I have been working in Mobile Games localization for five years, in a South Korean company. I use the English version of the games in order to create a French version. That includes pre-release in-game texts, as well as promotions, maintenance and updates. I have worked – mostly alone – on over 20 games.
What is localization?
In simple words, localization is a form of translation, where instead of trying to say exactly what the original text says, the translator will adapt the language, in order to make it more intuitive for the target user.
A very simple example:
In Korean, when a pop-up comes up, quite often, the user will be asked to close it by tapping “확인”. That word means “confirm” in English. However, the person in charge of localization will write “OK” instead.
In English, two words appear often in mobile game translation. “Connect” and “Log in”. These words mean different actions in the same game. In the case of our imaginary game:
Connect > connect your device to the network
Log in > log in to our users hub to access your friends list
However, in French, “connect” and “log in” both translate into “connexion”. If the buttons appear on the screen at the same time, you can imagine the sort of mental gymnastics required to pull it off.
In that case, we might want to localize as follows:
Connect: Réseau (=network)
Log in: Hub (=hub)
You get it: localization is a process we use in order to ensure that the target user feels comfortable with the product s/he uses. And sometimes, in French, we even get to localize English into Frenglish !
Another example would be how the Miyazaki movie “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi” became in English “Spirited Away” and in French “Le Voyage de Chihiro” (i.e. Chihiro’s Journey). See a detailed explanation of the process here.
How it works
Several point of importance: Localization, like translation, needs to be done from a learnt language, to a native language. This is because it is nearly impossible to grasp all the nuances, connotations and denotations of an expression when it hasn’t been used over several years.
Imagine the game Trivial Pursuit. A wide knowledge of trivia is necessary to do well. As a French person, playing the American, Australian or English version is extremely difficult, and not because of a failure to understand the words.
Localization, in a similar way, requires extensive cultural knowledge. To imprint on the target audience the impression that the product is culturally adapted, it is important to either use or reference the target culture.
Sometimes localization is an absence of translation
This was a problem we encountered in 2014. The French users of one of the games were complaining that they couldn’t find the dungeons where they had to perform raids with their guilds. We realized that the French users played together with users from all over the world, and that people in the same guilds might use the game in different language.
So when the localization team tried to keep the intention of a name, but didn’t simply translate it, the users couldn’t find a match and got lost. We had to re-do everything.
More infos on localization
I strongly recommend hanging around on Loek van Kooten’s website. He localizes games (English & Japanese to Dutch), has been for a while, and he knows what he is talking about.
Im am, of course, unable to evaluate the quality of his translation, but his website has a very extensive and comprehensive explanation of what is localization, why it is important, and above all, how localization functions.
Recommended tools to localize into French
You will want an excellent bilingual dictionary. Together with its forum, where many translators exchange ideas, reverso.com is the best one.
A thesaurus, or synonyms dictionary : I use the most complete resource in French, www.crisco.unicaen.fr.
A wonderful dictionary (French only): http://www.cnrtl.fr/
A reliable dictionary (English only): I use several, but I really like thefreedictionary.com
A good slang dictionary:
This page will be updated and improved.