In order for a game to be successful in different markets, the importance of game localisation cannot be understated. However, navigating the complexities of localisation comes with its own set of challenges, and even the most seasoned developers may find themselves making mistakes that can hinder the success of their games. In this blog post, we’ll explore 12 common localisation mistakes you could be making and provide insights on how to steer clear of them, ensuring your game reaches its full potential across diverse markets.
1. Assuming all languages are as concise
A common oversight in localisation is assuming that all languages have the same level of conciseness as the source language. Some languages may require more words or characters to convey the same message, which could lead to issues like text overflow in user interfaces, impacting the layout and design of the game. For example, French and Spanish can be 20-30% longer than English, and German even more. To avoid this mistake, consider adding flexibility for varying text lengths; one way of achieving this could be allowing longer strings to shrink or to scroll.
2. Using hard-coded numbers and units
Hard-coding numbers and units directly into the game’s code can lead to complications during localisation. After all, languages are not just about words; they also come with distinct formats. Dates, times, currencies, and numeric formats can vary significantly across cultures. Failing to account for these differences can result in confusion for players. 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 units versus metric, 24-hour clocks versus 12-hour clocks, languages that place the currency symbol after the number instead of before… You get the idea.
Instead, implement a flexible system that allows for easy substitution of numbers and units based on the target language, to create a cohesive, accurate and culturally sensitive experience.
3. Not allowing for different language formats and characters
Some languages, like Arabic, are written from right to left, whereas others, like Chinese and Japanese, can be written vertically, so as before you need to ensure your game has enough flexibility to cater for this. And while we’re at it, always make sure to provide support for all special characters. In Spanish, “ano” and “año” might look similar, but they are very different things!
4. Not separating images from text
Graphics play a crucial role in the gaming experience, but embedding text directly into images can complicate localisation efforts. When text is part of an image, each change requires modifying the image file itself, which can be time-consuming. Separate text and images during the development process, enabling swift updates and adaptations for various languages. And speaking of images, always double-check any signs and symbols used, as their meaning can differ across countries.
Concatenation involves stringing together phrases or sentences by combining separate text strings, using variables. This practice can lead to awkward sentence structures and grammar issues during localisation, because 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.
Instead, avoid relying heavily on concatenation and, instead, structure your sentences in a way that accommodates the natural flow of different languages. If you must use variables, 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
Providing context is crucial for accurate translation. Without a clear understanding of the context in which certain terms or phrases are used, translators may struggle to convey the intended meaning. For example, simple things like “Play” can be translated differently whether it refers to playing a game or playing a video, and whether it’s a verb or a noun. 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.
Foster effective communication between your development team and localisation experts and supply comprehensive context notes or context-aware strings to assist localisation teams in producing translations that align with the narrative and user experience.
7. Sending tiny updates individually
Frequent updates are a standard part of game development, but sending numerous small updates individually for localisation can be inefficient. Consolidate changes and send updates in batches to streamline the localisation process. This reduces the workload for translators, minimises potential errors, and ensures a more cohesive translation across the game. It will also be more cost-effective for you since small updates can carry a minimum fee.
8. Requesting a language without specifying the target market
Simply requesting a language without specifying the target market can lead to generic translations that may not resonate with specific regional audiences. Each language may have regional variations, dialects, or cultural nuances. For example, 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.
Instead, be specific about your target market, allowing the localisation team to tailor translations to align with the preferences expectations and colloquialisms of the intended audience.
9. Thinking you can get away with machine translation
Relying solely on machine translation might seem like a time-saving solution, but it often results in inaccuracies, awkward phrasing and lack of cultural nuance. Machine translation lacks the detailed understanding of context and cultural sensitivities that human translators provide, and it’s not able to understand context, idioms and common knowledge/cultural references like a human does. Trust us, if you use machine translation your players will be able to tell from miles away, and they won’t be impressed.
In order to keep players engaged and immersed in the experience, always invest in professional localisation services to ensure the quality and authenticity of your translations.
10. Not planning ahead
Perhaps one of the most critical mistakes is neglecting to plan for localisation from the outset of game development. Integrating localisation into the development process early on can save time, resources, and headaches later. On the other hand, waiting until the last minute can lead to rushed translations, overlooked cultural considerations, extensive adjustments and increased costs.
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. Consider the linguistic and cultural aspects during the initial design phase, allowing for smoother implementation and reducing the need for extensive post-development adjustments.
11. Unrealistic Timelines
Underestimating the time required for effective localisation is a common pitfall. Rushing the localisation process can lead to errors, oversights, and a compromised gaming experience. Establish realistic timelines that allow for thorough research, adaptation, testing, and refinement. This ensures that your game reaches its global audience with the quality and authenticity it deserves.
12. Forgetting the importance of marketing localisation
Localising the game itself is essential, but overlooking the localisation of marketing materials is a common oversight. The way you present your game in advertisements, trailers, and promotional content should align with local tastes and expectations. Tailor your marketing strategy to resonate with the target audience, ensuring that the excitement generated by your promotional efforts translates into engaged players.
Avoiding these common localisation mistakes requires a proactive and holistic approach. By acknowledging the intricacies of different languages, formats, and cultural nuances, developers can create a localisation strategy that enhances the gaming experience for players worldwide. Remember, localisation isn’t just about translating words; it’s about crafting an authentic and immersive experience that transcends linguistic and cultural barriers. Through strategic planning and an awareness of potential pitfalls, you can elevate your localisation strategy, ensuring that your game captivates audiences across the globe.