The current market
Video game localisation is a service that is increasing in demand and quality as a result of globalisation within the gaming industry. Phrase writes that the global video game market is expected to grow to a whopping $321B in 2026 — with the top game markets being China, the United States and Japan.
Issues of equivalence
As video games are interactive, multi-media experiences, combining text with video, audio and graphics, localisation requires more than simple text transfer.
Below we have outlined a few real-life examples of game localisation and the way translators must apply linguistics concepts to gameplay strategy:
Localising to aid user’s understanding of gameplay
Tutorials and menus inform a player how to approach a game. There is a fine line for translators to follow to ensure players understand the settings, boundaries and controls of a game, while still retaining an element of freedom so that the user can choose to approach the game how they see fit. As Thayer and Kolko (2004) write, ‘what constitutes as “sufficiently vague” for a digital game tutorial can vary depending on culture’ (p.9).
For example, the notorious Japanese game series ‘Dark Souls’, created by Hidetaka Miyazaki, contains a feature where players can leave messages to other players around the world. To avoid giving away too many clues, players must pick their messages following a predetermined template of words and phrases. To utilise this feature worldwide, these predetermined template options had to be localised.
You can find a glossary to Dark Soul’s predetermined template options at: https://darksouls.fandom.com/wiki/Messages#Orientation
Through localisation, the game can provide this gameplay feature across languages. In this example, it aids the mission to provide players with useful but sufficiently vague instructions and boosts player interaction.
Localising to continue game narratives
Translators must closely follow the game’s constructed storyline or vision in order to situate the text, which could involve linguistic decision-making based on a character’s profile. This is especially relevant if that character’s personality traits majorly contribute to a game’s narrative. For example, the demeanour of the protagonist ‘Connor’ in the choice-based game ‘Detroit Become Human’, had to be carried across cross-culturally as this is a motivating factor to the narrative. You can get a feel for how Connor’s personality is carried through different languages in the following YouTube clip: