App Localization Tips for Korean Developers

Let’s face it: Korea may be dubbed the world’s capital of gaming and few people would bat an eye. E-sports is a national pastime and, on the mobile side, 70% of the population owned a smartphone by the end of 2013. The localization of Korean apps is what we’re going to talk about in this article. Not so long ago, this may have been called ‘reverse localization’, but today the world is more flat than ever. So, we’ll stay way from that term.

Korean app developers surely have the know-how and experience to do a great job in their local market, but is belonging to one of the world’s richest gaming culture enough to succeed globally?

Different Countries Are Different Worlds

Anyone who wants to localize an app should know how to see things from the user’s eyes. We list below a few things that Korean app developers need to consider when localizing for other markets:

  • In Korea, you rarely address someone with their given name unless you’re pretty close to them. In many Western countries, though, this would be considered overly formal. An app that in the original version calls the smartphone’s owner by their family name should use given names in the English version.
  • Be extra careful where humor is involved. What might be a brilliant Korean joke may lose all its strength if translated too literally.
  • Not to mention how expressions and gestures with positive meaning in one culture can be meaningless or insulting in others.

It takes a great amount of research and cultural sensitivity to localize without losing strengths or acquire weaknesses, and this is best done through the services of companies and professionals who know what they’re doing.

Other, not strictly cultural factors need to be considered as well. Among them, smartphone penetration and access to good Internet connection are perhaps the most important. Ukraine is only slightly less populous than Spain, but in 2014 the smartphone penetration in those two countries was, respectively, 24% and 72%, which translates in many more potential Spanish customers than Ukrainian. A publisher with a limited budget should prioritize markets with a higher population-to-smartphone-penetration ratio.

Internet speed can limit the practicality of certain apps, too. Korea has the fastest internet speeds in the world, so it’s easy for Korean developers to design apps without bothering about internet connectivity in other parts of the world. But, this, really can be a make-or-break- factor in the success of Korean apps.

Larger applications might be okay in Korea where you can download, say, 200 megabytes in 10-20 seconds or less. From my own experience, the average Italian wireless connection would take 200 seconds (more than three minutes) to download the same app. Needless to say, that 200 MB application would probably be less popular in countries with slower Internet speed.

Operating Systems Matter

South Korea is an Android stronghold (being Samsung’s home turf may be one of the reasons). In 2013, about 94% of the smartphones purchased by the Korean population ran Android. Foreign markets are a little more diverse: in the United States, in the first quarter of 2013, only slightly more than 50% of the smartphones used Android, and more than 40% were based on iOS. So, if you want to reach the US market, releasing an Android-only app will mean cutting off a considerable chunk of potential customers.

Not to Forget the Genre

Right now, the Korean market for gaming apps is dominated by mid-core games with RPG (role-playing game) elements. But what’s popular in Korea isn’t necessarily popular in other countries. App localization is expensive, and developers shouldn’t waste their investments on apps that won’t likely turn out very popular in their target markets.

In 2014, the most popular genre of iOS games in English was Puzzle, followed by Arcade and Action, while the most downloaded games on Google Play were Candy Crush, Don’t Tap the White Tile, and Farm Heroes Saga. Trends will change for sure, and app developers should monitor them closely to know which games they should invest on.

Everyone and their dog should be localizing or has already done so. However, localization without strong guidelines is like buying a lottery ticket every day for one year, hoping that one day you will win enough money to justify the expense: dumb luck works only so much. By contrast, carefully choosing how and where to invest your money will allow you to determine the risks and end up with a profit.

About Ernesto Pavan

I’m a native Italian translator based in Italy. I have a degree in journalism, and my specialty areas are journalism translation, advertising translation, and literary translation.