Localizing a video game is a task with many moving parts, all of which are essential to a positive outcome. The text in the game has to be converted, video game scripts have to be changed into the new language, voice actors have to read the script in the new language and the game’s marketing has to be localized.
These elements can be particularly challenging when it comes to localizing a game for the Chinese market. Below we’ll go over what makes Chinese game localization so challenging and how to manage the issues involved.
What Makes Releasing Games in the Chinese Market So Difficult?
The Guardian reports that there are about 740 million gamers in the Chinese market, more than the populations of the US, Japan, Germany, France and the UK combined. That’s a huge market for video game developers to tap into.
Not only is it a big market, but Chinese gamers are happy to spend. China generated 40% of the global mobile games revenue in 2020. Clearly, China is a market that developers want to access.
But the short answer of what makes Chinese game markets harder to navigate is… everything! From the language to the technical aspects, localization experts and game companies have to know the Chinese gaming market inside and out. Below are some of the main aspects that can make game localization difficult in the Chinese market.
The most obvious element is the language barrier. There was a study reported in Quartz that ranked the world’s languages by how long they take foreign diplomats to learn. The longest category saw people taking 88 weeks to learn a language. Chinese is firmly in that category, along with Arabic, Japanese and Korean.
The characters that make up Chinese, called Hanzi, are an entirely different way of writing and reading, so naturally they take longer for those raised using the Latin alphabet to learn.
China basically has its own internet, meaning people in other countries can’t use it. That means developers have to make sure their game plays nicely with the way the Chinese access online content. Further, China also has its own social media sites, which could affect how the marketing of a game gets handled. These two areas of work along can be incredibly time-consuming in localization terms.
China has far more restrictions on gaming than the West does. Certain content is regulated and there are rules on when children can play online video games. It’s important to work with a strong localization team that can help navigate the legal aspects of whether a game can enter the Chinese market and, if it does, which elements will be appropriate and which won’t.
The Problem with Changing a Game too Much
A major point to keep in mind when localizing a game is to strike the balance between making a game accessible to a foreign market and changing the tone of the game too much. Much of what gamers love about foreign games is the cultural aspects and the original flavour of the games.
A localized game should make sure gamers in new cultures can understand what is being said, but the overall content of the game should stay as close to the original concept as possible.
How Localization Companies Can Help
A localization company can help prepare a game to be better received by the Chinese market. Companies such as Global Voices, Tomedes, and TransPerfect provide services designed to adapt games (and other items, such as documents and videos) to foreign markets. For video games, the most obvious task is making sure the script and text are translated into Chinese accurately. It’s important to work with professional localization services to avoid errors in adapting your content. Ofer Tirosh of Tomedes, explains that:
“Gone are the days when bad video game text was charming. It was one thing for a simple 16-bit shooter in the 1990s to have comically bad text, but today’s games are much more sophisticated and rely heavily on storytelling, especially console games.”
Localization also deals with adapting the visual elements of the game, ironing out underlying cultural assumptions that might cause confusion, technical areas such as coding and more – anything and everything that a game needs to prepare it for a foreign audience. The resulting game should feel like it was created with that audience originally in mind, rather than being created for another set of viewers and then adapted. That native feel is a hugely important part of the user experience.
Localization experts can also help navigate the legal and cultural minefield of what is allowed or accepted in the Chinese market. It’s easy to include something in a game, not realizing it is actually offensive in the new culture. The Chinese government tends to regularly update what it considers offensive in games. Also, the ways in which gamers access games changes regularly, thanks to developments such as to streaming platforms. So it’s important to work with a localizer who knows what is going on with the market in terms of what is currently banned or taboo.
A localization expert can also help you navigate that grey area between what should be changed to accommodate the culture and what would change the core tone of the game too much. They will also provide support with the technical aspects of the process, such as coding and design, as well as with the dialogue. Further, working with a localization company can help you navigate the technological aspects of making sure your game works with how Chinese gamers access the internet.
“The language conversion and technical elements have to be spot-on to make sure the core gaming experience remains intact and the main story of the game makes sense,” continues Tirosh. “Professional localization services can help you achieve this.”
There are many complicated aspects to localizing games for the Chinese market, so maximize your chances of success by bringing in the professionals.
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