High-quality game localization is a necessity for games to reach a wider international audience, though when setting out on your localization journey, your first question is probably about how much it's going to cost. The cost of game localization depends on some standard factors as well as a few specific ones. As with most products and services, the quality of your results can naturally be expected to vary along with cost. Below is a quick guide for people new to games localization in order to help them make an informed decision on how to approach a project.
- Free online translation — no cost
- Crowdsourced or provincial fan translation — no cost
- Generalized translation services — low cost
- Freelance translators for games — moderate cost
- Game localization specialist teams — higher cost than a freelancer
- How to reduce costs for high-quality game localization
No-cost games localization
If you're developing a prototype and just need your first-generation localization for a game, or if you're working on a tight budget to roll out your game product, there are a few basic options available to you. Some are pretty good. Others are low on the quality spectrum.
Use custom software to enable Google Translate
To localize your game using this method, you'll need to use software to plug Google Translate into your game engine and generate localized text from there. It's fair to say you shouldn't expect the results be very good.
Google’s AI is not proficient in interpreting context. So, it frequently makes bad guesses at words and sentence structures. Google Translate results for game translations are often not even acceptable as temporary placeholders.
This is the least accurate approach to localizing a game. Still people have used it to get a rudimentary game text translation.
Use the Common Games Translations program
Another way to localize your game free of charge is to use open-source spreadsheet that integrates pre-localized terms. Currently, Common Game Translations contains nearly 1,300 terms localized in 25 different languages. It's good for bare-bones translation from a basic spreadsheet containing common words found in games.
Of course, the potential to overcome the challenges of achieving quality translation using such an approach is very limited. However, even though Common Game Translations is not a professional program, the quality in some of the languages is surprisingly tolerable. In others, it's just not.
Use Polyglot open-source code
Polyglot is another open-source spreadsheet. Using this large spreadsheet of basic terms commonly used in games can get you a little closer to professional-quality localization. Polyglot provides context for every game string. Context is, of course, a key to a natural-seeming result of any localization project.
It has a plugin already built for Unity, to help smooth the execution process, though it may be a little hard to read. Polyglot can be a very helpful free tool. When you start your game, Polyglot's Unity plugin downloads the most updated version of the csv.
So, as the table is updated to correct and grow its contents, your game adapts to improvements of resource. If you're offline, your game just uses the most recently updated version of the csv file that it accessed.
This adaptive open-source localization tool is often good enough for very simple game designs. It's great for completing the initial localization effort, prior to passing the project to localization professionals, which can reduce the overall cost of your game localization project.
Crowdsourcing or fan translation?
For a game developer with a large fan-base across multiple languages, it may make sense for you to try to form a group of people from your community to help with translating the game. There are actually platforms, such as Crowdin, LingoHub and others dedicated to use by translation teams.
To use these platforms, you can upload your files to be translated, ask translators to help, and make reasonable progress toward general translation. However, you're on your own in every facet of localization quality assurance. So, you should keep in mind the risks associated with crowdsourcing translation:
- Naturally, many game fans who are acting as translators for you may love the game, but they're not necessarily likely to keep volunteering their time all the way through to completion of your translation project. They may also be less likely to take time to check their own work, to help ensure basic accuracy, much less quality.
- Professional game developers who've started out with crowd-sourced translating groups have told horror stories of whole groups just not logging in anymore after only half the project was completed.
- They've also found themselves stuck with style inconsistencies in the translations. At best, that's a problem that can make the translation too disjointed for people to use smoothly. At worst, it can make game dialogues and text incomprehensible.
In one example, several translators were using different terms to mean the same thing, depending on their generation and regional culture. The consequence was that the finished translation was switching continuously between the varying terms, which would sound nearly nonsensical to virtually everyone playing the game in that language.
That's a natural hazard of having too many people translating, too little communication between translators, an insufficient set of standards for the translation, and a lack of careful proofreading along the way.
- Fans who are willing to help you may speak two or more languages, but that doesn't mean they're efficient linguists. In fact, they're probably not. As a result, after all their efforts to help and after you've put in a lot of your own work and time, the translated files may not be usable.
If you use the crowdsourcing method, be sure to plan out your strategy for editing and proofing before your group starts translating. Ultimately, however, when you use crowdsourcing, in order to produce a game translation that's reasonably close to professional quality, you'll need professional editing. So, although you're getting the translating done free of charge, there will still be some cost involved, for editing.
General translation services
A basic translation operation typically uses translators and proofreaders, with a project manager guiding the process. A general translation agency is a big step up from DIY game localization, but you should expect quality to be compromised by the natural limitations of the normal process for this level of translation. Still, for professional-level games localization, these translation generalists offer the cheapest price.
- A large general translation service manages many translators, who typically don't have experience relevant to games localization.
- Because general translating services work cheap, they have to pay very low rates for translators and demand excessively short deadlines. Prioritizing speed and low price over quality means, of course, a bad working environment and predictably lower quality of outcomes.
- Translators in general translations agencies typically don't have many, if any, opportunities to ask the kinds of questions that could help them understand context of the strings files.
- General-purpose translators are usually not provided access to the various reference materials necessary to understand the nuances of the regional localization work required to enculturate the translated content of the game.
- These volume-oriented translation companies often assign more translators than needed for a project, to get the work done as quickly as possible. The consequence is often an extreme lack of consistency in translation style and quality.
- Generalist translation project management is a more removed form of project oversight, less hands-on than the games localization specialty requires for quality.
Overall, general-purpose translation can be expected to deliver a quality outcomes for localization that is better than the free options, but that is the lowest quality of the professional alternatives. When some work needs to be redone, this option can end up costing more than using a game localization specialist, so there are better options for saving costs on professional game localization.
Freelance game translators
Rates can vary widely between freelancers, based on experience, location, and project size. A freelance game translation contractor typically works alone. So, one person performs all the functions of an entire team of specialists. Overall, a freelance localization professional can be expected to produce a higher-quality outcome than a big general translation agency, and usually at a lower cost.
Talented freelance translators are usually fully committed to quality. They ask the necessary questions to understand context and ensure accuracy. They will expect you to provide them with the references necessary for them to achieve a high-quality outcome for you.
Many provide games localization, and freelancers can be found for translation from and to most languages. Here are a few popular resources for connecting with freelance translators:
- ProZ — Site for all freelance translators, for posting and accepting translation jobs.
- The Open Mic — Free platform with many game translators connecting.
- TranslatorsCafé — Older reference, but still can be useful to locate freelance translators.
- Indie Game Localization — Facebook group, many new and a few experienced translators.
Searching for the right freelancer for your game localization can be time-consuming. Coordinating your project with them is another process that takes time. If you're translating your game into many languages, this can become an infeasible option.
Specialized games localization companies
A team of game localization specialists is the industry's best resource for quality and efficiency. Game localization teams are experts in the niche. They provide game localization for all language needs. So, whether you need translation into one language or dozens, you can count on top-quality, nuanced localization in each one.
Specialist teams price their services to allow balancing the needs to pay translators fairly for their work and to provide game developers with affordable rates. For specialist teams, common translation languages are normally fall within a reasonable price range and include language conversions such as English to Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Russian, etc.
Hiring a service dedicated to games localization lavishes the collective experience of a whole team of top industry talents and resources onto your game.
- Translators in specialty translation services are able to create appropriate working conditions for translators, including all the time, resources, and engagement with product management that they need in order to produce the most accurate and natural translations for every local area of every country in which the game will be distributed.
- A professional team can translate a game more quickly and efficiently than a freelancer.
- Coordinating is more efficient, because localization teams are smaller and much more agile than general translation services.
- Game localization teams are dedicated to their specialty, which means they have a much more in-depth understanding of localization needs for your game.
- Using an experienced team of specialists ensures focus on fine details from the start to the finish of the localization process.
This option can be expected to provide the best quality of translation available. Of course, the costs involved in producing the highest quality outcome makes it the most expensive of the options. On the other hand, the quality assurance that comes with using a professional team means you can avoid the likelihood of spending more money on the back end, due to having some or all of the work redone.
Fortunately, there are affordable rates that can allow you to work with a specialist team. There are also some things you can do to get the level of localization quality that only a specialist team delivers and keep costs down for your project.
How to reduce costs for high-quality game localization
You can choose your highest quality option — a games localization company — and still reduce your costs. To get the best value for your investment in your localization project:
- Reduce the Word Count — Make sure each word in your dialogues and text has a purpose. Fewer words means lower localization costs.
- Replace Some Text Items with Pictograms — Pictograms can communicate at a glance, and minimize text. Plus, they're usually understood in any language.
- Select the Right Target Languages for Localization — Research your target market for localization, to be sure what languages are really important for your game and need to be localized, instead of translating in many languages unnecessarily.
- Do All Your Localizations at the Same Time — Higher total word count can mean pricing at a lower rate per word. So, try to consolidate everything you need to have localized into one project.
- Don't Do Small Update Localization Projections — There's normally a minimum fee charged by translation services. Therefore, it's much more economical to accumulate an amount of localization work that will give you more value for the price when you do have updating done.
Weighing your game localization options
Whichever way you decide to approach localizing your game, be sure to allow plenty of time to complete all the phases of your localization project. Obviously, the more care you lavish on your project, the better quality your results will be. That means more investment of time, research, and money to get the quality you want.
Ideal localization requires a professional team. That's going to cost more on the front end, but can be expected to keep costs down by helping prevent repeating work later. It can also help gamers playing your game enjoy it more, which is what you need for the success of your game internationally.
If you're looking for a turnkey games localization solution for a complex project, we can help you with that. Andovar is a localization company that specializes in custom games localization. Just get in touch with us anytime, to talk to someone about localizing your game.
For more in-depth insight into games localization, visit our Ultimate Guide to Games Translation.