The 8 Most Common Problems in Video Game Localization and How to Overcome Them

Game Localization is a difficult field and only the bold can enter it. You will have to face fearsome creatures, fight powerful enemies and be ready to restart from scratch when you run out of lives. That’s why we have prepared a handy blog post to explore the most common issues in game localization and how to overcome them.
Apr 9 / Ozgur Isgoren
Greetings fellow adventurer. Have you always been into video games and do you have a passion for languages? Perhaps you might have heard of the land of “Game Localization” where people have to put their linguistic skills to good use while combining them with their passion for gaming?
Game Localization is a challenging field and one who dares to step into it shall be ready to face sinister monsters, battle tough bosses and shall be willing to start from all over again when they are out of their lives.
Hence, here comes a cheat sheet (ehm… blog post) to delve into most common problems in game localization and how to solve them.


While the industry is moving forward and each day the developers try to pay more attention to how they prepare the text files, one of the most common problems still is files without contextual information.

Video game localization
is all about cultural 
adaptation, because as a localization professional our job is to create content that is to be read and understood by the speakers of our native languages. When there is not much context, sometimes it gets impossible to understand how to handle a certain text.
So, whenever you are out of context:
a. First of all, check if there’s any information you can use in the String IDs. String IDs can be displayed with different view options of different CAT tools. They might give in important information.
b. If there’s no string ID available or the string ID is not understandable (just consisting of some random letters), try to make a comprehensive Google search to understand if it’s a very specific usage in source language. Since the translators, most of the time, are not native speakers of the source language, there might be some details, usages lost to us.
c. Raise a query. Most project specifications come with a relevant query sheet. If your project manager allows you directly inputting queries, then go ahead and ask. However, mind the fact that your queries will be read by developers, hence you should watch out for your tone of voice. No criticism, negativity, etc.

2. Cascades of Creative Texts

As you can imagine, game localization entails frequent use of creative text like puns, jokes, rhymes, etc. In such cases it’s important to maintain the similar vibe for your audience while you have to localize it as well. Hence, you should avoid over-localization.
Context matters so first think about how it will sound if you give a bunch of trolls a local accent of your country while they are only speaking in a broken, non-grammatical English.
Or imagine a game that takes place in a fantasy land and the characters are drinking a special brew peculiar to that land. You should avoid replacing this drink with a very local one in your country.

3. Tricky Paths of Cultural Adaptation

The world is a big place with lots of cultures. However, when we localize a video gamewe mostly localize it from a single language that is written and prepared for a specific audience.
Hence, in your journey of games localization you’ll face so many challenges 
on this level.
a. You should think if a specific concept is applicable to your country/region. For instance, imagine that you have to localize texts about Christmas, Holiday Season, Easter etc. If these holidays are not celebrated in your country, you should find alternative ways to refer to them, because translating them directly will cause the players to disengage. If you translate “holiday” directly for an audience who don’t spend the last week of December off, they won’t understand and will even be confused when you refer to holidays.
b. If you have any concerns about content with cultural sensitivity, you should make sure to check with your contact person who sent you the project. Never guess, never assume.

What might not be a problem for you personally might create a big issue for the overall audience and as a video games professional, your end clients are always the players.

4. Vestibules of Terminology

When working on a game, terminology is of utmost importance.
You’ll notice that there are many words having similar meanings and common misunderstanding is to think that those words are interchangeable and hence provide interchangeable translations.
If you are a translator and don’t have authority to add/edit new terms to the TB, you should always check with your reviewer.
If you’re a reviewer, you should make sure if you can add new terms by checking with your client. If you cannot do it, you have to create a list and then send it to your client for confirmation.

For example, let’s take the words “skill”, “ability”, “capability”, “talent” and “mastery”. All of them can co-exist in a game but might refer to different dynamics, hence you should always make sure to use different translations for each one of them in your language. You can make sure of this only by having a reliable Term Base.

5. Realm of Special Characters

Each language is unique and hence has unique alphabets. Even if you’re using a Latin alphabet, at the beginning of the project you should check with the client if diacritics, circumflexes and other special characters are supported in the game.
Another problem is with the auto-casing method that the game developers so gladly apply all the time, but it leads to problems sometimes. The upper case version of a lower case letter might be different in your language when compared to English and this will cause typos in the final text. To avoid this issue, you can always check with your client to clarify if autocasing will be applied.

6. Gender neutrality boss

In game localization, this is a very important topic.

Imagine a game where the player will create their own character and define their gender. Aside from that the NPCs also have a gender and sometimes we cannot tell it from their names. Coming up with gender-neutral expressions is generally a big challenge in the translation from English into languages with a grammatical gender of verbs.

The default translation of generic expressions like even “player” might be in “masculine” form in gendered languages. In order to be inclusive, you need to be careful in your language and try to come up with expressions which include people from all genders.

Other than this, there’s the problem of variables. Variables can stand for nouns or proper names and they might be objects of verbs and hence inflection would be necessary. As a result, you need to apply various strategies to make the sentence sound meaningful.
The real word which will replace the variable might be in masculine or feminine form in the end. Also, there will be adjectives used with these words and the gender of the word will define the adjective to be used.

Each language comes with its challenges and hence you need to be attentive to this while working on the localization of a game, because the solutions for each language are different from one another.

7. NDA (aka Never Disclose Anything)

When you start your cooperation with a company (either an LSP or a developer/publisher) you might be required to sign an NDA. Please read this carefully because in the gaming world, NDA’s are more than just paperwork and bureaucracy.

You see, each title is considered an IP and in order to disclose that you worked in a specific title, please make sure if any of the below apply to you:
a. Have the written permission of your employer that you can disclose it publicly,
b. Your name should be in the Credits section of the game itself.

Please note that, you still cannot disclose the title directly even if they have asked your name for the Credits. To be able to disclose it publicly, the game needs to be launched and you personally should see that your name is there + take a screenshot of it for proof.
Because sometimes, the developers ask our names but in the end they decide 
not to add it to the game.
However, sometimes you’ll notice that it’s added at a later 
stage. Hence, if you want to showcase more of your work, please be attentive to this and chase the Credits more actively.

If you don’t have your name in the credits, sharing the name of the title on social media, in your CV or on any other platform might result in financial or legal repercussions.

However, you can still share the game without giving its name, only by giving some of its characteristics, such as “A very well-known RPG game set in a fantasy land, where you get to…”

8. Slang or Not Slang, That’s The Question

While you’re working in various gaming titles, you’ll come across many dialogues which are basically colloquial speech. In these dialogues, some level of slang can be used in the source text and your job here as a game localization expert is to ensure that the correct dose of slang is conveyed into your language.
Again, the languages are different and hence slangs used in each and every language will be different too.

In English, the standard slang words like “”, “s.hit” are 
sometimes lighthearted depending on the context. However, in your language this might not be the case and overall slang usage might entail a lot heavier meanings and if you directly translate those slang words into your language, you might end up with teenagers having an adventure talk like a very grumpy old man who’s cursing at everything.
So, if you also want to reach the Lv. 99 Mage level in this field, you need to first read this scroll and then start practicing some magic to be able to get there. Game localization is a tricky field with lots of details to think about and if you want to succeed, you need to be detail oriented, keen and pay a lot of attention to detail. Yet, do not fret. You will reach there with perseverance, ambition and passion!
We are sure you have liked this blogpost, and in that case, why not checking the course on videogame localization created by the renowned expert and writer of this blogpost, Ozgur Isgoren.
Thirst for more videogame translation and localization courses? Check these ones:

Game Localization in the Arabic Speaking World

Expert on Game Localization

Localizzazione videogiochi: teoria e pratica

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