Localizing is Expanding Your Own Border

Fortumo Symbio App Localization

This is a guest post written by  Symbio: the global leader in innovation, co-creation and seamless augmentation. Symbio provides insight and strategy, design and research, productization, software (game) development, quality assurance, globalization, R&D operations, systems management and support operations for over 400 customers worldwide.

Recent developments in modern technology have seen the computerized world reach segments of the population that us, tech geeks, have for a long time pretty much discarded from the realm of potential customers.

Yes, visionaries among us have been dreaming of a laptop per child for years, but the concretization of this vision brings so much in terms of opportunities. Who could have envisioned a 43 year-old man in the Hunan province, teaming up with a girl of 12 from Lima, Peru and a 65 year-old grandma from Pirkanmaa in order to raid the village of a Romanian Clan Leader? Well, that scenario happens every day in the gaming world. Maybe with different variables but you see my point.

Gaming, more and more, brings people together, but there are segments of the population that whether we want it or not, will not bend to learn English in order to find distraction on their screen of choice.

I spent an evening with old friends last summer, in my home town, a very predominantly French community in Canada. As we spoke around the patio table, catching up on what happened in our lives, my friend’s mother was sitting with us, listening to our conversation, but mainly playing a game of what I think was a version of Bejeweled on her iPad. Jeannine is approaching 70; she adopted 3 kids and had 2 of her own, still works as a nurse and didn’t have much time or need in her life to learn English.

A few years back, you would have seen folks of that age play solitary with a deck of cards to pass the time. Nowadays, they spend that time in front of a screen, and they do spend the odd dollar here and there to unlock a level, buy lives and get more moves.

Games like Bejeweled, Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds, Farm Heroes are admirable in their simplicity and need an impressively small amount of words to be understood as far as gameplay is concerned, which makes one wonder why should the game be localized in the first place.

But as these games themselves “unlock” that next segment of gaming customers, one has to keep in mind that those customers are less technology savvy and trusting than your average MMORPG player. So as far as anything valuable to the producing company goes – read: Payment – it is crucial that the end user feels comfortable handling transactions in a language he/she understands.

The app maker King made over a billion dollars last year mainly from in-app purchases (if you didn’t know about this, let it sink in a little). One can easily get by playing Candy Crush or Bubble Witch with the application being only in English. Words like ‘Moves’, ‘Start’, ‘Game Over’ are not that difficult to figure out but once you engage in any sort of monetary transaction, anyone would be ill at ease transacting in a language that is not well understood, let alone Jeannine and her generation that might not even be trusting enough of the internet to conduct net banking operations.

Furthermore, in order to boost possible sales, most games with in-app purchases often prompt the user with special offers. If those offers are unintelligible to the end-user, there are much more chances they will be ignored and the effort will be lost on a large proportion of users. Of course, once in a while, someone will be tricked into buying something without quite understanding what he is doing, but in the long run, this is not a profitable strategy.

Also only a few games can get by with a learning curve for players which is graphics-based and relatively self-explanatory (e.g. Angry Birds). Most apps need to rely on language in order for the user to get the gist of the game. And the more you delve into RPG territory, the more ‘wordy’ you need to be.

So when asking yourself, should my app be localized and how much, in how many languages should it be localized, you simply need to ask yourself where you want to set the border to your potential customer pool.