What makes game localization successful? The Nanobit team shared their experiences with us
At first glance, adapting casual games for a different market may seem banal, but it’s a multidisciplinary process which largely determines how successful the game will be, regardless of whether it is released in Chile, Russia or Australia.
If you have a successful product in one market it is a shame not to try your luck in others. Especially when you’re dealing with something that’s universal (or at least experienced as such) like a game. But in order to be able to enter regional markets other than your own or someone else’s where you have already succeeded, it is necessary to customize the product. Because not all markets are the same, nor are all customers. They have different needs, desires and rules by which they operate.
Nanobit is certainly one of the Croatian companies that have already gone through this adjustment process on several occasions. The largest game development company in Croatia generated HRK 440 million in revenue in 2020, and was taken over by Swedish giant Stillfront in August of the same year. Although no less challenging, 2021 also proved successful: the number of employees increased to nearly 150, and the number of game downloads increased by a third.
They offer a great number of mobile game titles, available in 10 languages. It can therefore be said that localization (the process of adapting a product to a new market) is something they know extremely well.
All the people of localization
“Localization is a multidisciplinary process,” says Tea Južbašić, project manager at Nanobit.
The main players in the teams working on it are game producers, project managers, marketing experts and analysts. Additionally, the localization includes translators (of course), but also product managers and QA engineers. The role of the content team is important, and sometimes even the sound team (for example, when it is necessary to adjust the background music).
Every decision made by those involved in the localization process must be approved by the user acquisition team, who adjust the type of campaign according to needs and circumstances. A significant set of activities is the responsibility of external partners, who are responsible for LQA (Localization Quality Assurance) and game testing, among other things.
The typical localization process takes an average of several weeks (depending on the amount of content to be localized). As we’re talking about Nanobit, these are narrative games, so the process is a bit longer due to the translation, which is the basis of the localization itself.
Games sometimes have to go through some form of censorship
“The ultimate goal of localization is to give users a sense that we’ve made the game specifically for their market, respecting their linguistic and cultural characteristics,” Tea points out:
The process begins with a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the markets where they plan to enter with each game. This includes monitoring industry trends and analysing the competition. Then the game content itself is studied, and to what extent it should be adapted to each market.
In this context, Tea’s most challenging project was the localization of Fashion Queen’s Hollywood Story for the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa):
The adjustment was quite challenging due to different social conventions. For example, we had to pay special attention to clothes (i.e. remove inappropriate clothing items), interior design and the like.
In some way game went through a kind of censorship process in order to become suitable for that region, the behaviour of users in that part of the world is different than elsewhere. Still, it has been quite successful and has a significant user base today.
Who ensures that localization is cost-effective?
When it comes to localization, data analyst Suraja Poštić’s job is more diverse than one might initially think.
Among other things, Suraja monitors a game’s key performance indicators (KPI) in different countries, finds the best potential markets for successful localization and checks how cost-effective localization would be.
The decision to launch localization in a new market is not easy, which is why existing markets are compared to potential ones in order to assess profitability.
Additionally, as an analyst, Suraja selects content for localization, compares KPI’s for content in different markets, and considers ways to access a particular market to maximize success.
On the other hand, marketing data analyst Luka Naglić needs to investigate how the market that Nanobit plans to localize behaves before the localization takes place, while they are still advertising the English version of the game.
Once a game is localized for a particular market, it’s my job to help the marketing team choose the best ads, which also need to be translated, and then define a marketing strategy – which platforms to advertise on, what type of campaign to use, the returns we expect per user.
Analysis of user behaviour for each market
What elements are key for localization to be considered a success? Tea believes that the success of a localization can be measured through various parameters, like financial indicators, an increase in the user base, positive feedback on social networks and similar.
It is also important, once we decide on a particular market, to monitor the behaviour of that market and respond in a timely manner by inserting additional content in cooperation with our marketing campaigns.
As a project manager, Tea is in charge of coordinating the entire process and all the teams involved. This usually involves balancing the budget, the costs of the localization process, as well as understanding its scope and the risks that arise.
The most difficult thing is to adapt a game for every market, particularly due to people’s diverse interests and habits. This adjustment problem is solved by analysing user behaviour for each separate market. Based on this, individual game concepts are changed to better adapt.
Challenges do not arise just because of a different language
The most common localization challenges that Tea faces as a project manager are maintaining the quality of localization and direct and unambiguous communication between the teams. Also, one of the more significant challenges is the adaptation of monetization techniques to a particular market due to differences in, for example, purchasing power and user habits.
Luka’s greatest concern is how the market will react to localization.
In marketing, it’s very difficult to tell in advance. If our game is great in, say, the US market, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will behave like that everywhere.
In addition, with each new localization, the whole user acquisition process becomes more challenging because you have to branch out a lot more when defining your marketing strategy: translate English ads into every language used in the game, separate localized markets from non-localized ones, define which localized ads will be used and finally, of course, monitor the campaign performance after every localization.
From the Middle East to Japan
Tea’s favourite project was the localization of the Tabou game, which consists of individual stories. Nanobit monitors the performance of each story and adapt the game to various markets according to the results.
For this, we also did localization of the audio voices within the game itself, which is always good fun.
Suraja was most interested to see how the game My Story would fare in the Arab market due to a completely different culture, and how their breakthrough on the Russian VKontakte would go. It was also challenging to adapt the games for the Latin market, which is large but lacks purchasing power.
Luka singles out the localization of Hollywood Story to Japanese as his favourite project. “I’m fascinated by Japanese culture – manga, anime and other things, so it was very interesting for me to make suggestions for the cultural adaptation of advertising for that market,” he said at the end of the conversation.
If you’re interested in knowing more about how Suraja, Luka and Tea work, be sure to follow Nanobit on social media, and if you’re interested in learning more about their open positions, their career pages are the address you need.