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From New Challenger to World Warrior: Localization Considerations

Plan on sharing your product with a new locale? Great! Check out these suggestions from QA to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Keegan A Dillman, Blogger

July 15, 2018

6 Min Read

What does localization mean to you? The process of localizing your product can bring in a massive wave of new users and potentially create a foothold for your product (or brand) in a new region, but beyond just translating text there are other considerations to include when taking on the localization of your product.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

From region to region symbols can have varying meanings and it is important to know their interpretation in your target locale. Something that you may consider normal or obvious, like giving someone a “thumbs-up” as a confirmation, can upset or alienate users you are trying to connect with, no matter how good your product actually is.

A great example of ongoing symbol localization is Sony’s Playstation controller. The two face buttons X and O have opposite meanings in Japan from the rest of the world. In Japan, a circle is used as a confirmation symbol: a red circle on your test in Japan would indicate that questions are correct but elsewhere around the world it is considered to mark that something is wrong. In the West, X is used as a notation of focus (“X marks the spot”) and is used in checklists (like a check mark) to confirm something with its presence.

This cultural difference results in the variations in gameplay and navigation more commonly seen in the Playstation 1 library, where Japanese games used O for confirm and X as cancel. During this time many games were translated rather than properly localized to be brought to the West or internationally, the controls of these games were unchanged and resulted in confusion among players who were already used to the opposing symbol scheme. Nintendo had already set a standard with the placement and use of the A & B buttons on the NES and SNES, and despite Sony mapping the function of those buttons to the same place on the Playstation controller, the symbols themselves, X (Nintendo’s B) and O (Nintendo’s A), caused confusion for western players.

Sony began adjusting their localization efforts near the end of the Playstation 1’s lifecycle and into the lifecycle of the Playstation 2. Efforts were increased and the control scheme was adjusted for international releases, improving the experience for many players, and making this cultural localization issue a rare sight, proving that proper localization efforts can make region transfers appear seamless.

Watch Your Language

Translating your work to another language may seem like an elementary step in the localization process, but how well does your product handle different languages? Merely switching the language (no matter how well translated) could lead to broken UI, cluttered menus, inconsistent fonts from the addition of new characters, and improper justification from the language’s directionality.

The directionality of a different language can cause issues. English is read from left-to-right, top to bottom, and all of the menus and lists may properly reflect this, but if your product was localized to support Farsi, which is read/written from right-to-left, you would need some more care to properly integrate. Using a numbered list in Farsi would require the numbers to be on the right side of the menu in addition to the text being right-justified, mirroring English’s left-justification.

Different languages can include characters and accents not typically used in your home text, which can cause issues ranging from some characters not being displayed in the font correctly (or at all), to input errors as these characters are not recognised or parsed correctly for an international audience. Menus can also suffer from not being sized correctly to the new translation: potato in English may be properly displayed but the French translation, pomme de terre, may be too many characters for the menu asset you had created and could overflow from the asset or be cut off.

Although proper translation is vital to a localized project, there are some things that do not require translation. For example, many RPGs use the abbreviations “HP” and “MP” for their systems. These abbreviations for “Hit Points” and “Magic Points” are so ubiquitous and tied to the core of the genre that they don’t require translation and can be left as-is.

Terms & Their Conditions

An oft-debated topic in localization, updating or changing references made in the home language to fit the new locale, has people on either side of the debate, but it is something to keep in mind during the localization effort. On one hand, a straight translation of these familiar terms is a “true and proper” translation of the content, but on the other: you risk losing relevance or context in their use.

Europeans and North Americans use the phrase “out to lunch” to imply that someone is mad, inattentive or acting irrationally, which makes sense to people from the area: but what about people outside these localities? Purely translating “out to lunch” just suggests that the subject merely going to get something to eat rather than implying that anything is wrong with their mental state. This is an important aspect of localization; the consideration of whether to translate this literally or to change it to a term or phrase that is more common in the target locale, or more literal if the common language or phrase is unknown or does not exist.

References, expressions and other local colloquialisms could also hinder the reception of a product based on a lack of context or cultural understanding. For example: your game may include some dialog having a character call another a “cow” as a light insult, though common to most native English speakers, it may not land or becomes insulting to Hindu people whose beliefs consider cows to be sacred. This issue can be rectified by proper localization to change that bit of dialog to be more appropriate for the target audience.

International Take-out

While localization may seem daunting, connecting with an audience that might have been waiting for just the kind of product you’ve created can be both rewarding and profitable. Breaking into a new market can also open new revenue streams as you are able to localize older products in your back catalog (if you have them available) for release into the new area. Additional work, yes, but work that can translate to additional installs and sales.

Keeping all this in mind: What does localization mean to you?


This blog was originally posted on Well Red - a publication created by REDspace. To learn more about REDspace, visit redspace.com

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