How to Localize Games: An Interview with European Developer Wooga

In two previous stories on developers internationalizing their games, we’ve focused on the big Asian markets. This week we’re turning our attention to Europe in an interview with Wooga CEO Jens Begemann.

Wooga is a German company, but its target market includes most of the Western world. From the beginning of development, Wooga works on localizing its content for a half-dozen languages, reaching almost 400 million of Facebook’s total 500 million users. The company currently has three games out: Bubble Island, Brain Buddies and Monster World.

Inside Social Games: How many languages do you localize your games for?

We used to do more than we do today, including the Philippines and Indonesia. We’re not doing those anymore for three reasons.

First, most users in these countries don’t monetize so well; second, many of those people use Facebook in English; and third, the user numbers are huge, but many people use Facebook on mobile only, not the web. So at the moment we’re doing English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Turkish.

ISG: Are there any more markets you’re potentially interested in?

All of our current translated language also give us South America, Canada and so forth. What we’re watching most closely at the moment is Brazil, but Facebook doesn’t yet have critical mass there yet.

ISG: What about Russian or languages from the Eastern European countries?

My impression is that the people in those countries are using English, and the markets also aren’t very large. The markets of interest in that region would be Poland and Russia, but Facebook is not as large as their own local social networks.

ISG: What are the components to localization for those markets?

Localization is about translation, then about local customer care. We do local fanpage management and community management. We don’t do local payments, because we use Facebook Credits exclusively.

The one thing we do that’s very special is localizing virtual goods. For example, a football in America is an egg, in Europe it’s round – there are plenty of differences. We believe that translating isn’t enough — local tastes and culture adoption are really important.

ISG: How do you handle translation?

We’re a big believer that you shouldn’t develop the game in one language and then translate. Translation and adapting to local culture is part of development. We’ve got six native speakers, one for each language, who are part of development.

We do everything in-house. That’s what I learned at my last company [Jamba] – if you want really high quality and speed, do it yourself.

ISG: Do the same people who handle translation do the community management?

They’re not alone, but for every language we’ve got one country manager running a team.

ISG: What’s the strategy behind localizing virtual goods?

If there’s a national holiday that’s only in one specific region, we do virtual goods for it. At the moment we target it country-wise – we don’t make it more targeted because experience tells us that people travel. Someone might have grown up in Bavaria and moved to Hamburg, for example.

ISG: Does localizing from the beginning cost a lot more than just building a game for one language?

Our goal from day one was to be an international company. If we create a new game, we immediately consult our country managers on what the specifics should be.

The biggest problem if you’re not doing it that way is not the added investment of localization, it’s slowing down your core team. If you build a game and then ask how you can adapt it to another market, there are all kinds of features that come up that require you to reposition.

For example, English is a very short language – all the words in German are longer, and you need more space for them. If you build your company with localization in mind, I’d guess the added investment is 10 to 20 percent. If you have to go back later to change the game, it can really be a problem.

This interview is part of an ongoing series on localization. Past coverage includes:
RockYou: Working in Japan
6waves: Localizing for Asia