During a session held at the Paris Game Developers Conference, Electronic Arts VP of international development services Jaime Gine highlighted the crucial importance of localization in maintaining robust worldwide sales.
Focusing on the European markets, Gine described experiments, studies, and statistics that defined differences between various countries when it comes to providing appropriate video game localization.
Experimenting With Localization
Over the last few years, the company has started introducing new localized SKUs into markets already seeing sales of certain non-localized titles.
For example, Total Club Manager
was localized for the Italian market for the first time in EA's 2005 fiscal year, while FIFA
was localized in Poland for the first time in the 2006 fiscal year.
Soccer is demanding from a localization standpoint, because of the vast amount of audio recordings, but the investment paid off - FIFA
saw 60% sales increases in Poland after localization, while Total Club Manager
sales jumped a staggering 400% in Italy.
For the Russian market, EA tried a similar but slightly different experiment. "We thought, what if we take the products we’ve already launched in English, localize them, and release them again?" explained Gine.
had already been on the market for some seven years in Russia, but an otherwise identical localized version jumped 400% in sales, even while competing with the existing English version.
Individual Market Demands
Gine then went through the major localization categories found across Europe, highlighting positives and negatives of each.
An acronym for "French, Italian, German, Spanish," FIGS represents the most common four European markets into which to localize products for the first time - across a number of industries, not just video games. It is the safest group, comprising major established markets with a decent amount of English savvy.
The Nordic markets are smaller than the FIGS markets, but still relatively substantial, with particularly high knowledge of English, meaning the amount of necessary localization for games is minimal.
Central European markets are small, and tend to have low knowledge of English, making localization traditionally less common - but the markets are growing fast, meaning more attention is being paid.
Comparing Market Conditions
To get a handle on the nuances of the various European markets, EA chose a sample country from each group - Spain from FIGS, Sweden from the Nordics, and Poland from Central Europe. The test group concentrated on comparing reactions to localized in-game text, printed manuals, and game audio in each market.
In Spain, respondents generally found all three components to be crucial, with all aspects being rated 80 percent or higher in importance. Polish subjects had similar consistency across categories, but lower emphasis, rating each category in the 60-70 percent range.
Swedish audiences placed the least emphasis all around - the manual was most important at 48 percent, followed by in-game text at 33% and audio at only 19%. Russia, an additional case, was notable for putting the localization at particularly high importance, around 90 percent.
Interestingly, players in all countries except Sweden found localization to be of greater importance than the inclusion of online multiplayer capabilities.
Gine next compiled data about specific games, in order to determine which genres are most dependent on localization to be successful.
Life simulation games such as The Sims
were rated highest in terms of need for localization, unsurprising given their relative complexity to most genres.
Strategy rated second. Commented Gine, “I was surprised about the strategy one. I thought, "Why would they want that in their local language?' Looking at the data behind it, there’s a huge amount of information in strategy games telling you about the units, the formations and things like that, and if the text is in English it can be quite difficult.”
Heavily action-driven genres such as fighting, shooting, and racing games rated least sensitive in localization importance.
Massively multiplayer games were found to be low on the scale as well, but Gine suspects this is due to low sample sizes more than anything else. “I think this will change with our next research," he cautioned. "When this was done, MMOs were only a sliver of the market, and only the hardcore were playing.”
That note on MMOs is of particular importance to publishers, given the vast scope of such titles. “Localization can cost a lot of money," he pointed out. "If you’re talking about an MMO like World of Warcraft
or Warhammer [Online: Age of Reckoning]
, you’re talking millions of dollars, so you have to be very serious in your analysis.”
For casual games, on the other hand, localization is an absolute necessity. “With casual, you have to localize," he stated. "Nobody will play your game if they have to take five minutes figuring out how to play it. Casual is all about accessibility. The biggest factor we have in accessibility is localization.”
Gine also pointed out that players accustomed to watching sports in their own countries will have a particular desire for well-localized games. "The guy that watches [American football] in Europe is probably watching it on TV and knows John Madden," he admitted, “but with football, God yes. I’m from Madrid and I want to have my local players and commentators in the game.”
Even for players generally familiar with English, certain faster-paced genres that depend on native speakers understanding information quickly might also demand localization. “I remember one iteration of SSX
, and I love this game, but there was a part where there was a guy telling you what to do in audio while you’re going down the slopes," he recalled. "My English is good, but hearing the guy and figuring out his bloody Canadian accent while I’m trying to know what to do, absolutely impossible.”
Aside from the genre issue, new intellectual property raises its own considerations. “These generally have a lot of risk already – do you want to add more risk?" asked Gine. "Maybe you just localize and test in a few markets.”
To date, Electronic Arts has localized 1,050 packaged games, 2,500 mobile games, and over 200 online games, ranging from simple Flash casual games to massive titles such as Warhammer Online
. Some 50 million words are localized each year, along with over 1,500 days' worth of of audio recordings.
As an offhand example of the level of depth that can be reached in localization, Gine pointed to a distinction made with commentary track recordings for sports titles in various markets: "Spain goes through five levels of emotion, Germans go through three, while Columbians go through seven," he said. "We can chart all these levels.”