Translation, localisation and language in the gaming industry

With the recent and immediate success of the latest Pokémon game published by The Pokémon Company on Thursday 14 July 2016, we thought it would be interesting to contemplate the link between the virtual world of gaming and the real world of translation and language learning.

Taking this latest release as an example, the menu the user is presented with upon accessing the Pokémon Go homepage provides a selection of 15 regions; offering a variety of 8 languages before even accessing the main content. There are of course many other games, and games consoles, on the market that have various language settings, and much information available outside the game in the relevant languages.

One thing that will have certainly taken a lot of thought and consideration will have been how many and exactly which languages to translate the game and its related content into. Gaming is a huge industry and each year releases thousands of new products to markets worldwide. Many gamers take the language settings for granted as, thanks to the ever developing technology, more and more products are being rendered into different versions to provide the ultimate entertainment experience.

Although the size and revenue of the gaming industry are incredibly extensive, and gamers are extremely familiar with its products, the translation and localisation aspect within the industry is less well known amongst players. However, game developers are very aware of just how important the aforesaid processes are and how much profit international sales make with claims that “almost 50% of their revenues [are] from international sales.“[1]

As a consequence of the developers’ awareness of the translation and localisation changes and of how many changes need to be made, they “allow for special and extended characters, and for the conversion from languages which use double-byte character encoding, such as Japanese, to single-byte characters, such as English.”[2] Many translators know that the space the rendered text occupies is very likely to change, even between languages that require “double-byte character encoding”, for example: “when translating from English into Romance languages, text boxes should be designed so that they will be expandable, as Romance languages usually take up more space than English”.[3]

The main aim when working on the localisation process of a game, as is with many other texts, is to ensure the audience of the target text are unaware that what they are reading is a translation. In gaming, localisation should allow any player who changes the language settings to a different language from the original, to “experience the game as if it were an original game designed for them.[4]

Similar to other translation processes, the work on video games can either be carried out internally or outsourced, with advantages and disadvantages to both options.

Many companies, especially “the bigger Japanese developers, such as Nintendo or Square-Enix” opt to carry out the localisation of their games internally. This means that “the company that develops the game […] is also in charge of the localisation” and as a consequence it is less likely that there will be errors relating to context.[5]

One aspect of outsourcing the process is that, as it is carried out in a different place to where the game itself is being created and by a different team of people to the ones directly involved in the game-development process, “the possibility of committing errors is quite high” as the translators are not given the full game, just isolated text. This means that particular care and close collaboration and interaction with the game developers is critical. Also, this option does mean translators can “start the localisation process before the game is finished, and have it ready at the same time the original version is finished”.[6] This offers huge benefits for the game developers, as all versions of the game can be completed and released at the same time, so different markets do not have to wait, marketing content can be distributed simultaneously and the whole process will run more smoothly; facilitating a greater market impact and profit at international level.


Hevian, Carmen Mangiro, ‘VIDEO GAMES LOCALISATION: POSING NEW CHALLENGES TO THE TRANSLATOR’, Perspectives, iv, 14 (2007), 306–323

[1] Carmen Mangiro Hevian, ‘VIDEO GAMES LOCALISATION: POSING NEW CHALLENGES TO THE TRANSLATOR’, Perspectives, iv 14 (2007), 308

[2] Mangiro, iv 14, p. 308

[3] Mangiro, iv 14, p. 308

[4] Mangiro, iv 14, p. 309

[5] Mangiro, iv 14, p. 310

[6] Mangiro, iv 14, p. 310

Image created by Sadie Hernandez

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