Symbols with mysterious meanings. Sounds made by bug-eyed, oddly shaped creatures. Speech bubbles showing language appearing above a character’s head.

These components are only a fraction—a mere pixel, if you will—of all you need to think about when it comes to the full picture of video game localization. A pursuit that’s as enticing as a Call of Duty marathon or Guitar Hero jam session when you consider the stakes involved. The global revenues from gaming are expected to reach $83 billion USD by 2016.

How is a complex, multi-element, richly layered video game adapted for different cultures? The process is a lot easier if you introduce localization into the game design itself.

Design with localization in mind

If you already know that the game will eventually be localized for international audiences, you will benefit greatly by making design choices that align to this purpose. Successful video game localization begins with how the game is designed and programmed.

First you’ll need to reach consensus among your team members regarding which local markets you want to introduce your game to. Where are your existing and potential future markets?

Also consider all aspects of the gaming experience: the characters’ appearances, on-screen language and dialogue, storyline, voiceovers and narration, music, graphics and icons, color palette and the overall look . . . Which aspects will need to be localized if you’re ultimately releasing your game in Brazil, Russia, Ireland or whatever your target markets happen to be?

Separate code of translatable content

Imagine spending thirteen hours performing programming work for a new spinoff of Metroid (now we’re going old school with that reference), only to realize during the video game localization stage that you need to modify the drop-down menu. But that element is interwoven into all of the game’s code—requiring you to modify the whole thing.

This scenario is a mini-cautionary tale as to why it’s a best practice to separate out your code for all graphics, text, voiceovers, sound effects and other elements in your development environment. Doing this lets you easily modify one isolated piece at a time, rather than having to potentially edit the entire game for every change.

Consider cultural suitability of game elements

Just like with any localization endeavor, the images or sounds that would be appropriate for one culture are often vastly different in other parts of the world. For every video game localization project, find out what the cultural expectations are around important aspects like visual aesthetics and color, gender roles and even story themes. Even the choice of lead character appearance or gender may differ depending on the target country. While American role playing games tend to feature a buff-looking male as the lead character, the same types of characters in Japan tend to be more androgynous and stylized.

Plan ahead for text space and languages

Spacing requirements can also be drastically different depending on the target language. For example, German tends to be about 30 percent longer than English. What parts of your game will contain text? Think about graphics, drop-down menus, dialogue boxes, etc. Then design those elements to accommodate varying line lengths. Having multi-line support is important so that words will wrap automatically inside buttons or text fields in dialogue boxes.

Also be sure that your game will be available in the languages and dialects that people in a particular region speak. Example: when Diablo III was released, many people were restricted to their locality’s appointed language, causing understandable frustration among gamers who live in areas in which multiple languages are used.

Work in currency compatibility

If your game includes the option to purchase add-ons or in some way deposit or withdraw funds, be sure that your program supports the appropriate types of currency as required by each locale. Some developers include a real-time currency conversion capability within the game itself. It’s another worthwhile aspect of video game localization to think about. Would it be feasible for you and beneficial for your customers?

Conduct pseudo-localization testing

We can’t overstate the importance of carrying out pseudo-localization of the translatable resource files in order to test the internationalization aspects of your game software during video game localization. This technique tests the user interface and ensures your code is localizable, finding any localization errors by inputting potentially problematic aspects of the target language.

More particularly, you’ll want to look into locale-specific testing to make sure your localized game confers the same experience to your target audiences as to your home audience.

Game localization: Achieving your goal

True, the pursuit of video game localization is not exactly a carefree hop onto a friendly mushroom or an easily won shower of golden coins. (If only more things in life mimicked game play . . . or then again, thinking about the latest zombie-theme craze, maybe not.)

However, the right combination of forethought, strategy and executed skill by your trusted translation provider can indeed pave your pathway with coins. The sort that come with a healthy return on investment.

We haven’t mentioned all of the relevant aspects of video game localization, but this may help you get a firm grip on it. Do you have any experiences with video game localization to share, either at the development and design stage or farther down the road?