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Localization Strategyfor Emerging MarketsHow many languages does your game need to succeed?
Video games are a global phenomenon, so it seems obvious to conclude that the more languages your game offers, the more business it will do. But how do you identify which emerging markets are worth the investment of your time and money? And once you've decided which languages to offer, what's your game localization strategy for that market?Most video games are translated into other languages from English, Japanese, and, increasingly, Chinese. But it may surprise you to learn that English itself ranks only third on the list of most widely spoken languages, globally. Mandarin is number one, with Spanish in second place, followed by Arabic in fourth and Hindi/Urdu in fifth. Clearly, there are opportunities there, but do these markets play video games?On the other side of the issue, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Slovenia, Estonia, Luxembourg, and Poland are the countries with the highest English proficiency index... but do their citizens play games?
Research services like Newzoo and Player Research analyze the video games market. Such services can help you determine which countries emergent video game-playing populace might offer the best ROI for your localization strategy. Take a close look at which gaming platforms are popular in your potential market. Not every country has embraced PC and console games–many new gamers began on smartphones, as is the case in India, where the prohibitive costs of consoles mean smartphones rule the gaming landscape. It's worth the time to research which platforms gained popularity in regions that now bear a diverse gaming population and model your localization strategy after that history. How did gamers move from one platform to another? What were the factors that led to widespread adoption? Perhaps lightning can strike twice if the conditions are similar between markets. Genre is another important consideration for expansion into a new market. What kinds of games does that region tend to enjoy? If they like first-person shooters, maybe your role-playing game won’t take root there. What's the socioeconomic diversity of your target market? This can be very important to understand when scoping out an area for growth. One aspect of this is deciding pricing for your game, but more important for your localization strategy, the rise of the Freemium and microtransaction models allow gamers of all economic statuses to get in on the action. This has the added benefit of feeding a desire for richer gaming experiences, which tend to offer a higher ROI. Research the download and revenue rates for the existing games in that market to check for fit. Finally, do your competitors have an established foothold in the emerging market? There's nothing wrong with seeing what other businesses have done and learning from their mistakes and successes. Did they choose full translation over partial localization? Did they forego localizing the voiceover in favor of captions? These insights can be key in determining your localization strategy for market penetration.
Once you've decided to enter a new market, the first step is always a thorough understanding of the local culture, which includes social norms, taboos, and religious customs. Sometimes the game in question has a story so thoroughly outside the target culture that localization is more work than it’s worth, but these cases are few and far between. Only partner with a game localization services provider who has access to a local expert to ensure no cultural gaffes or mistakes. A key element in your localization strategy for emerging markets is to work with the local government to comply with any regulatory laws that might govern what kind of monetization is allowed in your game. Some countries, like China, have more restrictive practices that can significantly affect your strategy. Does your title have in-game currency for items? Do you want to run ads instead? It’s vital to know this ahead of time to avoid complications down the line. Before your game is released to market, consider working with local influencers to get the word out. Streaming services like Twitch and YouTube have gamers who might be willing to provide their audiences early looks at gameplay, which can spread positive word-of-mouth even before any official promotion goes live. Streamers are often considered to be authentic gamer voices, rather than corporate mouthpieces, so partnering with them can help boost your social engagement. Some game platforms feature pre-release initiatives, like Steam's Early Access for PC titles. This offers gamers the opportunity to try an in-development game and relate feedback to the team that could shape its eventual release form. This is not without its risks, however, as there have been many such games released in unfinished and buggy states, causing strong negative feedback from the community. It’s important to clearly communicate what’s in the offered game build, to allay any such sentiment before it occurs.
Launching into an emerging market can be rewarding on multiple levels, but it must be considered with caution. Ensure that you understand who your target market is before starting out. Partner with local experts who can help you navigate the new foreign space. Continuously collect feedback from the potential audience at every turn. If done properly, you won’t just be expanding your reach, but also helping spur interest in future releases and developing a nascent market into a potential gold mine.