Game Localization Tips

Posted by goobliata on 2017-03-31, 9:32am
The numbers don’t lie. Game sales may be highest in the USA, but add them all up and the ‘States usually doesn’t account for half of them. So localizing your game is important. But how do you do it?

Technical Aspects

Technically speaking, I’ve tried a number of ways. First, I just wrote everything in English in scripts and code and had the lowest level text output functions convert from English strings to whatever language is being displayed by looking up the string passed in in the English translation. It works, but I moved away from it for a reason.

I had all the strings just dumped into files called English.utf8, Greek.utf8, etc. The program would load English.utf8 and use those strings as indexes, so if you changed a string in code or script and forgot to change it in the localization files to match, the index would no longer align and the end user using a translation would get untranslated strings.

Next, I moved to an ID=”value” format. When I wanted to draw text, I’d use ID (which for example would be something like TRY_AGAIN for the text “Try Again?”.) There are fewer problems with this, but it’s more work.

So with my latest game, I changed it again. This time I’m writing all strings in code with TRANSLATE(“text here”)END around them. Then I’ve written tools to substitute those automatically and write them to translation files. For example it would change them to t(100) or t(74). The number is an index into the translation file which is all generated automatically. Some text that doesn’t need to be in code, just gets dumped into individual text files. So you have one big chunk of strings from source code, and numerous small files for various purposes. To translate, you just swap which files you load (e.g., English.utf8, German.utf8…)

Common Mistakes

OK, so those are some ideas on how to localize technically, what else should you know? After localizing a few games, I’ve made some mistakes. The biggest one is, you can’t just send the text to anyone who speaks both languages and expect a good translation. There will be problems.

If you care about your games, the problems that getting any old person to do a translation results in are going to come back and bite you. You’ll need to get them fixed. And it’s more work fixing a broken translation than getting it done right to begin with. You need someone with translation experience, particularly with games, or at least someone who will pay careful attention to detail.

Another mistake I made was thinking once the translation is done, I don’t need anything from the translator again. I lost touch with many translators and then needed to change a few strings here and there and had to find other people to do it. You need to strike a deal where you can ask for small modifications as things inevitably change. Keep contact with the original translators.

Who to Hire, Then?

Look for people who specialize in localization, especially game localization. There are lots of them out there. You won’t regret it. Ask fellow game developers for referrals to good translators, and ask translators you already know to refer you to translators for other languages.

Typically a good translation is going to cost you anywhere from $0.06 to $0.10 per word which adds up really quickly, but a bad translation may be worse than none at all. But, you may get lucky and find some translators who will work for profit shares or even free that still do good work. A few of the people I’ve worked with that have worked for free or next to nothing at times include (shameless plugs):
  • Thomas Faust (Website) – German translator who worked on Crystal Picnic and Monster RPG 2. Sought me out and received very little in compensation, though I now insist on paying for new work.
  • Words of Magic (Twitter) – French translator who has helped several times with some small jobs.
  • MichaÅ‚ Tosza (Website) – Polish translator who translates games for indies – first one is free. MichaÅ‚ fixed/redid a very broken Polish translation of Monster RPG 2 (see mistakes above.)
  • Roberto Bechtlufft (Twitter) – Brazilian translator who redid the Monster RPG 2 Brazilian Portuguese translation from scratch.

If you find one of these, save their email in your address book. Translation isn’t easy and takes a lot of time, so reward your translators for their work in whatever way you can – money, shares, keys, etc.


My most localized game is my best selling game. But I regret not getting the job done right the first time. When localizing your game, take the time and effort to find good translators who have worked on games before. Be willing to pay what you can to get the job done right, and if someone works for free, make it your goal to hire them for pay when you can. Keep in contact with them so if you need small changes, you can get them done without hassles. If they agree to work for free, at least give them some keys and free advertising.


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