Video gaming (including mobile gaming) is a huge industry that has earned more global revenue than the movie and music industry combined. With film production being halted or delayed due to the pandemic, this may even further the gap as the video game industry continues to grow.
Asia is the highest grossing continent with China, Japan, and South Korea contributing a large portion of global video gaming revenue. Germany and Britain also have many avid gamers and are the top European countries for game revenue.
Video game production companies that only limit their content to the U.S. will be missing big opportunities to reach vast audiences in Asia and Europe. In this blog, we will discuss some of the best languages for video game localization in terms of audience size and revenue as well as some localization considerations to keep in mind.
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photo by Airam Dato-on
Asia has the largest video gaming audience, accounting for 47.4% of the global market compared to North America, which accounted for 26%. The top three countries in Asia are China, Japan, and South Korea.
China holds the number one spot in the mobile gaming market beating the U.S. by a $6 billion revenue margin. Simplified Chinese is the written language and Chinese Mandarin is the spoken language for this huge market, but wouldn’t cover Hong Kong or Taiwan. One thing to keep in mind for mobile game developers looking to expand into mainland China is that Google Play and other similar services are blocked by the Great Firewall of China. Developers will have to negotiate directly with platforms in China to distribute their content. Also, all games must meet the requirements of the Chinese censorship guidelines or be removed; this past July over 2,500 games were removed from Apple’s China App Store due to increasing restrictions.
Japan is the 3rd largest video game market after China and the U.S., however, revenue per user is higher compared to the U.S. Standard Japanese is the main dialect used for localization and comes from the Tokyo area. However, equivalent dialects and accents may be used when localizing a video game character that speaks with a particular accent, e.g. using the Japanese Kansai dialect (Osaka region) for someone speaking with an Oklahoma accent. Japanese is written in three main scripts: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. As mentioned in a previous blog, localizing games for Japan should take into consideration politeness and gendered speech (a male speaking to male is a different tone than when a female speaks to a male and vice versa). Also Japan has its own taboo topics that could get a game banned, such as: tobacco, drugs, and graphic violence.
South Korea has an avid gaming culture with some professional Korean video gamers getting the same treatment as famous professional athletes. It is the 4th largest global video game market with an estimated revenue of $6.2 billion. Compared to its Chinese and Japanese neighbors, South Korea has relatively lax video game censorship laws; however, certain topics like the Korean War, Japanese-Korean relations, and excessive violence (Mortal Kombat) can lead to being banned. Standard Korean is the language used for localization. Standard Korean is set by the National Institute of the Korean Language and is based on the Seoul dialect. Korean is written with the Korean alphabet known as Hangul. The language is written from left to right, however, for older text (particularly for games that take place in ancient time periods) the text is written from top to bottom.
Do note that the written forms of Simplified/Traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are all double-byte languages. This means that the characters for each language occupy two bytes instead of one and is important to know when encoding text files.
photo by Stefan Widua
Germany and the UK take the 5th and 6th place respectively in global video game revenue after China, the U.S., Japan, and South Korea.
Germany is Europe’s largest video game market and is a favorite country for game studios (e.g. Ubisoft) as well as home to the highly attended Gamescom game conference held in Cologne. Standard German is the variety written and spoken in Germany and is the one used for localization. When localizing games into German, it’s important to note that German text tends to be relatively longer than other languages; English to German may expand up to 35%. This means that game developers should allow for extra space whenever text appears in the game in case the text expands greatly when localizing. As for censorship, graphic violence and swastikas for many years were not allowed in games, but regulations have eased in recent years. Still, it’s important to check with the local censorship authorities to see if a specific game would be able to pass regulations.
The United Kingdom is the next largest video game market in Europe and is the third largest game developer in the world after Japan and the United States. It is home to some of the world’s most iconic video games such as Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto. For English-speaking game developers, the choice to localize from American English to British English or vice versa depends on certain factors like budget and content. If there’s budget available, some game developers should localize as there are many differences in word usage that could confuse English speakers on both sides of the pond: flashlight (US) = torch (UK), apartment (US) = flat (UK), pants (US) = trousers (UK), etc… Also American and British accents are quite distinct and may cause listener fatigue to those not familiar with the accent. However, if the game takes place in the U.S. (e.g. GTA Los Santos), gamers in the U.K. would prefer that the accents and word usage be American as it adds more authenticity to the game.
photo by Florian Olivo
The video game market is the largest industry in entertainment. The U.S., China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, and the U.K. are the top countries in the world in regards to video game global revenue. It’s important to know that each country has their own linguistic, cultural, and legal considerations to keep in mind when localizing video game content.
The industry is looking to continue to grow, especially after many have taken up video gaming as a pastime during the stay-at-home orders. Localization is a great opportunity for game developers to reach audiences outside their home country and connect with audiences they may not have thought possible.
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