International Business: Video game localization blunders and big publicity are sometimes, but not always, a good combination

Published: Friday, July 8 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

One video game localization blunder became so well known that people are still joking about it two decades later. When Adobe acquired Utah-based web analytics firm Omniture, it referenced the blunder in a hiring billboard on the I-15 in Pleasant Grove, Utah, reading, "Omniture & Adobe. All your base are belong to us."

Adam Wooten

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"A winner is you,” proclaimed a broken English translation of Nintendo’s 1986 video game "Pro Wrestling." The company’s "Ghostbusters" game from the same era included a similar misspelled exclamation, “Conglaturation!!!

Since video games first began crossing borders, mistranslations like these have inspired many laughs and even perpetuated for decades in pop culture.

In 2010, the video game distributor Level Up Games told Brazil’s O Globo newspaper a game localized into Portuguese typically earns 15 times more revenue in Brazil than the same game would without localization. With such revenue growth, it is no surprise that companies in the $60 billion global video game industry want to reach beyond their own country’s borders.

Naturally, sometimes a mistake or two will slip through in localized versions. On rare occasion, and with a little luck, publicity of these errors can aid in quick recovery or even greater publicity for the game than it would have received otherwise.

The Japanese video game developer Taoplan declared bankruptcy in 1994, but has probably grown more popular since then, thanks to the perpetually popular repetition of its horribly translated game “Zero Wing.” The 1991 game’s flash introduction included broken English lines like “All your base are belong to us,” “Somebody set up us the bomb” and “For great justice,” all of which became popular Internet memes (self-replicating ideas that spread like viruses).

The entire dialogue from Zero Wing’s introduction is as follows:

“In A.D. 2101 war was beginning.

“Captain: What happen?

“Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.

“Operator: We get signal.

“Captain: What!

“Operator: Main screen turn on.

“Captain: It's you!!

“CATS: How are you gentlemen!! All your base are belong to us. You are on the way to destruction.

“Captain: What you say!!

“CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time. Ha ha ha ha ....

“Operator: Captain!!

“Captain: Take off every 'ZIG'!! You know what you doing. Move 'ZIG.' For great justice.”

This meme, “all your base are belong to us,” has appeared all over the world. A decade ago, various websites were hacked and replaced with the phrase or its abbreviation, AYBABTU. YouTube has used the phrase as a placeholder when shutting down the site for maintenance, rephrasing it as “all your video are belong to us” and causing some to mistakenly think the site was hacked.

This meme was so popular that Adobe used it to showcase a little humor when it acquired Omniture, a Utah-based tech company that had become well known for its unique hiring billboards. A billboard following the acquisition stated, “Omniture & Adobe. All Your Base Are Belong to Us.” Unfortunately for Taoplan, it went out of business before it could trademark the phrase and really capitalize on this accidental fame.

However, other cultural gaffes are no laughing matter, and publicity surrounding more sensitive blunders can be very costly.

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