The Top 8 Languages to Choose for Game Localization

1 : The Traps of Game Localization
2 : Localization Language Ranking 
3 : Conclusion

1 : The Traps of Game Localization

(Comment from the author: This article was written with a Japanese reader in mind, but we translated it as it might be of general interest).

Most game companies nowadays believe that releasing overseas is necessary to guarantee good sales.

Mobile is of course, an exception: Japanese companies making mobile games realize the difficulty of being competitive in a foreign market, and typically only sell them in Japanese.

However, when it comes to console games, it is, to speak plainly, a complete waste not to localize them. I’m sure it’s obvious, but the foreign market is always  much, much larger than the domestic. 

Take for example games for the PC, Switch, and PlayStation. No matter where your company is based in, at least 50% of the market is outside your country, so as a publisher, ignoring that is losing a lot of potential success. 

The global market has, compared to the more mature markets such as America or Japan, plenty of room for growth, and could even be called underdeveloped. If you are not venturing outwards, it’s probably because of the cost.

So companies hit these two problems:

1. What languages should we release into?

2. What languages should we localize into? 

There are companies that offer localization for multiple languages at the same time for smaller games, or localization for ten languages in one go if the word count is low.

But what if the game is of the genre that reigns King in Japan: the RPG?

Something like this, which might have a word count of 1,000,000, or even double that, will cost a tremendous amount of money and labor to localize into multiple languages. As such, it’s much better to pinpoint the locales that should take precedence.

Companies with some history behind them, and companies capable of market research, might be able to judge which markets are best to venture into. But companies with portfolios that are still slim, and those unable to do their own research, might choose languages based on what seems sensible. For example, they might hear RPGs are popular in Germany, so they’ll localize into German.

While RPGs might be popular in Germany, those Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy-level RPGs. They’re not popular because they’re RPGs, they’re popular because they’re masterpieces.

Our company has been in the localization industry for twelve years, and that experience has helped us become aware of different traps we want people to avoid.

Here’s an example.

Localization companies with the resources to handle FIGS (French, Italian, German, and Spanish) will, of course, tell you to release in Europe. They might even recommend splitting up the Spanish into South American Spanish and Spain Spanish. This is just because it’s convenient for that particular company, and they have the staff on hand to do it. This is a trap.

As AGM is a company that not only localizes games, but also releases them, we can say that first it’s best to think about:

What languages will continue to grow from here?

Is there a point localizing into this language?

Rather than defaulting to what’s convenient for the vendor.

To help you choose the locales that are right for your game, and avoid being misled by localization companies, I’m going to introduce the top 8 languages to localize into, ranked from most to least important.

2 : Localization Language Ranking 

  1. English
  2. Chinese (Simplified)
  3. Chinese (Traditional) and Russian
  4. Korean, German, French
  5. Brazilian Portuguese, Turkish
  6. Southeast Asian Languages 
  7. Italian, Spanish 
  8. Hindi

1. English

A diamond on a dunghill is still a diamond. A bigger argument is that by focusing on English, you’re technically covering some of the FIGS market. Many Germans, for example, are also fluent in English.

But here’s the problem with that. Is it necessary to localize into both American English and European English?

I don’t think it is. And, I think you should definitely localize into American English.

There will be things you’ll need to adjust for Europe. For example, games on the PlayStation or switch will need to have WIFI usage instructions, etc, adapted to sell in the UK.

But the game will basically be fine with American English. In fact, there are a lot of Japanese RPGs and other games that try and shove in a bunch of clichéd British English, and end up making everything sound extremely unnatural. 

Think of it this way.

Are novels written in American English edited for the UK? 

Are Hollywood movies dubbed into British or Australian English?

No. And that’s how games should be, too.

2. Chinese (Simplified)

There is a scary amount of potential in Chinese.

PC and console games in the Chinese market are only going to grow from here. It’s the only market where your sales can be tripled without even trying.

Take for instance the fact that there are over 30,000,000 users on Steam in China alone. That’s 30 times the number of users in Japan, 1,000,000. 

The Chinese market will keep getting bigger, so it is a definite must.

AGM, too, is in the midst of trying to break into the Chinese market. 

*I have a separate article about how to choose the best localization vendors:

Related article: 5 Rules of Localization

3. Chinese (Traditional) and Russian

Two languages hold third place.

The first is the traditional Chinese used not on Mainland China, but in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macao, etc.

The second language is just as important as the first: Russian. The purchasing power of consumers is increasing as the market for Russian language grows.

Here are two important reasons for that:

1. I wrote above that Germans can play games in English too, but in Russia, there are many people who won’t play a game unless it’s been localized.

2. The amount of games localized into Russian is still small, so the blue ocean strategy is applicable.

4. Korean, German, French

The following markets are not worth risking when you’re starting from scratch. However, there are a lot of people in Korea, Germany and France that “understand games,” so they will buy games already highly rated in Japan.

So if you’re confident, increase your reputation, and localize once the game has already gotten some traction, you’ll see some pretty nice sales in these locales.

5. Brazilian Portuguese and Turkish

This is practically a trade secret. If your game is for the PC or PlayStation, “certain genres” can really sell in these languages. 

If you’re translating into Spanish and Italian, there’s plenty of worth translating into Brazilian Portuguese and Turkish instead.

6. Southeast Asian Languages

I believe Southeast Asia will only grow in strength from here on out, but right now expensive games simply don’t sell in these countries. But when things do get big there they get very big, so Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese could end up around where Spanish is in 5th place in the future.

7. Spanish and Italian

These two locales are the quintessential “red ocean,” so I recommend only localizing into these languages if the word count is on the smaller side.

However, once you’ve localized into Spanish you can target the large South American market, so if you’d like to try these languages, start with Spanish.

8. Hindi

Despite the large number of people who speak this language, the purchasing power is low. In five years they probably still won’t be in the top 5.

3 : Conclusion

When it comes down to it, language localization is not just decided by how many people use a language, or how many people live in an area, but the probability of them buying, and their purchasing power.

Ascertaining whether they are willing to buy or not is important. We at AGM have made mistakes as publishers, and come to fully grasp the reality of each market. 

I’ll publish the finer details regarding each language in a separate article, but for now what I’ll say is that when my company releases games we go through the line of thought presented here to decide the order we localize in.

I hope you find it useful.

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