Getting Started with Mobile Game Localization

Updates: We just published our new ebook, “The Beginners’ Guide to Mobile Game Localization,” by the end of December 2014. The ebook offers a step-by-step guide to localizing your mobile game. Get it free.



What is the best way to acquire multiple growth in gamers? Well it’s without a doubt that mobile game localization is on the checklist of things to do. After reading this mobile game localization tutorial, you will be aware of the 6 key things to consider before you get started on your next project.

The ROI of mobile game localization is very promising. Take QuizUp, for example, the hottest and revolutionized trivia game around. Its game developer for Plain Vanilla Games has localized QuizUp into four languages (German, Spanish, French and Portuguese).

Not surprisingly, QuizUp’s user growth quickly skyrocketed to 20 million international users.

Of course mobile game localization is not rocket science. You don’t need to hire a few PhDs for that, but there’s still some work that needs to be done.

Below are some crucial steps behind the localization process.

1. Decide Which Languages to Localize

It should be the dream of all the game studios to conquer as many gamers worldwide. But you must first decide where you want to begin your localization journey.

Languages determine everything in a localization project: ROI, budge as well as your target audience.

Here are some questions below that will help you before beginning your localization project.

  1. How many users can you reach by localizing into your desired language?
  2. What’s the (ROI) profitability of localizing into a language?
  3. How are your competitors doing in localization? How’re you going to beat them (competitor analysis)?

Tips: Use Analytics Tools to Judge

Using analytics tool would be useful in dealing with all these above questions. App analytics tools such as AppAnnie and Sensor Tower would be a great choice to guide your app market analysis. These tools provide you country data and competitor intelligence by vertical, so that you can study and judge the results.

If you’re looking for a free option, OneSky’s AppGrader is a small tool that helps you check the localization progress of an app. We would also provide an estimate of how many users you can reach with a designated localization plan.


2. Choose the Best Translation Method

Nowadays, there are plenty of ways to get your game translated. Traditionally people rely on translation agency or have to build their in-house translation team. But thanks to crowdsourcing technology, gamers could also become your translators now.

If you have launched your game and have already built up a strong user base, you can crowdsource your translation project. The work of crowdsourced translation can be excellent with the showcases of Whatsapp and Facebook.

However, quality assurance is still a concern in most crowdsourced projects. Knowing a language does not mean you’ll become a good translator. Having a single translation problem may induce serious issues. When Minecraft crowdsource its Afrikaans translation, a crowd translator added a racial slur in the game. The Minecraft developer had to apologize for the issue.

Tips: Combine Crowdsourced and Pro Approaches

So you have to carefully pick the translation method that fits your case. A nice mix of crowdsourced and professional translation method may achieve the best translation quality and promotion outcome. Options include:

  • Translated by your gamers (Crowdsourced translation)
  • Translated by professional translators (Professional translation)
  • Translated by gamers, reviewed by professional translators
  • Translated by professional, voted the best by gamers, and so on.

Tips: Treat Crowdsourcing as a Marketing Campaign

A brilliant crowdsourced translation project should be also a marketing campaign. Crowd translators build a sense of ownership when helping out your project, and grow loyalty to your game (Hey! I helped translate this game… at least partly!).

You just need some tricks to motivate your translators. The key is making the experience fun and rewardable. Give your contributors some gifts, be it virtual items or actual products. Make a leaderboard to honour the most dedicated. Share the pre-launched content with volunteers. You name it. Only you know how to treat your gamers good.

3. Set a Reasonable Timeline

Translation is art. All art takes time to harvest, unless all you need is just something like a poorly photoshopped meme. Even if your game is a small one, you need to be patient to expect with pro level quality translation.

A rule of thumb is that a professional translator can translate up to 2000 words per day. So the basic formula of days required to complete your translation project is the total word count divided by 2000. The number of days required increases with more QA measures taken, the expected translation quality and the difficulty of translating the source content.

Tips: Reserve Your Time for Translator’s Inquiries

Many people would think translation is a solo quest, thinking that a translator sits behind a laptop, murmuring about your game in a foreign language. But the truth is, translation is best with co-op mode. Translators often needs clarification of the meaning of the source text. For example: The word “Kill” is it referring to a verb or a noun? Is the speaker of the dialogue a male or female? So its important to assign a team member to feed your translator info. Provide more context to your source strings, so that translators can craft for the best outcome (See #6 for details).

If your game is large with as many as ten thousands words, your team members may take up to a day to reply translators’ inquiries. Yeah, translation is tough, but it’s worth your time when you get millions of installs.

4. Isolate All Text Strings from Source Code

Localization process is to translate all of the text strings displayed by your mobile game. To do this, you have to extract all text from your executable code into resources files.

Resource files should consist of one or more key-value pairs along with optional comments. The resources files should be separated by language. The resources files are able to be integrated into your app when correctly stored.

It means that you should avoid “hard coding” any text into your source code. Ask your engineers for strings extraction programmatically or manually.

There are different file types for different platforms. iOS uses .string file format, while Android support .xml file format. You may follow Apple’s and Google’s guidelines respectively.

Tips: Wrap Strings to Support Various Grammar Rules

Well-extracted strings help preserve the meaning of source strings, and let translators produce better quality translations.

Sometimes, the extraction may depend on how the source code is written and therefore it may distort the grammatical structure of a string. Since language is a highly complicated matter, what sounds correct in English might not be correct in other languages. Therefore, engineers who work on localization must be very careful. The trick of the trade here is make wrapping supports various grammar rules. Major items include (a) subject-object-verb order, (b) plurality and (c) gender.

Subject-object-verb order

The sequencing of subject-object-verb in a sentence can affect its meaning. English adopts the order of subject-verb-object (SVO, like I eat an apple), but the most common order by number of known languages is subject-object-verb (SOV).

If the process of string wrapping does not consider the issue of SOV order, it might incur a translation problem. See the examples below:

  1. <p><?=translate(“You have got”)?><?=$Item?></p>
  2. <p><?=translate(“You have got %{Item}”, array(‘Item’ => $Item))?></p>

Example 1 will encounter translation issues in languages like Japanese. As for Japanese, the object should be put in front of the verb: あなたは%{Item}を持っている。

Plural forms

English simply have two plural forms: singular and plural. But some languages contain complicated plural forms. Let’s take Russian as an example.

The Russian word of “sword” would have:

  • Singular Form: меч or 1 меч
  • Plural Form
    • No number: мечи
    • Number ends in 2, 3, 4 excluding 12, 13, 14: 22 меча
    • Number is 11-14 or ends in 11-14 or ends in 0, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9: 111 мечей
    • Number ends in 1 excluding 11: 131 меч
    • Fractional number: 125.5 меча


There is approximately one fourth of the world’s languages that possess grammatical gender classes. In these languages, every noun contains a gender value (such as masculine or feminine). The gender class of noun will affect the use of agreement or an article in a sentence.

Let say French for example. The word “bicycle” carries a masculine noun class, so “where is the bicycle?” should be “Où est le vélo”, and the response might be “Il est là” (“He is there”).

If the sentence “where is the bicycle?” is not extracted correctly, such as:

<p><?=translate(“Where is the”)?><?=$Item?></p>,

then it requires a lot of efforts from the translators to make the translation grammatically correct in terms of gender form.

The golden rule of string wrapping is to include the full sentence of a string, and consider all plural forms and gender. You may refer to our previous blog post, 4 tips for developers on preparing strings for localization for more engineering tips.

5. Prepare Style Guide and Glossary List

Both style guide and glossary list are essential for a localization project. They both provide clearer instruction for translators. A style guide is a framework for understanding how a company’s content is presented, while a glossary is a list of approved, standardized terms that are specific to your product.

Both style guide and glossary list, if they are well prepared, can help improve translation quality. With a good style guide, translators are able to adapt the game content into local culture well, consistent with your brand sentiment and tone. Glossary can greatly increase translators’ awareness of important terminologies from start, and increase translation consistency.

Typical elements in a style guide include:

  • Punctuation (spacing, quotation marks)
  • Branding elements (unique to the country or language)
  • Formatting (bolding, fonts, trademarks)
  • Tone (formal vs. informal)
  • Local Adaptation (how to deal with currencies, addresses, phone numbers)

6. Prepare Contexts to Translator

Translation is all about meaning, and as we all know, meaning varies with context. So giving enough context to the translator is important unless you want him/her confused.

Context becomes more significant with mobile game localization. Text within a mobile game is usually short word or phrase. So its meaning highly depends how user see the text from navigation. Whether the word “kill” means an action (to kill somebody) or a number count (how many kill does the player have) is about how it is displayed on the game screen.

If you just provide translators with dozens of anonymous phrases, they might end up their translators in just guesswork and miscommunications. No good work can be done for sure.

Therefore, providing context is necessary for translators to do their jobs right. As the project owner, you need to indicate where the associated strings are located on the screen and all necessary elements that may influence the translation process. Preparing reference materials or relevant screenshot would be very helpful for them.

Tips for RPG Games: Prepare a Dialogue List with Sufficient Information

In some languages, how the same meaning is expressed may vary with the relationship between the narrator and the listener. For languages like Japanese that highly respect for social hierarchy, you use different tones when you are speaking to senior or junior fellows.

So if your game is RPG with tons of conversations, don’t forget to prepare a dialogue list with sufficient information. You’d better prepare a detailed list of game conversation. Your list should contain the below info:

  • What is the dialogue?
  • When and where is the dialogue shown in the game?
  • Who is the narrator?
    • Gender
    • Social rank
  • Who is the listener?
    • Gender
    • Social rank

Takeaway: Always Plan Ahead

Yes, localization is not a simple task as many people would think. Good quality translations require both engineering and project management skills and efforts. But it’s worth such kind of investment as what you can get from localization is a large increase in reach of your product.

As a takeaway, I could only advise you to plan ahead. Planning at advance can save you from many troubles due to poorly preparation such as incomplete context. Please reserve sufficient time to do the planning and the preparation. Even partnership with a vendor is no excuse from all preparation tasks required, unless you just want to get poor results.

BONUS: a free beginner’s guide

We have gone through a few useful tips to kick off a game localization project in this blog post. But these tips might be not enough for you to fully go for the project, right?

We understand. That’s why we have put together a comprehensive beginner’s guide to mobile game localiation to you. This 29-page eBook teaches you how to run a game localization project step by step. From planning to coding, you will learn how to bring your game to the world.
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About OneSky

OneSky provides seamless end-to-end localization solutions for thousands of mobile apps, games, websites, and businesses worldwide. We offer professional translation services in 50+ languages and a translation management system (TMS) with API integrations and plugins to streamline your workflow. We hire and carefully screen our own translators to ensure the highest control over quality. Using OneSky’s powerful QA features, cross-functional teams collaborate efficiently to deliver faster release cycles and higher quality translations. See how you can go global at


Patrick Yip

Patrick Yip is the former Head of Marketing at OneSky. Heavily attracted to any brilliant growth strategy, well-crafted content and the idea of making the Internet globally accessible.

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  1. November 13, 2014

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