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A guide to localisation in live-ops games

Fundamentally Games' Heather Pan explains the steps to adapting a live-ops game for a global audience

Congratulations! You have managed to launch your game and it’s on a stable and steady live-ops schedule.

The game’s retention rate is doing well and it’s earning a decent revenue, you might now be thinking about scaling your game, of which one of the options is to offer it to a wider audience in different regions.

Aside from expanding your marketing efforts there is another option to make your game more accessible to the new audience: localisation.

Here are some things to consider when preparing for your first localisation journey. The points below are not exhaustive and represent general guidelines for live-ops games, there might be additional steps for other types of games, but the guidelines should still be applicable.

Preparing for localisation

- Plan which market to target and the languages required, and set a budget

As with all parts of the project it’s important to determine which markets are suitable targets for localisation. Certain game genres do better in certain markets, and coupled with performance results gathered from tests that you have (hopefully) done earlier with the game, these will help you pinpoint the markets you want to target for best results.

It’s important to determine which markets are suitable targets for localisation

Localisation costs can add up, so set a budget to keep spending in control.

- Sort out all assets that require localisation

Once you have determined the markets and budget it’s time to prepare everything you want to localise. This includes all types of text, images, UI, video and audio. You might need to also look into ways of extracting these files from the code into formats that are suitable to be used in a translation tool (more on that later) and how those files can be put back into the game easily.

Depending on your budget and tech limitations this is also the point where you determine the amount of localisation to be done or find alternatives (e.g. subtitles for a video cutscene instead of having the entire video dubbed in other languages).

- Create a localisation kit

Now that you have the files for localisation prepared it’s time to put together a depository of everything useful for the translators. This will include background information (lore of your game, brand bible, guidelines, target audience) and other useful information (UI flow, glossary of common terms, instructions of the files including software and hardware requirements that the translators will receive, testing environment for the translators to preview their output in the actual game setting, expectations of localisation usage and deliverables).

The more comprehensive the localisation kit the better as it will allow the translators to review and flag any risks early in the process while preparing for the actual localisation work. A good localisation kit should allow the translators to work independently with minimal assistance from the engineers.

- Hire a manager who has some experience with games localisation

A localisation project manager will be the key to the success of your localisation endeavours. This person will be in charge of setting up and managing the localisation processes, managing multiple files of various media types and languages, sourcing translation resources and ensuring quality control of the deliverables.

Fundamentally Games' Heather Pan

They will also be the first to spot any potential problems with the localisation process and flag them before they pose a bigger risk to the entire project. They should also have good knowledge of translation tools to facilitate the localisation process (e.g. files to be localised can be populated with repetitions before sending off to translators, you can also run a simple QA smoke test to capture any potential errors before and after proofreading) and be keeping an eye on the costs to ensure that the localisation project stays within the allocated budget.

Localisation can be a very niche and surprisingly technical specialisation. If your team is small and does not have the budget to hire a specialised project manager, it is still possible to get another meticulous team member to take on the task.

This person will need to devote quite a bit of their time in learning about localisation and will not have the capacity to handle multiple languages at once, but this arrangement should still allow your game to gradually be updated with new languages.

You can also consider hiring the position on a contract basis, hopefully by the time their contract ends you will have enough budget to bring on the project manager full time as they would have accumulated valuable experience working on your game and is now part of your core team.

- Prepare for community engagement in the localised languages

Depending on your budget you might be considering whether to hire in-house translators or outsource the job to an external localisation company.

As the game evolves it’s important to maintain a glossary of terms and tonality used for the localisation

It makes sense to outsource the localisation to an external company due to the potential large volume of work, though for long term sustainability it is worthwhile to have at least one in-house translator for each major target market that your game will be localised for.

These in-house translators will be working full time on your game, which makes them more in-tune with the tonality of the game’s marketing efforts and community sentiments. They will also be able to assist in any localisation efforts on the marketing and community front plus double as proof-readers for the deliverables from an external localisation company to ensure consistent, high quality and adequate localisation for the game.

As your game’s audience grows to include more markets it is important to separate the community management from the roles of your in-house translators by expanding your team of community managers to include members who understand the localised languages to focus on community feedback.

Localisation as part of live-ops process

- Consistency in localisation in live ops

As the game evolves it’s important to maintain a glossary of terms and tonality used for the localisation. New events or features will introduce new translations that should be added to your localisation library for future reference.

It will facilitate new members' onboarding and ensure that players are always clear on what exactly the game is referring to. Inconsistent terms used will lead to confusion and possible disputes so they should be avoided.

- In-app purchases localisation

If you are offering monetisation in the new markets where localisation is provided you should review the cost and currency to make sure that they are updated accordingly. Due to taxes and regulations certain in-app purchases might be priced differently across different regions but the content of them should be exactly the same.

Unless you are offering a special promo for certain regions take special care to avoid different advertising and IAPs across different regions.

- Update the production pipeline to support addition load from localisation

As you are catching up with the backlog of localising all the existing content your game has to offer, you will also need to look at how to include the localisation process so that it becomes part of your production roadmap.

Make sure that you make all the materials to be localised available earlier so that your team of in-house translators or an external company have enough time to complete the work.

Do not make the mistake of assuming that localisation can happen quickly

Should there be a time where localisation can’t be finished in time for release, there is always the option of using English (or your default language) and making the update later once localisation is ready.

This article has covered localisation as an afterthought: planned and implemented after the game has been live for a certain period of time. There is also the option of providing localisation simultaneously at release, which will be similar to the above process, except that the localisation process will need to be started during the development stage and included as part of the live-ops process before the game is released.

Do not make the mistake of assuming that localisation can happen quickly and efficiently with no issues once the game is done with the majority of development; preparing for localisation at an earlier stage will help your team deliver quality translations to your new players.

Heather Pan has worked in localization project management since 2011, and is currently a game producer at Fundamentally Games. She previously worked at Gumi Asia, spending three years as an associate producer working on the LiveOps for Final Fantasy Brave Exvius.