How Localisation Evolved with the Gaming Industry
Video Games are not as ancient as other entertainment products. They are more or less around thirty years old and their history is not as rich as novels, poetry, plays, films etc and is in fact quite short. When compared to other entertainment products, this industry has had a somewhat clumsy beginning and crashed a number of times before skyrocketing its return beyond all other interactive entertainment products.
The pillars of this success story are solely dependent on and linked with the success story of ‘game localisation’ that had to be created to find ways to adapt to various niches and the rising demands of “interactive product” in the multimedia industry.
Although the Game Localisation Industry is still improving its processes, the evolution and changes in the video game industry, over the past decades, played a role in dictating the mould of the entertainment industry worldwide.
Considerable adjustments in game programming, project management, and tailoring products for local use welcomed a vast amount of consumers from different countries. The goal was to adapt to their cultural values, zones, legal systems, and expectations.
The non-stop progression in the Game Localisation Industry made video games, the most lucrative entertainment industry, surpassing music, books, and even films.
The 1970s, infamous for the Beatles’ tragic split up, was the same time the Video Game Industry started to pace up.
US developers started creating games for the national market, mostly for amusement arcades and to share the space along with foosball tables and pinball machines. Computer Space and Pong were among the most popular arcades, their popularity grew with a simultaneous demand for consoles and computer systems that could also be used to play games.
On the other side of the globe, The Japanese also sensed the potential of these products and by the end of the decade, they were the first to join the US-only arcade games industry. At that point in time, games relied on clear mechanics and engaging gameplay, so there was almost no text to be read and translated, hence the need for localisation was low due to the small relevance of foreign markets in the picture.
It was the Japanese, who saw the potential in this industry and who started thinking about localisation earlier and the US was the best place for them to enlarge and extend the ROI.
Fast forward to 2000s
The Age of Globalisation and Sim Ship Race
More and more countries joined the IT and Internet Revolution. With the advent of the World Wide Web, the world became more accessible which eventually led to the rise in the number of players. This meant that the same video game product could sell more and more copies, ONLY IF, the right localisation steps were taken.
Due to the short life span of video games, the best way forward for game publishers was the simultaneous shipment of all language versions. It was known as the “Sim-Ship” model of distribution which capitalised on the momentum built up by a single international marketing campaign and minimised the risk of grey imports and piracy.
In simpler terms, what it meant for language professionals was that most games were unfinished without the localisation processes. This model prompted the beginning of an entirely new host of necessary changes in video game development, localisation, and publishing.
Despite the world recession, the value of the interactive entertainment industry at the end of the 20th century amounted to around $50 billion. It is debatable whether localising products into multiple languages ate up revenues but the kind of Interlinked International presence that we see today would not be possible if it wasn’t for localisation.
Perhaps, one of the most significant developments in the localisation and the game industry was the dramatic success of online games at the end of the century, particularly of MMOs (Massively Multi-Player Online games). From Ultima Online (1997) to World of Warcraft (2004–10), the detailed information about subscribers, their game style, their language of interaction, etc. were some important factors that determined the success of the MMOs. MMOs created a virtual world that allowed thousands of concurrent players to interact with each other.
Itemised market research data is difficult to obtain, especially when having to deal with multiple countries, character sets, and languages.
When demand is big enough for a particular language, it is almost impossible to find specific figures about how much revenue companies make as a result of having localised MMO for another locale, but the fact that they keep on increasing the languages they offer speaks for itself.
With the evidence of the volume of demand, the first decade of the new millennium has seen many companies specialising in localisation only. Full Localisation is slowly becoming the standard and what consumers expect today.
The road ahead is long and as we venture deeper into the global capitalist market, the consumers would expect to be catered to more & more, and the multimedia interactive entertainment industry can exemplify this by developing localisation strategies and avoiding the errors of the past while facing the future global markets.
By: Geetanjali Mehta