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Bringing Chinese Games to the West Is a Lot Harder Than You'd Think

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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, localizing Chinese games for western audiences.

This trend of Chinese localization isn't new, but it isn't old either. To clarify, when I say Chinese localization, I mean Chinese games localized for the US, almost like reverse localization. According to Josh Dyer, a game translator and localizer 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 4 years Dyer 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 Dyer. "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's ever tried to learn Chinese: Chinese is very different language from English. Dyer says that translating Chinese games is a whole different plane than just translating Chinese to English. There is a need for culturalization on top of the translation.


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

Oftentimes 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, Dyer says. Early Chinese games were often done fast and quick; instead of hiring a real localization 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.

Dyer 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)", Dyer 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, Dyer says that the biggest issue with Chinese game localization is the fact that the games are Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, with an added Chinese flavor 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 Dyer. "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, Dyer 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 Dyer'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 Dyer.


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]

(Top photo: woaiss | Shutterstock)

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