Lessons on Localizing Videogames. Part 2
In the first part, we discussed the role a localization manager plays in projects, elaborated on professional localization tools, and gave a few vivid examples of cultural aspects that can’t be ignored when going global.
In the second part, we’ll dive deeper into localization testing, the most popular localization languages, and game localization trends, all spiced up with examples and stories from a professional game localization company experience.
Let’s talk about localization testing. Could you expand a little bit more about what this process entails?
Sure! Usually, this process starts after the finished translations are transferred to the developers, and the developers implement them in the game. So we have a game in different languages available, for example, in the form of a test build.
The perfect situation for us is when the developer can provide navigation through the game so that the localizers know which buttons to push to see every string they worked on.
If the developer doesn’t have an opportunity to give access to their game directly, we use screenshots. When we’re talking about specific platforms where the game will be released, for example, Switch, not all the testers who worked on localization may have access to Switch to enter the game. In this case, they will check the screenshots and make a report according to them.
By the end of the testing process, the developer gets a report of all the issues and bugs the localizers have come across. If there are issues with the context, we make the amendment of the translation on the localization platform, and then we send the developer a file with the updated translation. Context issues are the easiest to fix.
There can also be technical problems, like the strings, which are too long. We can shorten the string, or if the developers have capacity to expand a window for a text in another language, they can do it on their side.
What happens if developers don’t do the localization testing step?
The most obvious is when the strings don’t match the interface of the game. When you can’t see the end of a sentence just because it ends somewhere outside the screen. This can demonstrate that there was no localization testing.
Another thing is the context mismatch, like similar translations of the buttons that mean different things. For example, you have a window that suggests you either go back to some location or to some stage in the game. It can be that during the localization process, without knowing the exact context, the verbs were translated in the same way. And you end up with two buttons with the same wording on them, and you just don’t know what to choose because they are really the same! This is really what makes the players angry…
One thing that I’ve been seeing in some games is that subtitles don’t match what characters are saying. My example could be the subtitle “I am going out for dinner” when the voice acting is “I’m going out with a group of friends.”. Can localization testing help catch this?
It can be caught in localization testing if the voiceover is already set up. However, localizers usually check if the subtitles correspond to the source text. For the voiceover, you need to have it already implemented in the game to spot this.
It happens not only in game localization but also in video content localization. It’s because dubbing requires a bit of a different approach than subtitling. When we do subtitles for the games, we have more freedom of what words we can use and how long the subtitles can be, compared to the dubbing, where the translation should also meet other requirements, e.g., how the characters talk, how they move when they talk, etc. That’s why dubbing and subtitling can be a bit different.
Read more about the key differences between dubbing and subtitling.
As a localization manager, do you do something either unique or specific on a case-by-case basis that we haven’t touched on yet??
Well, a localization manager is a person who can become a member of your team. In some projects where we work on continuous localization, we localize updates on a yearly or monthly basis. When you do these updates, you become so involved in the project that you can spot some errors yourself. The localization manager can be so knowledgeable of different aspects of the project that they can spot mistakes even before they come to the developer’s attention.
This is something unique about localization managers in the localization companies. They have a strong connection both to the localization world and to the customers’ world. We play the games that we localize, we spend time in them, and even after the localization process has finished, we can play in our native language and come up with ideas on how to improve the localization next time.
It is not just a mechanical communication role where you’re connecting the developer to the localization team — you’re a part of the team, and as a part of the team, you also influence the process.
Another great thing about working as a localization manager at Alconost is that you get to connect with developers from all over the world and enjoy a dynamic work environment, and you don’t even have to leave your house for that. As a remote-first company, we’ve been following principles of flexible location and flexible working hours since 2004. Want to work from home and spend more time with your family? Go ahead. Want to fly over the continent to discuss the details of the project with your client in person? As long as you’ve taken a laptop with you, we don’t stand in your way.
For a behind-the-scenes look at how Alconost has been managing to run an international officeless company for more than 18 years, take a look at our series of interviews.
Is there a minimum amount of time that it takes to localize a game, and how long does it usually take?
The amount of time we spend on localization depends on:
- The amount of text in the game: how much we have to localize.
- The number of languages: some languages are a bit more difficult to localize than others, just because it takes more time to assemble a team of translators and proofreaders
- The amount of gameplay: it takes time to go through some gameplay features.
For smaller games, a week or two can be enough. For bigger games, it can take a couple of months, but we can localize in batches. If the game is really big, it can take up to six months.
The process is usually more or less finished in one to three months. With localization testing, it may take a bit longer.
I’ve spoken to developers internationally, especially last year, and one of the ideas that stood out to me is that you really can’t think about video games locally anymore. It drives home the point that in today’s market, people want accessibility and approachability. If somebody is buying a game, they want to understand what’s being said…
You’re right that the games are not really local anymore, and there are more and more requests of localization that prove that. The languages that are now the most popular for localization also prove that — one of them is Portuguese Brazilian, for example. Chinese Simplified is also in the top five languages that are most used for localization.
People are looking outside their own market, and it is really important that the player has an opportunity to understand the game and play it in their own language.
However, I think that if the game is European, it would be, I guess, interesting for players from other markets to see the specifics of the country where it was developed. Localization shouldn’t ‘kill’ these specific regional aspects of the game; it should be our way to explore different cultures and different sets of mind. It is an important balance to keep for those who localize games; how you keep this interest in the other cultures and how you make the game understandable and exciting for the players in your own market.
It’s interesting that you brought up translating into Brazilian or to the Brazilian country! I’ve spoken to developers from studios in Brazil. Brazil’s really trying to position itself as kind of like the next big video game country, in terms of supporting developers, trying to build studios…
We checked orders made by Alconost localization department customers in 2021 and found out that Brazilian Portuguese is the 4th most popular localization language, while Chinese Simplified takes the 8th place. This data is based only on the orders with English as a source language and reflects all orders, not only for game localization specifically. Read our report on top localization languages.
Regarding the top languages for game localization specifically, check this report with in-house data from 2020; it proves that Yana’s evaluation was absolutely correct.
I’ve been playing indie games from the international market for about a decade, and there is a very noticeable difference between the games that came from other cultures back in 2012 to where we’re seeing them now. What we’re seeing today is that even though games may reference local or cultural elements, developers are trying to make their games as wide-reaching as possible.
I totally agree that this is a feature of today’s games, and the more we see in localization, the more I’m convinced that every developer — even a small developer just starting a game — considers going international at some point.
In the international market, the demand for your game can be even higher than in your local market. People are getting more and more involved in each other’s cultures, and it’s sometimes more interesting for them to explore someone’s cultural background than their own region. But at the same time, it’s necessary for a game to be understandable.
And as the culture, in general, becomes more and more internationalized, we can use international references in our local products just to make them more understandable and more captivating for people in very different markets.
One thing that we haven’t really talked about during our cast is the pricing for localization. Could you expand a little bit on what would be on the cheaper side and what’s very expensive?
We have a word rate and a rate for 1 000 characters with spaces. We use the rate of 1 000 characters with spaces for hieroglyphical languages where you don’t really have words as we’re used to them. For some languages, we need a fair way to count the amount of work for localizers, and that’s why we’re using these two kinds of rates.
- On the cheaper side, we would have the most popular languages, the most localizable languages across the world. These are usually the European languages.
- In the middle rate group, we would have the Asian languages and also the European languages, which are less common, like Dutch.
- Then we have the highest rate group, which is Scandinavian and Japanese.
Check current localization rates at Alconost.
The amount of text you have and the languages you pick determine the costs of localization (translation and proofreading). For localization testing, the determining element is the amount of time that the localizers will need to spend in your game to check everything. If the gameplay is more complicated, with many locations to visit or many buttons to push, this will take more time and, thus, will cost more.
And when deciding which languages fall into the low tier and which ones fall into the higher tier; does the complexity of the language also factor in?
I would say the most important is not the complexity of the language but the number of localizers on the market for this specific language. It is sometimes really hard to find a person who specializes in game localization and who is a native speaker of some rare language. For these languages, the costs will usually be higher.
Learn how Alconost searches and finds rare language translators on a regular basis.
For the languages where we have lots of translators and proofreaders and lots of specialists on the market, the pricing will be a bit lower. So, not the complexity of the language is decisive but the localization market; the market of translators and proofreaders.
Any tips or any suggestions you can give developers in terms of getting the most bang for their buck?
Well, it will depend on the game. First, you need to choose for which market it is suited best. Sometimes the localization for a completely different market with completely different cultural features can take more time — not necessarily more money but more time, and you will need to make more adjustments on your side as the developer. That’s why I would first look at the market, and then I would choose languages that cover most of your possible audience.
In general, again, the most popular options are European languages, like Spanish, French, and also Chinese. When you are choosing between Chinese Simplified and Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified is usually preferred, just because it is spoken by more people. But with the Chinese Traditional, we can also gain some important parts of the market.
The differences between the varieties of the Chinese language are not ignored by the developers who are choosing the region to promote their products. Simplified Chinese, also known as “Mandarin,” is used in translations for users from mainland China. Traditional Chinese and other dialects of Chinese are generally used in localizations for users from Taiwan or Hong Kong. According to our in-house data for 2020, from 10 orders with English as a source and any Chinese language as a target, 6 orders will be for Chinese Simplified, 3 for Chinese Traditional, and 1 for Hong Kong dialect of the Chinese Traditional language.
When you’re choosing languages, it is important to remember that popular languages create more competition. Sometimes you may want to think out of the box and choose regions where your game doesn’t have many competitors yet. For example, now the rising stars of localization markets are Hindi and Korean; these are the languages that are gaining weight because the markets are not yet so full of competitors, and you can promote your game there very well.
It’s useful to keep an eye on games and apps which are most downloaded and played in specific regions. It’s also worth considering how the local markets are developing in the regions where you want to come. The three things you should keep in mind when you are choosing a market for localization are downloads, revenue, and the development of local industries.
Does Alconost work with developers post-release?
Sure! We’re eager to keep our partnership with developers after the localization is finished.
They can come with the updates. Sometimes updates are continuous, and we come to the continuous localization, which takes place every week, two weeks, or every month — it depends on how often the developer updates the game. They can also come with major marketing updates, big announcements. We already know the context, and we know the best way to translate such things.
When it comes to promoting your game internationally, the game’s app store page is its global business card. To quickly localize app description, title, and keywords, you can use professional online translation services that deliver the translation within 24 hours or less.
However, game video localization for your app store page is never a piece of cake. For game developers exclusively, we’ve created a checklist with experience-based tips & tricks on how to handle game video localization.
Another way to communicate with the developers after localization is to localize the game into new languages. This can also be a way to keep our communication. When we finish the first group of languages, and it works properly, the customers normally come to us with requests for new regions and groups.
Anything else that we didn’t touch on in the localization process you would like to talk about?
We just touched a bit on the continuous localization, and this is a great feature that we provide for constant updates — if not of the game itself, then of marketing materials or something around the game, like social networks.
Continuous localization is arranged a bit differently than just the localization process. It may even involve deeper integration on technical levels. Sometimes developers integrate our localization platform into their system. They can just drop us new strings, and we automatically start localizing. They can have the strings ready without even too much interaction with the localization manager. This is one of the features that is useful for developers, and it’s good for us because we can set up this process really well.
Automate quick & short translations with our human translation API — Nitro API by Alconost. Here’s how it works: integrate Nitro API keys into your project, send your text and get professional translation by native linguists within 2–24 hours. Minimal back-and-forth — maximum efficiency.
Anything funny or unique that came up with localization that would be a good story for a developer to listen to?
All of our funny stories are connected to the challenges we came across!
A story I can remember off the top of my head is the localization of a small game where we needed to draw characters for a Christmas update. It had Christmas deer, and the developer started to think about whether the deer were male or female, and what names we should give to each of them in each language — and what colors we should use on them depending on the gender.
We actually discussed every deer in the “Santa Claus deer family’’. For each language, we chose specific names, specific features of how they look, how they’re named, and how they communicate. So that was a kind of a crazy Christmas update!
This was the case when the developer was so deep into the game that he thought about literally every detail, and it was fascinating. When we are working with people like that, we also get engaged too, and we spend a lot of time just investigating the game and the characters in it to make them look right and feel right in every language we’re localizing in.
It’s gotta get crazy from a localization standpoint if the developer says: let’s just have a hundred names that could possibly show up, and just keep adding them for every single character…
Well, actually, we had such a situation not so long ago!
We were localizing a game where there was a really huge number of names for dogs, both male and female — and some neutral names, too. Some names were really unusual, so they could be both male and female. For example, there were names like Alexander and Alexandra, and Alejandro, which could be used in both languages.
It was the English source that had them. When we localized into Spanish, we needed to make sure that in Spanish, the difference would be also noted somehow. So this was a bit of a challenge, and there were lots of names, so we spent time making sure they didn’t repeat and that they reflected the gender features they should reflect.
Any final point you like to say about localization to end the cast on?
I would like to say that localization is… inevitable :-) In my opinion, every developer comes to it, and you shouldn’t be afraid to start with localization. With vendors like Alconost, we guide you through every step. This is a great way to expand your game not only on your market but in the rest of the world, which is so internationalized now that it is hard to imagine how we can do without localization.
Sure! So, with that, I think we’ll wrap up our discussion for tonight. Yana, again it’s been a pleasure chatting with you about this topic!
Thanks a lot for inviting me! It was a pleasure to talk about the localization and everything around it!
Okay! So I think what that will endings for this week’s cast. Thank you so much for tuning in! If you are a developer working on an upcoming project or just want to talk game design with me, we are always happy to have new guests! And be sure to look at my latest books, including Game Design Deep Dive Horror, which is just released! Come back for daily discussions on game design here and on Game Wisdom. Until next time! Take care!
In March of 2022, Alconost joined the ranks of language service providers whose quality management system is ISO 9001:2015 certified. In addition, we received certificates of compliance with standards of quality for translation, proofreading and localization QA, and post-edited machine translation (PEMT). We welcome new clients, and we provide official, internationally recognized guarantees of a reliable partnership. Schedule a free call with our team or request a free quote for your project.