Lost In translation

Lost In translation

By Stuart Richardson

March 18th 2011 at 8:00AM

QA and localisation are key components of a healthy development pipeline, but in a fragmenting industry, is their importance forgotten?

Digital distribution, open beta testing, increasingly uniform international release dates and DLC-as-standard have all significantly altered the way the development industry operates. For QA and localisation firms, this modern sector presents a myriad of challenges to navigate, both new and old.

Few have any doubt that these tribulations can be overcome, however.

“QA is now recognised as an extremely important, integral part of the development process,” says Andy Robson, MD of the UK QA firm Testology.

“This is something that has developed over the past ten to 15 years, partly due to the ever expanding size of video games and the increasing depth of design.

Maintaining quality is fundamental in a competitive market, so successful QA firms ensure, as best they can, a product’s quality through the whole development process.

“The overall state of the QA sector is, therefore, healthy because of this recognition. QA processes have rarely changed, the same old methods are still being used to ensure quality. In my experience these processes may need slight adaptation sometimes, but still work to the level required.”

That positive view is shared across the full international scope of the industry as well.

“The QA in games testing has improved over the years. There is a standardisation in the testing process that has followed,” explains Gireendra Kasmalkar, MD and CEO of multinational testing firm SQS.

Despite this, it is common knowledge that things only ever get better when people don’t accept the status quo. The ever-growing expectations of international games consumers continue to push the industry forward as well.

“The time designated to QA in games is less than it should be. The end-users look for games that are bug-free, and even smaller games publishers need to fix any problems before releasing,” Kasmalkar continues.

“Games today are much bigger, more complex and technologically sophisticated, with gamers expecting almost real-life experiences. They correspondingly need much longer testing by more skilled testers to ensure that coverage is sufficient.”

Within the localisation sector, a sensation of reaching a high plateau of appreciation is also spreading. That every silver lining comes with a cloud is not unnoticed either.

“I do believe that localisations are coming into their own with regards to appreciation and forethought within the game development space,” says Stephanie Deming, president and co-founder of the US-based localisation company Xloc.

“Publishers and developers know the international market is important, and do attempt to simultaneously support and develop for their global community.
“MMOs and social networking games are making this even more relevant and imperative. Cost is still a rough spot. Publishers are willing to spend millions on game engines, but want localisations done on the cheap. The expertise and sophistication of internationalisation isn’t necessarily inexpensive, so priorities need to be set.”

PLEASE RELEASE ME

With international release dates reaching a stage of near-complete synchronisation on many triple-A projects, digital download titles and DLC, both QA and localisation firms have has to adapt their operational pipelines to an ever more globalised games market. Based on current performances, however, confidence is high.

“We feel that this is certainly not something that has had a negative effect on our operations,” says Yan Cyr, president and CEO of Canadian QA and localisation company Enzyme Testing Labs.

“Actually the contrary is true, as we can benefit from knowledge sharing and synergies between the functionality and localisation testing teams. All of our resources are full time and we can accommodate simultaneous localisation in over 20 languages on multiple platforms if required.”

And if the new challenges presented by closing release dates have caused any major differences in the operation of QA firms, UK-based Playable Games manager Ben Weedon sees them as positive.

“We’ve been active in the industry since 1999, and our turnaround times have always needed to be as quick as possible,” he says.

“We usually turn around the key  findings and recommendations the day after testing completes. We can’t get much quicker than that, so we’ve not noticed any change in client requirements.

“We’re finding that companies see the value of it so much now that they factor extra time into the schedules. This means that they can do more rounds of user testing per title than before. So despite timescales shortening, user research has become much more of a necessity, and we’re doing more work per title.”

YOUR OWN GAME

From a strictly localisation-focused perspective, a need for adaptability is also met with a keen desire to meet industry changes head-on.

“The people we work with day-to-day are the localisation project managers of our clients. It’s their job that becomes increasingly difficult due to ‘same day shipping’,” explains Richard van der Giessen, president and founder of the Dutch localisation firm U-Trax.

“It’s very difficult for them to keep track of the sometimes endless last minute changes to the in-game texts and original English voice recordings of their projects. Some of them need to take care of several triple-A projects at the same time, for which they need to arrange localisation in maybe 15 languages. There is always a risk projects will get very chaotic.”

“This predicament won’t change any time soon. What we do is to let our project managers support the client’s LPM’s an take as much work off their shoulders as possible. The fact that we are a multilingual service really helps. One email with their files and Q&As and the like and that’s five to eight more languages sorted.
Acting as a filter saves a lot of time.”

Paul Vigneron, testing manager at Dublin-based localisation firm Keywords International, is also familiar with working quickly through the new challenges that worldwide release date synchronisations are liable to present.

“Localisation and QA require great levels of operational scalability and flexibility, especially in multi-region, simship scenarios. Finding the right partners and coordinating collaborative efforts become vital to allow for heavy workload fluctuations to be appropriately controlled,” he explains.

“From our point of view, this type of superimposition gives localisers and QA teams a great opportunity to work together across languages to create fantastic—and consistent—localised versions that players everywhere can enjoy.

“Translating a game after the original is mastered up is easier, yes, but giving localisers the chance to work on a living, breathing, and growing title can also help inspire artistic thought and creative solutions to problems.”

LOCAL HERO

As games development processes morph to keep pace with the demands of digital platforms, people throughout the QA and localisation sectors gain engaging insights on the video games industry as a whole.

“The best thing about this job is the excitement surrounding new projects,” says Olivier Deslandes, head of localisation at the London production services company Side.

“But the worst is the constant pressure associated with unrealistic deadlines. In terms of outsourcing, I can see translation becoming more and more an in-house process. However, I think audio localisation can only remain outsourced due to specific requirements; project management, foreign version post production and specialist skills like localised rewrites and casting – all required for each project.”

Mike Souto, business development director at Swedish company Localize Direct, sees expanding the roles and uses of outsourcing in the future as the most obvious and easily available route to streamlining development processes as a whole.

“There has been a massive increase in self-publishing developers but they still require a lot of skills that cannot be sourced or maintained at their studio,” he says.

“The cost of keeping in-house QA and translation teams just isn’t possible for the smaller company. Outsourcing these demands as well as other development and publishing  requirements is the way forward for these guys. Diversity is what makes this sector great.

“We can work with a large scale developer one day and then a two-man team the next. It’s quite an enviable position. The work required is always different but when you deliver improvement to any process that’s extremely rewarding. Love localisation, embrace it. Don’t leave it until the end, or it’ll sneak up and slap you in the face.”

Testology’s Robson outlines a similar passion for outsourcing in general, relating it back to the QA work of his firm in particular.

“QA offers a great way into the industry. It allows passionate individuals from all backgrounds an opportunity to pursue a passion as a career,” he says.

“Not only does QA offer great career opportunities, but it can help shape skill-sets and developmental understanding that can be transferred to other roles. QA is the eyes of the consumer. Its main focus is to ensure that the very best product is released. As passionate gamers, the opportunity to influence the quality and success of a product is highly rewarding.”

Arnaud Messager, operations manager at localisation firm Testronic, is equally positive about the ongoing role of outsourcing.

“The need for outsourced translation will always be there,” he says.

“With localisation it will always be essential to companies
that don’t have an internal QA to have their titles tested. When dealing with bigger titles it can be critical to ramp up the size of the testing team during later development stages.

“QA service providers can provide experienced teams at short notice which prohibits the need for developers to maintain large internal QA departments.
“Outsourcing plays a relevant and vital role and will continue to do so.”