My first memory with video game was the Super Nintendo or Super NES. It was a 16-bit Nintendo console with super simply controller design. That was 18 years ago, and that also was my first English teacher.

Snes Console Lg V344019168
The Super NES console

First time opening the games, it was a screen full of unknown words. Gotta admit that was quite a nightmare for a 6-year-old kid. But it didn’t stop me from my desire to play games (luckily). All of the kids in my neighborhood that day had had consoles and PCs way before my dad bought me that second hand Super NES. So my hunger for video games at that moment was as high as the Everest.

Of course, I could not understand one single word from my TV that day, so I gotta figure out the way to control my characters on my own. With a lot of death (perhaps as much as when I play Dark Soul), I could finally master my games. Along the way, I learned a lot of English words like okay, cancel, jump, shoot …. Nevertheless, the plot of the games I played always was indeed a mystery to me. Not until I was 11 when I understand that Mario game tells the story of an Italian plumber trying to recuse a prince who was captured by a monster.

Si 3dsvc Supermariobros Image1600w
It took me years to finally understand the plot of Mario

Thanks to the capability of the internet, making and distributing games all over the world have never been that easy. And yet, for those who can't speak and understand English, the amount of games that they can play and fully understand the plot is extremely small, sadly. The world we are living in has thousands of languages existing, yet only a few of them are chosen to be used in at least 80% of the content on the internet and software applications. This is quite unbelievable but on Steam now there are only 139 Indian games, only 234 Vietnamese games. Those are like 0.01% of the number of games in English.

So that why we have a term “localization” a game. This is the action of completely translating one game to a totally different language. This job is really expensive. And trust me, if you plan to do this for your game, please do it good. The lesson with the Korean localization for the game Darkest Dungeons is still there for any game developers who are trying to publish and version of localization for their games:

Screenshot 9
The issue with the Korean localization version of Darkest Dungeon

Of course, all the developers want to take back or make more money from the investment they have spent on the localization versions. So sometimes, they get pretty greedy, to a point of hard to forgive. Take the game Torment: Tides of Numenera as an example. The original Kickstarter campaign for this game confirm all the backers that there would be an Italian localization version. But this version, later on, was removed from the project. Imagine being an Italian backer for this game from day one and then receiving this message from the developer:

Screenshot 10
The announcement from the developer of Torment: Tides of Numenera for the game's Italian localization version

The developers had to confess that they were capable of publishing an Italian localization of the game Wastelands 2 only because the fans volunteered to work for free. Honestly, I do not know whether I should feel sad or happy with this news.

Translations by fans for professional content are not something strange. When content is too good that it can attract a large fanbase, the fans from non-English countries will want to translate that content into their native language, and this desire comes from the pure passion of sharing the content for people in their country that don’t know English. This phenomenon happens more for video games. Sometimes, those translations got adopted officially by the developers. But not every passionate translator got that lucky.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana is probably the most well known case when a fan's translation got adopted officially

I admire those passion for fans a lot. But to be honest, when the developers can economically benefit from those passionate work, the differences between collaboration and fan exploitation become as tiny as possible.

Money is a much bigger problem for game developers from non-English countries. You want to make a new game, 99% chances it will be in English. When more than half of the Internet is in English, you have no other option for your game’s language if you want to make any profit from your game.

And if your game gets some intention, gains some success and you want to make a localization version for it? Chinese is the first answer coming to your mind if you still want to make money from your game. You might be no strangers to negative reviews on Steam ruthlessly demanding a Chinese localization for the games.

Image 3
The negative reviews demanding a Chinese localization version

And even if you can actually localize your game more than Chinese, the language barriers are still a huge thing. Different languages have different slangs, idioms, inside jokes…., even some concepts are impossible to translate. Does your game have non-binary characters? You will pull your own hair while trying to localize those characters into strictly gendered, binary languages, like Spanish or French.

And when you want to have a localization of an Arabic language, the problems also include the technical problems. These languages are written from right to left, and professional software for building games is often made by English-using companies. Imagine the work just for rendering the language the opposite way. It is huge already.

It would be cool if English is taught properly all over the world. Sadly, we are far from that futuristic scenario. And yet, if we want English to become an international language, we should do the translation more and more, despite the economic value of the content we translate. So much content doesn't have an English version because the publisher don’t think that it would not generate much profit.

Even though more and more people now can speak and use English fluently, the feeling of giving your children a good game with a deep plot in your native language is something truly beautiful. Many great games with a deep plot and quality content now can be as helpful as great books for children to develop their character. So why don’t we start putting aside money issues and translating more and more great games for children around the world?