10 game localisation mistakes you’re probably making

Consider this scenario: you’ve spent weeks or months creating a game, and it’s become so popular that you decide to release it in other markets to increase your revenue. And quite right, since players overwhelmingly prefer localised games (it’s not a coincidence that the game localisation industry is worth USD 330 million, according to Nimdzi Insights).

However, as you prepare for localisation, you realise it’s going to take a lot more time and investing that you thought because you didn’t put in place the necessary measures from the beginning. Also, some parts of the game won’t work at all in other languages because you didn’t think about this when writing the code, so a lot of rework will be needed.

It’s never too early to consider localisation, so here are 10 common game localisation mistakes that you should avoid:

1. Assuming all languages are as concise

Generally speaking, English is quite concise in comparison to other languages. For example, French and Spanish can be 20-30% longer than English, and German even more. Make sure there is enough room in the menus for longer text and, even better, allow text to grow and shrink according to the size of the allocated space.

2. Not allowing for different language formats

Some languages, like Arabic, are written from right to left, whereas others, like Chinese and Japanese, can be written vertically, so you need to ensure that your game can cater for this. And while we’re at it, always make sure to use Unicode so that all special characters are supported.

3. Using hard-coded numbers and units

Hard-coding numbers and units is always going to cause problems during localisation. Whereas English uses periods for decimals and commas as thousands separator, other languages use commas for decimals and periods or spaces as thousands separator. Then there are imperial versus metric units, 24-hour clocks versus 12-hour clocks, languages where the currency symbol is placed after the number instead of before… You get the idea.

4. Not separating images from text

In an ideal situation, images should not contain text, but this is not always possible. When using images that contain text, always make sure that the text is separable so that it can be easily localised. Graphic text can be difficult and time-consuming to localise, also for the dev team. And speaking of images, always double-check any signs and symbols used, as their meaning can differ across countries.

5. Concatenation

Concatenation assumes that a sentence can be made of smaller pieces of text, which sounds reasonable in theory. However, different languages have got very different sentence structures; a word which goes at the beginning of the sentence in English might need to go at the end in German. Then there are also different endings needed depending on the grammatical gender of the word, or if it’s singular or plural. For that reason, it’s much better to avoid concatenation and use full sentences. If you must include a placeholder, always inform the localisation team of what type of word it will be replaced with, so they can try to find a solution that will work in their languages for all possible alternatives.

6. Lack of context

Apart from providing information about your game, the storyline and the characters, and perhaps glossaries and style guides if it’s a series, it helps a lot to provide context in the text files to be localised. For example, simple things like “Play” can be translated differently whether it refers to playing a game or playing a video. Languages also have rules which may make the translation change according to the gender of the character speaking, the formality with which someone needs to be addressed depending on their status, or if they’re addressing one person or several. So the more context, the better.

7. Sending tiny updates individually

As it’s the case with many other professionals, like solicitors or plumbers, translators tend to apply a minimum fee to small jobs (usually anything under 300 words) to cover for all the admin involved in any translation task, regardless of its size. Therefore, it’s not very practical or cost-efficient to send 10-word updates every day. It’s much better to gather a larger amount of words and send them all in one go or, failing that, once or twice a month.

8. Requesting a language without specifying the target market

It’s common to assume that localising into one language will be enough to cover all the countries that speak that language. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Variants like European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese can have different grammar rules, spelling and terminology. Similarly, even Latin American Spanish varies widely from Colombia to Puerto Rico, or from Mexico to Argentina. And cultural assumptions and conventions will be different too, so always consider the market you want to target and localise accordingly.

9. Thinking you can get away with machine translation

“Oh, I’ll just use Google Translate and I’m sure nobody will notice, right?” Erm… wrong! From the famous “All your base are belong to us” to machine translation automatically rendering “Resume” in the pause menu as a CV, there are many examples of game text lost in translation. Just like it’s obvious when a text has been machine-translated into English, so it is into other languages. Your players will be able to tell from miles away and they won’t be impressed. It’s also obvious if the work was done by someone without experience in the field or who’s not a gamer, so leave the work to the professionals… and you’ll have half the job done in terms of selling your game. Just leave the rest to the marketing team. 😉

10. Not planning ahead

Last but not least, it’s the most common mistake of them all, not thinking of localisation until it’s too late and the game needs to be out asap. That’s when you realise that localisation can take a long time, especially if the game is not prepared for it as we have seen in previous points. By planning the target markets you want to reach and contacting your localisation provider early on, you can anticipate any potential issues and solve them before they become problems, avoiding costly surprises later. You can also explore any cultural aspects that may affect how the game is marketed in the target locale, or if anything should be altered.

By avoiding these 10 mistakes and having localisation in mind from the moment you start developing your game, you can make sure the process will run smoothly and your game will be an international hit.