By Yago Sagrado, Communications Manager, Keywords Localization
With approximately 450 million speakers, Spanish is the second-most spoken native language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese.
This fact alone should be a good enough reason for publishers and developers to consider Spanish localization for their video game.
You want your game to be enjoyed by as many people as possible and you have made up your mind, the Spanish-speaking market will get it localized to increase its impact in the region.
But hold on, what region is that? Is it Latin America or Spain?
If this is your train of thought, then chances are that you didn’t know there were two, or you don’t understand the difference.
Why you can’t just simply localize into “Spanish”?
Unfortunately, the truth is that you cannot just localize into one Spanish that will work everywhere.
In this article we’ll cover the two main variants of the language that will serve in practically all situations.
By the end, you’ll have a clear picture of the differences between the two and, most importantly, you’ll have the information required to decide if your game should be localized into one or both.
Many languages within one
Spanish is the official spoken language in more than 20 countries across Europe, Central and South America, while also having large numbers of speakers in the United States (U.S.), Philippines and Belize.
Mexico has the largest population of native Spanish speakers, with approximately 130 million people. This is followed by Colombia, with 50 million, and Spain with 47 million.
In the U.S., there is an estimated 50 million Spanish speakers with different levels of proficiency.
The spread of Spanish throughout the world has been evaluated by Spain’s Instituto Cervantes, an entity devoted to the study and promotion of the language, which estimates a growth in speakers of approximately 30% within the last decade and an increase of 60% of people studying it.
Spanish is also the third most used language by number of users in the world both in the physical world and the Internet, after English and Mandarin Chinese.
With such geographical spread, the language has evolved in distinct ways everywhere it is spoken, to the point where every country has its own unique set of vocabulary, pronunciation and even grammar practices.
Accommodating each dialect and its related nuances has led to the global entertainment industry agreeing on two standards that simplify localization for Spanish-speaking markets.
European Spanish and LATAM Spanish
The easiest way to categorise the different uses of Spanish is to divide it in two: European Spanish – also known as Spain’s Spanish, Castilian Spanish or, simply, Spanish – and Latin American Spanish.
These are the groupings the industry has come to make localization into the language as efficient as possible.
However, the characteristics of both groups are so different that audiences from one region will mostly rather play a game unlocalized, or not at all, than read or listen to a product localized in the variant from the other region.
These players tend to find it off-putting and too distracting to enjoy.
Let’s take a deeper look into these variants:
European Spanish is the standard for all entertainment, advertising and commercial audio in Spain. The country has a long-standing tradition of audio localization, as all movies and books released in the country had to be localized by law for decades.
This option for audio is usually set by default on all platforms and typically expected by the audience.
Although different accents and languages exist in Spain, European Spanish is the accepted use of the language in media.
European Spanish, the international name for Castilian Spanish, is the accepted use of the language in media.
Audio localization into the country’s other languages (Galician, Catalan, Basque) is rarely seen and mostly just used for regional content.
Latin-American Spanish, also known as LATAM Spanish, is a standardised use of the language that serves as a middle-ground between the many dialects spoken across the Americas, where usage and accent varies greatly from one country to the other.
The origin of this particular use, which is an artificial form – not actually spoken anywhere except entertainment products – has its origins in Mexico where most of the first audio and audiovisual production took place.
To accommodate everyone in the region, an international variant was shaped with the most common aspects of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar, sanitized of nearly all local expressions.
After years of evolution and broadcast, the audience has adopted LATAM Spanish and it has now become the standard.
Sometimes, this version of the language is called “neutral” Spanish because of its intended purpose of being as neutral as possible for a large region.
However, be weary when you see this term, as ‘neutral’ might sound like a form that works everywhere but it doesn’t. It is specific to LATAM markets.
Which Spanish should you choose?
When localizing your video game into Spanish, you should understand that the native version would only be accepted by audiences in that region.
Read or listening to the other variant can often take the audiences away from the fiction and can even make them walk away from the game.
With audio, most would prefer switching back to the source language with subtitles rather than experience a product in the incorrect variant for them.
Each market needs to have the product localized into its standard version of Spanish, or it can be counterproductive.
There have been examples in the past where publishers and developers tried a one-size-fits-all solution, with well-documented negative backlashes from their player communities.
Differences between these two variants are so pronounced that there can be misunderstandings between native Spanish speakers.
In terms of vocabulary, one example is the use of the verb “coger” which means to grab something in European Spanish and to have sexual intercourse in LATAM Spanish.
Another common word used in video games is “press”, as in to press a button. In LATAM Spanish this would be translated as “oprimir” while that same verb in European Spanish would mean to oppress and “pulsar” would be used instead.
Of course, it goes much deeper than just vocabulary and one could quickly tell which variant is being used by reading a couple sentences of any localized text.
One of the main giveaways is the use of formal or informal forms of referring to people.
In LATAM Spanish, when addressing a group of people, they would use the formal “ustedes” in every circumstance (whether it is talking to friends, family, or clients, it doesn’t matter). In European Spanish, the informal “vosotros” would be preferred and “ustedes” would only be used in formal scenarios.
If an informal “vosotros” shows up anywhere, it is a clear sign of European Spanish translation. Differences in formality use and their consequent changes in verb conjugation are just some examples of the many differences between the two.
They also include grammar, pronunciation and even orthography like, for instance, some countries using points or commas differently as numerical separators (1.000 vs 1,000 for a thousand.)
Which Spanish localization is going to work better?
At Keywords Studios, our recommendation is to always go with both. If this is not possible, the decision should be taken based on available market data and the characteristics of the game.
For example, genre shouldn’t play a role in the decision on which type of Spanish to choose. This means that RTSs, MOBAs, FPSs, etc. are expected to be in the correspondent form.
The only exceptions occur when the fiction allows it: for example, a game with a character coming from Spain talking European Spanish would be accepted in Latin America and vice versa.
On the other hand, platform can be an aspect to consider.
Latin America is a mobile-first region with a larger gap between console player base and revenues than typically reported in Europe.
Import limitations of high-end PCs and next-gen consoles make gaming in these platforms harder for the region’s populations.
Here are some additional data to have in mind if you must make a decision between the two:
- LATAM Spanish: reaches a larger population in the Americas (~250m). A single localization project can be distributed in more than 20 countries. The need of localized content by audiences varies from one country to other – with some being more used to English audio content, with localized audio as a nice-to-have, and it being an absolute must in others.
- Castilian Spanish: reaches a smaller population in Europe (~47m). Castilian localized audio is expected for all major releases and shipping without it can make the product seem of lesser importance. GDP per-capita is significantly higher in Spain and the local video games market size is significantly larger as well (Statista-worldwide, Statista-Latin America).
One thing both Spanish audiences do have in common is that they appreciate voices being respected across media.
If your game has a well-known character in it, it will be received with enthusiasm if players listen to it talking with the voice they are used to.
Keywords can help identifying these voices and negotiating the best rates on your behalf in case they are not already in our roster.
Conclusion: One size does not fit all
Spanish is a very particular language. Standardisation into two main variants has simplified localization efforts, but they are too different to use for the entire Spanish speaking audience.
Localization into both is always preferred and thanks to our global footprint and studios in both regions, Keywords can create synergies between the two variants, minimizing costs and saving management time.
If you choose just one, be certain your localization will only reach one side of the ocean.
Contact us today to learn how we can help you provide native, immersive gameplay experiences for your players through our a range of proven Localization Services.