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Mobilising Games to Go Global: Internationalisation and Localisation

The days of the Cold War are long past and have been replaced by the hotter topic of global warming. ‘Colonisation’ and ‘Super-power’ may actually have become dirty words in these days when global harmony and fair play are the mantras for our planet’s survival.

However, in the last few years, there has been a new power entity slowly but steadily rising on the horizon: Enter the APP Store Super Power!

In 2014, Japan and South Korea made huge strides and surpassed the USA by revenue on Google Play. Reports put China at #3 by revenue on the Apple App store. South East Asia is a HUGE emerging market- Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam account for almost all the game revenue in this area of the planet.

What is the takeaway from all this?
1. Language is no barrier.
2. The appeal of gaming and mobile gaming is a worldwide phenomenon.
3. Big bucks are involved and this means cutthroat competition and planning in minute detail to drive successful apps and games.
4. Game and app internationalization and localisation drive mobility in apps and games.
5. Not least of all, the quest of humans for easy entertainment is now quite literally in the palms of the hands- holding the mobile phone. Never has the opposable thumb been put to such vigorous use.

The game must go on!

A stationary stone gathers moss

The driving force behind any business is profit. The gaming world is no different. This is a highly competitive world and the gaming market is killer. To survive, evolve, and bring home the bacon, apps and games need not just to be entertaining to the boy-next-door: they need to capture new platforms and markets. And they need to be fast and furious about it or fall by the wayside.

How can they do this?

Internationalistion and localisation
This two-step process is what enables a game to adapt to different regional and linguistic cultures. It must include:
Reviewing the language and regional settings which will determine which localisation is used as well as the date, time, and number formats.
Adapting the user interface
The code must handle multi-language text
Locale (not the language) settings must drive data formatting as multiple countries might use the same language, as also the same individual travelling across different countries.
User interface must be ‘mirrored’ while using right to left languages; the only exception here would probably be phone numbers.
It is also necessary to test the internationalized app or game to detect auto-layout problems and strings that are not part of the internationalization-localisation process.

Enjoyment MUST be stress-free
Gaming is for enjoyment; the gamer cannot be subjected to a confusing, frustrating experience. There is no place, either, for being culturally and politically improper or downright offensive. Game localisation must also ensure that the translated, internationalized, localized version be faithful to the original.

Many gamers take their gaming very seriously. Game localisation, including those on mobile platforms (iOS localisation or Android), should enable players to immerse themselves completely. The whole enjoyment in gaming is to transport the player to a world of fantasy more appealing than reality, where lives can be replenished in battles with strange creatures in exotic lands unknown! Nothing should interrupt this ‘willing suspension of disbelief.’

Localisation must be from the word GO
Game localisation cannot be an afterthought and game developers would benefit from shedding the ‘let’s see’ attitude. Successful developers have understood that video game localisation is an integral part of the development cycle along with coding, designing, or writing. In the very early stages when games were designed and played on limited and limiting platforms, this ‘afterthought status’ might have been acceptable. But with the proliferation of mobile technology, and the increasing demand for games across linguistic, cultural and geographical borders, video game localisation has come into its own.

Localisation- NOT translation
It must be amply clear by now that game internationalisation and localisation is not just about language. It encompasses cultural symbols, costumes, ethos, environment… everything that goes up to make civilisations, in fact!

There are many pitfalls to be avoided:

Concerns of piracy and the importance of timely capturing of markets may drive translations on incomplete games. Context must be clear while translating text whatever the stage of game development. The complete picture should be kept in mind.

Localisation must be a consideration early in game development as cultural concepts must be clear from Day 1. For example: scantily clad female characters may be an issue in some countries. If this is not considered early in the design cycle, it could turn into a costly, untreatable headache when the game has to move to more socially conservative markets.

Games must evolve with current events. Consider the example of how a spate of pedophilia cases in Belgium discouraged the use of the word ‘pedometer’ in a game on weight-loss because of the negative connotation such a prefix had.

Separate text files make the game moddable and the translated versions can be pasted on the localized version.

A text-freeze or cut-off date for text changes is a very good idea to control translation costs and keep game development on schedule.

Be aware of cultural issues, taboos and sensitivities from the very beginning.

Accents are important for voice overs. A cowboy with a Texan twang is ludicrous in a video game meant for the Chinese market.

Who does the localisation?
Game developers pour millions into game development. So, it makes no sense to cut corners when it comes to video game localisation to make inroads into new markets.

Cheap translations aimed at cost control may result in a complete flop show and make the developer an international laughing stock.

Whether it is artwork, translation, marketing, packaging, or bridging the cultural gap, it is very skilled work which is the domain of trained and talented professionals.

Time is of the absolute essence to capture the mood of markets.

Discretion and trust are absolutely necessary to combat the evil threat of piracy which looms large on intellectual property.

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