This blog was originally posted on Localize Direct's blog on May the 30th, 2013.
As a mobile game developer it can be difficult to decide which languages to localize a game into. In addition it also has to be decided what to localize. There’s the text that appears in the game and if you publish via Apple App Store or Google Play you can also translate the description, updates and keyword texts.
To localize the app-store description text is a no-brainer. This is what you front your game with and what people will base their buy or download decision on. Remember, most people on this planet don’t speak English. In “Can’t Read Won’t Buy”, the Common Sense Advisory showed that on average, 52% of people reported that they would buy only at websites where product information is presented in their language. In France and Japan the figure was 60 percent! The amount of text in your description is limited so it won’t be expensive (you pay per word when you use a translation service). All other text surrounding your description will be in the country store’s native language (Google and Apple fully localize their stores) so localized material will blend in much better and give a professional impression.
If you are localizing the description you may as well localize your keywords, again as the amount of words will be low, so will the cost. Be sure to check out this interesting article on the subject
With regards to localizing updates, you need to consider how often you plan on releasing updates. It becomes important to work with the right translation service provider - you need speedy turnaround and stay away from vendors with minimum fees as the translation batches will be small.
Now, with the store metadata out of the way. Should you translate the text in the actual game? Distribution is worldwide, by localizing you extend your reach and achieve a global audience. Allowing your players to enjoy the game in their native language will positively increase their experience and lead to better reviews. These benefits do of course need to be weighed against the cost. Localization costs will be driven by the number of words in your game and the number of target languages. It’s a common approach to localize the app-store metadata into more languages than the actual game.
So, what languages then... App Annie to the rescue! During App Annie’s very interesting GDC 2013 talk they ranked countries in iOS App Store and Google Play for downloads and revenue specifically for games. Most developers would have the common goal of either wanting to get their game downloaded as many times as possible or generate as much revenue as possible. Based on that assumption lets for each platform (Apple and Google) create two language lists; one for for developer seeking world domination (maximize downloads) and another one for the greedy (read maximize revenue). Our lists will be called Top Downloads and Top Revenue.
We'll exclude English with the assumption that English is your games source language.
iOS App Store Top Downloads: Chinese, Japanese, Russian, French, German, Italian
iOS App Store Top Revenue: Japanese, Chinese, German, French, Russian, Korean
Google Play Top Downloads: Korean, Russian, German, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Traditional Chinese, Spanish
Google Play Top Revenue: Japanese, Korean, German, French, Russian, Traditional Chinese
Luckily it seems that France is included in all ranks that also have Canada so we don't have to add French.
Spanish is notably missing from all groups but Google Play Downloads. As the App Annie rankings are based on countries and not languages this makes sense. Spain with it’s 25M internet population, according to T-Index, is fairly small. If we consider Spanish speaking internet users we’re talking about a whopping 187M users - the third largest cluster after English and Chinese. Also given the dominance of United States in the rankings and that 15%+ of the population in the US is hispanic it would seem a good idea to add Spanish into our recommended languages.
Simplified Chinese is also missing from the Google Play groups - the reason for this seems to be Google Play being blocked and other local Android stores being more popular with the Chinese. If you use other app-stores (like Amazon) then we’d most definitely would recommend translating into simplified Chinese.
Based on the developers main goal with localization (maximize revenue or downloads) and what app-store they are targeting; our recommended target languages are:
Chinese, Japanese, Russian, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Japanese, Chinese, German, French, Russian, Korean, Spanish
Korean, Russian, German, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Traditional Chinese, Spanish
Japanese, Korean, German, French, Russian, Traditional Chinese, Spanish
* If you’re distributing an Android game via a Chinese app-store then also add simplified Chinese
If you are interested in game localization you should really check out the cloud version of LocDirect - it's a content management system for game developers tailormade for game localization content.