Tobold's Blog
Saturday, May 10, 2014
The language effect

The first role-playing system I played in my life was Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye). The next two were Dungeons & Dragons and Midgard. So how did we choose these games? Simply, they were the only role-playing games available in German in the 80's. How many teenagers do you know who are fluent in another language? It happens, if the parents speak different languages, but to most teenagers marketing a pen & paper role-playing game that is not in their native language would be a tough sale. Adults are more likely to speak a foreign language, but pen & paper games are so heavily language-dependent, that playing them in a foreign language is tough. Believe me, because I do.

My current campaign is 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons, and we are playing in French, which is bloody hard for me. But then half of the players don't speak English, so we don't have much choice. And we are also limited in the choice of what systems to play: Not every role-playing system you know in English has a French translation. In fact I wrote a mail to WotC to ask them whether D&D Next would be translated into French, and received a reply that there were currently no plans to do so. 4th edition was still released simultaneously in English and French, but the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons will be for English-speakers only. They stopped translating D&D into German 6 years ago. Pathfinder on the other hand is currently available in both French and German, which helped them beat D&D in sales numbers.

You can play a MMORPG with a lot less mastery of a foreign language if it isn't available in your native tongue. But still there are quest texts to read and NPCs to talk to, so a game simply sells better if it offers multiple languages. Both TESO and Wildstar offer English, French, and German on release, a language selection that is shared by many other MMORPGs like SWTOR or The Secret World. World of Warcraft is in addition to that available in Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Chinese. Especially Chinese makes a huge difference to the potential size of your audience and thus player numbers, not just for WoW, but also for EVE Online for example.

The smaller the game (whether pen & paper or MMORPG), the less likely it is to come in multiple languages. That creates a vicious circle, where the small game can afford only English, but then is limited in growth because it comes only in English. So remember, especially for pen & paper system, if I don't play your favorite system with my group, it might be because of the language barrier.

Synchronicity? Today, I listened to the New York Times via Audible so your "Especially Chinese makes a huge difference" struck me due to the article on Red Hot Web in China.

"In June 2001, a South African media company called Naspers paid $34 million to acquire a big stake in a struggling Chinese start-up. Today that start-up — Tencent — is an Internet colossus worth nearly $120 billion, far more than web pioneers like eBay or Yahoo. And Naspers is $40 billion richer because of its well-timed bet."

Tencent, which owns LoL and is the largest shareholder of ATVI, is worth double EA(11), Activision-Blizzard(15), Sony not just SoE(18),Nintendo(14),Take2(2) combined.
How many teenagers do you know who are fluent in another language?
Almost everyone.

Finnish is a very small language, so we don't get any localized foreign media of any kind unless we translate it ourself. So every student from the third grade onwards will have to learn a foreign language. 90% choose English.
It is the same in Denmark. I actually vote for one universal language for the entire world, e.g. english :-) afterwards we just need all converted to the metric system :-)
I can understand why English and Chinese are important languages but why do German and French translations happen ahead of other more popular tongues like Spanish, Russian, Hindi etc. Do Germany and France buy a disproportionate amount of games?
Do Germany and France buy a disproportionate amount of games?
Both countries are big markets that have little tolerance for non-localized works, and because every other media gets localized too, they have plenty of translators and voice actors ready to work.

Latin America and Russia have/had a big piracy problem, so I doubt game publishers are too keen to invest more for those markets. And Hindi.. well.. Can you guess which country has the largest amount of people who speak English as a second language?
They should do what a lot of small publishers do--- license the foreign language rights. I'm sure there's some company that would be happy to translate something as popular as D&D and sell it in France or Germany. Really shouldn't be too hard to translate.
My first roleplaying system was also "het oog des meesters". However, me nor any of the people I played with cared much for the language of the system. English, dutch, German: it doesn't really matter. French was trickier, mais pas tres beaucoup.
I'll have to look around and see if I can score a copy of Pathfinder in German.
"mbp": F&G for the reasons people mentioned but also herd. A business could spend a lot of time and money on market research but sometimes they just say "all my competitors are there, seems reasonable to do the same."

Small correction, Tencent doesn't own LoL, they just distribute and run the Chinese version of the game.
Wikipedia, so it must be correct, says Ten Cent bought out the majority stake of Riot games in early 2011 for $231,465,000.
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