.”)  Even the Harry Potter book series was localized from British English to American English!  Why do you think the American Harry Potter books refer to scotch tape, as opposed to the British “sellotape” and wastebaskets as opposed to “bollards?”

 

Word use vastly depends on context, such as in the instance of “qué” and “mande,” wherein “qué” is understood and used in Mexico (depending on context) but “mande” is not widely used in other countries.  There are instances in which words and phrases that make sense in other countries would throw Mexican gamers off-guard – a main component to be avoided within localization.  (After all, games are localized specifically to give international players the opportunity to experience a game like players of the original version and certainly to avoid jarring experiences that would remove the player from the gameplay experience.)  Although game companies may translate products into Spanish, French, & Portuguese for Europe and separately into Spanish, French, & Portuguese of the Americas, there are an incredible number of linguistic variations in any of these languages throughout the Americas.  So exactly how are game translators able to account for these regional differences, maintaining an immersive experience consistent throughout an entire region?

 

Location Does Impact the Evolution of Language!

Often, languages spoken in Europe are influenced by languages within close proximity.  In Latin American Spanish, “computadora” is used for “computer,” whereas the European Spanish equivalent evolved from the French word for computer “ordinateur,” resulting in “ordenador.”  (Microsoft Windows uses the “region-neutral term” “equipo.”)  The same phenomenon occurs in parts of the US, where even Spanish speakers who don’t know English use English terms like “park” as opposed to the longer “estacionar” (to park) or “estacionamiento” (parking), just as “mall” is frequently used in lieu of “centro comercial.”  Spanish words from the US down to South America can vary rather drastically due to the influence of the English language, historical linguistic factors, etc.  While Spanish speakers in the US, border states of Mexico, and even countries like Venezuela may use “carro” as opposed to “coche” for car, in other regions, “carro” brings to mind an old carriage, a horse-and-buggy.  Even for basic words, translation can get complicated very quickly.

 

Even though Canadians and people from France can speak French and understand one another, there are significant differences between their vocabulary and even grammar.  European French often anglicizes words, whereas Canadian French elects to use terms that sound more French-rooted.  For example, France uses “firewall” or “pare-feu” rather than the Canadian French “barrier pare-feu,” and France uses “serveur proxy” rather than “serveur mandataire.”  Despite the ability for Canadian and European French to communicate together (barring major differences in spoken French), a game or game support documentation translated into French but not localized for different regions may come across in a bad light, possibly putting-off a select portion of the French market.

These differences may seem minor to those with limited knowledge of these languages, but the use of region-specific words (or lack thereof) can make the difference between a localized game that is highly praised and one that people simply will not buy. 

 

The Impact of Linguistic Differences on Spanish Localization Efforts

If you want a clear picture of how linguistic differences can affect gameplay, take a look back at news segments regarding Microsoft’s Kinect.  The Kinect is an Xbox add-on, allowing users to play games with a motion sensor as well as with voice commands.  Just as Google Translate sometimes produces incomprehensible translations between languages, the Kinect didn’t always properly register certain dialects…or even entire languagesIn an article from 2010, El País cited the inability of the Kinect to register Spanish spoken with a Spaniard accent, as it would only have the capability of speaking English, Japanese, and “Mexican” at that point in time.  Castilian was unsupported until the spring of 2011.  Just because the Kinect could supposedly understand English, that did not necessarily mean English across the globe.  At the end of 2011, Aussies rejoiced when the Kinect could finally understand them.

 

To get a better sense of the broad range of games in Spanish from seamless localization to the poor, I scoured gaming forums to learn how gamers respond to localization ranging across a broad spectrum of dialects:

 

Halo 2 Localization

Halo 2 had the worst rap among gamers from Spain for its localization into Spanish.  As opposed to localization in Spain Spanish (Castilian) or even neutral Spanish (also referred to as universal or standard Spanish), Halo 2 was done in Mexican Spanish.  This was problematic for many reasons: Spaniards couldn’t fully enjoy – or immerse – themselves into the game as would have been possible with a Castilian localization.  Plus, Spain’s trailer for Halo 2 was actually dubbed into Castilian Spanish, leading gamers to feel they had received a false advertisement.  A trailer flawlessly dubbed into the region’s dialect inevitably caused gamers to believe the entire game would be released in their local dialect of Spanish.

 

While the game may have been translated into Spanish and read by native speakers, Halo 2 was not localized for the market in Spain, resulting in Halo fans of the region perceiving the game to be a subpar gaming experience.  Games are typically dubbed at least into Spanish for Spain’s market and sometimes given a separate dubbing for Latin America, due to regional preferences and what would give gamers in both regions the best possible gaming experience.  (Wouldn’t you be disappointed if the first Halo game was localized perfectly for your native language and you were led to believe the 2nd installment would be just as immersive, but suddenly, the entire cast was speaking in an entirely different accent (or dialect) with jokes that make little to no sense in your country and with words that don’t even exist in your own language?!)

 

While many games are currently made with the North American gamer in mind (whereas games are not always localized for Latin American gamers), let’s say Halo was available only in British English and not localized for American gamers at all (putting aside for the moment the fact that Halo is based upon the US).  While you yourself may be fairly knowledgeable about the linguistic variations and differences in humor between England and the US, there are plenty of Americans who would be entirely unaware of the meaning of British words (especially the younger gaming audience who may never have traveled abroad nor had much exposure to British English apart from Harry Potter).  In fact, here is an extensive list of words that differ between British English and American English, such as “articulated lorry” for “trailer truck,” “naughts and crosses” for “tic-tack-toe,” “The Plough” for the “Big Dipper,” “tea towel” for “dish towel,” “bonnet” for “hat,” and “torch” for “flashlight.”  If these words were used in Halo, it could entirely change the meaning of how the player perceived (s)he should try to interact with the environment.  What about in Left 4 Dead, if you were told to turn off your “torch,” as opposed to your flashlight?  While you may able to gather the intended meaning, that doesn’t mean it would be any less jarring to hear people say, “Turn off your torch!”  After all, you aren’t playing Tomb Raider, where you are using torches to light your way…you are using a pistol with a handy flashlight attachment.

 

World of Warcraft Localization

Some localization decisions ostracize gamers since they cater the game to one specific region or country, and some localization decisions have players rolling their eyes and frustrated over disengagement from what should be an immersive experience.  A prime example is the tendency for speakers of Castilian Spanish to prefer literal translations of proper names and places.  This resulted in the translation of Stormwind reading as a command rather than as a place, with the translation “Ventormenta” essentially reading as “Come here, storm!”  Horde didn’t receive it much better, as the translation for Undercity (“Entrañas”) reads as “Entrails!”  If you’re expecting an immersive fantasy setting, there goes that sense of immersion if your map says “Come here, storm!” or, worse yet, “Entrails!”

 

A tricky aspect of Spanish localization is the sheer number of words with offensive meanings in countries of the same region.  While I won’t write out the incredible list of words with double meanings here, these words are available online if you’re interested.  The sheer number of food-related words with offensive meanings in certain countries could mean that cooking-related games may end up blocked by parental controls or even outraging parents in a given country.  Are you a fan of pico de gallo sauce?  Be sure to order something else in Chile, since pico is slang for the part of a male you probably wouldn’t want to eat (with gallo meaning “rooster”).  Do you enjoy the traditional Peruvian shell stew dish?  Don’t try to order that dish in other Latin American countries, as its literal meaning is often something very different, so different in fact, that I’m not going to include it within this article.  Let’s just say you are likely to upset parents if you include this particular dish in a cooking game distributed across other Latin American countries.

 

Regional Differences Aren’t Just Limited to Spanish!

The idiosyncrasies of localization across other languages may seem more complicated than English simply because English doesn’t have a plethora of words with offensive double meanings across multiple countries.  However, this doesn’t mean English is devoid of linguistic and cultural variations.  In an interview with Emma Watson (Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger), she discusses the language barriers that made life in America a bit more challenging, including the time she ran around with a bloody finger, asking for a plaster (Band-Aid).  I, myself, faced communication barriers simply by moving from the West Coast of the US to the East Coast – the first time classmates were talking about getting hoagies and grinders, I thought they were talking about some kind of food that only existed out there.  Plus, when my teacher talked about going to UConn for the weekend, I was unimaginably confused, picturing a quick trip way up north to the icy Yukon.  Likewise, I assumed a trip to Washington meant a cross-country trip to Washington state as opposed to Washington D.C., as I had only ever heard the state shortened as Washington and the capital shortened as D.C.  It took a while to (in a sense) reorient myself to the English language based upon my physical location.

 

Beyond the vocab variations and differences based on locale, I even discovered communication difficulties based on accent.  People on the East Coast couldn’t understand my pronunciation of the word “tour” (a pronunciation difference I can’t even begin to describe), and when the word “idea” inevitably arose during classes and meetings, I mentally checked out due to the frequent addition of the “r” sound at the end of the word, effectively changing “idea” to “idear.”  (Talk about a jolt from a setting in which my attention should have been held!)  While accents and seemingly minute linguistic differences may not seem like a significant problem in theory (such as “idea” versus “idear”), this can result in a hugely jarring experience for gamers if not accommodated for correctly.

 

Creating an Immersive Experience across Borders

Many video games use a neutral Spanish that can feel stiff and emotionless to Latin American players.  This form of Spanish is perceived to be the best solution in encompassing broad linguistic differences, as it is the lowest common denominator of all Spanish variants and eliminates idioms and regional mannerisms.  However, since the entire point of localization is to make a player feel as though a video game was created specifically for their enjoyment, how would neutral Spanish serve as an effective solution?

 

Although neutral Spanish is understood by speakers across Latin America and certainly costs less than adapting a video game to every linguistic variation (since, after all, games are a business and business decisions ultimately come down to anticipated ROI), there is also a tradeoff to consider in the quality of localization: with neutral Spanish, the game is not truly being localized for given markets, which often results in a less than immersive experience.

 

In fact, it has been echoed by many gamers that Mexicans prefer English dialogue with appropriate Spanish subtitles, even for movies (with the exception of those for kids), whereas Spaniards prefer a full localization – Castilian-style, an accent that often sounds grating to Latin American speakers.  Perhaps this would not be the case if more games implemented localization effectively but, far too often, the Latin American market receives games with “sloppy” localization, inevitably turning players off of so-called “localized” versions (not far removed from the translations English games used to receive on NES/SNES titles…can you “proove” the justice of our culture?).  This is due to the history of Latin American games receiving subpar dubbing via voice actors without formal training.  Subsequently, gamers in Latin America are prone to instead buy American versions of games.  Martina Santoro, co-founder and director of Okam Studio in Argentina, cited both subpar Latin American voice acting and games featuring Castilian Spanish as the reason gamers in the region often buy English games from the US:

 

 “[Since] gamers, especially hardcore gamers, preferred to buy games in English directly from the US [when] big studios did their marketing research, the results said that Latin Americans weren’t spending money on games.  But the fact was they were; they were just spending it in the US market.”

 

Fortunately, voice acting in select Latin American versions of games has vastly improved, leading gamers to highly praise games such as Uncharted 3 and Killzone 3.  This is key, as The Game Localization Handbook states, “More gamers are likely to buy a game that is localized specifically for their native language […] Gamers might not purchase it if it is not in their native tongue, resulting in a direct sales loss” (8).  In fact, in LAI’s upcoming article “How to Approach Game Localization for Scandinavia,” I cite the importance of at least adding subtitles to games, even for countries with the world’s highest rates of English proficiency.  It follows that games should be localized for Latin America, given the region’s reportedly low rates of English proficiency.

 

Just as neither British English nor American English works for every localization project (as it greatly depends on context), neutral Spanish nor country-specific Spanish will work in every instance in which developers seek to broaden or narrow game localization.  What does that mean?  Well, in Final Fantasy XII, the English localization decision for the word marquis resulted in an ongoing headache for the localization team long after the game was released.  It was decided to use the pronunciation “mar-kwis” (as opposed to “mar-kee”).  Why would an incredible localization team such as the one at Square Enix elect to use a British pronunciation for an American release, particularly when other dialogue was voice-acted using American pronunciation?  Localizers intentionally selected the “mar-kwis” pronunciation to reflect the linguistic influence of the British in that part of the fantasy world.  While some gamers appreciated the effort after learning more about this localization decision, this ultimately resulted in a decreased immersive experience for the American audience – the complete opposite intent of localization.  This parallels the experience many Latin American gamers have when playing a game with Spain dubs:

 

“There are some truly great actors like those used in Uncharted, I enjoyed the Spanish version almost as much as the English even though I probably laughed at some things that were not intended as comedic just because they said them with [a] Spaniard accent.”

-        ilfito’s comment on an IGN article

 

Consumers in the Americas may understand and accept specific linguistic variants (such as the British use of “bloody”) and reject others (such as “marquis” in Final Fantasy), but the key to perceptive localization is to know when cultural context allows for the use of other dialects.  Localization professionals well-versed in both game culture and the target region will not only be aware of the current vocab specific to games (ex. mage, spell, raids), but they will also remain up-to-date on slang and other linguistic trends pertinent to the successful localization of your game.  Immersion into the gameplay experience can be severely stunted by those who don’t agree with stylistic choices or understand the nuances of the localization effort.

 

As translators behind titles such as Final Fantasy, Apollo Justice, and Vagrant Story said at PAX 2011, it’s about doing service to the original:

 

“You want to bring out everything that’s good about the original [and] that requires constructing a style that’s true to that world [...] Style is very language-specific [and] that can mean many different things, and of course, you’re drawing from yourself as well.”

  

How LATAM Translators Account for Linguistic Variations across the Region

With 20 countries in Latin America spanning numerous dialects and distinct cultures, how can one translator ensure that every single word and phrase within a game makes sense across the entire region?  After all, not even all Americans are aware of common words used in different parts of the US across the West Coast, East Coast, Midwest, and South, and Mexico alone has ten different variations of Spanish.

 

US vocab pop quiz! – Can you tell me what a bubbler is?  How about an alligator pear?  Where would you put jimmies?

 

Just how are Latin American translators able to make sure they use words that make sense to all and don’t offend a particular segment of the market?  A key resource is proper education.  If you are using a certified translation team, years of specialized training prepares that team to effectively use Neutral Spanish.  In addition, translation courses educate native speakers on the tools necessary to double-check that words aren’t too local or too broad.  Our translation team cites Google Trends as an immensely helpful tool, since it shows the popularity of the word across locales, compare its usage, etc.  However, Google Trends is currently unable to provide alternative solutions and is therefore solely limited to the insight of the translator.  By coupling research via Google Trends with tools such as Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (DREA, an online dictionary), translators are armed with the information necessary to achieve a greater understanding of whether a word works (or doesn’t work) across an entire region.  In addition, qualified translators are knowledgeable about industry-specific forums and online groups, allowing them to reach out to peers who have faced similar localization issues or are more familiar with a given part of Latin America and are able to provide possible solutions.

 

Why might a fully-qualified translator need to use tools like Google Trends and DREA?  Well, one major aspect of localization is using consistent terms.  That is why quality localization vendors create (or build further upon) a terminology database – a list of commonly used words and their translations within a game (or game series).  Translators are expected to maintain this consistency in order to suspend the player into immersive game worlds.  After all, it would be oddly unsettling and confusing for characters and key items to change names throughout a game or between sequels.

 

Imagine a character whose name was translated differently across multiple countries.  Then, imagine some translator who is supposed to localize a game featuring that character for widespread release across those different countries.  Here’s a good example: The character Strawberry Shortcake received at least three different translations in Spanish – “Rosita Fresita” in Mexico, “Frutillitas” in South America, and “Tarta de fresa” in Spain.  Hopefully, the game developer or publisher sees the value in localizing games separately for the market in Spain versus the market in Latin America, but even so, there are at least two different variations of the name to choose from.  (Fortunately, there seems to be less confusion over the necessity of localizing games into Spanish separately for Europe and the Americas, whereas there seems to be more confusion among developers for languages like French.)  Instead of arbitrarily selecting one of these possible names for Strawberry Shortcake, a qualified translator would likely consult a tool, such as Google Trends, to determine which name is most popular: 

 

 

Fortunately, the translator is able to analyze the three terms side-by-side and note the drastic difference in the popularity of these terms.  In addition, the map view clearly shows the translator which countries use which terms.  For example, these two maps show the difference between “Rosita Fresita” and “Tarta de fresa”: 

 

 

The left table shows the widespread popularity of “Rosita Fresita,” and the right table shows interest in “Tarta de fresa” localized primarily to Spain.

 

Both Google Trends and Diccionario de la Real Academia Española can reveal the regionalisms of specific words.  This is useful in determining which word would make the most sense across the entirety of Latin America or perhaps ensuring the use of a regional word for a character who is supposed to be from a given country.  (After all, even different states of Mexico have their own distinct, just like in the US where the use of the word “pop” or “soda” is telling in where a person is from.)  Pretty much anyone who has taken a Spanish class or two can tell you the word for “skirt” is “falda,” and it is true that term is used across Latin America.  However, in both Argentina and Uruguay, the word “pollera” may be used instead:

 

The word “pollera” is clearly popular in Panama, but the word doesn’t have the same meaning as it does in other countries, referring instead to the typical national dress of the country.  This is where DRAE can clear up the actual meaning of a word by country or region:

 

 

DRAE gives each definition of the word, along with the regionalisms that range from someone who raises and sells chickens to someone who transports people to the US to the definition unique to “Pan.” (Panama), where “pollero” consists of a dress with a flowing skirt and blouse.  (In contrast, Google Translate simply defines “pollero” as “poulterer” or “poultry dealer,” encapsulating none of the other definitions.)  Experienced translators are able to use respected industry tools to ensure the best possible translation is being produced.  It is far too easy for inexperienced “translators” to entirely change the meaning of a game or to even outrage parents by not taking into account regionalisms.  (Remember the food-related examples from earlier in this article?  Pico de gallo sauce is not something you’d want to order in Chile, just as the traditional Peruvian shell stew dish is best ordered only in Peru.)

 

What it comes down to is that translation is no easy task!  With such nuance across languages, it is essential to use certified translators, as poorly translated games run the risk of causing massive PR problems on a global scale.  Everyone loves a good laugh when it comes to mistranslations…but if you’re a game developer, you certainly don’t want people laughing at the expense of your game!  Tools like Diccionario de la Real Academia Española and Google Trends aid translators in ensuring translations won’t include fatal mistakes that may cost millions of dollars in damage control and rebranding.  Certified translators are set apart from the average bilingual through careful training, experience, and overall expertise, utilizing specialized toolsets and industry practices specific to their niche.

 

When quality is built into the overall localization process, you end up with phenomenal localizations such as the incredible care taken with Epic Mickey 2 and Ni no Kuni across multiple languages.  Qualified translators are able to properly utilize tools to ensure your game is the most immersive it can be for players in a given region.  One person cannot possibly know every single linguistic and cultural idiosyncrasy across 20 countries.  However, proper education and collaboration with other specialists throughout the region aid in sculpting the most appropriate translation possible.  This ultimately results in localization that transcends the translations that remove players from the gameplay experience like using “Ventormenta” for Stormwind (essentially “Come here, storm!”) or “Entrañas” (Entrails) for Undercity.  With localization (or “full” culturalization), gamers are able to enjoy the game in their language as if it were the original, resulting in higher reported satisfaction overall.

 

Since Latin America is reported as one of the key emerging markets in the world, game developers don’t want to ruin their reputation within the region by utilizing subpar localization efforts.  After all, the region is expected to reach $624 million in virtual good sales by 2014.  Plus, Pyramid Research states the mobile market in the region is far from saturated, with Latin America expected to reach 130% mobile penetration by the end of 2015 and Newzoo revealing this year that Latin American and the Asia Pacific have the highest regional growth in game spending.

 

By giving gamers a chance to fully immerse themselves into games through the appropriate use of linguistic nuance, you are allowing the player to build a deeper relationship with the game world and its characters.  The reputation you build with gamers through localization does, in fact, impact your bottom line – The Game Localization Handbook specifically states that a game not available in multiple languages directly results in a loss of sales (8).  And poor localization is even worse, as it damages the brand and makes the player more likely to actively criticize that game and future games to other potential players.  In contrast, gamers will actively praise and promote games that have stellar localization, even when they perceive the overall game to be subpar for other reasons.

 

Quality localization is beneficial to gamers, game developers, and the industry as a whole.  After all, we want to make games available to a broader audience on a global level, giving everyone the ability to enjoy games as if playing the original.  There are entire movements of gamers dedicated to bringing games from Japan to the US, Europe, and other markets.  If we don’t continue to advocate for games to be given quality localization (not only for ourselves but for other markets as well), business decisions will continue to be driven by perceived market demand as opposed to actual market demand.

 

  • Gamers – Make sure your voice is heard!  Check out Operation Rainfall and other advocacy groups dedicated to bringing games abroad.  (Disclaimer – We are now partnered with oprainfall, so we’re a bit biased!)
  • Game developers – Stay focused on building a presence for your games…but not only in English-speaking markets, or you’ll miss out on over 70% of the potential worldwide market!*  Check out the IGDA to stay connected with the industry globally.

 

 

We at LAI would like to send a special thank you out to our Latin American Spanish translation team for contributing to this article and the DevHour coordinators/attendees for teaching us more about the game industry in Mexico, as well as Rossana Triaca and Juan Rowda, plus the members of the LinkedIn group “Meet Latin American Game Developers” for their assistance, specifically the commentary and opinions provided by Alvaro Gonzalez, Mayra Donaji Barrera Muchuca, Pedro Pimenta, Ignacio Bettosini, Sergio Rosa, and Rick Castillo.

 

Please comment below or tweet us @LanguageAutoInc (or the author @KarinESkoog) with examples of the linguistic differences in Spanish localization efforts and across other languages.  Your examples could make it into our subsequent articles!  Check back on LAI’s blog for future additions, and ensure you stay up-to-date with new articles and our upcoming podcast by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.

 

* Only 27% of the world speaks English.

LocaLAIse This! – Interview with Ubisoft’s Localization Project Manager

Check out our new podcast NOW available on iTunes – LocaLAIse This! In this first episode, LAI speaks with Ubisoft’s Localization Project Manager Margherita Seconnino about her work overseeing the localization of Assassin’s Creed titles. Stay informed of future episodes by signing up for our newsletter. Our next episode will feature someone from Sega!

 

You can also check out our 1st episode at this link.

 

 

Episode 3 – LAIzer & Gaijin Goombah in China!

What kind of difficulties will LAIzer and Gaijin Goombah face in China? Beware – the Fumon are reeking havoc!

 

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Episode 2 – Localization Heroes LAIzer & Gaijin Goombah Combat Ignorance!

LAIzer explores game localization alongside Gaijin Goombah – combating the ignorance enshrouding the overall process and fighting off the Fumon one by one!

 

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