Employing software localization services can help video game publishers and developers achieve significant returns by releasing content simultaneously in multiple languages. By leveraging the investments made in creative, engineering and gameplay mechanics to create compelling and engaging games, quality translation services can help create truly native, immersive gameplay experiences for players around the world. Over the last decade, we have seen localization for video games continuously expand into new regions, and most recently there has been a significant increase in demand for localization and testing for Southeast Asia (SEA) regions.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and the Philippines are the six biggest countries for gaming in Southeast Asia — a region which is forecasted at 8.5% compound annual growth between 2022 and 2027.
Our team has also noticed that more and more big players in the industry are looking to meet growing demand for quality video games in Southeast Asia. In December 2021, Nintendo launched a new website and store for Thailand to facilitate access and purchasing for hardware and software. In addition to the existing store for Singapore, this marked the second Nintendo store in the region.
This increase in player base and accessibility means developers and publishers are interested in localizing their games into additional languages to reach new audiences in Southeast Asia.
Of course, with a new market comes new challenges.
For a western developer, there are significant cultural differences with SEA countries to contend with, while it is also important to consider that there are massive cultural differences between SEA countries themselves. With different cultures come different references and experiences that the players bring in. Character backstories that western audiences can relate to will not necessarily have the same impact in SEA. This can make the initial translation challenging.
Importance of localization
While in other regions, it is possible to utilize a lot of English terminology, the option for this varies drastically throughout SEA. Some countries score higher on the English Proficiency Index than others, so in order to reach and retain the player base, the importance of strong localization is significant.
As an aside, there are examples of games that do well with limited localization in the region — the most successful of which is Pokémon Go. But this is based on strong familiarity with the source material, intuitive controls, and significant coverage in the media around the release, as well as less overall text in game. Due to that, games like Pokémon Go should really be seen as an exception to the rule.
Besides the more commonplace considerations, we will look at a few examples of specific challenges based on local language structure and culture.
Though Malaysian is the official language of Malaysia, there are significant populations that speak other languages — first among them Malaysian Chinese. In cases such as this, it is a great idea to consider localization into multiple languages for a region to reach a wider audience. For accessibility in Malaysia, our team works with games that include both “Malaysian” and “Malaysian Chinese” (which would be based on a core of Simplified Chinese with regional adjustments and terminology changes).
To go a step further, Singapore has four official languages — English, Malaysian, Chinese, and Tamil.
Vietnamese is a great example of how languages which contain unique characters can often be displayed incorrectly. As a tonal language, Vietnamese features five or six different tones, depending on the dialect of choice. In text, this means a Vietnamese character can be made up of the letter glyph plus up to two accents.
In cases where both accents are stacked above the letter, especially when upper case, the display commonly pushes the accents in such a way that they overlap with the descenders or letters in the row above.
A second, common issue is with line breaks. As all phonemes (small units of speech distinguishing one word or element from another) are separated by a space, even if they are part of the same word, the engine in-game will line break in the middle of words, making for a poor reading experience.
We address this during the localization QA phase by manually adding forced line breaks where suitable, or non-breaking spaces when spaces are used in a word. This can even be done in advance during the localization stage to minimize later problems.
The Thai language utilizes a completely different set of characters and letters from the Latin script — the Thai script. In our experience, initial implementation of the localized text and the corresponding font support can be a major challenge.
At its core, the Thai script includes characters that are made up of up to three elements. A consonant can have a vowel and an accent attached in different spaces. These are individual elements of the character and script, often leading to problems with implementation such as missing, misaligned, or overlapping accents and diacritics.
For example, incorrect line breaks are an issue because the Thai script does not use spaces between words, only at the end of sentences or in cases where you might utilize a comma in English. Due to this lack of spaces, most engines cannot recognize when line breaks can be added and will auto-break the line whenever it reaches the end of the text field. This leads to line breaks in the middle of words, which is very problematic and at that point needs to be addressed manually after implementation.
In conclusion, the Southeast Asian gaming communities have been growing at a rapid rate, which is creating new and exciting opportunities for games to branch out into new regions. As with other languages that are challenging to implement, the best advice is to plan ahead. A solid plan allows for tweaks in the engine and UI design as well as proper translation, which later saves the game from a whole host of issues.
All audiences deserve the same gaming experience, and with a bit of preparation and due diligence, a lot of the potential pitfalls can be safely navigated to ensure you fly the flag for your Southeast Asian audience.
–Tobias Roeper is an LQA manager at Keywords Studios