A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Video Game Translation

An Increasingly Global Video Game Market

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In recent years, there are few sectors that have seen such rapid global growth as the video game industry. Having already overtaken the movie and music production industries, there seems to be little chance of the video game industry halting its exponential expansion any time soon – especially as visual, graphics, computing and communications technologies, through which the video gaming industry is facilitated, continue to develop at pace. With the video game industry expected to reach a value of around $100 billion by 2020, with close to three billion gamers worldwide, effective video game translation services are an invaluable tool for reaching the fringes of an ever-expanding international market.

The largest video game developers are based in the USA, Japan, China and the UK. However, being an increasingly international industry, games are developed, released and played worldwide. Studies suggest that a game released exclusively in English will reach only 27% of the global market. Meanwhile, with China alone responsible for more than 40% of global video gaming marketplace revenue, translation is vitally important for appealing to a wider audience. Video game sales in the Asia Pacific region made up more than $51 billion worth of worldwide gaming revenue in 2017 – a market that would be largely missed without effective translation.

Effective Video Game Translation

As the extent of the video game market suggests, games are enjoyed by a diverse range of players, covering almost all nationalities and age groups. In order for so many people to enjoy a game, they have to be able to understand it. Nor is it just the game itself that requires translation.

A number of things need translation in order for a video game to be effectively sold in other countries: packaging, user manuals, tutorials and hardware/software specifications, in addition to the in-game dialogue, menus and subtitles. The more languages a video game is effectively translated into, the broader its available audience becomes. This improves the general reception and perception of the game, as well as the accessibility to the player base. This can often result in higher ratings.

With some modern video games including as much as content as 40 novels, the accuracy of translation work has become increasingly important. Where game developers have created immersive fantasy universes – inventing new and unique words, races and species – it is important for translators to have an extensive understanding of the content they are translating, in order to ensure it maintains its meaning for the intended audience. This is particularly the case where players have strong emotional investments in their favourite fantasy universes, some of them spanning multiple decades.

The Impact of Video Game Mistranslation

Mistranslation of video game content can spoil the immersion experience. This negatively influences the player’s enjoyment of the game. Poorly translated lines from the 1992 English MegaDrive port of 16-bit arcade shooter Zero Wing – such as “somebody set up us the bomb” and “all your base are belong to us” – have been memorialized in internet meme history as perfect examples of video game translation failures.

While we now look back on these poor translations fondly, modern-day translation mistakes are somewhat harder to forgive, given the much larger budgets that gaming companies have at their disposal.

The Importance of Localization

As necessary as translation is for the sale of games worldwide, translation alone may not be enough. As the differences between countries are wider reaching than language alone, Localization services can be essential in ensuring a game is effectively marketable in other countries.

Video game Localization is a process that can extend far beyond just the translation of text within a game. Localization is far more involved. It aims to ensure an immersive and enjoyable experience for the end-user by taking into consideration specific cultural contexts, while still being true to the original source of the game.

In order to better align with the relevant cultural and legal sensibilities of the new market, a range of steps may be taken: art assets may be altered; content may be removed or replaced; and dialogue may be edited in order to appeal more to an international audience.

This process removes any confusion that a player could encounter as a result of a literal translation of source material. Idioms, for example, may well not make sense in other languages if translated literally. Many sources suggest that a consumer is as much as five times more likely to purchase a video game if it the relevant video game translation and Localization processes have been carried out.

A perfect example of such Localization and translation can be seen in the USA release of the classic Japanese arcade game Pac-Man. Originally named “Puck-Man” in its native Japan due to the shape of the protagonist, the name was altered for its release into an English-speaking audience due to fears that the name may be vandalized into profanity on its arcade machines.

Effective use of translation and Localization services allows game developers to maximize their availability to the market and their audiences, irrespective of language and culture barriers that may otherwise restrict the sales of their games. All of this goes on behind the scenes, with players around the world benefiting as a result.


Louise Taylor is a professional writer with a wide range of linguistic interests. She writes for Tomedes, a translation and Localization company that provides certified translation services for clients around the globe.


Post Author: martin

Martin is an enthusiastic programmer, a webdeveloper and a young entrepreneur. He is intereted into computers for a long time. In the age of 10 he has programmed his first website and since then he has been working on web technologies until now. He is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of BriefNews.eu and PCHealthBoost.info Online Magazines. His colleagues appreciate him as a passionate workhorse, a fan of new technologies, an eternal optimist and a dreamer, but especially the soul of the team for whom he can do anything in the world.

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