How to Localize Games: An Interview With Hong Kong Publisher 6waves

Localization, or the process of adapting a game to another culture and language, is a hot topic this year among social game developers. While the US market quickly became saturated with players in 2009, Facebook’s international audience of more than 500 million people appears to offer a vast opportunity for further expansion.

However, the process of moving a product to a foreign userbase is more complex than just translating the text. Other cultures have different expectations for the user interface and interactions, while many markets have their own peculiarities of payment processing and monetization.

Inside Social Games will be running a series of interviews over the coming weeks with some of the smartest international developers. This first interview is with with 6waves co-founder Rex Ng, who publishes over three dozen games including Mall World開心水族箱 and Kingdoms of Camelot.

To start off, Rex defined three areas of localization for us: language, payment and marketing, with language being the easiest and payment hardest.

Inside Social Games: Since language is the easy part, let’s start there. What’s your process?

Rex Ng: It’s a two-pronged process for us. We have a professional translation company that we outsource to, and our core product has 10 languages already. That’s the first step. Then we also have in-house country managers who review the translations and make sure the stuff is up to par, and we’ve revised specifically for games like Mall World, which is more female-oriented.

ISG: What makes payment localization difficult?

Ng: PayPal and credit cards are very prominent in the US, but for each new country we have to go in and have a localized resource for the market. A lot of times the payment choices for micro-transactions, they may not start out as a dedicated company. Some of them are game companies with a payment channel, so we’ll reach out to them. Second to that is integrating the system — it’s not like they’ll just provide a payment API. When we integrated with Gamania we were the second or third partner, so there was a lot of work making sure it was accurate, and getting payment reports on a granular basis so we could use the data to analyze how the game is doing for the country. That’s a lot of work,. There are also a lot of new companies that are trying to break into these emerging markets and create payment channels, like Turkey, Brazil and India, but a lot of these companies are newer, so we have to be the guinea pig them to test out and see how their systems are scaling.

ISG: How are the different world regions developing, in terms of prepared payment channels?

Ng: I think the premium model has sparked a lot of companies to specialize in payments. They are coming relatively quickly. In Europe there weren’t a lot of these channels, but when we last went to Hamburg there were a bunch. They’re spawning quite quickly, but it will take a couple months to see which channels will come out on top. In the newer areas, like in South Asia and Latin America, they’re coming out as well. By the end of 2010 a lot of these companies will start to stabilize, but we always want to be one of the first to find out which companies are best.

ISG: Marketing is the last of the three pillars you mentioned. How does that work?

Ng: There are times where, let’s take Taiwan for example, the Facebook traffic there was not great until we’d pushed a lot of our games and done local marketing. A lot of the PR was from the game sites, the local media. So for a lot of Asian countries, the first time they’ve heard about Facebook is from the games. At the time our farming game was the most played, and there were a lot of articles, a TV announcement, etc — it became a pretty big phenomenon, and drove a lot of users back to the game.