How to successfully localize a game?

With the huge amount of games being daily released these days and the competition increasing very fast, the localization process if more and more about speed and less about quality – you can check it yourself by playing one of these countless web-based games or mobile/tablet you can find out there. Translators don’t have enough time to study the game, to play it or perform Quality Assurance after the game goes live. On the other hand, there are some very successful cases out there as well – let’s focus on those and use successful cases as benchmark, shall we? After working with the localization of some games and QAing some others, I learned what works in the localization process, so if you’re planning on going global with your game, here’s a few tips I can share with you:

1 – Hire a localization PM

I was lucky to be part of the localization team of a Facebook game called Wild West Town. It belongs to a company called Clipwire and they did a very good job. First of all, they hired a localization Project Manager in house to handle the content of all languages they were localizing the game into at the same time. The PM prepared the files, answered questions about the content, took care of the deadlines, etc. She also had access to the engineers, designers and content team, who could answer any question about the game she or the translators could have. This is important when you have the same word that can mean different things, such as “home” (residence, first page of a website or the start) and no context – localizers need to know what this is talking about. The PM is the person that can avoid that waste of time by the entire team having to fix minor errors after localization is complete.

2 – Make translators play the game

Still using Wild West Town as a good example, the Localization team was provided with in game money, supplies, XP points, energy and whatever we needed to play the game without taking too long to complete the missions. We were able to play and see how characters looked like – especially because most of them had puns in their names – how the game worked, the missions, content and much more. Whenever there was a character or item we weren’t sure about what we would call in our language, the PM would add it to our “city” – that made the whole process of creating names (a part you don’t want to rush localizers to complete, since it depends on creative insights and not knowledge or techniques) much easier.

3 – Bribe designers

We all know how much designers like to change their final work: not at all! Now imagine a designer changing the same image 10 times, for instance – one for each language. So treat them nicely, give them lots of soda and candies, because sometimes they need to change the same image over and over for just one language, because of context localizer didn’t have until then, because of the character limitation that keeps messing with the layout or just because the localizer had a better insight about that sentence – and you want final work to be perfect. To achieve that and keep peace within the team you need designers to be patient and localizers to be creative and give you other options when characters exceed length.

4 – Don’t ignore QA phase

The QA is a very important step if you want your game to be a successful one – please double this advice if your game is online and casual, such as Facebook’s. Make sure the localization team is able to check the images, dialogues, titles and the content of the game in the target language. And don’t ever abbreviate words without consulting the localizer!

About character limitation

This is the first ‘feeling’ you have to develop to localize games. You’re dealing with a limited lenght screen and in my case – English into Brazilian Portuguese – it can get worse: Portuguese tends to get up to 30% bigger than English! If you don’t sit on the gamer’s seat, you’ll end up using a bunch of abbreviated words that will become an encrypted sentence killing that special moment of the game. You have to know that, sometimes, a gamer has been waiting for that specific game for quite a long time, maybe years! That special moment the character is going to kill the level’s boss, to rescue the entire village from the dragon, or simply wait for the light to turn green so they can use the nitro and speed up on a virtual road.

Because of that, the game’s localizer has to come up with the best way of transporting this environment originally created in (i.e.) English, where writer, developer, artist and the whole team created the concept to bring those characters to live. That scenario, music and atmosphere were all created to take the gamer to that point, and you can suddenly ruin it all by abb evry sgl wd of stce… Imagine that?

Well, this is just a brief approach on the world of localizing games. If you’re into it, go ahead! Start knocking on some doors and try doing your best – remember that, in the future, you might end up playing the job you’re doing today!

In case you would like me to write an article about localization to your company’s website or blog, please contact me.