Localizing mobile games in Asia: A complete review

by Katy Jensen on Apr 25, 2017

We recently wrapped up a series on mobile app localization in APAC with consultant Josh Burns. Josh has extensive experience helping leading mobile gaming companies expand their reach into Asian markets. He shared with us the opportunities and the challenges that mobile devs face when localizing in various APAC markets: Taiwan and Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, South Korea, and Japan. Here are the takeaways from the series:

Taiwan and Hong Kong: Biggest market for its population

Both Taiwan and Hong Kong are large mobile gaming markets, despite their relatively small populations. Generally, Taiwan’s mobile gaming population is larger, but user retention is higher in Hong Kong, so keep this in mind when marketing there.

Taiwan and Hong Kong are easier markets for Western devs to break into than Mainland China. Distribution of apps in Taiwan and Hong Kong is similar to the US, but in Mainland China there are literally hundreds of app stores. Fewer regulations on the types of games that can be distributed as well as ubiquitous wifi also make the jump to the Hong Kong and Taiwan markets a little simpler.

In terms of localization, it’s important to find out which region is most suited to your game. These markets are well-developed, and they appreciate quality localization and games from various regions, so if you do your homework, Taiwan or Hong Kong may be the right place to localize your game.

SE Asia: Most opportunity

Southeast Asian markets are growing rapidly, and because China, Japan, and Korea are highly competitive markets, it’s not a bad idea to consider localizing your game in SE Asia. Like in Taiwan and Hong Kong, it’s important to familiarize yourself with variations in the region, because mobile infrastructure and payment models vary from country to country.

Because of fragmentation in the market, though, many people across SE Asia are proficient in English, so localizing the game content doesn’t need to be your first priority. Instead, focus localization efforts on marketing in the country of your focus. Mobile gamers across SE Asia tend to be receptive to all kinds of games, including Western ones, which makes the region a good opportunity for a lot of devs here. But keep in mind that because connectivity varies across SE Asia, you need to make sure the infrastructure in the country of your choice can support your game.

The bottom line here is that because the market is still growing, localization in SE Asia is easier than in other APAC regions, and there is ample opportunity for mobile game devs (not to mention that SE Asia has the fastest growing eSports viewership in the world).

South Korea: Highest smartphone penetration in the world

South Korea has one of the largest mobile markets in the world, and it’s the world leader in smartphone usage. This means that the mobile gaming industry there, as well as its users, are already highly sophisticated, so it’s important to have a specific localization strategy.

Western games are sort of a niche market in South Korea, so localization efforts should definitely be focused on the type of game you’re producing. The preferred aesthetic for mobile games in South Korea is very different from the realistic art found in Western games, and RPGs are extremely popular in South Korea. If you’re serious about localizing there, it may be a good idea to look into publishing deals with South Korean companies with local know-how that can bring their games to market.

Japan: Most focused on localization

Japan’s mobile gaming market is enormous — it’s as large as the U.S. market with half the population. Remember that Japan has been ahead of the curve in terms of mobile from the beginning, and this continues with mobile gaming. It’s no surprise that the market is dominated by local companies. This shouldn’t deter you from localizing there, though. Like in Korea, you just need to make sure your localization strategy is well thought out.

This means prioritizing high-quality localized language, both in your marketing and in your game. Beyond this, expanding to include unique, local content with local support and operations will make your game more accessible within Japan. After you’ve figured these things out, look at creating a custom version of your game specifically for the Japanese market.

Understanding the specifics of a region’s culture and mobile gaming habits makes all the difference when deciding whether or not to localize your game there. Consider whether your game fits into the region’s aesthetic and gaming culture, and make sure the region’s infrastructure is compatible with the level of gameplay you’re offering. If you’re willing to do your research on the best region for your game, it can be highly beneficial to localize in Asia.

Katy Jensen is AppLovin’s content marketing associate.