How Do Game Publishers Decide on a Localization Strategy?

While the decision to localize a game to win fans worldwide may seem like an obvious one, it quickly gives way to questions about strategy. Careful consideration of long-term goals can help ensure that the resources poured into game localization are investments with serious pay-off.

The Slator Game Localization Report explores the basic questions game publishers must answer before — and while — pursuing localization.

To a certain extent, game publishers must begin with the end in mind, as the target country or region will help determine the level of localization required.

And how are target countries selected? Gaming companies look for the markets with the highest potential spending and review statistics such as market revenue and the number of players, plus their own business objectives, as part of their decision-making process.

Companies also take into account data such as market growth rate and existing competitors. In some cases, it makes sense to invest in localization for a particular language to establish an early presence in an emerging market. These efforts, in turn, can lead to better global reviews from local players.

Once a publisher decides to localize a game for a specific market, more granular points need to be addressed, as localization expectations vary by country. Country-specific gaming culture, plus the target market’s English proficiency, will influence the level of localization publishers select.

Mobile games are typically treated to minimal localization, which covers just the information required to sell a game in app stores or on the online game platform Steam — usually the game description and keywords. 

Partial localization adds onto the minimal approach to include in-game text and subtitles in the country’s local language.

Full localization goes one step further, adapting audio files to give players an experience as close as possible to that of the game in its original language.

Higher levels of localization are generally associated with better outreach but they come at a price. Translation costs in any vertical depend on the number of source words, the target language(s), and the going rates. 

For non-machine translation (MT) by a language service provider (LSP), game publishers should expect to spend between USD 0.12-0.17 per word or character, and about half that rate for proofreading.

Quality goals will determine the extent of linguistic testing for a game. This process adds another cost, to the tune of USD 23-30 per hour — multiplied by the number of testers, the number of languages, and the number of days spent testing. 

Publishers may also invest in translation or transcreation of marketing materials, as well as culturalization of the game for certain markets.

Successful Strategies

Some of the best-selling titles of 2022 owe their success at least in part to their localization strategies. 

Grand Theft Auto V was localized from its source language, English, into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Latin American Spanish, Korean, and both Traditional and Simplified Chinese. 

Elden Ring, which sold 20m copies as of February 2023, was localized into the same set of languages, plus Thai. The spread allowed both games to reach almost all players worldwide.

Warner Bros. Games’ Hogwarts Legacy 2023 includes a range of languages with the physical and digitally downloaded versions of the game, though some languages may require an additional download.

“The available voice and subtitle options will vary between different locations, which can have an important impact on your experience with the game,” WB Games Support explains on its website. “Make sure that when you purchase the game, it’s the appropriate version for your desired language, account region, and geographic location.”

UI and subtitles can appear in certain languages, including Arabic, Polish, Russian, Korean, and Chinese. For other languages (namely French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Italian, and German) the game offers UI, subtitles, plus full audio.

Interestingly, captions or subtitles are turned on by default, and narration for menu items is available in all supported languages. Both features tie into the increasing importance game publishers place on making their games accessible to all players.

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