Originally published on the Indie Localizers' blog.
Follow these 9 game localization best practices to be ready when localization time comes and to lessen the stress.
#1 Avoid hard-coding
Hard-coding is a localizer’s nightmare. Imagine, hundreds of localizable words spread through lines and lines of code. Not only, the localizers must understand the source language, but they also must understand the code to avoid screwing up things.
Hard-coding increases the risks of overlooked lines that should have been translated, and accidents that mess up with the code. Plus, for every update, the localizers have to go over those same lines over and over again to proceed to changes.
Best solution: use an external resource file in .xml or .po format for example to store all the elements that need to be localized (Excel files can be accepted too). It could be sentences, but also numbers, units (meters, miles, kg, lbs, etc.), dates and times that differ from one country to another.
#2 Make your design flexible
English is among the most concise languages. However, languages such as French, Spanish or even German are not. They can take up to 30% more space than English. Which means that the translation of a single word can be way much longer in other languages. Which may ultimately ruin your neat interface design.
Best solution: allow more space around texts in your interfaces for localization. You can also opt for a responsive design or allows elements to expand when tapped.
#3 Use language locale
There is nothing more confusing that using a flag or a country name to represent a language. And it can be offensive too. French is spoken by over 200 million people worldwide, including Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and Africa. Same with English where the most used variants are US English and UK English. Plus, some countries may have more than one official language, such as Switzerland (4), Canada (2), Belgium (3), South Africa (11) or even Ireland (3).
Language locales are composed of the language code and language variant: en-US, en-UK, fr-FR, fr-CA, fr-BE, etc.
Fun fact: in France, movie titles are not always translated, or the title is still in English but different. While in Quebec (Canada), they make the effort to translate titles.
Ex: Black Mass (starring Johnny Depp)
fr-FR title: Strictly Criminal
fr-CA title: Messe noire (which is the translation of the original title).
#4 Use correct encoding
Many languages use accented characters or different alphabets (Russian, Greek or Thai to name a few). In order to display the text properly, you need to use the correct encoding. That would make your life easier and players would be happy too, because, in French, accents add meaning to a word and even a sentence. They are not merely fancy things, for example, “des” (plural equivalent for the in English) is a very different word than “dès” (as soon as) or “dés” (dice/diced).
Best solution: 99% of the time, your best option is to use UTF-8 encoding. You can find more details about UTF-8 here. The juicy bit is in the “Why UTF-8?” section.
Don’t forget fonts too! If you use a creative font, be sure that accented characters are included, especially if you use it for UI elements, titles, etc. If it is only for the title, you may not need all characters. Get your title localized and then ask your designer to create the special characters with the font.
#5 Provide context
After sending you XML or Excel file to the localizer, do be surprised to hear from them with many questions starting with “Can you please provide more context…” (on the contrary, be worried if you don’t receive any questions). Context is one of the biggest parts of the localization process. Context provides all the information needed to deliver a true-to-the-source text in another language. Without context, the final translated text can end up with a completely different meaning.
Best solution: provide a localization kit to the localizers so they have all relevant information from the beginning. A localization kit can be a zipped file that contains style guide, background information about the characters, the world, the weapons, etc. Images are useful too! Pieces of equipment, weapons, vehicles, landscapes, etc. Don’t forget screenshots of menus in action and the different windows that can be opened (inventory, settings, etc.). These are essential elements to help the localizers visualize what they are translating, especially if they cannot access the game to test things as they translate. The point is to provide localizers with as much context as possible.
#6 Localize your images
Images are what will appeal to the players. Screenshots are of a special interest as they say a lot about the interface and help see the game in action. If you have any text on them, it best to localize it as well.
Localization does not only apply to texts, it also applies to images themselves. Images or character postures that seem totally natural or normal to you may be seen as offensive in other countries. To avoid a bad buzz, ask you localizer for advice. Same with symbols, especially the Swastika and its negative connotation in Western countries.
#7 Carry out localization tests
Before announcing the official release, test the localized version to detect if there are any issues such as text overflowing in the text boxes, strings that were not translated, UI elements that need more space, inconsistencies in translation, special characters missing, etc.
These issues may seem trivial, but from a player’s point of view, they can be a problem. They may feel that they would miss important information as they can’t understand what is not translated, or can’t have the whole text displayed. It also raises doubts about the quality. At worse, it can lead to bad reviews if there are too many issues with localization.
Best solution: ask the localizer to perform the localization tests, or best, ask a native localization tester in the target language to do it. Anything that can be prevented and corrected in the test phase means less trouble after release (aka fewer tickets and less bad buzz). Competition is fierce out there, better not get known for localization issues.
#8 Work with specialist translators
A good quality localization will have a better impact than a Google Translate localization. And it won’t necessarily be expensive. Most of the time, you can get your money back on the investment with few new downloads or in-game purchases.
When you need a service, your first choice is often to look for a specialist, be it a lawyer, a plumber, an electrician, and so on. You look for a specialist for better quality services. Same goes with localization.
Best solution: work with a translator that specializes in video games. Often, these translators are gamers too. Which means they have a solid game culture and game knowledge. They can also easily put themselves in the player’s shoes or in yours to find the best localization solutions.
#9 Be ready
Even if you don’t plan to localize your game in the future, start applying internationalization rules from the beginning. It will save you time the day you will need to roll your sleeves up and jump head first in the localization process. Better be ready than sorry!
# Download Checklist
To help you with the localization process, you can download our Game Localization Checklist along with with a sample Loc Kit or contact us. We would be happy to help!
What about you? Do you already apply some of those best practices?
And here is a handy concise infographic that sums up my 9 best practices: