A Guide to Cultural Accuracy in Living Games
It’s a common truth of the industry these days that very few games are ever ‘finished’ on the day they’re released. Nor are they intended to be. Games live and breathe, they thrive on updates, events, and ambitious DLC. While this can be a dream come true for gamers, it presents a lot of challenges for games creators – especially when dealing with a multilingual, multicultural, global audience. But those challenges can become opportunities!
Coming up with a strategy for your latest update, season, or DLC is hard. Balancing that with a global audience is even harder. In the mobile industry especially, things move fast and there can be a lot of white noise from games trying to stay relevant and up to date. We can offer a little help and insight.
The real key to creating ‘living’ games is in making them culturally relevant and appealing to the audience you have already earned. Whether yours is a futuristic space-age MMO shooter or a medieval RPG strategy game, adopting cultural consultation and awareness into your strategy is the key to unlocking long-lasting lifespans for global games.
Want some tips on how that can be achieved? Look no further.
Mind Your Language
The most obvious tool in the playbook, and therefore the best starting point, is language. As a company who has been dealing with culturally competent translations for video games for more than 15 years, we have a (pardon the pun) native understanding of how multilingual games work from a cultural standpoint.
Games translation, especially for games that expand and update regularly in an effort to retain audiences, is about more than A-to-B translation. Some things translate naturally. Great. But quite often they won’t, and that’s when you need to get the cultural adaptation handbook out.
For example, some languages are very gendered. They will have incidental gendered nouns and verbs. While this is perfectly innocent in languages where this phraseology exists and is accepted, for languages without, it can make for a pretty uninclusive gaming experience. After all, what could be more fatal for a game than alienating potentially more than 50% of its audience? Neutralising your incidentally gendered phrases and terms may seem like a small effort for you, but it can make a big difference for your audience!
Fun fact: Many TTRPG game rule books, including the Dungeons & Dragon’s 3rd edition guide, use female pronouns throughout for greater inclusivity and representation!
A diverse and informed localization team will be able to effectively guide your game through cultural linguistic pitfalls that might arise throughout the translation process, consult with you closely on how to make your overall tone more appropriate for your big focus demographics and locations, and install a house style guide to make sure your preferred tone is hit pitch perfect in each target language.
Know Your Audience
Regardless of how many competitors you game has, to your players it is unique. This is why they choose to play it. The implication behind an audience choosing your game over your competitors’ is that there is a set of boxes your game inherently ticks for them that other games don’t. Leverage this information, it is your superpower.
What you will find is that, when it comes to global games, players in different regions will have different views on what they love about your game or what they would like to see represented in new updates. Of course they will, different cultures always imply different values. Don’t shy away from this or try to make your game more general for greater mass appeal – double down, go deeper.
In our experience, a lot of developers embrace cultural elements of their assumed key demographic regions when planning things like in-game events or new seasons within their updates.
Take Forge of Empires for example and their highly successful Forge Bowl events, which have only grown in reach and popularity year on year. The Forge of Empires team are aware of their global player spread. With a large US audience, it’s a safe bet that many players would be excited at the idea of an American Football-style event. Or, in other words, through some simple cultural analysis and data review, the team realised a US-focused event would be worthwhile.
Putting that extra bit of care and consideration into the kinds of cultures your game will come up against will pay huge dividends in the long term when it comes to player retention and loyalty.
Regional Restrictions and Age Rating Requirements
If your game is priming for a truly worldwide release – and let’s be honest, that should always be the hope, especially for mobile games considering the accessibility of smartphones – then you need to be acutely aware of the potential cultural traps and obstacles in each of your target regions and how to best adapt your game for each.
Some European countries have very strict laws on gambling in video games targeted at minors (under 18 years of age). Japan has stringent rules when it comes to portrayals of anti-social behaviour or violence regardless of age. Many countries will also have iron-clad guidelines for how themes like same-sex relationships, for example, can (or can’t) be portrayed.
Even outside the world of age rating and regulation, ask yourself: how aware are your game designers and writers of how different iconography can play in different global regions? A particular symbol or colour may be well received within one culture but deemed totally appropriate in another! In fact, before 2018, Germany had a total blanket ban on all use of the Swastika in video games of any age rating.
Don’t Fret, Help is Out There
Understanding the nuances of cultural adaptation for video games can be hard. And considering the video games industry has such a high number of indie and first-time developers who often rely on skeleton crews working across multiple disciplines or projects, having someone in your corner to advise and guide you through the cultural minefield can be a sound investment.
Our work with over 1,000 successful developers and studios in the global gaming industry is proof that localizing gaming content effectively is key in a global release and retention strategy. But when it comes to games that aim to update regularly and provide ongoing, engaging content for their players, there is so much more work to be done! You can make the most conceptually rich, aesthetically jaw-dropping updates you want, but if they don’t resonate with your players, you’ve wasted your time.
Our localization teams are more than native experts in their specialized languages, they’re 100% culturally literate too and can help guide you through the best ways to adapt and fit your games to each of your target regions at every step of the games development process – be it a first release, a quick patch, or a brand new DLC.