Have you ever wondered why some video games have different titles depending on the country they are released in? Sometimes even characters look different and their names are spelled differently. This is because of localization, the process of adapting a product or content to a specific market.
Thus, localization goes far beyond the simple translation of words and does not involve soley the translator; it's often a ping pong game between translators, editors, marketers, and developers until they evaluate if a product is worth bringing overseas, and if so, how it can be improved for another market.
Localization applies especially to the technology field, like websites, apps, and video games.
Let's take the case of video games, for example. The first true localization processes started in the early- to mid-1990s, when video game technology started to convey complex plots and storylines with big volumes of text. Since then, localization has been an expanding field. Initially, the process of localization began after the original version of a video game was completed. The result was that the overseas versions of the same game were often released one to three months after their debut. Nowadays, when working on a new project, usually developers take localization into account so that localizers often follow every step of the development of the product starting at its conception. This way, it can be released in different countries at almost the same time.
The PlayStation version of Mass Effect 2 (Bioware, 2010), for instance, was released on January 18, 2011 in the USA and Canada, while on January 21 it was released in Europe. This means that all the localized versions were ready long before its launch in America.
The game is an action roleplaying game in which the gamer controls Commader Shepard, deciding the appearance, military background, skills, even name and gender of the character, thus influencing the whole game. What's more, by interacting with other characters, the gamer is given a series of responses that shape each conversation and, step by step, the whole plot. This is an interesting case, because not only can we reasonably wonder if the characters look the same in every localized version of the game, but we can also think about how the choices of a user from a certain country differ from those made by another user in another country. The two might easily arrive at different endings of the game.
As for the conversations we mentioned above, a localizer must also pay attention to the dialogues to make the translation match the lip movements of the characters speaking on screen and the display and layout of words of the language he/she is translating into; languages such as Italian, German, and French, for instance, require 30% more space than English. Besides that, there's the adaptation of graphics, the modification of contents, the conversion of units of measure, and the format of dates, phone numbers, and addresses to local requirements in order to suit the tastes and consumption habits of the market the product will be released into.
In other words, localization is a process of culturalization that involves the modification of games to meet the standards required by the local audience. This is the reason behind the changes we sometimes experience in video games or cartoons, especially those conceived in a faraway culture like Korea or Japan.
In this sense, localization resembles marketing translations, and marketing—which is the study of new markets and their habits and culture—plays a key role in the whole process.
For insights into marketing translations, read Promoting "Made in Italy": Don't Forget Marketing Translations!
Written by Marcella Sartore, Marketing & Communication Assistant @ Athena Parthenos