What Makes a Localization Good? Russian vs. Chinese Gamers
By: Yulia Molostova (Localization Project Manager) - Allcorrect
14 February 2017
It all began about two years ago when we launched our first survey of Russian gamers. We developed the survey in order to pinpoint which localization issues should be tackled first.
Over the course of our research some game developers have also taken an interest in the project and chosen to participate, so we have organized a working group that now includes several major game developers such as Nintendo, Ubisoft, EA, Wooga, Sony, Zynga, and Bigpoint.
This year we also performed a survey of Chinese players for the first time and received some very interesting results about what makes a good localization from different regional perspectives.
According to data from the statista.com portal, the revenue of Chinese game companies amounted to $10.7 billion in 2016. This is only second to that of the US ($11.6 billion). However, due to a higher average annual growth rate, it is expected that the total Chinese market volume will overtake that of the US in 2018.
After analyzing this and other data, we decided to focus on one of the most progressive, but also most difficult to reach game markets in order to determine the differences and similarities in our views on certain issues of game localization.
Who Were Our Respondents?
We received 4,573 replies from Russian responders with a male/female ratio of 66.18% to 33.82%, while the number of replies from Chinese players was 3,099, with a male/female ratio of 82.3% to 17.7%. That being said, women make up roughly 48% of the population of China and almost 50% of that of Russia.
In terms of age groups, respondents aged 18-25 were most prevalent in China, whereas in Russia the majority of players who responded were under 18 years old.
We were delighted to learn that roughly 40-50% of our respondents spend at least ten hours per week playing videogames, which means that their replies are statistically significant.
The survey also showed that most Russian and Chinese players prefer to play on PC (86% and 55% respectively). Mobile platforms came in second in Russia, and consoles – only third, while the opposite was true for China.
The next question helped us understand our respondents’ English language skills. It turned out that almost 30% of Chinese gamers claimed to speak English very well (at the intermediate or advanced level), while only 10% of Russian players could boast excellent English skills.
Level of Localization
The choice between the original and localized version of a game depends on the player’s English language skills. Only 5% of Russian players prefer to play games in English, while for Chinese players this figure is equal to 30%.
After asking similar questions about their preferred level of localization, we have determined that the majority of players (both Russian and Chinese) prefer a full localization.
We were quite surprised when the results of the first survey revealed that the overwhelming majority of Russian players read all the text they encounter when playing games. This turned out to be less important for Chinese players – 58% of gamers admitted that they skip the text, gameplay being more important to them.
This point can serve as an example of the maxim that "Perfect is the enemy of good." Fully adapting all graphical elements and cultural features does not always meet with players’ approval, and the survey results confirmed this hypothesis. Both Chinese and Russian players state that it is better to adapt only key aspects or those that may cause a negative reaction among players in the target country.
We decided to find out which types of errors particularly annoy players and negatively impact their enjoyment of a localized game. Interestingly, players’ opinions differed quite a bit from our point of view. For example, at All Correct, we believe that grammatical or spelling errors and terminological inconsistencies are critical flaws.
Although Russian players do notice these mistakes, they will continue playing the localized version regardless. So what might make them switch to the original version? Untranslated text, inaccurate translation, and inappropriate style of translation. Incidentally, the last point is always very difficult to measure and judge objectively.
Chinese players are less tolerant of all the errors listed in the survey. The most important mistakes for them are lack of censorship, inappropriate style, and use of non-standard abbreviations and illegible fonts.
Russian and Chinese players’ opinions differ regarding the presence of profanity in in-game text. Chinese players seem to believe that offensive words should not be used in games.
Russian respondents stated that profanity should not be smoothed over, especially if it is present in the original. The reason for this different attitude may lie in the fact that Russian culture has been more deeply exposed to Western influence, so Russian players are more tolerant of obscene words and expressions in games. The same cannot be said of China, which has a fully Asian cultural heritage.
The survey also showed that the respondents of both game markets are willing to give feedback to developers and particularly to point out the errors they encounter. However, some respondents simply do not know how to do this.
Interestingly, the majority of Chinese respondents prefer English voice acting to Chinese (roughly 74%), while Russian players prefer voice-overs in their native language (roughly 70%).
Russian players were most annoyed by unnatural intonations and poorly-chosen voice actors. At the same time, they did not care much about how famous the actors were or about less-than-perfect matches between the Russian actors’ voices and those of the original cast.
Chinese players reacted more negatively to practically all points. What they dislike most is being unable to switch to the original version of the game and hearing the same overly familiar voice actors all the time.
One thing that was very interesting was that different players provided the same games as examples of both voice-over localization successes and failures. Different strokes for different folks!
But What if the Game Wasn’t Successful?
The questions listed below were designed to learn players’ reactions to how well a game localization has been handled.
Judging by the replies, poor translation affects a developer’s reputation among players. Both Chinese and Russian players would stop buying games from that developer and would share their negative opinions both on social networks and with their friends. This means that just one poorly localized game can have a negative impact on the image – and financial success – of a game developer.
There’s good news too. If a game localization has been handled well, both Russian and Chinese players are ready to support the developer. They will buy more games from them and share their positive views on various resources. In this regard, Russian players are more active than Chinese players.
As we can see, players in both markets are ready to pay more for a game with a good localization into their native language rather than playing it in the original language. Moreover, 57.2% of Russian and 58.9% of Chinese responders are willing to pay more for a game that was re-released with a higher-quality localization.
Should We Know Our Heroes... or Not?
Game developers usually don’t mention the names of translators and localization companies in game credits. We decided to ask our players whether this is fair or not.
The majority of Chinese and Russian respondents believe that the experts who translated a game should be mentioned in the credits, and we can’t disagree with them.
We would like to share a few hypotheses that we tested using the data obtained from Chinese players’ responses.
- Users who spend fewer hours playing games (casual gamers) are more tolerant of errors.
This isn’t true. Players’ attitude toward mistakes does not depend on how much time they spend gaming.
- Young players are more tolerant of localization errors.
Again, not true. There is no connection between a player’s age and their attitude toward mistakes.
- Players with a higher level of English prefer to play the original version.
This hypothesis was confirmed. For us, this is a reason to make the localized version of a game even better than the original.
- Women are more sensitive to how they are addressed in a game, especially when the player is being addressed as male.
Surprisingly, our survey results indicated that this isn’t true. Both men and women dislike being addressed by the wrong gender.
The data we received may help game publishers and developers refine their understanding of their target audience's needs. This information may also come in handy when planning localization projects by providing insight into several crucial localization-related topics, including the scope of localization preferred by player communities, their attitude toward cultural adaptations, gamers' comprehension of the severity of localization errors, and the consequences of a positive or negative reception of a localization by the community.
In the very near future we plan to choose new game markets for further research, as well as to examine certain aspects and debatable questions in greater detail.
However, even now it is possible to highlight several steps that will help localization companies and developers produce high-quality localized products.
Creating a Localization Specification
It is essential to define the language style and game origins in project specification. Knowing a game developer’s source of inspiration allows us to convey their intended atmosphere more accurately.
Correct planning of the localization process allows for better quality in comparison to what can be achieved when working under tight deadlines. The more time we have to complete our tasks, the more attention we can give to all the finer points of the project.
Any information about the project is helpful. Character descriptions, images of items, glossaries, game builds, the films and books that inspired the developers – all of this is invaluable when performing a translation.
We pay special attention to ensuring effective communication with our clients. The more quickly we can get all necessary information, the fewer inaccuracies and corrections will arise during the testing stage.
Preparing a Game for Localization
We recommend allowing the use of various fonts, wide text boxes, and tags for various grammatical forms during the early development stage.
Yulia Molostova has been a Localization Project Manager at All Correct Group since 2014. She works on the projects of Ubisoft and other leading companies, as well as regularly participating in international conferences.