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Mobilising Games to Go Global: Internationalisation and Localisation
The days of the Cold War are long gone and have been replaced by the hot topic of global warming. ‘Colonization’ and ‘Superpower’ may actually have become dirty words these days when global harmony and fair play are the mantras for our planet’s survival.
However, over the past few years, a new powerhouse has been slowly but steadily rising on the horizon: Enter the APP Store Super Power!
Japan and South Korea made huge strides in 2014, surpassing the US in Google Play revenue. Reports place China as the 3rd largest revenue earner on the Apple App Store. Southeast Asia is a HUGE emerging market – Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam account for almost all of the gaming revenue in this area of the planet.
What is the conclusion from all this?
1. Language is not a barrier.
2. The appeal of games and mobile games is a worldwide phenomenon.
3. Big money is involved, which means fierce competition and meticulous planning to launch successful apps and games.
4. Internationalization and localization of games and applications drive mobility in applications and games.
5. Not least, people’s search for easy entertainment is now literally in the palm of their hand – holding a mobile phone. Never was the opposable thumb put to such vigorous use.
The game must go on!
The immovable stone collects moss
The driving force of any business is profit. The gaming world is no different. This is a highly competitive world and the gaming market is killer. To survive, evolve and bring home the bacon, apps and games don’t just have to be fun for the boy next door: they have to conquer new platforms and markets. And they have to be fast and furious about it or fall by the wayside.
How can they do this?
Internationalization and localization
This two-step process is what allows the game to adapt to different regional and language cultures. It must include:
Overview of language and regional settings that will determine which locale is used, as well as date, time, and number formats.
Customizing the user interface
The code must handle multilingual text
The locale (not the language) must drive the data formatting because multiple countries can use the same language, as well as the same person traveling through different countries.
The user interface must be ‘mirrored’ while using right-to-left languages; the only exception would probably be phone numbers.
It is also necessary to test the internationalized app or game to detect auto layout issues and strings that are not part of the internationalization-localization process.
Enjoyment MUST be stress-free
Gaming is for fun; the player cannot be subjected to a confusing, frustrating experience. There is no place for the culturally and politically inappropriate or completely offensive. Game localization must also ensure that the translated, internationalized, localized version is faithful to the original.
Many gamers take their games very seriously. Game localization, including those on mobile platforms (iOS localization or Android), should allow players to fully immerse themselves. The whole joy of playing is to transport the player to a fantasy world that is more attractive than reality, where lives can be renewed in battles with strange creatures in unknown exotic lands! Nothing should break this ‘voluntary suspension of disbelief’.
Localization must be from the word GO
Localizing a game cannot be an afterthought and game developers would benefit from ditching the ‘let’s see’ attitude. Successful developers have understood that video game localization is an integral part of the development cycle along with coding, design or writing. In the very early stages when games were designed and played on limited and limiting platforms, this ‘afterthought status’ might have been acceptable. But with the proliferation of mobile technology and the increasing demand for games across linguistic, cultural and geographical boundaries, video game localization has come into its own.
Localization – NOT translation
By now it should be abundantly clear that internationalization and localization of games is not just about language. It includes cultural symbols, costumes, ethos, environment… everything that actually creates civilizations!
There are many pitfalls to avoid:
Piracy concerns and the importance of timely market capture can lead to translations of incomplete games. The context must be clear while translating the text regardless of the stage of game development. The whole picture should be kept in mind.
Localization must be considered early in game development because cultural concepts must be clear from day one. For example: scantily clad female characters may be a problem in some countries. If this is not taken into account early in the design cycle, it could turn into an expensive, incurable headache when the game has to move to more socially conservative markets.
Games must evolve with current events. Consider the example of how a spate of pedophilia cases in Belgium discouraged the use of the word ‘pedometer’ in a weight loss game because of the negative connotations such a prefix carried.
Separate text files make the game moddable, and translated versions can be pasted onto the localized version.
A text freeze or end date for text changes is a very good idea to control translation costs and keep the game on schedule.
Be aware of cultural issues, taboos and sensitivities from the start.
Accents are important for voiceover. A cowboy with a Texas accent is funny in a video game aimed at the Chinese market.
Who does localization?
Game developers invest millions in game development. So there’s no point in cutting corners when it comes to localizing video games to break into new markets.
Cheap translations aimed at cost control can result in complete failure and make the developer an international laughingstock.
Whether it is artwork, translation, marketing, packaging or bridging the cultural gap, it is a highly skilled job that is the domain of trained and talented professionals.
Timing is of absolute importance in capturing market sentiment.
Discretion and trust are absolutely necessary to combat the evil threat of intellectual property piracy.
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