Oct 18, 2013
Culturalization and localization are becoming more and more important as video game complexity develops. Historically thought of as purely translation, this is not the case.
In addition to certain story elements and the artwork itself, there are many aspects to consider when localizing a game, and it is vital to get this right, in order to maintain the quality of the original product. A huge portion of sales is now made from international sales, in many cases up to 50%, and globalisation means more regions demanding high quality products.
With the rise of the app stores and mobile gaming, we now live in an incredible time when people are able to create their own games. Yet this also brings about the problem that very few applications are localized efficiently, if at all. Indie game creators are often working to very tight budgets – if at all, even – and so outsourced services such as localization may be viewed as avoidable expenditure, and thus games can lack the global audience that larger companies have gained over the years.
More recently, the term ‘culturalization’ has risen in popularity. More than simply translating the game, this is the science of inspecting dialogue, imagery – even actions, for things that may cause offense to particular markets or cultures. The Western world has had a tendency to be short-sighted about the potential offensive nature of normal things, as regions in the East may be offended by certain depictions or storylines. Recent games such as Bioshock Infinite and Dead Space 3 see storylines based around cult-like religions, and no doubt took extra precautions in order not to offend certain groups. Often symbols and semiotics can differ in society, as Japan compared to America find different forms of artwork effective, fuelling sales in either region.
Kate Edwards, the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), and has pioneered culturalization strategy. She is speaking at Game QA and Localization 2013 in San Francisco. Speaking about the topic with Gaming IQ, she explained how crucial it is:
“Game culturalization is vital because it takes a step beyond localization, making a more fundamental examination of a game’s assumptions and choices, and then assesses the viability of those creative choices in both the global, intercultural marketplace as well as in specific locales.”
Different regions can be more sensitive to blood and gore compared to others, and so the game must be adjusted accordingly. Australia famously has very strict censorship policies when it comes to the media; recently Saints Row IV was refused classification due to sexual acts and drug use being criteria for in-game rewards. The edited version has finally found a release, yet had certain missions removed. Another example is Fallout 3, as frequent Morphine use was portrayed positively in the game, so was changed to Med-X worldwide.
As games become progressively more cinematic, the industry is attracting higher profile actors, such as Liam Neeson in aforementioned Fallout 3, Ellen Page and Willem Defore in PS3 title Beyond: Two Souls, and of course game industry celebrity Nolan North. These are not only major selling points for the game, but a major contributor to it’s quality, bringing better and better performances in the gameplay. However, if the same attention to detail and quality is not taken when localizing a game, it can impact the quality of the edited edition. VA dubs significantly worse than the original can stand out in stark comparison, attracting all manner of negative attention. One instance is The Witcher, originally in Polish, was translated in a poor manner. However once it gained a fanbase, the Enhanced Edition improved many of these features, showing that improving localization can help the quality of the overall game quality and enjoyment.
Another new announcement is that Dead Rising 3, a key launch title for the Xbox One’s success, will not be released in Germany, at first. It has not been able to attain an age rating in the country, as the BPJM are famously strict on violence, with the country being much more lenient with sexual acts than gore or blood. Kate Edwards also explores this concept:
“While localization assists gamers with simply comprehending the game’s content through translation, culturalization allows gamers to engage with the game’s content at a potentially more meaningful level. Or conversely, culturalization ensures that gamers will not be disengaged by a piece of content that is considered incongruent or even offensive in the game’s environment.”
Similarly to the movie industry, dubbing often helps with a games sales and popularity. Games which use subtitles throughout the entire story-line can lead to focussing on the text, rather than the visuals or cut scenes. However, dubbing can also be a mixed bag, as if done badly, can produce an inferior product to the original and put it’s authenticity into question; proving that culturalizing the game in a thorough manner is key to producing a suitable game for the region in question.
Many Japanese games are incredible in their native tongue, but the storyline and plot can be lost with bad translation into English or other languages, and thus ruin the immersion of the game itself. Classic examples such as beat-em-ups like Tekken clearly attempted to appeal to as wide an audience as possible with their character selection – Jin appealing to the home market of Japan, and Paul Phoenix ensuring a fanbase in the US.
Regional preferences are also important, as Japanese characters tend to be much younger, and often fit a child-like stereotype, whereas most protagonists are adults in American games. This trend of Westernizing Japanese products can lose some of the appeal, but also gain new markets the game would otherwise not appeal to. The 3DS games Pokemon X and Y had a global release date of October 12th, and is the first time the series has not been delayed in other regions. Nintendo are generally very good with localization, remaining popular in Japan whilst altering their games for a Western market, however simultaneous global releases require massive amounts of work and preparation.
In today’s world, integrating culturalization from the beginning of game development is vital, as it can improve the quality & playability of a game, maximise it’s appeal in different markets and help to prevent classification or sales issues in particular countries or cultures. The team responsible must integrate into the design team for the most effective result, fixing bugs and altering any cultural issues that arise as the game is being developed, rather than realising when it is too late for any major changes. How embedded it becomes in the development process over the next few years though remains to be seen.