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    Challenges in games localization and bringing to Chinese market

    Julia Ventskovska
    CEO MK:TRANSLATIONS 21.01.2023
    Challenges in games localization and bringing to Chinese market

    When it comes to China, you cannot do without “the most” prefix:

    • the largest ecommerce market in the world;
    • the most famous online trading platform Alibaba;
    • the largest audience of internet users;
    • the toughest regulatory policy in technology industry.

    Despite the last factor, game developers and publishers believe Chinese market to be a tasty morsel. It’s no wonder, according to NewZoo estimates it has been a world leader with the volume of more than $45 billion for several years in a row already, even with the continuous pressure of the government.

    The top ten largest gaming markets according to NewZoo

    Read also: Localization in metaverse

    Market features

    Mobile gaming market is the most profitable segment of Chinese entertainment industry against the backdrop of decrease in revenues from PC games, which started back in 2017. NewZoo have estimated that the mobile segment gamers have almost equal gender ratio: 51% of men and 49% of women, and the largest audience contains of people up to 35 years old.

    Chinese gamers prefer different genres depending on their sex and age. RPG (29%) and strategies (22%) are the most frequent on the market.

    Chinese gamers are pretty gambling addicts. Since casino is prohibited at the legislative level in the country, the Chinese experience the thrill due to cybersport, which develops at a frantic pace.

    There are more than 250 publishers on the market, and almost 75% of games are created within the country. That kind of dominance appeared because of complex bureaucracy and strict requirements governing launch of all games.

    From the very beginning, the development of Chinese market was different compared to the western one. Against the backdrop of acute shortage of consoles in the 1990s, the piracy and gray trade appeared, and the number of gaming addicted people increased together with them. Because of that, production and import of consoles have been completely prohibited; sanctions have been imposed on slots. Thus began the struggle of Chinese government with “spiritual opium”.

    Government influence on gaming industry

    The requirement of obtaining the license has become a serious obstacle for entering China’s market. The special body, NPPA, deals with issuance of permits. The officials check all projects thoroughly for compliance with requirements and availability of prohibited content. The process may take from several weeks for a local puzzle to almost a year for western strategies.

    Even if a game doesn’t contradict the principles of Chinese ideology, a western company won’t be able to obtain a license without registration of a local business entity. The Golden Shield Project, informally referred to as “The Great Firewall of China”, has been operating in the country for almost 20 years already. This is a multilevel system of internet content filtering and traffic control, which blocks suspicious and prohibited websites and applications, mostly western ones. When obtaining Security Assessment Form you’ll need to explain Chinese government where you keep data on users, and prove that there’s no illegal content in the game. Therefore, in order the mobile game to operate properly, you should use Chinese servers and services.

    Since it’s not enough just to open a Chinese office, you’ll need official company registration, local accounts and servers. To launch a game studios are forced to use the services of Chinese partners.

    For example, the local publisher NetEase released Blizzard games in China for many years. A few weeks ago, it became known that the parties failed to agree on continuation of agreements since January 2023. In case of failure to find a new partner urgently, a complete termination of sales and exit from the market of the Middle Kingdom is awaiting for Blizzard.

    Chinese government didn’t stop at tough measures regarding developers and publishers. It tries to effect the technological industry development with limiting game time. Minor gamers can spend only three hours per week for video games – from 20:00 to 21:00 on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays. To control the compliance with requirements, you should integrate the user verification system into games by real name and limitations, which won’t allow violation of the rules.

    In last August, after publishing this news, the shares of such giants as Tencent, NetEase, XD declined 6-8%, and some smaller and weaker companies were forced to exit the market.

    What is game localization and how can you make it

    Game localization is a project adaptation and preparation for a new market and audience. It consists of several stages and depending on the game details can have different depth that is cover different components.

    Let’s consider all elements in details.

    Language selection

    The challenges are associated with the existence of three Chinese language versions:

    • simplified Chinese (Mandarin) for Mainland;
    • traditional Chinese for Taiwan;
    • traditional Chinese for Hong Kong.

    Moreover, there are a lot of dialects in China. For example, Cantonese is used for oral communication by Hong Kong citizens.

    Main dialects by the number of native speakers

    Language Number of native speakers
    Mandarin 1.3 billion
    Wu 80 million
    Cantonese 70 million
    Min 60 million
    Jin 45 million
    Xiang 36 million
    Hakka 33 million
    Gan 21 million

    The most often mistakes in localization occur because of vocabulary borrowing from one Chinese version into another. This may be because a translator is a native speaker of Mandarin, for example, and is not good at traditional one. Sometimes, such negligence can cause a game boycott. For example, “too Chinese” elements or terms can provoke Hong Kong’s gamers. So, it’s better to change even characters names from traditional transliteration into Hong Kong. Though, some international gaming terms can be still in Latin, for example, solo or farming.

    The selection of all Chinese versions or keeping a single one depends on your strategy and goals. From the experience I can say that game developers most often use simplified Chinese for localization to cover a huge market of Mainland China.

    The Chinese language is pretty laconic, therefore, when translating, for example, from English the text length will decrease almost twice. Even at the development stage, make sure that all UI elements are easily scalable for not to modify interface for each language version.

    Cultural adaptation

    China is a special country with different culture compared to the rest of the world and a peculiar mentality. What European gamers like, may not interest anybody here. The Chinese have a low tolerance for applications and games that seem to have been translated. Even worse – in case they don’t meet local cultural norms. Therefore, before launching a game, study the audience thoroughly. The answer for question “What is required for game localization?” will depend on it.

    The marketers know, if the brand is pretty famous, then it’s better to keep an original name during localization. But in China this story does not always work. The language purity is respected here, and consonant names are used to convey an original idea. The Chinese love nice artistic images, therefore, only native speakers, who understand the audience and know what it need, should deal with localization.

    If you want your game to look like “more Chinese”, follow the simple tips:

    • Add some chic, rich colours and bright animation. Replace brown, gray and other dark shades.
    • Avoid excessive minimalism in interface and visual design. Feel free to add some icons and large sparkly headlines.
    • Use symbols, for example, Chinese lanterns. This is a demonstration of national pride and welfare of the Chinese. That is why such an image in gamer profiles will provide them with some characteristics and status.
    • Remember, all national holidays in China are associated with the lunar calendar, although, the Gregorian calendar is officially used.
    • Pay attention to regional formats of time and date, measurement units. For example, in China 12-hour format is used, and dates are written in the following sequence: year-month-day. Take this into account in order not to confuse local gamers.

    Read also: How do national characteristics affect game localization and app software?

    Compliance with censorship regulations

    However, cultural differences are not the only reason to localize a game. The struggle of Chinese government with “Western influence”, which started from prohibiting books and movies, also touched upon games. Censorship criteria are rather indistinct, which allows NPPA officials to estimate products strictly and categorically.

    In particular, game content:

    • should not threaten national unity and ethics, violate principles of constitution;
    • should chant socialist values and cultural traditions;
    • cannot distort Chinese history, have religious and cultural elements, images of ghosts, zombies or vampires;
    • should not contain propaganda of war, violence and cruelty, demonstrate corpses, skeletons and blood;
    • cannot contain scenes and images of sex, pornography or any other expressions of indecency.

    Therefore, each product released to Chinese market requires analysis and deep localization. Otherwise, you cannot obtain a license.

    This is what happened with Battlefield 4 shooter, which the officials regarded as “threaten to national security”. Moreover, at first glance, harmless Football Manager 2005 became a “threaten to China’s integrity” because of Taiwan imaging as an independent country.

    Battlefield 4 game prohibited in China

    To escape censorship the developers sometimes are forced to change even characters. As it happened, for example, in AFK Arena game, because rules prohibit demonstration of guts, bones and skulls.

    Character changes for Chinese version of AFK Arena game

    Technical support

    The Chinese are very socialised and like to contact social supports. Thus, if you didn’t have such a section in the original version of a game, be sure to create local support with a team of local experts.

    Payment systems

    Remember, almost all services familiar to us have local equivalents in China. So, forget about any known payment systems. Bind to Alipay, WeChat Pay, Union Pay application instead.

    Major payment systems in China

    Application stores

    We are used to major mobile applications stores, such as Google Play and App Store. The situation in China is different; there are hundreds of them there. It makes no sense to try to release a game in each of them. The selection of three platforms with the general market share of more than 50%, such as Tencent My App, Huawei App Market and Oppo Software Store, will be enough.

    Market leaders among application stores

    Promotion peculiarities

    Games promotion in China has its peculiarities as well.

    First, it has completely different popular services and sites, such as Baidu, WeChat, Weibo, Tieba, Tianya and Douban gaming forums. To obtain a greater loyalty when placing advertisement there, operate on behalf of Chinese company – the legal entity registered by you or a local partner.

    Secondly, remember that “word of mouth” is effective in China: if a group of people like a game, it has every chance to win the national love. But, a local expert should deal with marketing, who understands the social media and peculiarities of the local market.


    The process of bringing a product to Chinese market can hardly be called a pleasant evening walk under the moonlight. Since, it requires much time, resources, knowledge and experience. MK:translations team is ready to undertake games localization for Chinese audience. You will only have to find a reliable partner for its distribution.

    Would like to know, how much does game localization cost? Submit a query and get the detailed estimation of your project.

    Read also: Three popular mistakes in game localization process

    Read more

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