Does Localization Have an Effect on Reviews? Why Italian Players Care the Most.

In our previous post we unveiled the results in numbers for all the languages we collected data from and Italian won the competition with 4,998 reviews about localization. Of these 3,897 are requests for localization.

The total number of one star reviews (missing and bad localization mixed) is of 817, of which 141 clearly mention lowering the rating because of localization.

In order to understand better the expectations of Italian players we asked Alain Dellepiane, Chair of games localization at IGDA localization SIG and translator, for insights.

What do Italian players have to say?


1. Games not available in Italian are not well received


  • Because players feel left out

“Speravo che dopo tanto tempo avessero inserito la lingua italiana ma niente ( c’è l’inglese, francese, tedesco, russo e spagnolo)”. 1 *,  Marco Zanatta, Superior Tactics RTS

Translation: I expected that after such a long time you would have added Italian, but nothing yet (there is English, French, German, Russian and Spanish)

Players are complaining simply because the game has been localized into other languages and not theirs, and being a large audience this is felt as unfair.

  • Because players don’t understand

“Begli effetti e belle musiche ma a parte vedere attraverso la fotocamera, non ho capito.. che si fa? Le spiegazioni sono in inglese oltretutto, se ne mettete in italiano, do 5 stelle” 1 *, Francesca Wedam, Can You Escape – Holidays.

Translation: “Great effects and beautiful music but besides looking through the camera, I didn’t get it…what should I do? Moreover, the explanations are in English, if you put them in Italian, I give you five stars.”

The gameplay experience is lost when the game is only available in English as the reviews show. This can mainly be explained by what the audience has been accustomed to when it comes to entertainment products. The Italian language hasn’t really seen widespread use until very recently: when the nation unified in 1861, only 2.5% of the population could speak the language properly. Even today, about half of the population alternates Italian with a regional dialect (which often departs drastically from standard Italian) when talking at home.

2. English makes things difficult.

Since Italians mainly speak dialects at home, a part of the audience is already doing an effort to understand what is going on when the game is localized into Italian. So making the game available only in English makes things more difficult. 

“Really great game but the Italian language is essential” Marco Moretti, 2 *, Real Make up game

Some hardcore players prefer to play in the original language, and they will be the ones that developers deal with in forums or support tickets. However, the mass players of console games, who owns FIFA, PES, Call of Duty, they just don’t play in English. Much less do mobile gamers who are not traditional gamers.

Even more, they feel personally insulted by English games, as if the developer wanted to deliberately exclude them.

An example of this is that of an Italian developer who made a game written only in English, considering that the audience wouldn’t justify any other translation, not even into Italian. The reaction from the community was highly negative and they wouldn’t hear reasons: “if you are in Italy, you must write in Italian” they wrote.

3. Localizing the UI only does not satisfy Italian players

“Peccato niente lingua italiana, solo sottotitoli… disinstallato” 1 *Claudio Messina, Dragon Blocks: Story

Translation: “Too bad the game is not in Italian, only the subtitles are…I uninstalled it”

This might sounds strange to game developers. The game’s UI has been translated yet players are still complaining. Why? Because dubbing is omnipresent. When movies started to spread you simply couldn’t count on the audience being able to to read subtitles properly, so dubbing has always been the default solution.

And there is also the stylistic element: having been used exclusively in literature and court life for most of its existence, standard Italian is very theatrical. Real life is made of regional terms and accents, movie life is made of idealized standard Italian with perfect theatrical voices. When Italian audiences hear Sean Connery’s and Kevin Costner’s real voices they find it wrong and hilarious: “that’s just not how movie stars are meant to talk.”

Add these two elements and, for a mainstream audience, full dubbing becomes a given right99% of movies are dubbed only. Subtitles are really limited to a few rare cinemas and satellite channels.

In gaming this translates into full localization: UI + audio dubbing + graphic assets.

Dover pagare per un gioco che manca di doppiaggio in italiano è inconcepibile” 1 star, Mirko Mascara, Return to Grisly Manor

Translation: “Paying for a game that isn’t dubbed in Italian is unconceivable.”

4. We asked Alain: what would you say is indispensable to consider on the cultural aspect before you localize into Italian?

Paradoxically, while the request for translation and dubbing is very high, the Italian audience doesn’t necessarily want for the content itself to be Italianized. In the right doses, exotic elements will prove more appealing than something that has been visibly adapted for them.

If we are dealing with narrative contents, people are exposed daily to pictures, stories and concepts from other countries, the USA in particular, and automatically contextualize.

Pretty much any modern TV series will show someone drinking a take-out coffee from Starbucks. Now, not only take-out coffee doesn’t exist in Italy, but Starbucks doesn’t exist either.

But people aren’t confused or annoyed by it, they simply integrate it as a lore element of TV Drama America. Direct references to specific people and events might have to be tweaked or replaced because they aren’t well known, but for the rest the Italian audience doesn’t feel the need to replace Jake the Starbucks clerk with Giacomo il barista to maintain the immersion.

Jake the Starbucks Clerk vs. Giacomo il barista.

Things are slightly different when we refer to the players themselves as some cultural things don’t get across (food and cooking are one common example, followed by holidays and traditions). But for the most part, I rarely found something I couldn’t simply tweak via text.

So what did we learn from Italian players’ reviews?

Not only it’s important to localize the UI of the game into Italian but if the game has audio and graphics in English, the audience expects a full localization. This represents a bit of an extra effort, but it will pay off since Italians were also the players who gave most of the 5 star reviews for good localization (644 in total).