Video game localisation: a complete guide

Written on 16 May, 2023

What is video game localisation?

For video games to find success in a competitive global market, developers must ensure that target users experience a game that feels tailor-made for them. Culture and language are huge ‘playability’ factors for developers to be mindful of throughout the creation process. This is where video game localisation comes in, the process of adapting video games into the culture and language of its audiences.

video game localisation

The current market

Video game localisation is a service that is increasing in demand and quality as a result of globalisation within the gaming industry. Phrase writes that the global video game market is expected to grow to a whopping $321B in 2026 — with the top game markets being China, the United States and Japan.

Issues of equivalence

As video games are interactive, multi-media experiences, combining text with video, audio and graphics, localisation requires more than simple text transfer.

Below we have outlined a few real-life examples of game localisation and the way translators must apply linguistics concepts to gameplay strategy:

Localising to aid user’s understanding of gameplay

Tutorials and menus inform a player how to approach a game. There is a fine line for translators to follow to ensure players understand the settings, boundaries and controls of a game, while still retaining an element of freedom so that the user can choose to approach the game how they see fit. As Thayer and Kolko (2004) write, ‘what constitutes as “sufficiently vague” for a digital game tutorial can vary depending on culture’ (p.9).

For example, the notorious Japanese game series ‘Dark Souls’, created by Hidetaka Miyazaki, contains a feature where players can leave messages to other players around the world. To avoid giving away too many clues, players must pick their messages following a predetermined template of words and phrases. To utilise this feature worldwide, these predetermined template options had to be localised.

You can find a glossary to Dark Soul’s predetermined template options at: https://darksouls.fandom.com/wiki/Messages#Orientation

Through localisation, the game can provide this gameplay feature across languages. In this example, it aids the mission to provide players with useful but sufficiently vague instructions and boosts player interaction.

Localising to continue game narratives

Translators must closely follow the game’s constructed storyline or vision in order to situate the text, which could involve linguistic decision-making based on a character’s profile. This is especially relevant if that character’s personality traits majorly contribute to a game’s narrative. For example, the demeanour of the protagonist ‘Connor’ in the choice-based game ‘Detroit Become Human’, had to be carried across cross-culturally as this is a motivating factor to the narrative. You can get a feel for how Connor’s personality is carried through different languages in the following YouTube clip:

These are just a couple of matters of equivalence that translators face when localising video games. In the end, an optimal gaming experience can only be achieved if the user feels the content is authentic to them. The Quality Assurance team (QA) is there to test whether the product of a translator’s work fits in seamlessly with the game, flagging anything that may cause disruption in any given target territory.

What elements are to be translated?

Depending on the type of game, there are several different elements that would need to be translated:

  • UI information including player info stats, location names, item names, map names, non-player characters’ (NPCs) names
  • Any in-game dialogue between characters and any prompts from NPCs
  • Quest text and related information to guide players through the world
  • In-game announcements, like in multiplayer games
  • Prompts and instructions on how the player will interact with the world
  • Subtitles for any dialogue throughout the game, particularly in cut-scenes

How can Surrey Translation Bureau help?

Surrey Translation Bureau (STB) has expertise and experience in translating different elements for the gaming industry in various languages.

When you come to us with a localisation request, we will:

1. Have a run through of the content with you to understand what needs to be translated or localised. We will also discuss the target market, any styling or brand consideration and other requirements that you may have

2. Based on the discussion, we’ll offer you the most appropriate service level and give you an estimate of the costs and time

3. If you are happy with the quoted costs and the proposed timeframe, we’ll assign a dedicated project manager to you. They will navigate you through all the projects that STB undertakes for you

4. We’ll put together a team of specialised linguists and send them a package that contains the content to be translated using one of the Translation Management Systems (TMS) we use. We will also pass on any specific instructions from you and other reference documents relevant to the translation process

5. Once the translation is completed, we will run quality checks and deliver it in a format that you can use or upload it to your platforms directly

6. If, after delivery, you have any feedback that needs to be implemented for future, we’ll create a termbase, or glossary of terms, and make note of your instructions that will help us translate any future text you send to ensure they are consistent with your preferences

If you would like to give your game a global voice or better reach your target customer in a specific region, please get in touch with our award-winning team to talk about our services.

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