Picture this: you got a great game, the launch in your domestic market was huge – super rave reviews, and all your players, nay, fans, tell their player-friends all over the world via social. The response is overwhelming, “We wanna play too!” they say.

Gee-whiz, you think, we better translate the game and roll it out globally as soon as. So you have a quick look around locally to find someone who can do the job cheap, and wait to hear the praise ring out from every corner of the globe. Except the reaction you get is an overwhelming “Boooooo!” Why? Well, d’uh – you didn’t localize, did you?

Translation on its own just doesn’t cut it. Any game rolled out beyond the domestic market needs to meet the cultural, linguistic and regulatory expectations of all the regions where it is launched. But if you really care about your game’s wellbeing, and how it is received in any foreign territory, there’s still more to do. Even after you’ve culturally adapted the translation and made the visuals super relevant, you need to listen to the experts. And by ‘experts’, we don’t mean industry big-wigs, we mean the players, the gamers.

It’s the big-wigs themselves, along with the game developers and publishers, that need to listen to the audiences’ feedback on the game to make sure they get it right. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the part player feedback plays in game localization, and explore how developers and publishers can learn from audiences. Because who doesn’t want to elevate the gaming experience and foster a more inclusive global gaming community. Right?

Lost in translation, found in localization

First, there’s translation, then there’s localization; beyond that is what some people term ‘culturalization’. As always, people like to argue over labels, but ultimately what we’re talking about is a process wherein every textual, technical, visual and thematic element of the game, of what’s on the screen and what’s behind the screen, is carefully adapted to resonate with players from specific cultural backgrounds. It’s a thorough process and has to be done again and again for each different market the game is launched in.

Your first thought is: there has to be a shortcut – let’s leverage some technology, dammit. Many games companies have tried and failed. What they have to realize is that a few freelance translators with pre-prepped MT software isn’t ever going to be enough. And, for all the smart mouths out there, crossing your fingers and hoping AI will be your cure-all isn’t going to do it either (although, it’s so tempting to believe it will). Sorry.

For any industry, the customer is usually way smarter than companies give them credit for. For the games industry, multiply the smartness level by a 1000. Why are gamers so smart? Because they are both super-passionate and super-serious about the games they play, so much so, that you cannot get anything sub-standard past them. Think of gamers as your own personal oracle at Delphi. And they are not shy about coming forward. If they have an issue with any aspect of your game, they will shout it from the social rooftops. So you’d better listen, and take notes. And if humble pie is on the menu, order up a big helping before you launch in any more markets.


The feedback loop

Every game developer’s dream is for their game to be as successful in foreign markets, as it is in their own back yard, so it has to be every bit as engaging and accessible as the original, but tailor remade for each new market. Getting that feedback on prelaunch versions will give you a direct line of insight into what works, what offends, what confuses, and what delights.

The place to hear all the good news and bad news about your newly localized game all happens online. Social media platforms, forums, and in-game feedback tools are the most common go-to resources. If you’ve got the funds to roll out a beta testing phase in specific regions before a full launch, you can harvest a whole heap of dynamite player feedback on localization epic and not-so-epic fails that might have been missed. Don’t be afraid to set up surveys and focus groups (again if you have the cash) so you can get down to the real nitty-gritty of what the players love and, most importantly, what really irritates the hell out of them.

There are plenty of howlers out there detailing who got what so wrong that they almost never recovered from it.  One game that got it right was the “Persona” series, which received widespread acclaim for its thoughtful localization, which managed to incorporate cultural nuances that made the game more relatable to a Western audience without watering down its inherently Japanese identity to a meaningless mess of bland clichés. On the other hand, titles that have taken localization less seriously have been shot down in flames for basic typographical errors (including on the actual game box!). But we’re here to listen and learn, not to indulge in Schadenfreude, right?


Learning helps us to grow

So, now, the important thing to remember in all of this is that this is not a one-time deal. Once you’ve collected your big bundle of player feedback, it is not time to say goodbye. You need to keep listening to the social channels, keep logging into the fan sites, because good localization lies in continuous updating based on all that solid-gold feedback that will be out there, whether you take it on board or not. It’s only natural: after that first wave of euphoria players feel on getting their hands on a fab title wears off, they’ll want to start venting about all the little cultural niggles that wind them up.

But hey, this is an excellent chance for you to learn and grow, and for your game to improve and attract even more eager gamers. And don’t be precious over your baby, be prepared to make some bold changes: colour schemes, character names, and even gameplay mechanics might need adjustments to sync up with all those cultural predilections that only locals really know about.

Despite the ups and downs that any industry is prone to in the face of economic and global events, the games industry will look to enter wider markets as existing ones become increasingly saturated – so be prepared to get even bolder with your plans for world domination, ahem, localizing your title for new regions.

And yes, technologies like AI and machine learning will possibly offer boundless new opportunities for automating and refining the localization process in the future. But. Let’s not forget how wonderful and irreplaceable the human touch is. Because players will know when they are getting bot backchat, and they will want real live humans in charge of creating and maintaining the game worlds that they love so much. 

To wrap up, player feedback in localization is super-duper when it comes to learning, growing and improving. It creates an iron-cast bridge between developers and the gamers, and ensures that games are culturally relevant in any corner of the globe, and will have the possibility of becoming much-loved because of it.

If there’s one takeaway, it’s this: the player is king and queen, and everything in between. The success of your game is in your hands, but the players always have the final yay or nay on whether a title goes supernova, or just nowhere.