The explosion sends the hood of the car 50 feet in the air. It lands with a clang next to me, wafting acrid smoke in my face. I’m still alive but that’s not what matters. With a trembling hand, I reach into my coat pocket. Our ratings board submission is still intact. Phew.
Maybe the game rating process isn’t quite that exciting but it really is a big adventure!
So, why do game devs hate foreigners? We don’t but it might feel like that sometimes! For those of you residing in North America, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of waiting for a game to arrive from Japan. Likewise, those of you living in Europe and elsewhere often have to wait for North American games to make it across the ocean. Well, you may be surprised to find that, while money is often a factor, it’s not the only factor causing delays. As the producer on Nutjitsu at NinjaBee, I have recently been weighing up a number of these issues while we were preparing to release it outside of the United States. Allow me to share some firsthand insight to help you understand why delays happen.
First up, we have ratings. As a game developer, it would be wonderful if all the countries in the world used the same game classification board. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. There is no one-stop solution to game ratings. In North America, you’ll see the ESRB while, in Europe, it’s PEGI. Even all of Europe doesn’t use the same ratings. Germany, for example, has its own board with separate grading criteria.
Some countries have extensive review processes that take many weeks while in others you can get ratings within an hour. The good news is that many of the ratings boards appear to be making efforts to streamline their processes. They are learning to better accommodate not only AAA game studios but also indie developers.
How did this impact Nutjitsu? In the past, we’ve worked with publishers to obtain title ratings. With the current generation of consoles, self-publishing titles has become a reality for many more developers. However, this comes with a caveat: we now need to register with the various classification boards before we can even submit our title for ratings.
Each board has their own quirks that you can only learn by interacting with them. When we sent our Nutjitsu submission to Australia, we provided them with a single disc containing all the materials they asked for. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that they told us we needed to provide our game on a separate disc from the gameplay video – merely one example among many.
Some of you may be saying, “loca-what?” Basically, this is the process of translating all the text in a game and hooking it up. While it may not seem like it, this can be a lengthy and expensive process.
First, the game’s text needs to be translated. This step is normally pretty straightforward. We send off the text to a translation company with detailed instructions on context and usage. This might include screenshots, videos and gameplay descriptions. The text will often contain symbols where the game might be inserting a variable number or we are coloring the text – we need to let the translators know how to handle these too. Eventually, the text is returned, we review it, ask questions and, as happens in game development, request additional translations for text that needed to be altered for gameplay reasons or for requirements of the platform holders (e.g. Sony or Microsoft).
With translations in-hand, the game now needs to be able to identify the region in which a player is located and pass them the proper translations. This is often where we start to see problems.
Languages such as Spanish and German tend to have longer translations than the original English text. This leads to text spilling out of boxes on the screen or text looking squished. Take this Chinese image from A World of Keflings, for example. In English, all of this text fit and displayed correctly. Here you can see, once we plugged in foreign text, some of the text showed temporary strings and none of it fit where it was supposed to. Sometimes, these need to be hand-edited to fit and sometimes we need to go back to translators to ask for a shorter translation.
Once translations are implemented, there’s an additional testing cost. Larger studios will hire testers familiar with each language to play through the game and check all of the text. Smaller studios also need to test their games in other languages even if it’s just to make sure all the text is aligned. For a large studio, this might not be an issue. However, for a small studio, the cost of testing might prohibit overseas releases.
Even without a ton of text in Nutjitsu, the game still needed plenty of hand-edits and testing once the translations came back.
A major problem for Nutjitsu occurred when trying to go through the rating process for Japan and South Korea. Neither of these countries have a ratings process in English. This means we needed someone who could read and write both English and Japanese or Korean to help us through the process. In South Korea, we were presented with an additional problem. We were required to have a registered business there before we could go through their rating process. While not insurmountable, language barriers made communication difficult.
Sometimes the reason for delaying a game in other regions is a simple funding issue. A company may need to earn money from an initial launch to fund development in other regions.
Alternately, their reasoning could be to test the waters before releasing to the whole world. This is a tactic commonly employed in mobile game development where a game is released in a small region to see if it gains traction. If it does, additional funding is gained to address feedback and then release elsewhere.
Release timing can also play a big part in the success of a game. Games tend to sell more in holiday seasons or during school vacation time. Since these vary from country to country, release times may be staggered in different countries to better coincide with times of increased buying activity.
Ultimately, on Nutjitsu, we had a game that could be released much earlier in the United States because it required no translations and we were already set up to get ratings quickly from the ESRB. Adding region support and obtaining ratings has been a time consuming process. Hence, the later release to other regions.
If you’re interested in game developer insights, follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ben_bascom @ben_bascom