What are the legal risks involved with localizing a video game?

The video game industry is a global phenomenon – there are video gamers in every country and in plenty of instances, gamers want to interact with games in their own native language.

Localization can be a critical part of publishing a game to help it reach larger audiences. But what is localization and what are the risks of accepting free localization recommendations for a video game? Let’s talk through it.

What is localization?

Localization within the video game industry is the process of adapting a game for a market outside of where it was initially published. This may include tailoring existing content for the specific region to make it feel like it was made for that region, such as translating all written words to a different language for greater readability or adding new content just for that area.

For example, games released in certain regions must adhere to specific laws there – generally speaking, no blood is currently allowed in games in the Chinese market and no alcohol or drugs are currently allowed in games in Australia. Localization may cover these sorts of bigger content edits but typically, localization refers to the act of translating a game’s text files into another language.

What are the risks of accepting free localization help?

For extremely popular games with devoted fans, publishers or developers may receive offers to help with localization at no direct cost. Some fans of games may feel so strongly about a game that they want to share it with friends or more people within their region. It’s not unheard of to hear fans do entire translation passes for a game of their own free volition.

Why is this a risk? For starters, there is no proper documentation. The business receiving this free translation does not own the contribution. Even if the documentation is correct, there may then be local laws that the business is not adhering to by receiving free work. This makes the game company liable for violating labor laws and not paying a worker. Classification is important

Equally important, the business has no idea if the translation is accurate. The quality of the localization pass may be bad if the publisher or developer doesn’t know that language. What may seem like a positive could become a massive negative if, for instance, the game is mistranslated into the individual contributor’s feelings on the government or making claims or slurs against groups without the original game creator’s knowledge. 

Localization requires expertise and knowledge about the foreign culture that is being adapted. Think of all of the times cultures have been misappropriated or misrepresented due to poor translation issues. The critical legal consideration to keep in mind for localizing a video game is to have appropriate contracts in place with whatever entity is assisting with the localization process.


Megan is a video game industry veteran and guest blogs at Odinlaw.com

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