So you built a game, launched it into the world, and it’s thriving! You’re monitoring and updating it, players are enthusiastic and your community is growing. That’s amazing! But you believe your game can go even further. So what comes next? Well, maybe it’s time for strategic localization. This can be a powerful way to increase the reach of your game, build global communities, boost retention, and ultimately create your own luck when it comes to game growth.
Don’t take our word for it. According to App Annie, 50% of the top 10 countries for downloads and revenue in the App Store are non-English speaking, predominantly from Europe and East Asia, and it’s even more for Google Play.
In this article, we will explore different sides of localization as a game growth strategy, and provide practical tips for how you can reach a global audience of players without breaking the bank. Let’s dive in!
Going global with your game means speaking the language of your audience, literally. It’s about expanding your player base and boosting player retention and long-term engagement by understanding the motivations, preferences, and cultural uniqueness of your potential players around the world. This involves tailoring your game’s content, marketing materials, store listings, and overall messaging to resonate with specific demographics and regions.
But where do you begin? Well, let’s get into it! We’ve got practical suggestions and case studies to show what steps to take, how they work, and why they are important.
Translation might be the most obvious part of localization, but there’s more to it than you might think. If you do a simple translation, even if the result seems natural (to you!), are you capturing the nuances? Connotations don’t translate easily across languages. Your task is to craft a cohesive gaming experience that is extra-welcoming to players from a particular region.
At Yodo1, we’ve found a keyword-focused approach to translation to be the most successful–at least initially. Translating a whole game is generally time and resource-intensive, so dip your toes in with keywords and go from there (as time and resources allow). Do keyword research in tools like Semrush or App Radar in your target language just as you would for your English store listing, and then, test! For example, maybe you want to localize your fantasy game for the German market. You may find that the term ‘Zauberer’ (Wizard) resonates more deeply with players than ‘Magier’ (Mage), despite their similar meanings in the game’s context.
You need to identify those magic keywords (through A/B testing) that will connect with prospective players, but if you don’t know enough about the region in question, consider hiring a freelancer from the target country via Fiverr or Upwork to fine-tune your keywords and make sure they resonate from a local perspective. You could also consider reaching out directly to some of the players in your community to ask for input and refine your region-specific messaging. You may also consider crowdsourcing translations in your player community, as games like Idle Slayer have done, to great success.
Even in countries that speak the same language—like Portugal and Brazil, for example—you’ll find a lot of subtle differences, especially when it comes to colloquial terms or slang. Authenticity in the little things can make a difference, so make sure you give this the attention it needs.
While translating parts of your game is a good start, that’s not even scratching the surface. Creating unique content for specific regions can show players that you understand their culture and genuinely care about them, which helps build strong bonds and can foster community. When you have that bond, players are likely to stick around longer. Yes, it boosts retention, which is a key component of a game’s overall success long term.
That’s why content localization is the second pillar of effective game localization. Put simply, it’s taking adaptation to another level by crafting experiences that incorporate specific cultural and regional elements.
“Well yes, that sounds great,” you may be thinking, “but how?”
Two primary approaches can work magic here.
The first approach is adding relevant in-game cultural content, and adapting parts of the game to highlight important elements in specific cultures and regions. You’ve already been analyzing your game’s market performance data (right?), so you can make informed decisions about which areas to invest your time and resources in to give you the best odds of success, whether that’s an increase in downloads, higher retention, etc.
Here at Yodo1, we’ve successfully used cultural events like Chinese New Year, for example, to craft specific in-game events and content for our game Rodeo Stampede, and it always results in exceptional player engagement. Players are drawn not just to the fun gameplay, but also to the sense of community and local connection as virtual celebrations overlap with real ones. This is where you really get to exercise your creativity!
The second approach that can really pay off is collaborations with local content creators; after all, they already know their audience and often wield significant influence within their regions. By partnering with them, you can tap into their unique insights and work together to create game-related content that local/native players will love.
Integrating localized content is not just about adapting the game; it’s about creating an authentic and personalized gaming journey, bridging the cultural divide, and forging strong connections with global audiences. But how does this work in the real world?
In 2015, the development team behind Crossy Road tapped into the power of tailored localization after noticing an organic surge in the game’s popularity in South Korea. Crucially, they were quick to react to the opportunity, creating an exclusive update designed specifically for South Korean gamers, incorporating cultural elements and familiar references.
In this case, the South Korean update introduced 10 new characters, including one inspired by the iconic K-Pop star, Psy, who quickly became an in-game favorite–he even recorded all his in-game sounds!
And the game’s localization efforts didn’t stop there.
After members of the mega-boyband BTS mentioned the game on Twitter, the Crossy Road team was again quick to capitalize on it. They sent plush toys modeled after the game’s beloved chickens to the group, who then shared these gifts on their Twitter accounts, further boosting the game’s reach.
The result? Crossy Road stayed at the number 1 download spot in the Google Play charts in South Korea for nearly 50 days!
What can we learn from Crossy Road’s successful strategy?
These few examples of how strategic localization can make a huge difference are just the tip of the iceberg. In today’s mobile gaming market, having an effective localization strategy can be the magic formula that helps you stand out from the crowd and take your game to the next level.
Localization that is smart, personalized, and above all strategic is key for developers who want to grow a game to its fullest potential. Putting in the effort needed in this area can make the difference between being a successful, regional hit–and a global one.
Here are a few actionable points to recap what we’ve covered above, and get you started on the right foot with your localization efforts.
Research before diving in: Before investing in full-scale localization, do your research and make sure you understand the market and potential audience.
Localize based on data: Prioritize localization in regions where your game already has traction or shows potential based on the data. Build on organic trends.
Use keyword analysis early: Before translating everything, use keyword analysis to identify which are most relevant to your game, and focus on those first.
Deepen cultural connections: When localizing, go beyond mere translation by incorporating cultural nuances, slang, and local trends. Add content related to local cultural events or holidays.
Collaborate with local influencers: Partner with regional content creators to help introduce and promote your game in their communities.
Stay alert to regional trends: Continue to monitor your game’s performance by region, so you can respond quickly if you notice a sudden spike in a particular area, like the Crossy Road example in South Korea.
We believe that great games make the world a better and more joyful place, and that game developers are modern-day wizards. Well, sometimes even wizards can use a hand. To learn more about how Yodo1 helps game developers at every stage reach the next level of growth, check out our Game Growth Accelerator program.