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How to decide which are the best languages to translate your game into

Making a decision about which languages to choose for your game localization is closely related to the goals you expect to achieve. See the most important elements that will help you find the best approach for your game and studio.

When discussing game localization, the question that pops out very often is how many languages will make the game more competitive. While there’s no simple nor direct answer – after all, there are more than 6000 languages in the world – it is possible to assess the most profitable localization solutions that will work for marketing and sales of your game. Let’s dive into a business side of game development and a decisive process for game localization and how to choose what’s best for your gamedev studio.

How to plan game localization

First of all, specify why you want your game to be localized. There are multiple reasons for providing international versions of your game and each can benefit your sales numbers in various ways. Whether you want to make your game more accessible, increase ROI by reaching more players, focus on game marketing on certain markets, get more media, and visibility for your game – it’s important to know your motivations. An efficient localization is always part of the bigger approach and knowing why you want to include global markets makes it easier to use it effectively.

Of course, there are multiple essential, important, and valid reasons for game localization so when your list consists of many motivations – how to decide on what’s most important? Prioritization. It’ll help you not only narrow down the scope of localization (unless you have an unlimited budget, of course;)) but also it’ll make it easier for the marketing strategies on a later phase – and this is already worth the time.

Another important thing that will greatly support you in estimating the most valuable markets – and languages – is market research. When you know your goals for the localization it’s a bit easier to check trends and insights because you can already point out the angle that is interesting for you and relevant for your game. Knowing general trends enables educated and business-focus decisions, either to follow a trend or to go against it and use this analysis in your game release strategy.

There are multiple sources of information for market data for the game industry. From professional research companies through post-mortems of released games to articles from industry experts and researchers. General data is extremely important when evaluating the game’s potential on different markets – and knowing information most relevant to your game is also something that comes in handy in negotiations with investors or business partners.

Game localization and market research

Industry insights and trends are a great indicator when evaluating your game towards localization. Knowing the context of how well your game may sell on different markets can lead the way for a great commercial success. Understanding the global industry situation is also a great starting point to assess your game towards (or against) trends. What specific details of your game are worth considering for different markets and languages to get the best result from localization?

Game genre

Some game genres are more popular in certain markets than others. What's important is to not look only at the top 3 genres – very often the most popular genres are the same ones around the world (see esports or huge titles like Fortnite) – this is also important information but not necessarily crucial for your market analysis at the moment. Estimate the interest in a certain genre but also always remember your goals. 

Assessing game genres isn't an easy task. Most games are a complex mix of different genres and subgenres, making the mechanics innovative and unique. Consider focusing on the main mechanics of your game – how are they relevant to game genres popularity. Having key selling points, the most important aspects of your game that are to attract your players, written down will greatly help as you’ll be able to quickly check if game genres within your game work well on certain markets.

Game theme & topic

Not all topics and themes will be suitable for all markets. Games exist in a complex socio-political context and acknowledging this fact will prevent you from a PR crisis or even censorship or inability to publish the game in some countries.

Games – an extremely popular medium – have the power to revolutionize the world and impact lives. Even with the best intentions, we can’t forget that in some countries there are topics that may cause legal problems for players, your company, or a publisher – or just simply be the reason the game doesn't sell. Sometimes just an adjustment within game assets is enough to comply with local culture or laws but sometimes the costs are highly increased – and this is also something worth considering when evaluating if localization for this market is something that’d benefit your goal.

While focusing on the market potential it's worth checking how the theme of your game corresponds with a similar topic on these markets – even on different mediums, be it popular movies or bestselling books, for example. Also, if your game heavily refers to certain tv-shows that were never broadcasted in some foreign countries in many situations they may not be the best choice for the main markets for localization as it would require excessive work to make it understandable and enjoyable for international players.

Game platforms

Multiplatform releases are a huge trend that the industry seems to be heading to. Whether we’re talking about a simultaneous release or release plan containing only precisely specified platforms, exclusive deals, or other game release strategies, platform research is a very important factor for choosing localization languages for your game. It’s not only because of terminology and compliance aspects but because the popularity of platforms varies in different markets. 

You can take into consideration in which regions your platforms are the most popular (or the market is big enough to meet your sales expectations) and if your monetization plan is relevant for typical user behavior on these markets. Remember to focus on your goals – this will help you ignore not that relevant information. Also, it’s a good practice to make separate analyses for each platform and then compare them with the rest of the criteria before the final decision about localization.

Community

Language isn't limited to a country or region – so how to properly assess the localization needs and expectations? If you already gathered a community for your game – simply ask them. Use your communication channels where you connect with players to get feedback about what players want. There are a lot of ways to get the information and easily see the results (from surveys in social media to google forms with automatic answers export to google sheets) – and don’t forget to check with your community across all channels. Additionally, you can get even more info from your players by using audience insights from your social media and other analytics tools and check the stats for languages and countries. 

Working together with communities works great not only for design improvements but also for decisions about localization and especially for marketing reasons. Estimate the player profiles who are the most interested in your game and boost your actions with this in mind!

Game development & production plan and budget

Game localization is always worth considering as a business decision. This means you also need to assess your studio potential and possibilities. It’s important to choose languages for localization in matters of your development and production strategy. For example, pre-release localized versions may be useful for various reasons, but some languages can be added later on. Also, how many languages do you want to have at the release date? (the answer is usually related to your budget but not only). What about post-release localization? Not only regarding adding additional languages for the game but also if you plan to provide additional updates and content? They would need to be localized too.

Another thing is how ready your game is for localization. The technical aspects such as string export/import, proper Unicode implementation – there are multiple stories of how localized punctuation marks broke the code – and more may require additional development time. There’s also one more thing – wherever you fully outsource localization or have in-house translators or have a hybrid model of localization approach, there will be questions from localization teams that someone should address. The working hours for a designated person to handle the communication for localization purposes also need to be considered.

Game marketing

An efficient localization is strongly connected with marketing. Together they create a powerful combo that can visibly boost sales on the target markets. While considering which languages and which markets to choose for localization it’s also important to look at marketing aspects such as user acquisition costs, age ratings, culturalization, or even GDPR for European Union and other legal restrictions in foreign countries. 

Of course, marketing approaches offer multiple strategies and they all can be mixed with different approaches to game localization. When considering a set of languages, think also about your marketing prioritization for different markets, consider budget, take into consideration popular communication channels in these regions if they are similar to channels you’re already using or if it requires additional resources. Example? There’s no point in translating tweets for languages of regions where… Twitter isn’t popular at all. 

Naturally, you can choose to localize your game into 6 languages and focus marketing activities on 1-2 markets. It’s also one of the strategies. It’s worth being aware that when you’re investing your funds in localization for multiple markets very often localized marketing campaigns are a value with great impact for ROI.

What are the top languages to localize the game?

Is there a golden rule for choosing markets for localization? No. Is there a one hundred percent success rate tip for languages a game should be localized to on the launch day? No. That doesn’t mean your choice of language to translate your game to is just a wild guess. 

The most important thing is to adjust localization language selection to your goals, budget, and development plan. Considering aspects like market trends, game genre, theme, topic, community feedback, and statistics you can make localization work for your marketing and sales purposes and greatly influence expected return on investment.

It is useful to know top markets by game revenues, general industry trends, and having market insights as support. The best result you’ll get by making a decision based on your game, players, and goals. For some games 16 languages at launch are a great and valid strategy, for others focusing on 6-8 languages works great for ROI, and, in many cases, 3-4 languages at launch, including a classic FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish) approach, with further localization plans also bring significant results. Focus on your game and studio to find the approach that works best for you.

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