Comment & Opinion

Cruise to the East: How to successfully localize a game into Arabic

Inlingo and Belka Games discuss the unique struggles that come with adapting games for the MENA region

Cruise to the East: How to successfully localize a game into Arabic

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the fastest growing in the world in terms of media, however, there exist unique barriers to success in these markets, such as strict censorship laws and religious sensibilities, that have to be taken into account when companies are planning to break into these markets.

Belka Games and Inlingo have completed a case study comprised of their learnings from localizing Solitaire Cruise, and we're happy to share it below.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the most interesting for game developers. At the same time, it poses some difficulties to localization because of its special cultural and linguistic features.

In this new case study, Inlingo and Belka Games share their experience localizing the card game Solitaire Cruise, which is one of the top five highest-grossing Tripeaks solitaire games in the world. We'll talk about how we equipped and shipped a new solitaire game around the world, what made it a success, and what pitfalls developers and localizers should keep in mind when entering the Arab market.

Belka Games: the liner sets sail

The development team began work on the new game in late 2019. The project originated in the RnD department, a special subdivision of Belka Games whose task is to survey new genres for the company, make prototypes of mechanics, and test hypotheses. One of the fruits of their research became the concept for a solitaire game.

At that time, there were two large solitaire projects on the market, but they were only active in the US. Other games in a similar genre couldn't reach the volume necessary to rank among the top revenue-generating games. Belka decided to get ahead of the trend and create a new solitaire game.

Evgeniy Gilmanov, Executive Game Producer at Belka Games:

"That was our first card game, so the mechanic was completely new to us. A new thing doesn't have just one hidden trap—it's an entire minefield. We're good at making match-3 levels and balancing farm and expedition mechanics. But that time, we had to start from scratch with how we'd approach level design, make a game engine quickly, work out the foundations of the game, develop the mechanics, and consider their influence on one another."

The department proposed two versions of a solitaire game, which were developed to the stage of playable prototypes. Both options were tested, and the team chose the better version based on the results of their research. It became the predecessor to Solitaire Cruise.


In the storyline, players set off on a journey on a cruise liner to famous cities and play solitaire. They get stars and coins for completing levels and combining cards. They can use these items to unlock new locations and make in-game purchases. On board the liner, players meet various characters who tell their own stories and invite players to participate in events. In addition, mini golf and regatta events occasionally take place. But that's not all: the developers are constantly adding new features to the familiar game of solitaire so that players don't get bored.

Evgeniy Gilmanov, Executive Game Producer at Belka Games:

“We wanted to provide players with a unique experience, something they hadn't seen before in card games and perhaps in casual games in general. That's how we came up with experimental mechanics: a solitaire tournament at a card table, bowling, dice, the player's cabin, and much more. We haven't stopped experimenting, and this is partly why the game has been holding steady among the top five solitaire games in the world.”

Inlingo comes on board

The game was soft-launched in the spring of 2020. Initially, Solitaire Cruise was released in two languages: Russian and English. In October 2020, by the time the project had come out on the global market, Belka turned to Inlingo to localize it. At first, the game was translated into German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. This made it easier to promote the game on the European market and get closer to players.

After the worldwide release, Belka's marketing team tested different ways to expand the product. They decided to add Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to the list of languages because Solitaire Cruise's main competitors weren't operating in Asia. The localization was a success, and solitaire managed to reach a large enough audience and revenue percentage in the Asian market.

The localization of Solitaire Cruise in numbers

But the developers didn't stop there. In 2021, they came to Inlingo with an ambitious new goal: localizing the game into Arabic to expand into the complex MENA region.

Evgeniy Gilmanov, Executive Game Producer at Belka Games

"As interesting as this region is, it is just as challenging to work in. The first thing you have to do is to determine audience buy-in for your product and see if your game can achieve good metrics in the region. Success in Western countries doesn't guarantee the same in Arab countries at all."

"The second thing is the language, style, and national characteristics of the games that exist in the MENA region. These components can cause major changes to both your strategy and your product, so there's no point in entering a new market without them."

Before launching the game in Arabic, Belka did a risk assessment with the help of native speakers who work with Inlingo. The localization started with a survey about the particularities of Arab culture. Based on the survey results, the Inlingo team made a checklist for Belka on what elements are acceptable and unacceptable in a game. Because Islam is the predominant religion in Arab countries, it is very important to avoid sensitive topics so as not to disrespect Arab players.

In addition, the specific features of the project made it difficult to find Arabic translators. Many native speakers don't translate card games, which are considered gambling and therefore forbidden under Islam. Luckily, Inlingo has a variety of translators in its database, including some who are not bound by such restrictions.

The game was translated into Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). MSA is a supradialect of Arabic that is widely used in the media, entertainment industry, education, and politics. It may seem a little formal, but MSA is understood in all Arab countries, so it is customary to use it to localize many products. At Inlingo, we adhere to the same policy.

We worked with native speakers to create a style guide for the project to prevent the use of dialectal forms of Arabic in the translation and establish other important rules.


Louise Safarova, Arabic Language Editor at Inlingo

"The most important thing when translating games into Arabic is to be cautious and consider the specific nature of the lives of its native speakers. Many topics are sensitive or forbidden altogether, such as homosexuality, excessive candidness and details about intimate aspects of one's life, the use of products that are forbidden under Islam, and religious symbols also. There are quite a few of these topics. If they show up in the main language of the game, the translators and editors localize the text by choosing neutral descriptions of events or omitting them from the translation altogether, as long as this doesn't make it difficult to understand."


While working on the localization, the Belka team and Inlingo encountered difficulties related to linguistic nuances and how Arabic-speaking players would perceive the text. However, thanks to close cooperation with native speakers, careful review, and thorough testing, we managed to avoid all the following pitfalls.

Don't confuse your right and left

Arabic is written from right to left. It was important to adapt the game texts to this form of writing. Every department at Belka had to get used to and master the new localization: Localization Management, Development, Quality Assurance, and User Interface. To adjust to the new format, the team studied a wealth of materials.

Denis Ivanov, Lead Localization Manager at Belka Games

"To be honest, I still have to recalibrate myself when proofreading and checking Arabic. It's like I have to toggle some kind of switch and start thinking differently. The project's glossary and style guide always help, and in difficult situations, we turn to the native speakers who work with Inlingo."

The localization team couldn't forget about this "switch" either. During the review stage, special attention must be paid to how the text is displayed, making sure each time that it is right-aligned and displayed RTL (right to left). Some text editors (Google Docs/Sheets, Excel, Word) do not always display Arabic text correctly if it contains Latin letters or numbers, so it's very important to test the project before it's released.

Check the mirror

In an Arabic localization, text is set to display RTL, but numbers are written from left to right. This led to an unfortunate problem: the cost of bundles and prices in the bank were "mirrored" due to the texts' orientation. So, the price $4.99 became $99.4, which would definitely confuse users. Luckily, the problem was discovered and fixed very quickly.


This is how the prices on interactive buttons looked before solving the "mirror" problem.

Here the cost on the buttons is correctly displayed for Arab countries.

Stay neutral

In Arabic, every verb, noun, and adjective is always either masculine or feminine. Masculine is used by default in most cases, but in many projects it's important to try to maintain gender neutrality. The Inlingo team proposed a good solution: using verbal nouns ("masdar") for such cases.

Louise Safarova, Arabic Language Editor at Inlingo

"Nowadays, many companies use this form of the word in their Arabic localizations. Arabic grammar is complex, especially when it comes to verbs. Plus, Arabic has three grammatical numbers—singular, dual, and plural—so there are a lot of rules for conjugating verbs. In everyday speech, Arabs try to avoid the use of verbs completely and frequently employ verbal nouns and participles."

The word in the red box means "buy." In Arabic, there is no such thing as a neutral infinitive form of the verb, so we use a masdar in such cases, like here: شراء.

Consider all the details

When preparing LiveOps events, it was especially important to consider the cultural and religious features of the region. The expertise of native-speaking translators was invaluable here too. Inlingo helped localise three big in-game events for holidays that are important to Arabic-speaking players: Saudi National Day, United Arab Emirates National Day, and Ramadan. The team surveyed native speakers to collect information about holiday traditions and religious restrictions.

Denis Ivanov, Lead Localization Manager at Belka Games

"It's really great when the opportunity arises to clarify any issues with direct representatives of the region we're interested in. Thanks to their advice and recommendations, we were able to make rather nice, memorable events for the UAE and Saudi Arabia."

Because of this, the Inlingo team learned that residents of these countries dress in the colors of their national flags during the celebrations. Special attention must be paid to the choice of clothing for women, as it absolutely must cover the skin. When preparing an event for one of the most important holidays in the Muslim world, Ramadan, the developers sent a synopsis to Inlingo's native speakers so they could carefully examine the narrative.

Eleonora Artemeva, Project Manager at Inlingo

"Our regular native speakers were pleasantly surprised when we sent them the synopsis about Ramadan and the client's questions. We paid special attention to the setting, Istanbul, because we wanted to be absolutely sure that the city was a good fit for this event. Overall, the native speakers really liked the synopsis. We didn't get all that many corrections to the text, just a few ideas for smoothing out any rough edges."

The native speakers working for Inlingo also made an important refinement to the synopsis for a LiveOps event taking place in the Bahamas. In the plot, one of the activities that the characters could participate in was swimming with mini pigs. All the native speakers surveyed noted that it would be best not to mention pigs since they are considered "unclean" in Islam.

Inlingo remains in touch with the developers to make sure Solitaire Cruise is always on course.

Results of the collaboration

• Translated the project into 10 languages in 2 years
• Successfully captured not only the European and Asian markets, but also a new region, MENA
• Led the project to sustained results in retention and monetization metrics

Edited by Lewis Rees regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.