Why This Indie Game Studio from China Localizes In-House

Mobile games made in China are quietly edging up the charts in Google Play and the App Store. In 2016, one of the best apps in these two marketplaces was a retro platform game developed by a game studio based in the southern Chinese city of Xiamen founded only in 2011.

Veewo Games’ Super Phantom Cat was released globally in 2016 in seven languages  English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese and has had over 10 million downloads since its launch. It looks like the internet mania on cat videos is extending to the gaming world as well.

Building on the popularity of the first game, Veewo rolled out a sequel, Super Phantom Cat 2 for iOS in August 2017 in 11 languages English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, and Traditional Chinese.  

The platform game is a classic play on nostalgia for the old-style arcade game that brought Super Mario Bros’ Mario to stardom in 1985. Even in the age of 4K videos and virtual reality, platform games still have a massive global appeal. Mario itself is having a renaissance with Mario Run, a mobile version of the classic game launched in 2016.

Jason Yeung, CEO and Co-founder of Veewo Games, shared in a September 2016 Google interview that their games “sort of pay homage to the Nintendo games” he used to play as a kid.

But Super Phantom Cat has its own kind of appeal. Gamers from California to Moscow to Paris and many other places may be having a good time on their touchscreens jumping through the hoops, scoring points and uncovering hidden paths in a phantom cat’s world, but the instant huge following is also because the game developers consciously sought to woo a global audience.

“When you outsource a new game localization project, though they might be professional and qualified, they might not relate what we want to express” — Jason Yeung, CEO and Co-founder, Veewo Games

“As developers, our sole motive has been to create games which appeal to people all over the globe. Obviously, you would need to change some context of user experience when you try to localize and “culturize” the game for a specific market. But overall, we like to stay focused on impressing our global audience,” Yeung told Slator.

In-House Localization

The narrative of the game development scene in the world’s most populous country is changing.

Buoyed by the global appetite for games, even boutique Chinese game studios like Veewo are eyeing the international market from the outset, and not just the vast consumer base in the home country.

Hence, the young company takes localization seriously. “We adopt a mixed-bag strategy for localization at different stages,” he said, adding that they haven’t used the services of any professional localization company.

As he explained, “Many a times when you outsource a new game localization project, though they might be professional and qualified, they might not relate what we want to express. That’s why “in-house” localization works for us.”

“At first, we like to invite native speakers to our office and work on text translation”

Veewo said its current translation volume is approximately 7,000 to 8,000 words per language. The volume grows once the game is released and the company starts organizing monthly events or introducing more characters and more levels.

“At first, we like to invite native speakers to our office and work on text translation. We believe it is important and highly effective as they can understand what a particular game scenario is trying to express. At the second stage, we invite our global and native players to play and test localization quality of the game. They tend to “refine” earlier localized text and we build from there,” Yeung said.

He emphasized that “culturization” is the key challenge in any localization project in any industry, including mobile games.

“While it’s easier to translate whatever you want in any native language, complementing it with local culture is extremely important for global success of the game,” he said.

Big Markets

Veewo said its biggest market to date is overseas, with the US accounting for the largest share at 22%. Other major markets are Russia and France. Since “the majority of the world does not speak English or Chinese,” localization is important.

“We often receive the feedback from players that their first impression playing our game is that the developer is not from Asia. And we’re happy to hear that,” Yeung observed.

He also said that the Chinese market is “still complex and has a lot of competition from other major players.”  

Does the company see machine translation having an impact on its localization efforts in the near future? Yeung said machine translation’s primary objective is around cost and time. “But if companies seek optimum quality, they should try to seek professional help,” he said.

There are plans to release versions of the game in two or three more languages, according to Yeung. In the meantime, Super Cat Phantom 2 is awaiting judgment from the fandom. Would secrets of a new phantom world and a new gameplay generate the same following or perhaps even surpass it?