Bringing Chinese Games To The West Is Harder Than You Think

Every time I visit Hong Kong or Taipei, I notice that more and more console games are being translated for the Chinese market. Be it English to Chinese or Japanese to Chinese, it seems much of the focus is now on creating games that the Chinese can play.

On the flip side, Chinese game companies have been trying, and often to no avail, to push their games into the west for western players. They're, in a sense, localising Chinese games for Western audiences.

This trend of Chinese localisation isn't new, but it isn't old either. To clarify, when I say Chinese localisation, I mean Chinese games localised for the US, almost like reverse localisation. According to Josh Dryer, a game translator and localiser based in Beijing, Chinese game companies have always wanted to expand their audiences, and they have been trying to make their games for the west. During the last four years Dryer has been working with various Chinese companies to translate their games for the US.

"I often work for a Chinese gaming company itself or a Western game operator who has a licensing agreement with a Chinese game company," says Dryer. "It's not always clear who does the translation, sometimes there are third parties involved, such as big international translation houses."

Now, for any reader who has ever tried to learn Chinese: Chinese is very different language from English. Dryer says that translating Chinese games is a whole different plane than just translating Chinese to English. There is a need for culturalisation on top of the translation.

There is a need for culturalisation on top of the translation.

Often, the biggest constraints of the translation come due to spacing. In Chinese the two characters 下载 represent download and they would fit on the button, but when the characters are translated to English, what was once two characters has now become eight. On top of the spacing issue comes the budget, Dryer says. Early Chinese games were often done fast and quick; instead of hiring a real localisation team, the companies would hire local university English majors to translate quickly. Without the addition of playtesting and quality assurance people would end up playing terribly translated games.

Dryer also says that the vagueness of the Chinese language creates another issue in good translations. Giving the example of the following line "找绿衣强盗 (zhao lv yi qiang dao)", Dryer points to a fault within the Chinese language. The sentence when translated basically says "Find the Green Clothed Bandit", but it doesn't specify how many.

But style and nuances of language aside, Dryer says that the biggest issue with Chinese game localisation is the fact that the games are Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, with an added Chinese flavour to boot. Of the majority of the MMO's leaving China, the games tend to be martial arts fantasy based "Wuxia" games such as last summer's Jet Li promoted title Age of Wushu. These games often come with a type of narrative that needs to be tweaked before they reach western shores.

"Chinese games tend to be a little more especially in the Wuxia type things, more romantic and poetic," said Dryer. "Say you run into some guy and he'll recite poetry — "peach blossoms fluttering to the ground in a spring breeze, the sun slowly filtering through the trees" and you'll be like "what is this guy saying?" — but it might be some famous Han dynasty poem that a Chinese player might really understand, and an American player would be like 'everyone is spouting poetry, why is that?!'"

Chinese game companies are flush with cash and aren't afraid to spend, and they are looking to expand their market.

However, despite all the problems and hardships in translating Chinese games to an English audience, Dryer says that Chinese companies are still trying. He points out that Chinese game companies are flush with cash and aren't afraid to spend, and that they are looking to expand their market from an already loaded scene.

Recent reports also back up Dryer's statements. Last year, Chinese gaming giant Tencent purchased Riot Games and invested in Epic games, and, as reported by TechinAsia, Chinese gamers are getting bored of Chinese games.

The issue now of course is how Chinese companies will be making their move to the West. There really hasn't been many games that have come out of China successfully. The latest "successful" Chinese game to hit western shores is technically FTL, and it was made by two foreigners.

"Who exactly are they going to target? If you're going to make a full MMORPG, you're up against this competition, if you're not Blizzard or an exception like EVE Online , its really hard to get your foot in the door, and that's what the really big Chinese games are they are these big client based MMO's," said Dryer.

No one knows what will come of it, but there will definitely be more Chinese games hitting the US market in the form of free to play MMOs.

女子携仿真手枪网吧上网 管理员被吓报警 [Tencent]

Picture: Shutterstock


    Maybe a Western player would appreciate the culture and it shouldn't be removed?

      That's not the problem. The problem is trying to get the American to understand/feel the same way as a Chinese player. The Chinese player has context, the American does not.

        Yeah. It's like when all these US games and books and movies have these themes about black/latino racial tension in a white-dominated society, which carries some very US-specific nuances that don't translate well to places like Australia which has completely different racial demographics.

        Personally, I find it interesting. Other cultures I mean and their take on things. I love the footnotes found in manga that explain why a person says or acts a certain way.

    Is the spacing issue with regards to Chinese vs western characters really any different to the same issue with Japanese games? Games get translated back and forth between English and Japanese all the time and they manage to make it work. I guess the obvious solution is to try and use clear, meaningful graphical icons (which can be universal regardless of language) rather than text where possible.

      I'm not hugely up on Chinese translations but I'm mostly certain that Chinese relies more on the Hanzi (or whatever the Chinese version of Kanji is) characters while Japanese is a mix of Hiragana, Katakana (Which are the alphabets used for each syllable) and Kanji (which combines syllables and condenses meaning based on context), providing more space to work in. The biggest problem you're going to have though is that phrases that may take several lines to say in one language may actually translate to a couple of words in the other. It's just like translating from English into German. The general rule is to make sure you have about half the length again available.

      Japanese games often use english too, take a look at a Japanese fighting game for example.

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