In 2020, smartphone games made up nearly 50% percent of all global video game revenues, and as smartphones become more and more universally owned, these revenues are forecast to exceed $100 billion a year by 2023. With such a huge potential market, mobile game developers need to do everything they can to make their games accessible for all. Enter mobile game localization! Localizing your mobile game can open up access to new markets with higher revenue potential, as well as provide an edge over competitors by ranking higher in app stores or providing unique features.
In this article, we’ll explain what mobile game localization is, how to do it, and how it can help bolster your game’s success.
What is Mobile Game Localization?
Mobile game localization is the process of making a mobile device game accessible to an international audience. Localization teams are responsible for translating text, updating graphics and menus, and adapting audio clips that might not be compatible with the language in question.
Mobile game localization has become increasingly important because there are more people accessing games on their smartphones than ever before. However, particularly for players in emerging markets, the mobile game industry is still woefully behind in localizing even the most popular titles.
How do you Localize a Mobile Game?
While many of the processes of localization are universal, mobile game localization has some unique challenges for mobile publishers to consider, including things like the popularity of genres and device penetration. So if you’re considering releasing your mobile game in a different region, you need to take a mobile-first approach to localization.
Here are the three biggest steps to consider:
1. Determine where to localize
It’s easy to think the best strategy is to release a mobile game in as many countries as possible to maximize revenue. But if you’re a small or medium-sized company, you’ll find it difficult to scale.
If you’re a mobile game publisher, consider countries with high smartphone usage first and above countries where game industries are thriving. Also take into account the operating system, which can vary from country to country. In the US, for example, iOS has a 57.08% share of the market. Yet in South Korea, Android dominates with a 72.2% share. Finally, consider how popular different genres of mobile games are in the countries you’re considering.
2. Get your translation team together
You’ll need a team of translators and linguistic experts who understand the nuances of game localization, not just someone who speaks the local dialect. Because games are interactive mediums with branching choices and storylines and dialogue choices to factor in, all of which need to make sense contextually.
Culturalization is an important part of localization, which means making a game and its marketing feel locally relevant and engaging to connect with global audiences. So your translators and experts need to be mindful of this. Whether you hire in-house, or like many companies have a hybrid team of internal and external creatives, product managers, and translators, it’s up to you.
3. Localize your monetization strategy
In the same way, countries vary in terms of their language and culture, so too do their economies. Insight into local economies is another important step in delivering an effective, revenue-generating localization strategy. You can’t simply convert in-app purchases from your US release of a mobile game from one currency to another.
Make sure you have the right people in place so you can get the relevant insights needed on local economies to ensure successful mobile game localization planning.
Why you Should Localize your Mobile Game
1. Access to bigger, more lucrative markets
Localizing your mobile game will allow you to reach new audiences and markets. Specifically for gaming apps, localization can give you an edge over your competitors by expanding the availability of your titles out of first-world countries with traditionally high smartphone usage rates (North America and Western Europe), into emerging regions like Asia or Eastern Europe.
The potential customers in these markets may not speak English well enough to be able to play your game in its original form, so if you want to tap into this market, you will need to implement localization. Get it right, and there are huge rewards to be gained. In Korea alone, annual mobile game revenues are expected to hit $6.6 billion by 2025, while in China, some experts are forecasting revenues as high as $40 billion.
2. Game localization is becoming a necessity
The success of the mobile gaming industry has made it more important than ever to make your game accessible for international audiences. Mobile game developers need to do everything they can to provide their content for all players, or else they risk being left behind when the market moves into emerging regions or languages.
If you look at the current market split, less than 40% of total customers are in the traditional US and Western European markets. While China may currently only have around 10% of the world’s mobile gaming customers, it is by far the fastest-growing market, and with 1.3 billion potential players, the opportunities are huge. To take advantage of these opportunities, localization is a must.
3. More downloads leads to more sales
Localizing your mobile game can lead to increased downloads and, subsequently, increased revenue. Just having your games available on international app stores, with their titles and blurbs in different languages, will greatly increase potential downloads in new markets.
This is especially true in markets like India, South America, and China where there are huge amounts of players, but the rates of English fluency across the populations are not very high.
The great thing about these markets is that you don’t need to translate your game into a hundred different languages. Creating a Mandarin version will open up the potential for one billion new players; Hindi, half a billion; Spanish, half a billion more.
4. Rank higher in app stores
Localizing your mobile game will allow you to rank higher on the app store for customers searching in different languages. Google Play and App Store have a ranking system that is based on popularity, meaning that if you rank highly amongst search results in other countries’ stores, this can lead to an influx of interested players downloading (and potentially paying) for your game.
Localization also helps increase conversion rates, as well as generate word-of-mouth referrals through translated reviews. These are then available to use for marketing when it comes time to launch your games in new languages and regions.
5. Game localization puts the gamer first
Today’s gamers want to feel connected to the characters and scenarios in games. Gaming at its core is role play, and so to help your players get into their role, you need to give them an immersive experience. Localization not only means that they will be able to understand the rules, directions, character bios, and weapon specs, it also means that players will feel like the game was made specifically for them. The most effective localization is when a game doesn’t seem like it is a translated version, but when the translated version looks, sounds, and feels like it is the original.
One great example is the use of different names for Pokemon in various countries in the world. For instance, the same Pokemon in Germany, the UK, and Korea is called Relaxo, Snorlax, and Jammanbo respectively. These localized names help players from those different countries to better understand the sleepy nature of that particular Pokemon. However, when it comes to Pikachu, there is no need for any localization because the character is universally known, so the name Pikachu is used across the globe.
6. It’s not just about translation
Localization is more than translating from one language into another. Alongside making sure all menus, buttons, and dialogue boxes are formatted properly according to regional standards, it also involves adjustments (or replacements) for culturally specific items within the game content itself.
This will not only improve your player’s experience but may also help you to avoid any potential fallout from a cultural or political faux pas. With China being the biggest emerging market, game developers are going to have to be especially careful when localizing their games for the East Asian market. Relationships between China and various other countries in the region are fraught, and you only have to look at the NBA’s troubles, or John Cena’s bizarre apology, to see how much sway China already holds over popular culture and the entertainment industries.
Make sure that your localization is done by someone who understands the language and cultural implications of the region you are targeting, and you will be able to avoid potentially damaging situations.
Localized games have a much higher chance of commercial success than non-localized ones, through increased downloads, in-game purchases, and advertising revenue. Localization allows developers to tap into emerging markets with massive potential audiences that don’t speak English well enough to be able to play the game in its original form. When localizing your games, remember that it is about far more than just translation. Put yourself in your new players’ shoes, be conscious at all times of cultural and political issues, and you will be able to create a new localized version that feels just like the original.