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Mobile Game Localization: A 3-Step Guide for Publishers

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Expanding your mobile game’s audience can lead to new revenue opportunities — if you nail the localization process.

There’s no easy way to localize a video game. Because of the interactive and technological nature of games, the localization process is often more complicated than in other mediums. More than just language translation, game publishers have a number of factors to consider when publishing in new markets, and that’s especially true for mobile publishers. If you’re ready to embark on your own localization journey and release your mobile game in new markets, these steps will put you on the path to success.

What is mobile game localization?

Localization refers to the process of preparing a video game for release in a different country or region than where it was originally developed. Obviously, localization encompasses mobile game language translation, but there are other factors to consider as well:

  • Will cultural references be understandable and relatable in other countries?
  • Are there elements that could be offensive in other languages or cultures?
  • Does the game have the infrastructure to support language nuances, like different characters or reading right to left instead of left to right?
  • Are any parts of the game too specific to its country of origin?

While many of the challenges of the process are universal across platforms, mobile game localization also varies in a few significant ways. Mobile publishers need to consider things like device penetration, popularity of different mobile genres, monetization aspects, and other things specific to their platform of choice. When releasing mobile games in new regions, publishers need to adopt a mobile-first approach to localization.

Step 1: Determine where to localize

It’s probably not surprising that determining where to release your mobile game is the first step in any mobile game localization strategy. That said, this step is easier on paper than in practice. A mobile publisher’s first instinct is to release in as many countries as possible to maximize global revenue, but only the biggest companies have the ability to scale so dramatically. In many cases, mobile publishers need to be more thoughtful about their expansion.

When localizing, game publishers usually start with countries where the gaming industry is thriving. However, mobile publishers should focus on smartphone penetration on a country-by-country basis. There’s some crossover here — China is the country with the highest number of smartphone users and largest game revenues, for example — but mobile publishers should consider device usage first.

Another thing for mobile publishers to think about is which mobile platforms to support. Once again, the ideal option isn’t always the most economically realistic one, so releasing on both iOS and Android simultaneously might not be viable. In many countries, iOS is the dominant mobile operating system, but there are some regions where Samsung devices are more popular (Latin America being just one example). If your mobile game is already restricted to a single OS, this is an especially important step in determining where to expand.

Finally, research how popular your genre of mobile game is in the markets you’re considering. In the United States, mobile gamers favor MMO strategy games, match-3 puzzlers, and casino slots apps, but that’s not the case everywhere. If your localization efforts are limited, this step can help you hone in on the countries where you’re most likely to succeed.

Step 2: Assemble a translation team

Once you know where you’ll be localizing your mobile game, it’s time to start working on translation. Whether you have the budget for a single translator or a gaggle of linguistic experts, you’ll want a team that understands the nuances of video game localization, not just someone who speaks the desired language. Games are an interactive medium, which makes translating challenging; there are often multiple dialogue choices, branching questlines, and various outcomes to consider, all of which need to make sense contextually.

It’s critical for mobile publishers to understand that translation doesn’t just refer to changing text and voiceover from one language to another. One of the most important aspects of the translation process is culturalization, or making sure every element of the game means what it’s supposed to outside of its native region while making the concepts relatable to foreign audiences.

In an interview with VentureBeat, Jenny Taran, Head of Growth at Activision, discussed localizing the mobile version of the hit Call of Duty franchise. “For Call of Duty: Mobile, international expansion means not just to localize but to culturalize; only if the game and marketing feel locally relevant and engaging will we connect with audiences globally,” she said.

Lion Studios’ Katja Llach echoed this sentiment: “Deeper cultural localization can yield more meaningful performance lifts than simple copy/text translations. Gaining insights into what’s trending or popular in a specific country and finding ways to incorporate that into creatives (or even games) can yield significant performance lifts.”

In short, the right translation partners can mean the difference between international success and ending up in the Bad Game Translation Hall of Fame. Work with translators to modify creative assets as needed, and make sure your mobile game’s infrastructure can support these changes.

Step 3: Adapt your monetization strategy

One of the biggest differences between mobile games and those on more traditional platforms is how publishers earn revenue. While the lines between static game and live service are becoming increasingly blurry across the board, mobile games are in a league of their own when it comes to monetization. Many of the world’s top-grossing mobile games are free-to-play titles supported by in-app purchases, ad revenue, or both.

So what does this have to do with localization? Well, just as no two languages or cultures are exactly the same, currency values vary from region to region. This value can be impacted by economic factors and global events, so it’s not enough for publishers to simply convert in-app purchase prices from one currency to another. As Wooga’s former Product Lead Patrick McGrath put it, “Just look at Brazil — an in-app purchase that cost the equivalent of $1 a few years ago now costs the equivalent of $6, and that value proposition isn’t good. Realistically, you’re not going to sell anything that way.”

Unfortunately for mobile publishers, monetization can be one of the most difficult parts of localization. It involves every aspect of the process — language, culture, and technology — while also requiring a great deal of insights into local economies . On the other hand, not localizing means missing out on growth and revenue opportunities; McGrath told wappier that “The days of relying on just the United States are long gone, and being a top game in the US isn’t enough anymore.”

That said, you don’t have to make this journey on your own. At wappier, we help mobile publishers localize in-app purchases on a per-country basis with Predictive Econometric Models that analyze macroeconomic, microeconomic, device, and game data. Combining this data with a multi-variate testing framework allows us to determine the most effective monetization strategy for each region and optimize IAP pricing on a per-country basis. Want to know more about our Global Pricing solution? Let’s talk!