German game and app localisation: exploring cultural nuance and the market

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The most successful apps in the world are localised for different audiences. German game and app localisation – tailoring apps for German-speaking markets – is a huge trend right now. 

It’s easy to see why. The German language is one of the top ten most popular online. It’s spoken not just in Germany, b ut also in Austria, Switzerland, and elsewhere too. 

Germany alone is home to more than 83 million high-income consumers. The country is the most populous nation and largest economy in the European Union. 

This is a huge, dynamic, and stable market to sell to. What’s more, it is one where native-language digital content is in high demand. Germans are used to being able to have everything available in German. 

If you have a game or application that you think would suit the German market, here is why you need to understand localisation and how to get started: 

What is localisation? 

Localising an app or game goes far beyond translating the words on the screen. Localisation involves adapting an app to meet the cultural as well as the linguistic norms, expectations, and desires of a specific market, such as: 

  • The User Interface (UI), to accommodate local norms in icon use, for example 
  • Game systems or concepts that don’t make sense from a local cultural standpoint 
  • Meeting local legal standards, perhaps in data collection and usage 

Though it takes more effort and expertise than translation alone, localisation has been proven to significantly increase sales and engagement in almost every industry. 

In Germany, specifically, demand for German-language websites and digital content of all kinds is high and growing. 

The German digital market – an overview 

Around 3 out of 4 Germans have a smartphone. This is a high level of market penetration, topping 62.6 million users even back in 2021. The majority of German smartphone users have Android devices. 

One of the key things to understand about German consumers in any market – including digital – is the high expectations they tend to have in terms of product quality and customer experience. 

This makes failing to properly localise your app for the German market an instantly costly error. German consumers are used to being able to get apps in German. 

Such an error can be compounded because once many Germans find a brand or app they like and appreciate the quality of, they tend to stick with it until something else proves its worth. 

Why cultural nuance matters in localisation 

The key reason why localisation works so well as a method of increasing sales and engagement is that it adapts everything from content to user experience so that it is more suited to the audience in question. 

This may involve taking into account the norms of society, humour and what people find funny, and editing historical references so that they are relevant to the audience. 

Of course, any commentary that tries to boil down the opinions of a country of 83 million people is doomed to generalisation. 

However, it wouldn’t usually be wrong to say that most Germans are looking for quality and reliability in the products they choose. Their method of decision-making also tends to be far more fact-based than the more emotion-based decisions common in the UK or US. 

Also, the stereotype that Germans aren’t funny is untrue. Humour is simply different between cultures. For instance, it would be a relatively unusual German who would make a self-deprecating joke. Very dry sarcasm, however, is a German art form. 

Linguistic considerations in German 

German is a complex language. It has both formal and informal manners of address, gendered nouns, and many other aspects that make linguistic considerations vital when localising an app. 

For instance, the formal “sie” is the more proper choice for digital marketing (as opposed to the informal “du”). 

German is also spoken in numerous countries. Most German speakers will understand Standard High German to a degree (making it a good choice for voice-overs and written content), but there are several major dialects, including: 

  • Standard High German (SHG) 
  • Swiss Standard German 
  • Austrian Standard German 
  • You will also find German spoken in Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Belgium, Brazil, and Argentina. 

This is important for several reasons. Firstly, because the variants and dialects spoken in these countries have linguistic differences. 

Secondly, these countries have cultural differences. As the priority in game or app localisation is to go local, any translation needs to be culturally relevant as well as accurate. 

For example, most German speakers in Switzerland would probably understand Standard High German. It doesn’t mean they will respond to German cultural references or thank you for not communicating in their native Swiss German though. 

Legal requirements and standards for German digital content 

Like most jurisdictions, Germany has its own particular legal requirements and standards for digital content: 

1) Data protection, privacy, and GDPR 

As a general rule, Germans care a great deal about data privacy and how their information can be used. Broadly speaking, more action is required to convince a German audience that their data is safe. 

For example, according to a study by PayPal, 4 out of 5 Germans will actually read the Terms and Conditions that come with a game purchase. 

This general attitude makes developer GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) compliance absolutely vital. 

2) USK ratings, the BzKJ, and the “Index” 

Foreign app developers also need to understand Germany’s unique age rating and content restriction system. The USK (Unterhaltungssoftware SelbstKontrolle or Entertainment Software Self-Regulation) has very clear guidelines with a new colour rating system as of 2003. 

There is also an organisation called the BzKJ (Bundeszentrale für Kinder und Jugendmedienschutz or the Federal Department for the Protection of Children and Young People in the Media) that governs what games and apps can be sold to young people. 

The BzKJ has to approve a game as not being harmful to young people before it can get a USK rating. Games without USK ratings are treated as USK 18. This means they cannot be placed on the shelves of brick-and-mortar stores (even adults must request them) or sold by digital stores at all. 

Of course, this has led to many foreign publishers trying to avoid getting a USK 18 rating by editing their game, fearing a hit to sales. Others have resorted to simply selling their games to the German market from abroad without a USK rating. 

This can result in the game being put on the so-called “Index” of media harmful to young people and simply treated like a USK 18 game anyway. 

UI and UX adaptation for German apps 

1) Do proper market research 

One common mistake among foreign app developers seeking to launch in Germany is to assume that the Berlin market is representative of Germany as a whole. This isn’t generally the case for at least two reasons: 

  1. Lower English proficiency – as a tourist and tech hub, Berlin has a high percentage of English speakers. Outside of Berlin, the vast majority of Germans don’t practise their English as much. 
  1. Higher spending power – Berliners also have historically lower spending power than the rest of the county, making German localisation a win-win. 

2) Use native German speakers and cultural consultants 

Always, always use native German speakers (ideally of your specific target region) to handle your localisation. 

As a language spoken by more than 100 million people in countries around the world, cultural differences between German speakers in different regions should be recognised and understood. 

Make sure your Language Service Provider uses native German speakers and/ or cultural consultants. 

3) Test before launch 

A key area where native language expertise is critical is in app testing and Quality Assurance. 

In a market like Germany, where quality and precision are prized, releasing a poorly translated app will inevitably fail. This is not a market where you can release and then update to a better version later. 

4) Consult legal expertise first 

Most app localisation efforts should include at least cursory attention from legal experts who are familiar with local rules and regulations. Again, in a market like Germany, this is a vital prerequisite to a successful launch. 

5) Provide post-launch support 

The German audience values excellent customer support. If you don’t provide it – in German, of course – you instantly mark your product as not meeting the standards a German audience expects. 

6) Don’t forget multilingual SEO 

Directly translated versions of your domestic keywords will not work in any industry. But in the digital sphere, proper multilingual SEO is even more important. 

Take the time to search for the keywords that your local German-speaking audience will actually use to search for games or apps like yours. 

You should also fully localise your app store listing with the needs and expectations of a German audience in mind. 

German app localisation case studies – lessons to learn 

1) EA (The EA app) 

The app of games manufacturer Electronic Arts became fairly notorious among German gamers for being poorly translated. 

For instance, the EA app incorrectly used the word “ausgang” (a noun, meaning “exit”) in place of the correct “schließen” or “beenden” (both verbs, meaning “close” and “quit” respectively). 

It is just one example of an app that clearly received little initial effort in terms of translation. 

2) Microsoft (Gears of War) 

When launching their Gears of War franchise in Germany, Microsoft made another classic error of foreign developers not quite understanding the implications of German content ratings law. 

Realising that a game with heavy depictions of violence might suffer in the German market because of censorship laws, Microsoft first decided not to release Gears in Germany at all. 

This led to a situation where it was imported anyway, the BzKJ (which, at the time, went by a different title) put the game, and later its sequel, on the Index. This made it much more difficult for German gamers to discover and buy. 

Why German localisation matters for apps and games 

With an 83 million strong population of high-income consumers and strong smartphone penetration, the German audience is the perfect target for app developers who want to expand their global reach. 

Like any market though, Germany and the wider German-speaking world have their challenges. 

With a smart German game and app localisation strategy though, any investment will be returned in kind. By a culture that rewards quality with strong adherence and brand loyalty. 

Looking to localise your own app or game for the German market? 

Let’s talk. Kwintessential already works with Facebook and numerous other digital and entertainment industry partners. 

Tell us about your app localisation plans today and get a free, no-obligation quote. 


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