What is Localization and Why Is It Important in Gaming?Oct 9, 2022 | 1 Votes
Gaming is global.
We’re all familiar with various studios and creators from countries around the world. For example, we’re all familiar with CD Projekt Red, based in Poland, and Japanese game creators like Bandai Namco and Falcom. In addition, there are Israeli companies and gaming websites like Gogi.co.il that delivers HTML5 free games, and Plarium known for their extensive range of MMO strategy browser games.
Unlike American and Canadian studios, we can undoubtedly say that these studios and gaming sites do not have English as their native language. For example, for a Japanese game to be playable to western audiences, it needs to be localized first because there aren’t a lot of Americans and people outside Japan who can understand Nihongo.
With this in mind, what exactly is localization, and why is it crucial in gaming?
What is localization?
By definition, localization is making something local in character. In the context of video games, this is the process of making game content become suited, playable, and understandable to specific audiences and language speakers. For example, Gogi.co.il offers localized browser HTML 5 games, or משחקים in Hebrew, that caters to the Israeli population as well as any folks who read and understand Hebrew in general. This site is a fantastic example of a localized gaming site that does localization well.
Moreover, localization opens up games originally made in a different language to a wider audience. A fantastic example would be the Trails series, a franchise spanning ten games involving dozens of focal characters. All of its games are story-centric and text-heavy experiences that took months of work to complete. For context, it took Trails of Cold Steel at least six months to complete the entire process, with its successors taking almost the same amount of time.
Localization vs translation
Have you ever heard the phrase “lost in translation?”
If gaming companies decided to use direct translation instead of localization, many of a game’s jokes, plot points, and other elements wouldn’t hit home. For example, what may be a joke in Japan may be incomprehensible to western audiences. It also considers the user - or in this case, the gamer’s - culture, norms, and background.
This is where localization stands out. Without changing the context or central plot point, publishers and their respective localization crews may change sayings, jokes, and quotes and exercise the liberty of adding their ideas - with permission from the original developers. For example, a specific character in the Trails series spoke in Japan's Kansai dialect. In the English localized version, she was turned into someone with a strong Irish accent to give western audiences the idea she spoke in a different way than her peers.
However, this also opens up the possibility that localization can turn into censorship, which have both advantages and downsides. One disadvantage is it changes the ideas the original text meant to convey and, on certain occasions, alters the qualities of some characters.
Meanwhile, some audiences may not take kindly to specific subjects, and what may be a norm to some could be offensive and taboo to others. We won’t get into specifics here, but this almost always covers the fields of gender, religion, colonization, race-related elements, and historical conflicts and grudges. In this case, localization comes to the rescue, preventing games from offending their players.
Why is it important for video game sites and games in general?
We’ve covered this consideration in length before but let’s add in a few more ideas.
For gaming websites, it opens them up to new and broader audiences and makes them more visible and accessible online. In the case of Gogi.co.il, they’ve localized the site well enough to make it attractive to the Israeli/Hebrew-speaking population. In the case of games, especially Japanese-made ones, this opens them up to new and massive markets. It generates more sales and increases profit, considering the distribution is worldwide, not just within Japan’s borders.
Overall, localization is challenging work, and in massive video games, it’s an expensive endeavor. However, it’s more than worthwhile, given that it makes games and video game websites more accessible and playable to more people worldwide. In addition, it makes various media, not just video games, more contextually relevant depending on their audiences.