Congratulations! You’ve created a great video game! Your heart, soul, sweat and possibly a few secret tears have gone into it. It's a thing of beauty. But now you're about to hand off your masterpiece to a games localization company. That means that more than a little of your money and a lot of your hard work is going to be given over to a different team that now has the responsibility of carrying your vision to other markets around the world. Seems... perilous.
You know more than anyone that the translators need to capture the messaging, dialectics, cultures, references, slang, and all other tones and nuances you put into the game for it to truly be your intended creation. Simply put, this means that your game requires an expertly meticulous localization process applied to it. But what exactly does that involve?
General practices to achieve accurate game localization
Of course, to achieve quality outcomes in game localization, or anything else for that matter, you should first determine your benchmarks for quality. What does quality look and sound like in a game treated with high-end localization? In order to create a baseline for quality game localization, first critique some game localization examples that you yourself consider good and bad, whether you were personally involved in the creation of those particular games or not.
Your translation service provider should ensure impeccable interpretation of not only the words of your game's text and dialogue, but also their intended usage. The translated text needs to be relatable to the gamer's experience, and more often than not, that experience is shaped by an individual's culture. Essentially, the translated words and phrasing in text and dialogues must sound natural relative to the language it is written in.
Whether you're new to games localization or have experience working with LSPs, you can improve the process by incorporating these tips for maximizing accuracy and the overall quality of your finished game localization project:
- Communicate — Keeping communication unrestricted between all involved parties in the localization process leads to greater accuracy and cohesiveness in translations. Build a good rapport with translators and reviewers on your project and encourage clear communication with all stakeholders (giving them regular updates throughout the process); these include translators, reviewers, language service providers (LSPs), game designers, production assistants, business partners and others.
- Collaborate — Work closely with teams who are located in the target country for which the game is being localized in order to build out approved glossaries. Make sure everyone clearly understands the style guidelines to be employed. This will simplify the localization process and develop resources to increase both accuracy and efficiency in future projects.
- Educate — Give translators and reviewers sufficient time to digest glossaries, culture guidelines and translation examples (in both your own language and the target language, if possible) in order to help them capture the vision for the outcome and to help them more closely follow the direction of the project.
- Contextualize — Provide the LSPs and translators with access to the staging server so that they can engage with the content in context. Also, provide access to the web apps so they can examine and test out the text elements of the UI too.
- Empower — Delegate a point person to facilitate with the project lead at the LSP. Having someone else fully looped in on all communications, decisions, changes, current deliberations, deliverables, timelines, needs, preferences, and all other considerations, multiplies the number of eyes, ears and minds focused on ensuring accuracy, overall quality and timely delivery from your localization service.
- Visualize — Scrutinize the quality of source files and ensure that the quality of the source content is high going into the translation process. No matter how interesting the language is that you're translating the game into or how accurate the translation may be, any glaring quality problems from the original source text will remain, diminishing the quality of the game and the user experience for players. In short, quality in – quality out.
- Optimize — Lay out a workflow for the production process that has a top-quality game localization as its end goal. This is only possible if your flowchart includes a realistic allocation of time for translators to review critical materials needed to support quality translation. An optimal process also includes sufficient time for the in-country reviewers to do their piece of the project. Collaborate with these contractors, to determine how much is reasonable for these steps of the process.
- Lead — Build good and long-lasting professional relationships with the translators and the LSPs you work with. Establishing connections with various members of the team will cultivate a working environment that is conducive to collaboration, increased motivation, attention to detail and a sense of freedom that contributes to creative problem solving and promotes the highest possible quality of localization.
Each of these quality factors depends largely on relationship building. In any work environment, building a team mindset is conducive to overall output and quality. If you and your LSP make it your priority to foster your professional relationship by committing to transparency and mutual respect in all communications, then achieving your shared goals for productivity and quality is much easier.
Translation experts can perform much better when they clearly understand your exact concepts and ideal outcomes. So, for the best possible chance to achieve your desired end result — which is to communicate ideally with gamers in international markets — prioritize ideal communication with the people involved in your project.
Do all necessary pre-production work
The following is a checklist for determining whether or not your game is ready for localization:
1. Choose the languages for translation
Even if your game is developed by one company and published by another, and a promotion group may be making the final decisions, marketing analytics and localizers should advise on which languages the game should be translated into and should also determine the availability of quality translation teams for those.
Problems with truncations, un-cooperative text resizing functions, violations of character limits, partially un-localized text, grammar problems and other issues have all been reported across the gaming community in the past — all apparently due to unclear expectations among parties during development.
2. Document and prepare processes
At some point during development, you'll find out which languages the game will be translated into, even though there is not yet any text to start translating. This is the right time to start getting some important preparatory work underway:
- Process documents — Assemble onboarding guides, checklists, style guides and templates, among other key documents. You can also start populating a glossary with known key terms.
- Map localization workflow — Begin mapping the process, including determining the reporting hierarchy on the project, deciding which CAT environment will be employed, how support will function and other project planning.
- Test plans — It's not too early to start drafting a general outline for the linguistic testing phase of localization. Having the most detailed plan possible when going into testing helps get the maximum benefit from testing. Even at this early stage, you can figure out which testing environment you'll want to utilize and can decide what format testers will use to communicate results (submitting screenshots, using a shared Google file, uploading reports to a repository, etc.).
- Compile context references — This is a good time to ask the game developers to leave in notes for text strings. Information the notes can provide on game logic is invaluable to localization teams and the overall efficiency and quality of the finished product (even if full-scope linguistic testing will be performed after localization).
3. Collaborate with game developers and localizers
A professional localization team will do thorough research and advise game developers on any potential linguistic issues that may impact the accuracy or overall quality of the project outcome. Some types of issues can be avoided by checking off some essentials, such as:
- Resourcing all the strings in the resource files.
- Avoiding embedding text in graphics.
- Testing all fonts for each language.
- Finding fonts that blend nicely with the game design.
- Confirming that UTF-8 is the right coding choice.
- Making space for scaling text size (as needed for some languages).
- Wrapping multiple-line texts.
- Keeping track of major differences in plural and possessive forms, uses of gender references and other language rules.
- Choosing whether or not to mirror the interface to capture differences between right-to-left (RTL) and left-to-right (LTR) languages.
- Providing for changes in grammar, number formatting, currency, dates, etc., in text strings.
Rely on lessons learned from your past experience. Have a thorough localization project quality management checklist, and make sure that absolutely nothing on it is overlooked. Also, refer to the IGDA's publication: Best Practices for Game Localization, and incorporate its directives into your protocols.
4. Consider partial automation for game text translations
Predefined and tuned processes are a benefit. But new continuous localization technology offers a seamless process that allows localizers to automate certain steps in text translations, without necessarily compromising quality, to an extent that would negate the value of this alternative. For example:
- Process management — SERGE (String Extraction and Resource Generation Engine) and other such open-source solutions offer high-tech options that eliminate the need for manual management of some localization steps (such as exporting files, converting them, transferring them for translation, performing reverse conversions, filing changes in the version control system, etc.).
SERGE extracts new source content, renders it for translation and obtains translated text. Then, it integrates the translated text back into the product. In addition to automatically pulling and pushing changes, it can also sync with your preferred external CAT tool.
- QA checks and testing — After your LSP delivers the completed localization, it can be useful to have a third party review samples of the translation work and apply a range of QA metrics. Having this kind of outside review is a standard industry practice. If time constraints or budget make hiring a third party for a full review challenging, you can at least run an abbreviated in-house QA check before importing the localized content into your game's architecture and moving on to other linguistics tests in your process.
Some good tools for this purpose include Xbench, QA built-in CAT and Verifika. QA spot checks prior to QA are an additional expense, so it's recommended to include them in the budget upfront (basic machine translation may also give you a useful look at your localized game product, and may even reveal opportunities for interim design modifications).
5. Manage budgeting and legal considerations
It may seem like legal and budget particulars are too far removed from the pre-production process to talk about their effects on accurate localization. Nevertheless, keep in mind that in order to hit the ground running when entering the localization phase of the project, you'll need to ensure that all the administrative components of the project are managed efficiently.
When completion of one of these critical preliminary parts of the project lag, timelines can be impacted, confusion and misunderstandings can emerge, and localization quality can become the casualty of the improperly controlled situation. So make sure that localization vendor agreements that spell out all of the arrangements have been established and that amounts of resources are settled prior to scheduling production.
Getting all details settled with vendors before the project starts helps avoid unforeseen expenses leading to cost overruns and unexpected delays. Get all legal contracts thoroughly completed early to speed the process along on your current and future projects.
6. Start collecting feedback
Start collecting feedback from gamers about titles similar to yours and note the user ratings and comments. Learning about customer satisfaction issues due to errors can help you identify some root causes, which can be valuable during your own game development, including the localization phase.
Consider actively gathering feedback on your game to find out what can be tweaked and what, if anything, is likely to influence the overall accuracy and quality of localization. To increase your wealth of feedback, you might even opt to give users an incentive, such as a little in-game currency. It's an idea to run by your development team.
Figure out what you can do to reach out to your players that can be effective across a userbase of multilingual gamers and implement some method of thanking people for taking the time to provide important feedback to improve your game. Plus, engaging customers in this way is a good brand builder.
Avoiding common mistakes in games localization
A basic rule it to simply be on the lookout for common mistakes. Be sure to add these typical errors to your localization quality checklist to help you overcome typical challenges in games localization:
- Succumbing to style biases
- Failing to maintain brevity
- Using culturally inappropriate forms of address
- Not overcoming simple HTML code issues
- Not obtaining sufficient context
- Overlooking source file issues
- Accidentally altering placeholders
- Failing to use appropriate intonations
- Lack of insights into cultural slang, use of quotes and swearing
- Numerous other common errors due to inexperience with games and/or localization
Game enculturation: A higher level of accuracy in localization
Enculturation is a localization fundamental that makes game content more natural and meaningful to users, which adds a genuine and relatable quality to the game for every user in any remote locale. That's a significant value that benefits users and developers.
So, collaborate with knowledgeable people in and outside the project team about the relatability of the game's plot, objects, characters, text, dialogue and voiceover characteristics to blend relevant game elements with cultural references and avoid errors regarding cultural sensitivities in order to optimize the user experience. It is recommended to begin efforts toward enculturating game content as early as possible in the development process.
Achieving accuracy in games localization
For maximizing accuracy and the overall quality of the localization project, emphasis is needed on getting as much as possible done as early as possible. Many avoidable mistakes are consequences of unnecessarily rushing through processes (or pushing development into the infamous "crunch time"). Quality work is always easier to achieve when processes are managed through professional project planning and are executed with maximum care.
The more time that is available at every stage of the process, the more attention can be lavished on finer details. The differences in the level of such care in localization are often what distinguish run-of-the-mill game products distributed in international markets from high-quality, culturally immersive games that inspire gamers throughout the world.
Determine whether your game's development is at the stage of maturity that makes game localization the logical next step or if there needs to be more preparation before handing it over to a localizing team. While at first glance it may seem that phases of the project, like budgeting and legal constructs, have little or nothing at all to do with localization quality, those are the frameworks within which a successful project is planned and executed. So, have those matters settled before you embark on localization.
Be sure to focus test all images with target international audiences to help mitigate unintended cultural offenses. The IGDA reminds developers and localizers to be aware of national, regional and local geo-political issues, as well as historical, ethnic and religious considerations.
Finally, learn from the mistakes of other industry professionals. Spend some time reading peer articles and educate yourself on some of the ins and outs of localization to give yourself every advantage going into the process. This will help you manage your expectations, collaborate most creatively and productively, stay on budget and on schedule, and produce the best possible outcome in accuracy and overall quality of your localization project.
If you are looking toward localizing your video game and would like some expert advice on accuracy and localization quality management, give us a call anytime to discuss your game and how to realize your vision for it.
For more insights into games localization, visit our Ultimate Guide to Games Translation.