Player Feedback from Asian Communities: Impact on Video Game Localization

The video game ecosystem is highly complex and involves numerous stakeholders, including developers, localization specialists, marketers, and more. However, one of the most important stakeholders in video games is the players themselves.

Player feedback is critical in how a game is developed, revised, updated, and released. That’s where game localization feeds into player feedback to ensure that the gaming experience is as authentic as possible.

In this post, we consider important factors for effective game localization, discuss localization ecologies, and explore a few case studies of game localization. Let’s take a closer look.

What is game localization and what are the factors to consider?

Although many countries offer video games, Japan has emerged as one of the leading ones with various games gaining significant popularity in worldwide markets. With Japan’s highly nuanced culture, however, as well as linguistic complexities, it is often difficult to simply develop a game and release it onto a foreign market. This is where game localization takes center stage and it matters to ensure that players in different countries can enjoy the sense of authenticity as if a game is made specifically for them.

Definition of game localization

In their 2022 research paper, Marina Fontolan, James Wilson Malazita, and Janaina Pamplona da Costa, defined game localization as “the adaptation and translation of video games from their original language into another language. This is a highly complex process that involves word-level translation, including transliteration, as well as an adjustment of or creation of new cultural references that impact the player’s experience of the game.”

What this means is that game localization must go beyond mere word-for-word translations and incorporate cultural nuances and other cultural reference points so that the players in a foreign country are able to understand it.

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Important factors to consider in game localization

For the reason mentioned above, there are several important factors that must be considered in game localization in order for it to be as effective as possible while smoothly and easily being adopted by the foreign market. These factors include but are not limited to:

  • Dress and appearance: One example of where dress and appearance come to the fore is short-length skirts worn by female characters in Japanese games or the display of cleavage. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Japanese developers have made sure to implement changes that do not display these characters in an overly sexualized way and that are more respectful of social norms. Another example is the association of dark boots and long dark coats worn by agents, often associated with former Nazi agents in Germany. These dress and appearance considerations must be factored in to take into account socially accepted norms in different societies. 
  • Long words: In game localization, the space allocated for spoken words to be displayed as subtitles should also be considered. A language like Japanese, for example, uses less space for its characters to include speech, while a language such as German has longer words and requires more space for text.
  • Text direction: In addition to the length of words, it is also important to consider the text direction. Some languages, for instance, read from right to left while others are from left to right or from top to bottom. Localizing for text direction is another key consideration.
  • Slang words: Slang words are often highly complex to translate and localize as well. For this reason, it is often necessary not to translate them at all but rather to substitute them with local variants to ensure seamless understanding and a better immersive experience for the players.
  • Social norms: Social norms are another key criteria for consideration and may include topics such as LGBTQ, politics, religion, and alcohol consumption. Every market must be carefully studied to ensure that no offense is caused to players or to culturally accepted social norms.
  • Voices and accents: Familiar voices and appropriate accents can add authenticity and a stronger emotional connection to the game, thus creating a more immersive gaming experience.
  • Instructions, menu items, icons, and help files: Each of these interface elements, when localized properly, can result in a smoother and more intuitive gameplay experience.
  • Marketing and events: Beyond the in-game experience, it’s also important to think about the external influences on the game’s promotion in foreign markets. This means localized advertisements, social media presence, influencer partnerships, participation in local gaming conventions or tournaments, etc. are just some of the ways to promote the localized game.
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Each of these elements enables players to more fully understand the game’s mechanics, storyline, and objectives, leading to increased engagement and enjoyment.

Feedback matters: Localization ecologies

Once a game has been developed, localized, and released in a foreign market, a “localization ecology” starts to form. This means localizing customer support channels and actively seeking player feedback in localized languages to demonstrate a commitment to players’ needs and concerns. It’s not only about customer support, however. It’s also about the players’ influence on the developers to foster an even more positive player experience by addressing issues effectively. As such, players are considered more than just consumers of games. Instead, they can put pressure on the industry to invest in game localization, meaning they, too, have a role to play in the effectiveness of the localization process.

Through the “localization ecology” or “ecosystem” there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This is because some player communities intervene more directly than others to help improve games that have already been released by publishers through official translations. Examples of ways in which player feedback comes into play include:
game localization

  • Frequently asked questions
  • Walkthroughs available on different websites
  • Uploading own translations
  • Creating online communities
  • Contacting developers to fix bugs
  • And other ways

Asian game localization: Case studies

A few examples of unsuccessful game localization efforts include the following:

  • Zero Wing, 1989: A clear example of poor translation includes “All your base are belong to us”.
  • Final Fantasy Legend II, 1990: In Final Fantasy Legend II, there is a scene in which the protagonist speaks to a poppy flower, which is used to extract opium. The original Japanese sentence directly translated to “Prohibited opium is going around secretly”. However, due to prohibitions against making any reference to drugs in video games, localizers changed the text to reference bananas. The resulting conversation, “Bananas are going around secretly,” became another example of common localization mistakes.
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While these are just two examples, there are many others that have required more effective game localization for a more authentic gaming experience.

Conclusion

With significant improvements in game localization today, common mistakes like the two mentioned above are increasingly being avoided. The immersive experience of gaming is taking on a much more profound and authentic form, creating an engaging gaming experience for millions of players around the world.

With player feedback acting as a major driving force of game localization after a game’s release, it creates an “ecosystem”, which facilitates an improved way for developers to receive feedback and make improvements to their games, enabling smoother and more successful market entry.