Game localization is very important in the video game industry and has played a key role in the incredible growth of the video game industry. It has allowed the industry to sell their games in every country worldwide and enabled enjoyment of those games by thousands if not millions of people. It has made the video game industry a very lucrative business. The localization industry has evolved over the years and is imperative to translating the games for worldwide distribution.
Localizing games goes as far back as “Pac-Man” which was first developed in Japan. After its success in Japan, there were a lot of changes made prior to its introduction to the United States, making the game a fair amount different than the Japanese version of Pac-Man. The industry is still improving year by year. Over the decades, localization has played an important role in the lucrative business of video games. Localization has overcome many challenges, and many adjustments took place in the programming and management of video games to enable a product which was designed for local use to be tailored and designed to be sold anywhere in the world.
Video games were born in the early 1970’s, and the United States was the first country to design arcade games. When this took off, they quickly grabbed the market in home entertainment; thus the start of a variety of console and computer games began. The Japanese were next in realizing the potential of the market and used their creative minds to develop games for arcades to be sold in the United States. Unfortunately at this stage, localization was not thought of, and most games were sold in English no matter which country they were used in. The games were very simple and did not use a lot of text, thus there was very little to understand, and players were able to play with ease.
The 1980’s was the era when the gaming industry was firmly established. This was when home consoles started to appear everywhere with Sega consoles, and the handheld market took off with the Nintendo Game Boy. One of the most popular games, Super Mario Bros, was created and spread throughout the World. The game had instructions and was packaged in Dutch, German, French, Spanish and Italian, though some in game text itself was still in English. The level of translation was referred to as “Box and Docs”, the game console with basic instructions. Translating the documents and packaging was by then becoming a standard practice. Many publishers realized that an investment such as this would increase revenues by making the product more accessible for foreign markets. An acronym was born, E-FIGS, which stands for English, French, Italian, German and Spanish, representing the minimum group of languages that a game can be translated into and is still used today in the gaming industry.
In the 1990’s, the European Market started to take shape. This decade showed a shift in translation from the old “Box and Docs” to a new transition called “partial localization” for most of the titles. The main difference with “partial localization” was that the user interfaces were translated and thus subtitles were introduced. This was a great addition as non-English speaking gamers did not have to rely purely on the manuals. This change also aided the impaired, deaf or hard of hearing population, as the subtitles allowed them to easily play the games. Thus games became even more enjoyable to a wider variety of players worldwide.
Gamers responded favorably, but they wanted an even more seamless way to enjoy the games. Hence voice over recordings, which by far is the most expensive part of localization, were born out of a necessity to captivate and keep players interested. Adding the voice over recordings to the game is known as “full localization” and is the standard practice in the gaming industry today.
In the 2000’s, it was realized that the best way to grab the market was to ship a game alongside its localized versions in different languages rather than localizing a game after releasing the original version. Thus the sim-ship model (simultaneous shipment) was designed, viz. releasing all language versions of a game at the same time, which also limited grey imports and reduced piracy. It was the start of interactive online gaming.