25 Game Localization Terms Every Language Industry Pro Should Know

25 Video Game Localization Terms

Given enough time, every industry — localization included — generates its own inside jokes and slang. 

So, too, do niche hobbies, such as gaming (though, with growing markets being assessed on the continental level in surveys of tens of thousands of participants, this pastime has definitely reached the mainstream). 

It makes sense, then, that the process of bringing games to fans worldwide has given rise to its own specific language. 

The Slator Game Localization Report, published in February 2023, defines need-to-know terms for language service providers (LSPs) ultimately serving hardcore gamers (see below).

  1. AAA title or Triple-A game: Video game produced or developed by a major publisher, including a large budget for development and marketing and high-quality expectations. 
  2. Alpha stage: Version in the development cycle where the game is playable from start to finish. At this stage, the game would still have plenty of bugs and some missing art, animation, and sound effects. 
  3. Beta stage: Version in the development cycle where the game is in a state of near completion but still needs to go through a process of testing to solve remaining bugs and be polished. 
  4. Casual games: Games designed for a mass non-gamer (or occasional, “casual gamer”) audience, typically distinguished by their simple rules. They usually have lower production and distribution costs.
  5. Cinematics: Short in-game movies essential to the storytelling and gameplay experience. These video sequences are often found in games over which the player has very limited control. They are used to give relevant background information, provide the right atmosphere, and enhance player immersion.
  6. Continuous Localization: Process where localization teams work with content as soon as developers make it available, in relation to development cycles. Often used in the GaaS Model.
  7. Culturalization: Adapting a game to suit a target culture’s values, knowledge, and sensibilities, allowing players to better relate to, and engage with, the content.

Deeper Dive

Gamers want not only to (literally) understand the game, but to be immersed in it. On the one hand, the goal is to prevent a fish-out-of-water experience, in which the player constantly butts up against an unfamiliar culture while progressing through the game; on the other hand, gamers are aware of a game’s origins, and many want the original culture reflected in the game. It is a delicate balancing act, and even gaming powerhouses such as Nintendo struggle to satisfy all fans.

Culturalization is critically important in the Arabic-speaking world, one of the fastest-growing markets for gaming. Aside from the preferences of individual fans, companies have to contend with some countries’ regulations of game releases. Gambling, tobacco, and rude gestures are among the sensitive topics that might prompt a ban. 

  1. DLC: Downloadable Content. Extra content, free or not, that users can download and that will be added to the game. Can be costumes, music, skins, levels, characters, themes, etc.
  2. F2P: Free-to-Play. Business model for online games that gives players access to the game at no cost, but in-game purchases are available.
  3. GaaS: Game-as-a-Service. Business model which focuses on monetizing game content after release in the long run through frequent updates to the game content that players can access on a subscription basis or in the form of in-game purchases. This strategy keeps the players interested to see more upgraded content.

Deeper Dive

Much like Netflix for film, GaaS appeared as a potential game-changer for gaming. One anticipated result: even more opportunities for LSPs. The lower price point, compared to games for purchase, expands the market, bringing more games to more players in new markets. 

Certain platforms self-impose localization requirements. As of 2021, Apple Arcade, for instance, only made games available to players once translated into certain languages.

The boon in content might also, theoretically, come from the companies behind GaaS platforms producing their own content. In practice, search giant Google announced in February 2021 the decision to discontinue in-house game development; the company has, however, kept its gaming platform, Stadia, in its portfolio.

  1. Gold master or Gold: Refers to the final version of the game once it is approved by HM and is ready to be manufactured or digitally released.
  2. Hardcore gamer. Player who spends most of their leisure time playing or following video games. They have a high interest in video games in general.
  3. HM: Hardware Manufacturer. (Also known as First Parties).

Deeper Dive

Decades of experience have established Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo as the three main HMs. To protect their brands, each company requires completed games to go through a submission process to check off all the detailed technical requirements — nearly 200 for a home console.

The submission process also requires games to square with HMs’ glossaries, in all languages.

The stakes are high. Failing the submission process can cause additional costs and even a delayed release date, once the fixed game goes through another submission process. 

Phone manufacturers, such as Apple and Android, also approve mobile games before releasing them on gaming platforms or in their own app stores.

  1. Lockit: Localization Kit. Bundle of files provided to the translators so they can proceed with localization. It usually includes: the source files to translate, reference files, glossary, translation memory, style guide, character sheet, and sometimes a playable build of the game.

Deeper Dive

Contrary to popular belief, translators rarely get to play a game before translating it; games are usually too unstable at this stage, and publishers, reluctant to risk a leak. (More common are gameplay videos, without an interactive element.)

Without first-hand experience of the game’s story and context, however, certain strings can be interpreted in multiple ways, leading to potentially awkward mistranslations.

Developers can fill in the gaps by providing translators as much information as possible in the lockit, especially through notes about how the game’s logic works. For consistency, translators should be able to reference translations of previous titles of the same brand and a franchise glossary.

  1. MC: Master Candidate. A game version that is suitable for HM submission.
  2. MMO/MMOG: Massively Multiplayer Online Game. Online video games in which a large number of people can play simultaneously, often up to thousands of players at the same time. MMOs usually feature huge open worlds. Variant is MMORPG: Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game.
  3. NPC: Non-Playable Character.
  4. Open world game: Video game design where players can roam freely through the virtual world and are given considerable freedom. Usually includes a lot of content to be localized.
  5. Regression: Part of the linguistic testing process in which bugs are checked again after being fixed.
  6. RPG: Role-playing game. Genre where the player assumes the role of a specific character, usually in a fantasy setting.
  7. Serious game: Game-like interactive applications designed to train people on specific skills (professional or personal).
  8. Sim-Ship: Simultaneous Shipment. Worldwide release of both the original and the localized versions of a video game at the same time.

Deeper Dive

Once upon a time, games were not immediately available to players all over the world. But sim-ship solves this problem with a perfect marketing opportunity and the means to avoid piracy issues. Today, almost all games are released this way.

Behind the scenes, however, translators are under pressure to complete their work on — ironically — unfinished games. Change seems like the only constant for translators working with non-final assets and juggling many updates.

If sim-ship is the new normal, why the rush? Localization is typically scheduled relatively late in the game development cycle, and hiccups in game dev can further delay it. 

That said, the sim-ship model does allow more flexibility in localizing game content, and with localization slowly gaining more recognition, it may increasingly be integrated into the process at earlier stages.

  1. SKU: Stock Keeping Unit. Often used in video games to refer to the different builds or platform versions that need to be localized.
  2. String ID: Unique code identifying each string of text so that the game engine can display the correct text on the screen. String IDs are critical in managing text assets during the localization process.
  3. UGC: User-Generated Content. Content created and posted by a player or user on an online platform, such as video games, but also social media or streaming platforms. 

For more information, check out the Slator Game Localization Report, the definitive guide to the entire development cycle of game localization.