The 2 TOP Markets for Prominent Indie Developers

INTRO – OPEN CALL FOR GAME LOCALIZATION DATA!

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - Chinese - The Witness - Indie Developers - SteamSpy
Before we dive into this article, we’d like to take a moment to let you know we have an OPEN CALL for additional information.

If you are a game developer or publisher with any relevant localization data to contribute:

We appreciate your help in collecting more data for other indie developers to learn from!

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THE RISE OF LOCALIZATION: INDEPENDENT GAME DEVELOPERS

We decided to write this SPECIAL ARTICLE on game localization among prominent indie developers, because…

In just the past year or so, we’ve seen a tremendous rise in independent game developers –

  • Realizing game localization leads to boosts in sales!
  • Paying for localization in markets such as China and Russia.

This is a stark contrast to the past decade of indie development, where developers wouldn’t necessarily localize, or particularly PAY for quality localization.

We share our top picks of prominent indie developers who saw the advantages of localization – and enjoyed a sales boost as a result!

THE LOCALIZATION REVOLUTION – FROM EFIGS TO CHINA & RUSSIA

Not long ago, the go-to languages for localization were EFIGS – English, French, Italian, German and Spanish.
https://www.lai.com/en/eastern-europe-russia-game-markets
Now, we’re seeing a NEW TREND in game localization:

According to Sergio’s Steam Spy article “Steam in 2017,” the top 5 countries for players of independent games were:

  • 1. USA
  • 2. China
  • 3. Russia
  • 4. Germany
  • 5. UK

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing Indie AAA - Global infographics - Market analysis
This data is reflected in the numbers seen by prominent indie developers localizing for other countries in recent years:

OUR TOP PICKS:
JONATHAN BLOW – THE WITNESS – THEKLA, INC.
CHINA

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - MENA Middle East Arabic - The Witness indie game developersCheck out Jonathan Blow’s video sharing China’s growth numbers for his game, The Witness.

The Witness came out in 2016, beginning with a low market penetration in China.

Just two years later, in 2018, China comprised more than half of the number of players (as compared to the USA).

Steam 2016 country breakdown for The Witness (shortly after launch):
LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - Chinese - The Witness - Indie Developers - SteamSpy 2016

As Jonathan Blow states:

“In just two years, we’ve gone from this [China at 4% of players, #7 country], to this [China at 15% of players, #2 country], and that’s quite extreme.”

“Many games in the West, both small, independent games like mine, and bigger AAA games, are seeing this same kind of pattern.”

Steam 2018 country breakdown for The Witness:
LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - China Russia - The Witness - Indie Developers

Why Blow Believes the Indie Sales Numbers Increased Globally

Jonathan Blow believes these numbers are at least partially due to accessibility:

“The market conditions changed in 2008 [...]

  • First of all, we had a big audience, as console and PC games had been getting more and more popular for years.
  • Secondly, all those people had access to fast internet, so they were able to download games, as in previous years, if you wanted to download a game you had to go to a store, and for a developer, getting a game into a store is very hard and very expensive.”

He also attributes this market shift to a decrease in the number of AAA games available (as production costs increased)…

creating a hole in the types of games available for purchase – a demand that indie developers easily met.
LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing Indie AAA - China Asia infographics - Market analysis

LAI’s Conclusion

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - 5 Stars Best - Indie AAAAs Jonathan Blow mentioned, the popularity of games has increased, not only in the USA, but in other parts of the world as well.

Internet penetration and speeds are increasing globally, and are catching up in emerging markets, such as the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Thumbs up icon made by Icon Monk from www.flaticon.com.

LAI’s Prediction:

Indie developers will not only see increasing user bases from China and Russia, but soon from emerging markets, meaning languages like Arabic will become more important in the future.

Just look at all the AAA studios localizing subtitles AND voiceover into Arabic now!

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing Indie AAA - Middle East MENA Arabic infographics - Market analysis

JANE NG – FIREWATCH – CAMPO SANTO

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - Japan Japanese - Firewatch indie game developersIn this video, Jane Ng explains why popular indie game Firewatch opted out of the standard EFIGS (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish), and instead, localized into French, German, Spanish, Russian and Simplified Chinese and how this translated into game sales.

“I’ve heard from other developers that China is becoming a big market for them, especially if you do the step of localization.” – Jane Ng

She explains why the traditional EFIGS (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish) no longer makes sense, attributing it to the current breakdown of Steam users by country:

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - FIGS Russian Chinese - Campo Santo Firewatch - Indie Developers - SteamSpy Popular Countries

In these charts, you can see that as of late 2017, the top 5 game markets for Steam are:

  • #1: USA at 15%
  • #2: Russia at 10%
  • #3: China at 8%
  • #4: Brazil at nearly 5%
  • #5: Germany at 4.5%

According to Jane Ng, “Steam was only allowed to be in China in 2015, so in two years, [China] became [Steam’s] 3rd biggest market.”

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - China Chinese Wegame - Firewatch indie game developers

Following Campo Santo’s decision to localize into French, German, Spanish, Russian and Simplified Chinese, the top owners of Firewatch on Steam were made up of these language users:

  • #1: USA at nearly 34%
  • #2: China at 9%
  • #3: UK at nearly 7.81%
  • #4: Canada at 6.6%
  • #5: Russia at 6.2%
  • #6: Germany at 5.53%
  • #7: Australia at 3.72%
  • #8: France at 3.15%

(Further down on the list, Spain added 1.14% of players, bringing the total to over 25%.)

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - FIGS Russian Chinese - Campo Santo Firewatch - Indie Developers - Popular Top Owners Steam

Campo Santo could have lost out on nearly 24% of players by not localizing into French, German, Russian, and Chinese!
LAI’s Conclusion

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - 5 Stars Best - Indie AAAIn addition to EFIGS, consider localizing your games into Chinese and Russian!

With China and Russia in the #2 and #3 spots on Steam (under the USA), the market opportunity in both countries is significant and well worth the cost of localization.

Thumbs up icon made by Icon Monk from www.flaticon.com.



We compared Firewatch’s numbers by country to LAI & DFC’s Game Market Analyzer app (available for free on the App Store):

Countries Firewatch’s Top Language Owners on Steam GMA Predictions (Adventure)
China 9% (#2 Firewatch language market) 16.6%
Russia 6.2% (#5 Firewatch language market) 5.1%
Germany 5.53% (#6 Firewatch language market 7.0%
France 3.15% (#8 Firewatch language market) 4.8%
Spain 1.14% (#13 Firewatch language market) *1.3%
Total Actual: 25.02% Estimate: 34.8%

* Note that GMA recommends Latin American Spanish, comprising an estimated 6.3%.

** Note that in Jonathan Blow’s slides above, he listed China as 15% of The Witness owners. The Witness is also listed as an Adventure game on Steam, and this data is closer to the GMA app’s prediction for China at 16.6%.

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - China Chinese Russia Russian - Game Market Analyzer app - game market predictions Adventure
Screenshot of LAI & DFC’s free Game Market Analyzer (GMA) app. GMA Localization Analysis run for the PC Adventure genre, with a rough word count estimate of 40,000 (similar to a small novel).

* GMA’s other top picks for the PC Adventure genre include Korean at 8.9% estimated market penetration, Japanese at 8.9%, Portuguese Brazilian at 1.6% and Italian at 1.5%.

Additional Insights from Jane Ng:

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - China Chinese - Firewatch - Indie Developers - SteamSpy
LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - FIGS Russian Chinese - Campo Santo Firewatch - Indie Developers - Steam China Jane Ng
LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - FIGS Russian Chinese - Campo Santo Firewatch - Indie Developers - SteamSpy China Dont Starve Jane Ng

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - Russia Russian - Dont Starve game developers

LAI Key Facts:

The following facts are from LAI Global Game Services’ detailed insights on game industry statistics:

CHINA
  • China surpassed the US’ game revenue back in 2015 at $5.5 billion, back when Steam officially launched in the country.
  • China remains the world’s largest market for PC gaming for 8 years in a row. The US ranks 2nd for PC gaming, though it lags far behind at $4.2 billion.

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing Indie AAA - Asia China Chinese infographics - Market analysis

RUSSIA
  • Russia’s game sales are higher than Spain, Europe’s 5th largest market.
  • Russia’s gamers are nearly double the size of the UK’s (40 million), France (44 million) and Italy’s (38 million).

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing Indie AAA - Russia Eastern Europe CIS infographics - Market analysis

RAPHAEL VAN LIEROP – THE LONG DARK – HINTERLAND STUDIO

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - Long Dark Hinterland - China ChineseFollowing the trend of China and Russia surpassing many other game markers, Raphael van Lierop chimed in with The Long Dark’s top sales – China was the #2 market and Russia #3 (after the USA).

In the below conversation, Jane Ng also concludes that piracy is no longer an indicator of market viability in these countries:
LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - FIGS Russian Chinese - Campo Santo Firewatch - Indie Developers - Steam China Russia Jane Ng Long Dark

CLIFF HARRIS (AKA CLIFFSKI) – DEMOCRACY – POSITECH GAMES

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - China Chinese - Democracy 3 - Indie Developers

Last year, Cliff decided to add Chinese support (and other languages) to one of his most popular strategy games Democracy 3:

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - China Chinese - Cliffski Cliff - Democracy 3

In December 2017, Cliff shared his growing numbers from China on his blog, “the % of revenue for Democracy 3 that comes from China each month has risen from 1% to 8%!”

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - China Chinese - Cliffski Cliff Blog - Democracy 3

Cliff has also been thinking about Russian localization for years:

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - Russia Italian - Cliffski Cliff - Democracy 3

LAI Insights

LAI Global Game Services - Best Video Game Localization Publishing Service Provider - FIGS CJK Russian ChineseAccording to the Game Market Analyzer, PC strategy games like Cliff’s may see the following market share by language:

Thumbs up icon made by Icon Monk from www.flaticon.com.

  • #1 English at 24%
  • #2 Simplified Chinese at 16.6%
  • #3 Korean at 9%
  • #4 Japanese at 8.4%
  • #5 German at 7.2%
  • #6 Spanish (LatAm) at 6.3%
  • #7 Russian at 4.8%
  • #8 French (Europe) at 4.6%
  • #9 Brazilian Portuguese at 1.6%
  • #10 Dutch at 1.6%
  • #11 Italian at 1.6%
  • #12 Spanish (Europe) at 1.3%

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - China Chinese Russia Russian - Cliffski Cliff Democracy 3 - Top Language Markets - Indie Strategy Games
Screenshot of LAI & DFC’s free Game Market Analyzer (GMA) app. GMA Localization Analysis analysis run for the PC Strategy game genre.

* Full breakdown of language by estimated market penetration listed above.

TANYA SHORT – THE SHROUDED ISLE – KITFOX GAMES

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - Japan Japanese - Shrouded Isle Kitfox Tanya Short
Tanya Short reported a heavy dose of localization for The Shrouded Isle, including French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and Korean.

She strongly recommends Japanese and Chinese localization:

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - Japanese Chinese - Shrouded Isle - Indie Developers - Tanya Short Kitfox

Following the release of Kitfox’s Moon Hunters into Russian, Tanya released a detailed Gamasutra article on indie game sales in Eastern Europe, where she gathered information from 18 indie games.

Her conclusion:

“Localizing to Russian could double your revenue in Russia, but has no effect in the rest of Eastern Europe.”

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing Indie AAA - Russia Eastern Europe CIS infographics - Market analysis

LAI REFLECTIONS

LAI Global Game Services - Best Video Game Localization Publishing Service Provider - FIGS CJK Russian ChineseOverall, indie developers are seeing the importance – and reaping the rewards of localizing their games across genres – from open world adventure games, to linear story-driven games, to strategy games.

While independent developers are still seeing the benefits of French, German and Spanish (not necessarily Italian, giving that the market share is smaller than the aforementioned language markets), there are 2 languages that developers are particularly excited about:

  • Chinese (Simplified)
  • Russian

China and Russia were among the top 3 markets for The Witness, The Long Dark, and Don’t Starve Together, and among the top 5 for Firewatch.

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing - Russia Russian - Moon Hunters - Indie Developers - Tanya Short Kitfox

Something LAI finds particularly interesting is that China and Russia are consuming independent games across many genres – puzzle, story-driven, strategy and action/survival.

This phenomenon isn’t evident in just one select genre.

It is unclear from the collection of presentations, articles and tweets we found whether any of these companies specifically marketed their games to Chinese and Russian players, or whether these numbers were solely due to organic growth from localization.

LAI Global Game Services - Game Localization Publishing -Japan Japanese - School Simulator - Indie Developers

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ANY INSIGHTS TO SHARE?

LAI Global Game Services - Best Video Game Localization Publishing Service Provider - FIGS CJK Russian ChineseIf you have any insights into whether any tailored marketing was involved for any of the above games, absolutely, let us know!

If you are a developer/publisher with data or insights for specific games, let us know.

We’ll continue to share more insights with people like you! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter & Facebook!

Some of our clients:

LAI Global Game Services - Best AAA Indie Agile Game Localization Publisher - Clients Sony Ubisoft Level Up Havok SuperHot

LAI Global Game Services - Video Game Translation and Localization - Best Affordable Vendor Service Provider

Recommended articles & podcasts:

AAA & Indie localization

Localization Interviews

Guides to Global Markets

Thanks for reading!
- LAI Global Game Services Team

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