The Problems and Profit of Video Game Localisation
The video games industry is a huge market when it comes to localisation, and like many industries it has a scope that goes beyond the western market. When videos games are mentioned western triple A titles such as Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Halo are usually what comes to mind, but these games just scratch the surface of the industry. 50% of videogames are created and sold in Japan; that’s 50% of a multi-billion-dollar industry. This 50% of games are also in Japanese and in need of translation and localisation for the global market. Translation is an obvious step for reaching a global market but video game localisation is so much more important. This is for a couple of reasons.
A Different Cultural Context
One of these reasons is that every country has a different cultural context. Some phrases and actions do not translate from one culture to another. They need to be adapted for the market to which they are going to be sold in. Otherwise there will be some dissonance between the game and it’s intended audience. This is especially true for Japanese games being localised for the west. There are hundreds of examples of bad localisations of Japanese games, it is a really common occurrence. An example that stands out to me is the Ace Attorney series. This series is set in Japan, but in the localisation they try to convince you that it is set in America. This leads to some weird occurrences in game. One of which is when the main characters travel to a traditional Japanese village in the countryside, but in the localisation, they travel to Michigan and rather than change the location they just comment on how weird it is that this traditional Japanese village is in America. They also constantly refer to Japanese foods like sushi and onigiri as burgers and pizzas even though the appearance of the foods hasn’t been changed. These instances will draw the immersed player out of the game. The game can no longer connect with a western audience when a player isn’t immersed. This is what causes certain games, such as Ace Attorney, to be saddled with the label of a “Japanese” game. The dissonance that a bad localisation causes makes these games stand out like a sore thumb in the industry. This has its apparent advantages and disadvantages. A disadvantage would be that the broader video games market is off limits to a “Japanese” game. The average person would look at games like Ace Attorney or Persona and turn their noses up at it, in preference for something like Gears of War or FIFA. This is a clear disadvantage, but because Japanese culture is so popular with some people in the Western world and the popularity of video games is enormous in general, these “Japanese” games have carved out a sizeable niche in the West. This has led to a huge opportunity for monetary gain for these games. Which leads nicely to my next point.
Money Money Money
Another reason that localisation is very important is the monetary gain from an international market. The video games industry is a powerhouse for profit. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry, surpassing even the film industry by a substantial amount. In 2013, the worldwide revenue for film was $35.9 billion. This may seem massive, but this is dwarfed when you consider the video games industry. In that same year, the worldwide revenue for video games was $70.4 billion. That is twice the size of film’s revenue. This illustrates just how large this industry is. And with 50% of games actually made in Japan, that leaves a lot of games in need of localisation. As well as a lot of profit to be made, but how much?
A prime example of how much one could earn from localising a video game would be the titan that is Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy is a science fiction/fantasy series, with its first game published in 1987 and the latest released last year in 2016. It was an immediate success in Japan, showcasing a new and progressive style of gameplay. It was not brought to the west at first, coming out 3 years later in 1990. There were always delays when adapting one of their game for the west, this affected their sales a lot. In the seven years between 1987-1994, the series sold 9.25 million copies in Japan, and 2.25 million copies overseas. But when their localisation improved and the games were released in Japan and the West simultaneously, the sales also improved. In the seven years between 2009-2016, the series sold 25.4 million copies internationally with 10 million copies being sold in Japan and 15 million being sold in the west. This shows how a quick and good localisation can lead to exponential monetary gain.
As with most products, localisation is vital if one wants to engage with an international market. You have to adjust your product and think of the cultural context in order for your intended audience to gel with it. The monetary gain will come after. Video games can sort of transcend that. If a game is interesting enough, and the gameplay is enjoyable enough, niches will still buy it. It will still make money; like Ace Attorney. But when a localisation is efficient, the monetary gain sky rockets; such as Final Fantasy. The Video Game is a strange new medium that you should keep an eye out for in the next ten years. This industrial behemoth will not stop.