Is It Worth Localizing An Indie Game?

This is the Number One Question for any indie game studio considering localization, so we thought we’d get some answers from developers who took the leap.

ZiMAD speak candidly about the uncertainties, preparation, financial investments and the time they put in localizing their game.

They also go into detail about some tricks to save time and money on localization, their strategies and the tools they use in Unity.

At the end we talk about the impact of their localization efforts and each of them has a different take on that. From features in the app store, to reaching wider audiences and building larger player bases, all three studios have a valuable story to tell.

ZiMAD is an international developer and another partner of Level Up Translation. Their ASO wizard, Valeriya Shytikova, agreed to share some tips for mobile game developers and tell us about their experience localizing Dig Out!.


To localize or not to localize?

Localization is the art of translating the text, cultural differences and well pretty much everything about a video game from one language to another.

In this section we were looking for the root cause for the developers’ decision to localize.

1. How did you feel about localization before you considered it?

We were hopeful it would allow our games to take their natural place in their regional niche. Just like any other developer who loves their creation, we were optimistic and hoped we’d see more organic installs from the localization.

2. Why did you localize your game?

We see higher conversion rates for our localized games. If they can understand what a game is about, people can easily decide if they want to play it. After that, they can fully enjoy the game itself.

There are many regions where people don’t speak English for a number of reasons. Some people never learned to speak English or learned another language instead and some people just don’t speak it very well. Therefore. whatever message you are trying to deliver in your game, it won’t get through.

It’s no fun trying to translate as you play. People will avoid it if they can, so localizing our games comes naturally.


3. Why do some indie developers hesitate to localize their game?

The US mobile games market is tough at the moment. A small indie project will have to try really hard to “survive” there. The big studios competing with each other for the top charts are likely to wash them away. To be frank you’re lucky to have a place in the US app market without a big investment.

On the other hand, some regional markets are in need of good quality content available in their language. There is a real demand for localized games and apps there.

«I think many indie developers underestimate the potential gains from localizing their game.» V. Shytikova, ZiMAD

Making sure you’re ready

As with any project, implementing a strategy from the start will spare you headaches further down the line. Keeping localization in mind from the early development stages is the number one thing you can do to set your localization project up for success.

4. How did you prepare your game for localization?

We start by putting all the text into an Excel spreadsheet with one word or sentence per cell and one column per language. This way, the localization agency can’t mess things up, and we have everything accurately set and ready for when we decide to integrate the new translations into the game.

5. How did your preparation affect the implementation of translations?

Having all the translations in one document really helped our team to integrate them into the build. We also have a similar process and similar documents for the store descriptions and marketing.

Spreadsheets are a practical format to keep all your strings in one place.

Deciding which markets are worth it

Some markets are certainly more profitable than others, but that can vary on the type of game you’re producing. Research is clearly invaluable and doing your homework can really pay off.

How did our three studios tackle their research and what helped them to decide which languages to focus their localization on? Well, let’s find out!


6. How did you decide which markets to localize for?

We carefully analyze the target market. We look for clues that can tell us whether our game could become popular within the region.

«We want to know how many competitors we have, what the top apps/games and current trends in the market are and then we collate the data before making a decision.»
V. Shytikova, ZiMAD

According to our experience, it doesn’t make sense to localize your app/game if:
1 – Its content is related to a specific regional event or holiday
2 – There are 50 localized “Flappy Bird” games in the region and you’re going to be 51st.

AppAnnie offers great insight for mobile game developers.

How much will it cost?

When starting your new project remember that not all games require the same localization effort. Everything will depend on how text-heavy your game is. Localizing an RPG title with a heavy narrative will require considerably more effort than a minimalistic game.

7. What was your localization budget?


I can’t give exact numbers because our budget really varies from one game to the other and depends on the amount of in-game text and the store descriptions. But we usually spend around $1,500-$3,000 USD for everything in approximately 10 languages.


Choosing a localization partner

If you don’t want your game to turn into meme material or get bad reviews pointing out its sloppy translation (which could have devastating effects on the game experience if your title is narrative-heavy), professional localization is mandatory and you will have to budget for it.

Finding a specialist and getting the job done well will always be a better solution than lowering your standards to save a few bucks, and then end up paying for it with your game’s reputation.

But don’t take our word for it! Here’s what our three studios have to say.

8. How did you choose your localization service provider?

We’ve worked with a lot of translation companies in the past. Some of them were found on Google, some of them were recommended by colleagues. In the end, the determining factor for a collaboration is the quality of the translations they deliver.


The results

While the impact of localization on sales can be hard to measure, it’s a given that you don’t buy what you can’t understand (although fidget-spinners are the exception to prove the rule). It’s also true to say that the more people that can play your game, the more potential sales you could make.

9. What impact did localization have on your game’s reception and sales?

It’s hard to say because we also have a strategy for user acquisition, and it’s a well-known fact that the organics are highly dependable of the paid UA. That’s why the best way to judge our results is by analyzing our conversion rate (CR).

Our CR increased by at least 32% for both paid and organics.

The below graph shows the impact of localization on our game Dig Out!:

 Overall increase in CR after localization in 10 languages.


10. What were the most and least profitable markets? How much do you think localization influenced those results?

For every game/genre there are different profitable markets. In our case, localizing Dig Out! influenced the Asian region the most, Europe the least:

The organic conversion rate increase for Asian market after the localization ~34%

 
Overall (paid and organic) increase in CR for Asian market ~78%

11. All in all, was localizing your game worth it?

It’s definitely worth it. You only need to go through localization once and it will have a continued effect.


Golden advice from devs to devs

12. What’s your best advice to developers thinking about localizing their indie game?

Don’t waste your efforts on the US if you know that competition is going to be too fierce for your game. It’s better to start by making your positions strong in other regions. If you rank high in those regions, you’ll constantly get organic installs.

You can read the whole article with comments from other game publishers at gamasutra.com