With a little strategizing and the right localization team, Chinese gaming companies can turn their problems into profits.
The global games market is in the midst of a major boom. Worth an estimated $152 billion with a 10.2 percent yearly growth rate, there are more games to play, from more countries and in more languages than ever before. In fact, this market is but one of few to benefit from the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, as people working and self-isolating at home seek new and additional ways to entertain themselves. Chinese gaming companies looking to “get in on the game” and expand globally must understand their new target markets – and fulfill their needs in languages and consider nuances those players can understand and appreciate. In short, localization is the name of the internalization game.
But going global is not always all fun and games.
Chinese companies seeking to internationalize face three main challenges:
1. A shallow talent pool
Increasing numbers of gaming companies want to translate from Chinese to other target languages, but game localization is a relatively new profession in China. As such, the pool of qualified translators and localization experts proficient in translating Chinese games into other languages is limited – especially when it comes to languages other than English. And those who are capable of translating to diverse languages tend to already be employed by leading language service providers (LSPs), inhibiting gaming companies’ efforts at assembling their own in-house translation teams.
What’s more, the LSPs contracted by Chinese gaming companies are already bogged down by their sheer volume of work, and tight deadlines. A single translator’s daily output is averaged at 1500-1800 source words, and cannot be split with other LSPs without risking project quality and consistency. This can significantly inhibit a gaming company’s ability to go global in a timely manner. Thus, this lack of talent and related timeline intricacies often leave Chinese gaming companies second-guessing their decision to go global.
2. Culture clashes
Localization is not limited to the mere translation of words – it requires the maintenance of tone and language, as well as adaptations to meet cultural nuances and preferences. As such, a clash of cultures between China and Western markets poses an additional challenge for Chinese gaming companies seeking to expand globally. It is, therefore, of supreme importance that the localized product not offend target audiences; the risk to any gaming company is simply too great. For example, when Nintendo (unsuccessfully) attempted to localize its Fire Emblem Fates game, clashes between Japanese and English cultures led to escalated debates over sexism, sexual orientation, sexual miscreancy, and a hate campaign against the spokesperson for the company’s Treehouse division Allison Rapp. Rapp ultimately lost her job. But more noteworthy, the culture clashes leading to her dismissal cost the company its revenues that year.
The vast cultural differences between China and the West make it exceedingly difficult to localize games set in China-specific settings. A foreign translator who is unfamiliar with the events that shaped Chinese history and culture is not likely to understand why Chinese games are so heavy-handed when it comes to shooting, legends, and myths, or why Chinese avatars are more idyllic looking than the more realistic-looking Western graphics.
While starting in English and then “pivoting” towards other languages and markets is generally recommended, it is clear that navigating the China-to-Anglosaxon localization journey is a tall order for the shallow pool of talent available to tackle the task.
3. Localization managers are not jacks of all trades
The job of the localization manager or expert is not singular or simple in any way. They must translate, subtitle, dub, and test each game before its global launch, ensuring every word is translated correctly, every cultural sensitivity has been attended to, and that the games play smoothly and excitingly in every new version. Beyond the question of whether the workload is too much for a single localization manager to complete within the game company’s time frame, the vast majority of LSPs simply do not provide all of these services, leaving gaming companies scrambling to locate – and budget for – each individual service they seek. It seems as though one-stop shops for Chinese gaming companies’ localization needs are too few and far between.
So, how can Chinese gaming companies defy the odds and successfully go global?
One word: strategy. Chinese gaming companies must devise a localization strategy geared towards resolving the above issues to ensure seamless global expansion.
In the words of the great Khan of Metro 2033, “Even in dark times, we cannot relinquish the things that make us human,” referring, of course, to the need for a great human-generated localization strategy.