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Written by Billy McCaw
on March 03, 2020

For all its storied history and recognition, video game localization does have plenty of downsides. Experienced professionals in the industry all have their tales of being a hero one day, delivering the perfect translation of a particularly complex game, and the next day being the object of grave disappointment because of one oversight or error. To help avoid such big swings between ups and downs, it's best to understand why even the world's greatest game localization specialists can make such simple mistakes. In fact, occasionally it happens with no one involved in the translation process discovering it until it's too late.

So what are some of the most common problems that occur during the video game localization process? Below we list 15 of the most prominent issues within the industry and what localization experts can do to avoid them:


1. Drifting away from brevity

This might sound easy enough, but brevity (the concise use of words in writing or speech) requires a fair amount of finesse, especially when conveying key information. It's important to remember that message boxes in games and display screens are usually pretty small, so translations should be kept as short as possible to accommodate this limited space while still presenting the information clearly (however, don't use unnecessary abbreviations unless the client wants you to).

That being said, though brevity is important in game translation, it should not be prioritized over clarity. Information needs to be complete in order for users to easily understand what to do and to not waste time confusing players by insufficiently communicating command options and other in-game elements.


2. Language and style biases

If a language includes a polite form of address with players, neglecting to implement it throughout a game's translation can end up completely changing the user experience. Gamers should typically be addressed using polite language. Adults want to be communicated respectfully, and so do children! If anything, through games, children are able to learn a level of respectful expression that they may not otherwise be exposed to normally.

Now this is not necessarily meant to carry through dialogues and other things characters say (though neglecting this can also cause considerable changes in characterization); it’s mostly to make sure the game's interface, instructions, notifications, user manual and other information is delivered most appropriately for each culture.


3. Inappropriate intonation

When translating a game's interface or instructions, applying your own cultural intonations (instead of those appropriate for the culture you're translating for) can often produce awkward results.

For example, translations for western Europeans, Canadians or U.S. Americans often use the word "please" to introduce instructions. However, this wouldn't make sense in some East-Asian cultures, where such efforts are generally perceived as superfluous. Always make sure to localize using language and manners of expression that give gamers the experience of interacting with someone in their own area, as opposed to someone half the world away.


4. Wrong use of slang

The spirit of a game can be severely diminished when translators are unfamiliar with the slang used in a region or local area for which they're localizing a game. Before you start translating, ask about the slang used in the game and in the local area that is the target of the translation. From there, you'll need to find out which of those slang terms and phrases actually have a translation in your own language and which need to be said as-is.


5. Quoting unquotable quotes

Oftentimes quotes, similar to slang expressions, do not have precise analogues or ways of expressing sentiment that are close enough to be used in a game's translation. If you notice a game character saying something that sounds bizarre at some point, it's likely to be a mistranslated quote.

You may be able to save the situation by simply Googling the correct translation first. If that doesn't help, then try replacing the quote with a relevant replacement in the language the game is being translated into (as long as the meaning is not changed).


6. Inexperienced swearing

A lack of understanding of a culture's favored swear words and expressions can lead to poor localization. There is a way to swear responsibly. That is to say, there's a way to translate swearing responsibly for games that include it. Swearing translation is a bit of an art form. In other areas of translation, like any improper word choice for translation, using different words to express profanities can undermine the satisfaction in their use.

Some swear concepts carry different weight in different cultures. In some places, swearing is even forbidden. So, know and diligently apply all local restrictions. By all means, swear responsibly. But, most importantly, focus on the message that the game character intends to convey, not just the most literal translation of the actual word used.


7. Low creativity in translating

Being too literal in the translation of individual words and phrases may seem like the way to optimize localization efficiency and accuracy. But it doesn't actually pay off in more accurate translations. Don't fixate on utter specificity in assigning the most literal word replacement. The objective is to interpret the character's intended meaning. The character may be intended to express a more dramatic declaration or a less dramatic sentiment than the most literal translation conveys.

Maybe you need to condense a piece of translated verbiage to make it more abrupt, forceful or to make the phraseology more lilting and melodic. Staying true to the translation is essential. However, accuracy is weighted more on how accurately the intent is conveyed rather than how meticulously the definition is applied.

So, you need to allow yourself to be creative to an appropriate extent. After all, game localization is not like translating a technical manual. Don't expect to carry over every word precisely. The localized game needs to sound natural to the user. Accomplishing that is likely to require the changing of some words.


8. HTML code issues

Sometimes issues arise due to small, simple pieces of code that are either corrupted or missing. Someone else's mistake can set back the process while time is spent deferring easily correctable code errors to the nearest code writer. It not only improves efficiency in localization and helps preserve seamlessness, it also adds value to your service to clients.

So, if you are a career game localizer, it's strongly recommended that you consider gaining some knowledge of programming languages as part of your skills development. Even though your clients have their own coding specialists, and it's their role to program the game, circumstances arise that make it very handy to have a greater comfort level with coding basics. At a minimum, consider becoming familiar with HTML mark-up.


9. Source text and file problems

Like small coding problems, these are technical problems that can often be fixed quickly and easily enough during the standard localization process without having to resort to getting outside help. Many times, source text errors are easy to locate (as they may be missing or misspelled words, typos, etc.). It's a convenience to be able to just report them, fix them as you go along and to keep moving forward with a smooth localization process.

However, some source text or file issues are not as easy to spot. Less obvious errors, such as having the incorrect skill/object names for configuration displayed, might not be discovered until you see the game being tested on a screen. Even then, you may not notice the problem unless you're sufficiently focused on details during long hours of testing the game.


10. Altering text placeholders

Small pieces of code that are used to occupy a space in a line of text to be replaced by permanent text later on are called placeholders. They typically look something like: %1$s, %2$d, etc. Or it may be in the form of a word in all caps, or some other form of placeholder. So, most importantly, placeholders must not be translated or changed!

Accidentally altering or deleting placeholders can cause serious problems in the game. Especially when translating languages like German and Russian where phrases must include the placeholder's value. Errors in this protocol can trigger major issues.


11. Insufficient context

Without testing to debug contextual issues and other problems, a game's development can become seriously impaired. Professional game localizers typically send lists of questions to their clients, which include inquiries about context for use in-game.

But, as much as you may try to be thorough, responses are not always ideally detailed and translators may end up having to do some guesswork. Sometimes, the context provided for text can even be inaccurate, leading localizers to believe they're on the right track when they actually aren't. So, quality testing and debugging needs to go beyond just technological quality. It needs to ensure that the localized strings in the game really make sense.


12. Not playing games

If you're not a gamer, that's a problem. Ideally, a game localization professional loves gaming. You should at least understand what it is to play the kinds of games you translate. Video games are spectacular creative works. To be a truly talented game localizer, you need to play games.

Even understanding and appropriately applying common terminology for games is a basic skill that requires the familiarity of a player. Grasping the finer nuances of context, characters, behaviors and just the spirit of gaming as a whole requires play time. So, first, be a gamer. Play some games! It's your research! Playing and enjoying games will lead you to much greater success as a game localizer.


13. Unrealistic customer expectations

Untested game translations put a game at risk of failure in international gaming markets. Managing customers' expectations is key to their satisfaction with the localization process and the results.

Customers looking to cut costs by skipping the testing step of localization must be helped to understand why testing is crucial to the success of the localization process and cannot be disregarded. Suggest that customers allow as much time as possible for translation and that more items should be batched together in order to help reduce testing time and costs.

Some customers may express frustration that translators have made errors that need to be corrected. Again, suggest allowing more time for translation to help reduce the amount of reworking. And for customers who express the belief that translation costs are too high, suggest batching orders to help reduce the costs.


14. Miscellaneous oversights

Shocking as it may be, even the top industry experts in a field make occasional mistakes. Game localization is a highly complex endeavor. That's why there are only two kinds of people working in the industry — those who have made a significant error in a localization process and those who will make a significant error in the process. We all occasionally make a translation mistake, or a dreaded typo, or experience a failure of some degree. Don't worry. It is all manageable and should not be something that should hold you back from continuing to perfect your craft.


15. Keeping it all together

If there can only be a single takeaway, it would have to be that multiple heads are better than one. It helps to work in collaboration with a whole team of specialists who can support one another and clean up behind each other. After all, you can't be careful enough to avoid every mistake out there. Simply put, no matter how many times you proof your text, a mistake will occasionally somehow slip through.

It's interesting to note that over half of game localization problems actually happen in implementation and are not issues involving translators. In fact, less than half of translation quality problems are due to translator errors, with most quality problems in being the consequence of insufficient context or mistakes in source strings or other file problems.

Therefore, quality testing makes a dramatic difference in ensuring the successful localization of a game. It provides the necessary backup to provide strong quality assurance to customers and to game localization companies. You need to protect your reputation and your relationships with valued customers, all through diligent testing.

Still, even the most skilled game localizers, working with abundant time and resources, will miss something from time to time. It's the human condition to make an occasional mistake. Even the most meticulous testing process won't catch every single issue every single time.

So, to enjoy a long, successful career in game localization, have a team and test thoroughly. Beyond that, embrace the reality that, like any other industry, game localization is not exempt from problems inherent in the type of human activities it involves.


Get in touch!

Andovar is a games localization company. We provide turnkey games localization solutions. We work with games developers around the globe deliver ideally localized content to their users. If you need help with game localization, get in touch today! We're here to help!

For more insights into games localization, visit our Ultimate Guide to Games Translation.


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