A Step-by-Step Guide to Game Localization
It’s not enough just to create an awesome game — you have to make it accessible to the broader public. That’s where localization comes in.
Modern game developers understand that it’s not enough just to create an awesome game — you have to make it accessible to the broader public. That’s where localization comes in.
Simple as it may seem, however, some companies still struggle or even fail when localizing their product. And we’re not even talking about small companies and startups: even the biggest players in the industry sometimes made mistakes. From the famous “A Winner Is You” line in Pro Wrestling (1986) to a collection of gems from the more recent Sword Art Online (2014), we see translation and contextual mistakes quite often.
So how do you make sure that your game is localized properly and doesn’t contain any errors? The secret lies in following a thorough localization process. Below we will share our own localization process at Alconost that we’ve been following for years. We hope it will shed some light on localization for those of you who are just becoming familiar with the concept.
Part 1 — Preparing for localization
In most cases, game developers plan to localize their games from the start. This means you need to take care of several issues before starting the actual localization.
Research and analysis
As trivial as it sounds, preliminary research is absolutely crucial, as it will serve as the basis for future app development. And the first thing that you’ll want to do is to define the target audience for your product.
The choice of a target audience impacts many things: the choice of the app’s platform (Android in Europe and most of Asia vs iOS in the US), its functionality, and also the choice of languages to be used in the app. Whether you want to translate the app into several languages or you plan to stick to English and your local language, you need to know these things in advance in order to use the corresponding localization tools.
Likewise, research will help you know whether you need to translate all the content of your game or leave some of it untouched. Japanese players, for example, expect a video game to feature certain English phrases. So if your target audience includes Japanese players, you will need to analyze the content and decide what content will be translated and what will be left in its original form.
By now you’re probably wondering: who’s going to do all this research?
The research is normally done by the game developer, since he is the one who knows the product best. A localization company can provide certain recommendations (like using Simplified vs Traditional Chinese or choosing the correct dialect), but the final decision will be up to the game owner. To facilitate your decision, we also suggest analyzing available data covering the most common languages, the number of speakers in different countries, and other valuable information that can be used for the analysis.
Preparing a localization kit
A localization kit is basically a set of all the files and documents needed for successful translation and localization. Its core element is the set of string resources to be translated (which are usually files in different formats). The lockit (short for localization kit) may also include previous translations, files that provide context, fonts, gameplay videos, audio tracks, or even (on rare occasions) the product build.
However, the lockit described above is rarely ready in advance. In most cases we receive only text strings with additional context in the form of screenshots or comments. The developer’s team is responsible for localizing design and audio. Whereas we can assist with the localization of audio and multilingual voice-over if needed, but this will depend on the project needs.
Besides, in order to make the localization as accurate as possible and to represent the brand, it’s a good practice to fill out and provide a localization team with a style guide brief. Style guides define the tone of the translation, the usage of specific slang, brand voice, acronyms, correct forms, etc. It is basically a set of guidelines that helps translators adhere to the brand and its message and keep all the brand’s content consistent. For video games, a style guide provides additional information on references and technical questions and helps the team better understand the peculiarities of localization for this particular game.
Another highly recommended thing is a glossary. In video game localization, a glossary contains the most important and high-volume words and phrases, such as the names of characters, locations, in-game items, etc. By using a glossary the localization team can ensure consistency of the game translation. Besides, the availability of a glossary significantly speeds up the translation process, since translators can always refer to it without having to ask the developer directly.
Besides, a good practice before starting work on localization is to fill out the brief. It helps understand the scope of work, project requirements, and any specific requests. The brief enables project managers to assign the most suitable specialists and allocate the tasks accordingly.
Finally, we’re happy to share a brief guide on preparing for localization. It includes information about correct encoding (Unicode), use of placeholders and formatters, and other important information that should always be considered.
Part 2 — Localizing a project
Let’s say that you’ve decided on your target audience and required languages, and assembled a lockit (either independently or with a bit of assistance from us). What happens next?
Choosing a suitable localization tool
Today there are many localization platforms with broad functionality, designed to facilitate the localization process and automate many localization tasks, such as file parsing for translation and managing placeholders and formatters. Besides, suitable localization platforms help automate updates and embed continuous localization within the continuous product delivery process.
We, for instance, prefer the Crowdin platform, as it has all the features necessary for successful localization. If a game developer doesn’t have a specific platform in mind, we suggest using Crowdin. If needed a custom solution can be designed jointly by Alconost and Crowdin. Here are some of the most valuable features that Crowdin offers:
- Adding comments and screenshots to text strings to provide references
- Automatic parsing of files into separate text strings
- Advanced options for setting up the required languages
- An option to limit the number of characters per line to retain design consistency
- An option to upload existing translations and localization resources
- An option to upload updated file versions (Crowdin can recognize newly added or updated files)
- In-context localization
- Integration options
- Cooperation between team members for transparent localization
These are just a few of the key features that Crowdin offers. To sum up, Crowdin centralizes and streamlines project localization, speeding it up significantly by automating certain tasks.
The actual translation process
The most important and most complex part of video game localization is translation. Even the smallest mistake can lead to a loss of context, causing confusion and frustration for the players.
In order to avoid critical mistakes, it is vital that you choose the right translation method. Below are several available options.
Machine translation is an automatic translation of the text by a machine (specialized automated software). The biggest advantage of machine translation is its low cost and high speed: a program can translate large chunks of text in an extremely short time. However, machine translation does not provide any personalization and often results in loss of context and errors.
For video game translation, machine translation is a big no-no. Video games require a personalized, creative approach to translation, whereas automated machine translation ends up sounding soulless and mechanical, with numerous semantic errors.
This method involves engaging your community in the translation (via Reddit, for example) with the aim of improving the content quality and obtaining knowledge about specific terms or expressions. This can be an effective approach, with several peculiarities to consider.
In terms of video games, community translation has an unbeatable advantage: the translators have a superb knowledge of the product, i.e., the game. On the other hand, community translators often lack the skills that are needed for accurate and high-quality translation. In addition, many native speakers do not know their own language perfectly, so mistakes in translation are common. Other drawbacks include the fact that translation deadlines are not guaranteed, and that the community for certain languages is quite small.
Obviously, the value that a community can bring to game localization is impressive. However, community translation is even more effective when combined with professional localization and/or proofreading. For example, in our practice, we either translate whatever text the community failed to translate or proofread the community translation. In both cases you will receive community expertise that is checked and edited by localization professionals.
A quick case study from Alconost: the Goat Simulator game
Goat Simulator is a well-known game by Coffee Stain Studios. The game has received mostly positive reviews (with many users calling it hilarious and epic), and is available in English, German, Spanish, French, and Polish.
So how did the localization process go? At first, it was community translation only, with the community helping developers to translate the game. However, as the developers released more and more updates, it became simply impossible for the community to keep up and translate the game in a timely manner.
That’s when the game devs reached out to Alconost and handed the translation over to our team. Before starting work, we carefully studied the existing translation in order to adhere to its style. Next we appointed translators with relevant game experience and let them play the game in order to fully grasp its concept and tone. We also transferred the project to the Crowdin platform for easier and faster localization.
One of the main challenges of this localization was probably to correctly translate all the wordplay and jokes, of which there were many. We should also note that the community did a really good job: we ended up not having to proofread the existing translation, but simply continued it. As a result, the game has a very user-friendly and consistent translation thanks to the efforts of the community and the involvement of professional localizers.
It’s a rare thing for a game developing company to have an in-house team of experienced translators (unless we’re talking about giants like Ubisoft or Blizzard). So what most game dev companies do is outsource translations to a team of freelancers. This approach is not recommended, since freelancers may not be familiar with all aspects of localization, and they simply will not be dedicated enough to provide a sufficient level of quality.
Other drawbacks of working with freelancers include:
- Issues with quality monitoring and project control
- High risk of errors
- Risks related to costs and deadlines
Collaborating with freelancers also requires employing a full-time experienced localization manager, and this may not be economically justified.
By professional localization, we mean hiring a localization company that specializes in localization and will not only handle translation but also manage the localization process.
Working with a localization agency has the following benefits:
- High quality of translation due to the team’s experience
- Better and easier project management
- All the necessary specialists (translators, managers, QA specialists) on one team
- Quality control
Finally, our best practice and advice is to assign a specific project manager to every project. The project manager delegates tasks to the requisite specialists, monitors work quality and progress, and in general serves as an intermediary between the developer’s team and translators. In this way, the project is carried out in a highly organized manner, and the product owner can always check its status with the localization manager.
Localization best practices
It’s not enough to just take text strings and translate them. In order to deliver a truly superior user experience and ensure that users enjoy your game, you need to invest a little effort and follow the best practices for localization. We feel like this point is really important, since many translation projects tend to fail here.
1.Provide lots of references and context
It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of providing translators with lots of references and context. For instance, as mentioned above, the Crowdin platform allows translators to write comments and add screenshots to the strings. But why would you need that?
The fact is, without context, certain strings can be interpreted in several different ways. So in order for the translator to understand what the string is about, there has to be some point of reference.
2.Double-check your video game content
Although a professional localization company normally does not alter the content in terms of plot or dialogues, it can point out specific things to consider when localizing a game for a specific market.
Asian countries, for instance, have a strict set of rules regarding violence, drug use, religion, and other topics in games. So it’s best to double-check such content and see if it is allowed in the country that you’re targeting.
3.Keep an eye on design
When you design a game with the intent to localize it in the future, be very aware of the design in terms of whitespaces and layout. Some languages take up significantly more space than others, so you’ll want to consider this.
A quick case study from Alconost: the Family Island game
Family Island is a farm game for mobile devices (iOS and Android) that is available in multiple languages. When we were tasked with localizing the game for the Japanese market, we came across an issue with the game’s interface.
The game developers did not consider the fact that Japanese characters take up significantly more space than English or French words. As a result, the translated text sometimes extended beyond the bounds of the text boxes.
Once we detected the issue, we quickly addressed it so the game development team could resolve it. In addition, we tried to reduce the number of characters while retaining the context and original meaning. However, this case illustrates how important it is to watch out for similar issues if you plan to localize for different languages.
4.Let translators play the game
There is no better way to understand a video game than to play it. This means it’s a good idea to provide early access or Steam keys to your game in order for the translators to fully understand its concept, slang, etc. Playing a game in order to study it thoroughly is a common practice, and it’s one we highly recommend.
5.Perform linguistic testing
Quality assurance is an essential practice, which must be performed throughout the development of any software product. QA helps detect any errors, bugs, mismatches, and other issues that will impact user experience and hurt the game content.
For video games, the applicable QA process is called linguistic testing. During this testing, a specialist evaluates the quality of translation, context, adherence to the target audience culture, and other aspects. So when the translated strings are uploaded to a game, developers usually forward the game to a localization agency so translators can play it and make sure everything is fine. Another way is for translators to check the game through the gameplay or screenshots provided.
Here’s a quick example from our experience of how quality assurance can work like. The quality of the content is checked throughout the entire localization process, and the person responsible for the quality checks is the project manager. The manager makes sure that the translated content meets the client’s requirements (for example, the title of the game should not be translated), that translators cross-check the translations, and that there are no misunderstandings. We also use the xBench tool, which helps detect inconsistencies in translation, mismatches between the glossary and the translated copy, mismatched numbers, problems with tags and variables, and other issues. If a client wants, an additional quality check is offered as a separate service after the localization is completed.
Video game localization is kind of a big deal. You want to retain the core and the spirit of the original game while making it understandable for other audiences as well. This is not an easy task.
Bear in mind that translation is only part of game localization. Your team will also need to consider visual elements, development of special events, and other important elements, all of which come together to create a unique user experience.
Approach localization with a well-planned strategy and patience, and you will be rewarded by a loyal international audience that is willing to spend money on your creation.
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About the author
Alconost is a global provider of translation and localization services into 70+ languages.