Video Game Localization and Translation: How Koreans Culturally Adapt Content for America

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We read a lot about localization, translation and cultural adaptation within the video games industry. However, most of the time its about “us” adapting to a “them” (a foreign culture or country). Not much attention is paid to video games manufacturers in Asia localizing for Europe or North America.

Well now we have that perspective thanks to the team behind the Korean Elsword game sharing its insights about game localization!

On the gaming website Siliconera, a lot has been written about localizing Japanese games for Western gamers. Localizing Korean games, however, is a whole different matter! In an article found on the website, the creators of the Korean game Elsword explain how this localization process took place.

When asked what the most important aspect of game localization is, the team do not beat about the bush. According to them, it is vital that the game is understood by its foreign users: ‘Putting our players first and letting them to know we are fine-tuning everything in Elsword just for them is essential for us.’ This means they strive to maintain the character of the game, but at the same time adapt the dialogue and humour in the game itself to the desired market.

When localizing a game, the developers say you cannot just start and see where the process will take you – on the contrary! The localization strategy is planned out very carefully. According to the team, there are two types of content that have to be transferred to a new culture: in-game content such as character dialogue, and event content, i.e. the events that take place in a game, for example national holidays.

In-game content can be localised fairly straightforward. Localizers simply have to make sure the text maintains its ‘fun and entertaining’ qualities. Event content is a little more difficult. The team says the events in the American version of the game are tweaked in such a way that players in Northern America can relate to them – everything from school breaks to the election season. Part of the content of Elsword was created with the American market in mind, so localization for this game was a little different, the developers say. However, all localization is carried out in-house to be able to change things around in a heartbeat.

Siliconera’s interviewer addresses the fact that even St Patrick’s Day is mentioned in Elsword. This is remarkable, as most localized Korean games have localized their content for the Korean or Chinese market only. The developing team agrees that it is pretty special, but that they specifically add in North-American events when creating the original game. As a result, the Western version often doesn’t need localization, but the Korean version does! The team can do this because they have a very special relationship with Elsword’s developer: ‘We’re the only case where, as a publisher of Elsword, we are 100% owned by its developer—so really we are the same company.’

The American content of Elsword is slowly making its way to other versions of the game as well. A number of costumes created by American players, for example, are likely to appear in the games that are released in the rest of the world as well. Here, the team has one motto:  ‘We… believe great content should be enjoyed around the world.’

“All your base are belong to us” – an infamous line from the 1991 video game Zero Wing that has become something of a cultural hit

As stated before, the Elsword team has tailored the events in the game to suit the tastes of North American players. The developers think they differ from other game designers in the sense that they put in much more effort and time in the community behind the game. They have contests on their Facebook page, a weekly livestream and organise weekly tournaments. A booth at the Anime expo helped to meet their placers face to face. There aren’t many other publishers that do this!

As the developers are based in the US, the creators of Elsword agree it can be difficult to keep in touch with the Korean part of the team. Video-conferencing helps to bridge this gap, but the team agrees that this can be a little difficult because of the different time zones! However, they feel working at unusual hours is ‘just part of the job.’

Siliconera thinks the advantage of Korean games such as Elsword have over other games has is that they already have a great deal of content ready to be put into a new of localized game. How does the team they decide when to use what content? The team agree this available content has been ‘a real blessing.’ They time the release of their new content on the free time of their players, in summer and winter breaks, players have a lot of time on their hands, so new content is launched during those times. If players ask for it, they can even release the content a little earlier. This Elsword team can come up with great plans, but in the end, their players have a big influence: ‘Listening to our players is a huge part of how we make our content decisions.’

Although this example of localization is from the gaming industry, any business can learn from their thoughts and methods. Localization and translation should be part of a strategy, right from the start, not an afterthought. If you are looking for help with any element of your business’ global development communication, especially for localisation services or translation services, speak to us!

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