You want to localize your game into Spanish, ok no worries there. However are you aware that you need to choose whether to translate your game into Euro Spanish or Latin American Spanish? There are around 300 million native Spanish speaking people in the world spread across 22 countries. Localizing your game is the best way to reach them but then you have a choice to make: Which Spanish do you choose?

Note that "Latin American Spanish" isn’t actually an official language, there is a “neutral” Latam Spanish that can be provided, but in reality Latam Spanish would be a mix of Mexican, Argentinian, Colombian etc. If looking to release into Central and South America then perhaps you should target a specific territory?

Anyway, the decision you make should be based on your research into which is the best market for your game. However what are the pros and cons from a language perspective? Are there further factors that you need to bear in mind when choosing? Obviously if you can do more than one then great, but what if you can only choose one? Here we discuss the pros and cons with some Spanish translator/gamers. Please note that the views expressed here are those of the respondents and not those of LocalizeDirect (disclaimer disclaimer). You’ll also be interested to read how their views of the "other" Spanish variants are subjective.

Questions posed to:

  • Ramón Méndez González (RM) - Euro Spanish

  • Curri Barceló Ávila (CB) - Euro Spanish

  • Javier Gómez (JG) - Argentinian Spanish

  • Manuel Gordillo Gonzalez (MG) - Mexican Spanish

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OK let’s get going:

1. What would you say are the key differences between LatAm Spanish variants and Euro Spanish? Not just specific words but perhaps tone/usage?

(RM) They are rather different. A Spanish user won’t easily accept a LatAm translation, as it may sound "not serious". A few decades ago in Spain, we had LatAm dubbing for cartoons, and we made fun about that fact (we still do nowadays). The tone, the usage, even the pronunciation changes a lot and it’s rather difficult to have users happy with a LatAm translation. In fact, Microsoft delivered a LatAm translation for Halo 2 and the game was heavily criticised due to that; for the recent Master Chief Collection, they deleted that dubbing for the Spanish market and delivered Halo 2 with English dubbing. This was criticised once again (as Halo 2 is the only Halo ever to not have Spanish translation and dubbing), but the English dubbing was preferred to the Latam one.

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A Spanish user won’t easily accept a LatAm translation, as it may sound "not serious".

It’s the same the other way around: there’s no "LatAm Spanish". In fact, Spanish is different in Spain, México, Colombia, Argentina, Peru… It should be adapted to every regional variety to offer the best value to each country but, as that’s pretty difficult, the best option is to have at least Castilian Spanish and LatAm Spanish (as this is the common language for all the Latin American countries). In fact, it’s just a matter of doing a little adaptation from one to the other to make critical changes that are not accepted in the other variant.

(JG) Simply put, LatAm Spanish tends to use simpler, more direct structures (simple verb tenses, less periphrases in some cases) and a more informal tone.

(CB) The biggest differences are in terminology and also how words are used, which may mean that a word that is totally normal in Spain, may be not that correct in Latin America. For example, the verb "coger" (to grab/pick up) that we commonly use in Spain would be understood as “to have sex with someone” in Argentina. This may only make most of the Argentinian players giggle a bit, as they know that the word actually means “agarrar” (the word they use over there for grab), but rest assured that forums will have many screenshots of your game with the corresponding jokes. On the other side, if you use “agarrar” for something that is just “pick up (from the floor)” it would be perfectly fine in Argentina, but it would sound weird in Spain (and some other Latin American countries) as it would mean to grab something with excessive force, as if it was going to run away, and you usually don’t do that with things you grab from the floor.

Other changes can be found in the use of formal or informal. In Spain and most Latin American countries, formal mode ("usted", for “you”) is usually left to more polite situations, like talking to the elderly, talking to people you don’t know for the first time and to whom you want to be polite or to people you respect (your boss, a teacher while you are at school or even university), When you go to speak to someone at a public service —doctor, hospital, council…—, when you are a soldier and you want to address to someone of a superior rank, etc.).

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The verb "coger" (to grab/pick up) that we commonly use in Spain would be understood as “to have sex with someone” in Argentina.

As the nature of the videogames is rather informal (entertainment is informal and most of videogames are addressed to people that are either children or people used to be addressed in informal way in videogames), formal mode is left for just specific situations within a game where the formal mode is needed for characterization (for example, if your character is a soldier and the AI speaking to the player/soldier is meant to be the Captain, or when your character speaks to an old lady NPC) and thus most of the text will be written in informal addressing ("tú").

However, in countries like Argentina, Uruguay and some Central American countries, they use the so-called "voseo" for the second person (use of “vos” instead of “tú”), which was quite common in the old Medieval Spanish. On the other hand, in Colombia and Costa Rica mainly, “usted” is used in both formal and informal contexts, so much so that a mother could address her child as “usted” as much as they would do to their own mother.

(MG) One element is attitude rather than phonetic aspect of it, I think that in Latin Spanish we "go round the bush" a whole lot more than European Spanish, who I think “cut to the chase” right away.

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One element is attitude rather than phonetic aspect of it.

2. Is there (one) particular thing that clearly indicates you aren’t playing a version aimed at your particular locale?

(RM) It’s difficult to highlight just one thing. There are many things that make it extremely clear. For example, in LatAm Spanish they talk in a formal way ("usted", “vos”), while in Euro Spanish we use the informal way (“tú”). Also, there are words as “coger” that are common use in Euro Spanish (as it means “to take”), but that can’t be used in LatAm Spanish (as it means a crude version of “to have sex”). And, obviously, different vocabulary for common words (“car”, “strawberry”…) that can result in difficult general comprehension of the text.

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In LatAm Spanish they talk in a formal way ("usted", “vos”), while in Euro Spanish we use the informal way (“tú”).

(JG) There are many things, but particular words like "vídeo" (which is “video” in LatAm) and “coger” (which is the equivalent of the F word in LatAm but not in Spain) are clear signs. Also the elements mentioned above. And of course, it’s totally clear if the game has dubbed voices.

(CB) There are many: terminology, usted/voseo or abuse of English words (in cases where there is an existing common translation) are usually the things that make me realise a text was not translated into Spanish for Spain. For example, most Latin American software products use "ingresar" as the translation of both “log in” and “enter”, whereas in Spain we would use “iniciar sesión” and both “entrar” and “introducir”, depending on the context (enter in a place for the former or enter text in a text box for the latter).

(MG) The most obvious element is the accent, followed by the localisms and structures uncommonly used in that specific version of Spanish.

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3. Are there words or phrases that jump out at you? Is it like playing a game where you would equip yourself with Armour only to find that it is Armor?

(RM) As previously said, there are many differences of vocabulary and, the more complex the text are, the more difficult it can be to understand the text in another variant of Spanish. For example, "Press" is a common term in video games that should be translated as “Pulsar” in Euro Spanish or “Oprimir” in LatAm. “Oprimir” would be understood as “Oppress” in Euro Spanish. Or even common words as “car”, “coche” in Euro Spanish or “carro” in LatAm Spanish. “Carro” for a Euro user is a “cart”.

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"Press" is a common term in video games that should be translated as “Pulsar” in Euro Spanish or “Oprimir” in LatAm.

(JG) There are several lexical choices like the ones mentioned above and the different translation for "you" (plural) which is “vosotros” in Spain and “ustedes” in LatAm. Interjections are also a marker (we don’t use “hostia”, “hala”, “enhorabuena” and several others).

(CB) As an example, we could use the previous one of the "sea shell". In Argentina, they would use “caracola” for all seashells to avoid the second double meaning. However, in Spain and most of Latin American countries, a “caracola" would be only the shell of a sea snail, so if there was a game where you have to pick different shells from a seabed and we read “caracola”, non-Argentinean players may focus only in those coming from sea snail. To have more examples of this, we would probably have to do a discussion with different Spanish-speakers of different countries and see how each of them calls a specific items.

(MG) Sure, like "Loadout", a very common term in shooters, and that in Mexico we know as “Equipo” and in Europe is known as “Equipamiento”, just strange. “Fusil” instead of “Rifle”, or “Granada fragmentaria” (frag grenade) instead of “Granada de fragmentación” in Ghost Recon, which drove me crazy every time I heard it from the NPC’s!!

4. Would you play a game if you knew it wasn’t in the Spanish variant that you would want it in? Would you rather then play it in English? Would this affect your decision to buy?

(RM) Unfortunately, the differences are so big that a game in LatAm Spanish can ruin the experience for you. As previously said, in Spain LatAm Spanish is seen as the language for old cartoons and soap operas and, therefore, it’s never seen seriously. Games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which are in LatAm Spanish, have been severely mocked and parodied by Spanish users, and I have friends that haven’t bought the game (despite loving TWD) due to that fact.

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Unfortunately, the differences are so big that a game in LatAm Spanish can ruin the experience for you.

It’s also a game where you have to make decisions in seconds, but Spanish users do not always understand the choices they are given. Therefore, in a game where the dialogues and the text are so important, the language can be game-breaking and make it impossible to play for most users. Obviously, it’s better to have a game in LatAm Spanish than to have it just in English, but the ideal would be to have both variants and let users choose what works best for them.

(JG) Definitely. I’d rather play the game in English than in a Spanish that feels weird for me.

(CB) I wouldn’t mind, as, personally, I love Latin American accents. However, if the differences between each locale may stop me from fully understanding the game, what do I have to do or what do I have to find, I would definitely play it in English instead. The whole purpose of playing a game in your language is enjoying it and understanding what you have to do. Having the game translated in my own locale would save me some time trying to guess what here or there is needed, and in many games, that is the difference between success or failure.

(MG) Absolutely, I grew up in a bilingual environment, so English or Spanish would be just Ok for me, however, if I ran into the "wrong" version of Spanish in my game that would really put me off and would think more than twice before buying it.

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If I ran into the "wrong" version of Spanish in my game that would really put me off and would think more than twice before buying it.

This can be more complicated for Devs nowadays, since you can know way before buying the game the version of Spanish available through the large amount of "Let’s play" videos, and reviews on the web.

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5. Do you think that the game genre affects the Spanish variant, or is this just a market size decision? Do some game genres lend themselves more to a particular variant? Perhaps Euro Spanish is more in keeping with a Castle Builder for example?

(RM) I think it affects almost every genre. Maybe in games with little text, like shoot’em ups or fighting games, that fact can be forgiven, but in games with a medium or high quantity of text, it’s important to deliver the variant users expect the game to have. If not, as previously stated, users can have problems understanding the story the game is trying to tell them.

(JG) Perhaps Euro Spanish is more in keeping with a Castle Builder for example? I don’t think so; genre has nothing to do with that choice. And I do think that if a game is going to be localized into Spanish, both Castilian and Latin American should be present.

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If a game is going to be localized into Spanish, both Castilian and Latin American should be present.

(CB) Not at all. I think all games can be translated in all locales with the exact same purpose. The difference between Spanish and English is that UK English is sometimes deemed as "more polite" or “the baddie of the movie” or even “old ancient English style”. This does not happen in Spanish. Having another variant in a movie would simply mean that that person was raised in a different country. So, for example, if in the game there was one character that was Mexican, then, yes, it is perfectly fine to use Mexican Spanish for that character, but not for the rest of the characters if the story happens, let’s say, in Germany.

(MG) Perhaps to provide a specific context or ambiance for/around a certain character, sure, why not.

6. (For Latam respondents) What would you feel if a game is in Spanish but not in the one specific to your country (so perhaps Argentinian and not Mexican for example)? Would this irk? Would you rather then play it in English?

(JG) In a perfect world, we would have country specific versions. But we are used to the most common one (Mexican Spanish) because all the cartoons and TV series we watched as we grew up were dubbed into ESMX. I think that a game in Argentinean Spanish would definitely be weird for a Mexican player.

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I think that a game in Argentinean Spanish would definitely be weird for a Mexican player.

(MG) This is so familiar to me, I remember back in the day I played the first "Rainbow Six" for the original Xbox in English due to this, and never bought another in the series, regardless of how much I enjoyed the one I had, just because its Spanish version was “European”.

I dealt with this situation with Rally games too, The co-driver tells you what the road is like up ahead and you adjust and you prepare to negotiate the turn as best as possible. Since I speak "American English" and Rallying is basically dominated by Europeans, British co-drivers killed me back in the day of Colin McRae 2004-5 and Richard Burns Rally; I could not understand a word. Dirt, had a Spaniard co-driver that I that I just couldn’t stand listening to, ended up doing 100% in English.

7. (For Latam respondents) What are your thoughts when asked to translate into "Neutral Latam Spanish". How is this achieved? Is this actually possible? Can you provide an example?

(JG) As a matter of fact, there is no such thing in real life so the concept of Neutral LatAm is vague and mutable. However, it is possible to find a balanced variant that’s understandable in all LatAm countries. It’s what we LatAm translators do for a living. You have to polish the text until it’s free from idiomatic expressions and local uses of certain words, and retain the tone, humour and flair of the source text at the same time. It’s challenging and it can be frustrating when the exact equivalent is perfect in two countries but means something entirely different in all the others. It’s all about balance between meaning, style and clarity for the whole Latin American audience.

(MG) In my opinion just by avoiding the "voseo" will render the translation more comprehensible for a larger audience in the case of Spanish. But, I see it more like making a version less Mexican, or Argentinian, in order to provide a more generic language rather than make it “neutral”. I think although all speakers share a base knowledge of a language, differences will exist at some point in one or more of its elements, syntax, lexical units, its tone or its attitude.

In conclusion...

I think we can safely conclude that the difference between Castilian Spanish and Latin American variants is a large one.

Don’t just assume that if you translate into a particular Spanish that this will suit all of the others. If you are looking at global domination then perhaps you need to take the time and make that investment to localize into multiple Spanish versions; versions that cover the markets most important to you. It’s been touched on a number of times by the respondents that they want to play their own language. It seems that if they don’t, then it creates a negative reaction, which is of course something you want to avoid. You want to connect with as many gamers as you can, you want players to spread the word and negative reviews will have an affect on sales.

If you want to see how many gamers Spanish can reach then check out our interactive map.