Part 8: Challenges
Game localization is a highly complex project. There's research, planning, pre-production, administration, communications, personnel management, multimedia engineering, internationalization, translation, culturalization, voiceover, integration, testing, scheduling and several other contingencies the process entails. It's always good to fully appreciate the magnitude of games localization so that you can get a realistic sense of such an undertaking from the outset vs. jumping into the process completely unaware.
To visualize the full scope of localization for a given game, multiply the above task set by the number of international markets for which a game developer needs to have a game product localized and identify the challenges each market could present. That number is likely to include markets in the US, China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Germany, France and other large international gaming markets.
Zero in on the most common problems in game localization
So there's a lot to do and it all has to be done accurately, economically and with all results being of the highest quality. But even the foremost game localization experts in the global industry can be expected to make simple mistakes occasionally. For perspective, it helps to know that the majority of issues in game localization occur during implementation, and less than half actually involve translators. Most are due to an absence of context information, or are source string errors or file issues.
Localization professionals thoroughly research potential culturalization issues that can impact the marketability of a game in a targeted international market. They advise game developers of these and possible linguistic concerns that can compromise accuracy, as well as any other issues that can impact the quality of the outcome.
Common causes of localization problems
To avoid typical mistakes, work from a localization quality checklist that consolidates as many of the common games localization challenges as you can identify from all the sources you research and from your own experience.
Here are some examples of the kinds of tasks you should include to fit your process when building your checklist for your localization team. You can help prevent numerous errors by confirming that some basics have been handled properly, such as:
- Ensure that all strings in the source files are localized.
- Avoid placing text in graphics.
- Test fonts for each language to check for scaling.
- Select fonts for each language that complement the game's design.
- Ensure that UTF-8 is the appropriate choice of coding format.
- Make room to scale text size for the target language, if needed.
- Wrap text as necessary for multiple lines.
- Apply proper gender references, formatting of number expressions, dates, currencies, etc.
- Obey possessive and plural forms, noun/adjective order, tenses, and other grammar rules of the target language.
- Perform localization quality testing to confirm that the localized content makes sense in the game.
Less obvious problems in localization
Beyond the typical errors that can be largely avoided by checking to ensure conformance and making quick corrections, there are more subtle and pervasive localization problems that can emerge. Here are some examples:
- Translator biases — Translators may not be aware that their work is influenced by their own style or language biases, which can impact the quality or accuracy of their translations. Make sure they use proper forms of address and that the UI, instructions, notifications and other on-screen elements are expressed in ways suitable for the culture.
- Vague context — When translators are left to guess the context for games, they may wrongly assume that they're going in the right direction only to find out far too late that they've been on the wrong track. Game developers should provide abundant contextual information.
- Inaccurate intonation — Translators sometimes apply their own culture's intonations, which can result in inappropriate translations. Use the expressive manner that is natural to speakers of the target language to help players experience game interactions that feel natural to their area.
- Failure to maintain brevity — Provide information on display screens using the shortest messages possible without leaving out necessary information or sacrificing clarity.
- Source file or text issues — Incorrect object names for configurations can go undetected until testing a game. Apply prescribed naming conventions to ensure proper functioning.
- HTML coding errors — Small pieces of missing or corrupted code can stop the progress of the localization project while simultaneously burdening the client's code writer with having to locate and correct the issues. To maximize efficiency in game localization, consider building skills in basic code writing.
- Violating placeholders — Numbers, words or characters left in text strings as placeholders must not be removed, replaced or altered during translation. These are meant to be replaced with permanent code entries at some later point in development. Deleting or changing placeholders can cause serious programming problems in the game.
- Lack of familiarity with games — The best video game localizers play video games. Appropriately applying common terminology for games requires an understanding of gaming community vernacular at the very least.
- Poor creativity in translation — Literal word-for-word translations can create interpretations that are not necessarily engaging or can skew far from the actual message the character intends. Strive to convey the undulating levels of drama that the game designer intends in characters' behaviors and speech.
- Inappropriate quotation — Mistranslated quotes can cause game characters to say bizarre things. Try Googling the right translation. If necessary, replace the quote with an expression of the point that actually makes sense in the target language.
- Unfitting use of slang — The general appeal of a game can be significantly reduced when slang is used in a disingenuous way due to translations that fail to convey a character's persona as intended. Learn the slang equivalent in the source and target languages. If necessary, discuss alternatives in order to maintain integrity of dialogues.
- Inept cursing — In some places, swearing is taken more seriously than in others, and in some other places it is absolutely prohibited. Obey all local rules and restrictions. Strive to convey the meaning that the swearing character intends vs. just a literal word translation.
- Unrealistic expectations — Skipping localization quality testing to cut localization costs is a high-risk tactic that does not balance logically against the potentially major financial consequences. Ask your LSP about better cost-cutting alternatives.
The overarching challenge for a games localization company is discovering any and all issues that can negatively impact the user experience and threaten the success of the game product in the target international market. Collaboration between game designers, developers and localization specialists is the big-picture solution to identifying and correcting such issues before they become serious problems. Working together, all parties to the localization effort can backup each other's efforts to maximize accuracy and the overall quality of project outcomes. Since everyone is susceptible to making mistakes, it is teamwork and a collective focus on quality assurance that protects the game and all its stakeholders by ensuring a positive experience for gamers in every international target market.
So with that we have covered the challenges most commonly faced during video game localization. Part 9 we have actually mentioned several times throughout this guide and that is because it is all about quality assurance. This step is the final hurdle in getting your game from the hands of developers and localizers into the waiting hands of gamers. Gamers and game media outlets have a very high bar when it comes to assessing a game's quality, and that assessing eye is exactly what every developer should be using themselves before sending a game out to market. So what testing methods are available for developers and what are the guidelines one should follow when testing a game? Find out in the next installment. We look forward to seeing you there.