Video Game Translation in China

According to the latest Chinajoy conference, the most important game fair of China, the Asian giant develops and publishes over 30,000 mobile games each year, nearly 2,500 new games every month . However, not all of these games go through localization processes. Some are not even translated into other languages. Chinese game entrepreneurs and developers still do not understand the importance of localization and translation of video games.

In my opinion, this is mainly due to two reasons.

First, domestic demand in the country continues to grow year after year. There is still room for growth by exploiting the internal market and many developers prefer to invest their money in national promotion.

Second, the lack of national competition for game localization in other languages. Chinese developer today has two basic alternatives for the translation of video games:

  • Foreign translation companies.

Large international translation companies based in China, are very expensive, representing an investment too large for a service that for many game companies is today, complementary and optional.

Chinese companies are very young and barely have resources. Most of these companies are newly established, founded 4 or 5 years ago. The services offered are economically affordable, but its results are far from satisfactory. The number of foreign residents in China is very low. If you also add the filter ‘video game experience as a translator, ‘ we are talking about a population of a tiny few professionals. Translation and localization of video games in China are performed by, mostly, people without training and experience in the sector. Merely being a native and mastering English is usually enough to enter the selection processes for any videogame translation company. As China ‘s domestic demand becomes saturated and profit margins in China are gradually reduced, the Chinese game companies will start to give much more importance to international markets and localization and translation of content. Given the low competition in the sector, today China is a world of possibilities for game translators.

Translation of video games, translation or localization?

The differences

An essential definition of translation is the whole process of working with a text between two languages, whereas localization is the process of adapting a product both linguistically and culturally so that it triumphs in other markets. This difference seems minimal but in reality there is a whole world of specialization and difference between translating and localizing and therefore a good Chinese translator is not necessarily a localization expert and vice versa.

One translates not only the text of the game

game translation services

Even if it is true that the translator as well as the localizer must have a profound knowledge of the languages in which they work and the culture of the two countries, the localizer must also know the complexities of the media in which he works: limitation of characters, work with variables, reconcile image, sound and text … Furthermore, there is an additional aspect that is almost never taken into account, i.e. the fact that a video game localizer must be prepared to confront any type of translation: it must be a professional translator and more than that. Because when we talk about localization, we are not only talking about the game itself, but also that there may be legal texts to be worked on, licenses, user agreements belonging to the legal translation, Cartoons, documentaries on the elaboration of the game, even small pieces of literary translation.

For all these reasons, in a certain sense, localization can sometimes prove to be shocking. Let’s take the example of a translation of a Japanese RPG or video game. In this case, it would be very strange to find a reference to our local culture, because it would be totally out of context and would make us lose the game. Nevertheless, at the other end of the scale we find it hard to understand a reference to a  old story because some elements have not been adapted to our culture. It is possible that in this case the ideal situation would be to find a medium term and to choose a reference that can be understood without being extremely local so as not to detract from the game.

Each game is a world

What is clear is that each game is a world. And we must have the skills to know whether a game “asks” us to be as faithful as possible to the original or, on the contrary, “requires” that we adapt it as much as possible. It may be that on some occasions it is the client himself who tells us that he does not want the names of the characters (which are in themselves puns) to be translated or that some jokes, when translated literally, would have no funny implications.

To aim for a good localization, it is necessary for the gaming translator to play a lot of different types of games, to understand the sector from the point of view of the player, and then, after having an in-depth understanding of the sector, to be able to suggest to its creator some idiomatic changes key to its understanding.

China: the largest gaming market in the world

The Asian giant has already become the largest market in the world game today. According to the latest report by IHS, the video game market in China had a turnover of no less than 25,000 million dollars in 2017. It is expected to exceed 29.000 million turnover in 2018. According to these figures, the revenue of the game sector in China account for 5% of the world total: one in every four dollars of the video game industry is being billed in China . According to the report, most of the revenue came from PC titles such as League of Legends , CrossFire and Overwatch. However, it is estimated that video games for mobile phones or tablets will exceed revenue from other platforms this year. Spending on mobile games grew by 55% in 2017 and increases of 24% for this year 2018 are expected.

Meanwhile, the consoles still do not find their place in the Chinese market. The sales figures of the two major international game consoles, PS4 and Xbox, barely exceeded 500,000 units since its launch.

An overpopulated country

All this avalanche of numbers is driven by the huge population of China. The Asian giant has a population of about 1400 million people (more than thirty times the population of Spain). In addition, glancing closer to the demographics of China, we see that about 21% of its population is between 15 and 40 years. We could discuss what is the average age of a gamer, but surely many would agree that it’s probably in this range. This is almost 300 million potential gamers with stable jobs and increasing purchasing power. Remember that the unemployment rate in China is around 4% according to official figures, and that the country has a large and increasingly stable middle class.

Chinese video game translation

A generation without computers

Unlike what happens in the West, where many have our personal computer or PC, gamers in China the situation are very different. It is estimated that around 95% of Internet users in China access the network through their mobile phones. Today, China still has thousands of Internet cafes nationwide. In addition, Chinese Internet cafes have gone a step further: they offer 35 inches screens, hundreds of games, sofas, food delivery and very low prices. In fact, many Chinese choose to use Internet cafes in lieu of hotels in some areas of the country: it is much cheaper to spend the night in the cafes than to sleep in a single room in a hostel.

Mobile phones as the dominant platform

The situation of Internet cafes in China is very important for people to understand the impact of mobile data platforms in China. For the vast majority of Chinese mobile phone is your personal computer. It is the device they use every day, reading the news, following social networks, watching movies or series online, even for working. And, of course, it is becoming a favorite Chinese platform for playing games.

Translation of Games Presents Increasing Demand for Translators

It is obvious that the game industry is one of the most powerful in terms of profitability in the world right now. From those old games of the eighties that were played on personal computers and available for a small number of people, to the current game consoles, computers, tablets, smartphones … no particular element or device is needed any more to access this world of online or digital gaming and often simply having an account on a social network gives us access (not to say that we are “encouraged”) to play a variety of games of all kinds of themes, with graphics that would have been unimaginable for those who started in the world of video games with an Amstrad or Spectrum.

This industry has an annual turnover of a thousand million USD and it seems that the trend will change in the near future. In 2015, the US industry turnover of 510 million USD and it is estimated that by 2019 it will exceed 1,000 million USD. For the translation industry this has big implications. Although there is no doubt that gamers manage their own slang which mixed English and Chinese, the truth is that there is a clear preference for enjoying games in your own language.

This is especially true for the universe of players has grown enormously: no longer talking about young teens hooked to a remote control, but adults aged 30, 40, 50, playing Candy Crush from your mobile in the subway, for example, or a game like this that we illustrate below, where the text is crucial and that would be inaccessible to a large audience (which means stop earning a lot of money) if not translated: A particularly important factor for us is the growth of the industry creation of video games in China.

Increasingly companies with their own creativity arise (formerly prevalent were the imported games). We are also going to translate into a large number of languages, especially English. The story goes that, “The two international gaming markets are North America, with 22% and Europe 19%. Still, internationalization continues to represent one of the major challenges and needs of the sector, especially for smaller companies.”

It should be noted also that Spain is the fourth largest market in Europe (after Germany, UK and France), and eighth in the world. This gives an idea of the great importance of managing translations of these formats to all possible languages. Undoubtedly, the choice of suitable translators should help make the games a success abroad. The instructions, texts, dialogues that are credible and function properly in the target language are essential for users to engage and enjoy the game, in some cases even more than good graphics (there are very famous games among other things for their unrealistic graphics like Minecraft, for example, as shown in the illustration below):

Meanwhile, do not forget that international meetings are gaining more followers and that cities are scrambling to organize conferences and seminars for “gamers” where games, movies, comics (graphic novels) and where fans want to hear their idols get together talking about how they play, what new features of FIFA 17 are or which new cities will join the GTA, which is again very interesting for the field of  translation and interpretation, as no one wants to invest millions of euros in promoting a product and lose its fans’ interests with a misunderstanding on the day of the presentation. Not to mention conferences for developers, designers and creators of video games in general, who flock to where big business and creative minds in the industry gather and demand for professional translators specialized in gaming terminologies never ceases to grow.

In short, in the game industry, the translators and interpreters are dedicated to helping us understand each imported game. Many translation professionals are happy to devote themselves not only to translate the games, but also to contribute to improve them, for example by detecting bugs (or defects) which are practically undetectable during the translation process and only can be fine-tuned when the game is launched in another language. In short, our industry is no longer concerned only with the written text, like the classic novel, user manual or bilateral agreement. It is our duty, our vocation and our ambition to contribute our knowledge to emerging industries and settling for an optimum result for the customer and, above all, for the end user.

Set the high score in video game localization

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—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?

Categories: Translation

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