Roundtable: QA and Localisation

Roundtable: QA and Localisation
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

March 17th 2010 at 8:30AM

We discuss key trends with the industry's QA and Localisation experts

What are the major challenges facing localisation firms today that developers need to be aware of?

To find out, Develop quizzed key companies in the space…

Have you seen more demand for simultaneous worldwide releases in the past year? How do these affect the QA and localisation process?

Stephanie Deming, President and Co-Founder of XLOC: The desire is certainly there to open up these territories. Any simultaneous worldwide release greatly benefits the publisher and developer.

In terms of the QA and localisation process, the more languages you have, the more you need to have an organised process for the simultaneous development. There needs to be good synergy between development, production, translation and QA – as the flow of assets consistently changes towards the goal of release. Communication, organisation and a systematic process that everyone buys into is key. It pays to collaborate with the experts and assure that a seamless process can be mapped out, managed and implemented.

Keith Russell, VP Sales and Marketing, Babel Media:
Oh yes, more and more publishers going for the Holy Grail of sim ship. it’s not rocket science; you just need a good localisation process and a dev team willing to lock the English and walk away (and not tinker afterwards). Not everyone can do that.

Alastair Harsant, Games Business Line Manager, Testronic Labs:
The QA process is essentially modified: On the face of it, working on multiple SKUs across platforms simultaneously increases scheduling, coordinating and resourcing needs due to volume. However, working on all languages at the same time gives volume throughput. Compared to staggering the work, we find that the volume, simultaneous approach can lead to great efficiencies.

There is also the potential for day and date film/game tie-ins to become the norm; an extension of simultaneous release of a game worldwide. A QA provider with skills across content types and delivery channels with a pedigree in software testing can provide QA across film, game and marketing websites. The approach of using one outsource company for multiple disciplines gives not only time/cost efficiencies but also allows consistency in process and standards – safeguarding brand identity and the all-important consumer experience across diverse consumption channels.

Christoffer Nilsson, MD, Localize Direct: The process has been refined somewhat but, in the majority of cases, localisation still follows the lead SKU as an end of project consideration. Localisation still happens as a large batch of text that is handed over to a localisation company which they then have to turn around in a tiny amount of time.

Keeping localisation towards the end of the development process to a point when a game hits beta or thereabouts has to change. There really is no need to leave it so late. So much of the content is written throughout development so shouldn't it be localised and tested at the same time? I appreciate that there may be some rewriting as code changes during development but surely rewriting and testing some text that takes a few days is better than starting the whole process later on?

Simultaneous worldwide release needn't be a tantalising vision of what we want but cannot achieve. Neither should it be an uphill struggle to narrow the gap between lead language and not. I used to work in game development and experienced all of this pressure at the pain end. The endless documents or spreadsheets, mismatching versions, more information required, etc. This is what spurred us on to develop LocDirect.          

Thao Mai, QA Lead, Anakan: The schedules for testing in terms of QA as well as localisation are tight anyway, but a simultaneous release would have a big impact, since that means that there is even less time for testing and bug fixing. In most cases when the publishers decide to release the game simultaneously, QA and LT have to deal with a build that hasn’t even reached Beta yet.
 
Due to the tight schedule, testing and bug fixing has to be performed at the same time, but still needs to meet the given deadline. The developers have to sort out the bugs and priorities of their own. In addition, a small amount of bugs gets waived ‘as designed’ which finally affects the quality of the game.

On the other hand, users are not willing to wait for the localised version of the game. If the original version is released before the localised version is available on the market, they buy the original and not the final localised version.

Andrew Day, CEO, Keywords International: Demand is certainly growing for worldwide sim ship. This poses many challenges for QA and localisation as it compresses the work required into tighter timeframes and requires total coordination across all languages.

Has the widespread adoption of downloadable content affected the length and practices involved in QA and localisation? Is it a lucrative extra source of revenue for you?

Keith Russell, Babel Media: DLCs are like mini-games; each still needs its own project schedule, for example. However, you can save huge chucks of time and cost by using glossaries and translation memories developed on the first title, so it does make them easier to do. They are definitely the way to go because the dev team are happier to lock the English and walk away from the main project, because they know all their other ideas can go in a DLC.

Alastair Harsant, Testronic Labs: With more XBLA, PSN, iPhone titles, along with DLC, the testing landscape has changed somewhat. Generally the time spent per project has decreased in this context, but the regularity of builds has increased. Having the operational agility to deploy teams at short notice to carry out testing is crucial. This type of work, compared to major console disc releases, is becoming a key part of our revenue – and will only continue to increase.

The move to downloadable content from boxed product is a key trend in all entertainment markets, and as a QA  provider working across the digital media spectrum it’s essential to our business that our knowledge and processes are vanguard in download technologies. Our long-running games business is in console disc releases, but our overall business model, with software/hardware testing divisions alongside games and film, means that
we’re excited about the acceleration towards download.

It’s a great time to be in our business, on the cusp of a new ecosystem for delivering content, and it’s a great time for games – download, mobile and online avenues are all widening the consumption base in games and QA companies can only welcome that.

Andrew Day, Keywords International:
In terms of revenue, they certainly prolong the life span of a project but cannot be considered ‘lucrative’. The often small and urgent nature of the DLC update schedules require the utmost flexibility from our multilingual organisation.

Stephanie Deming, XLOC:
Downloadable content shortens the development time in terms of ‘code release’ to market. Therefore, the localisation and QA process requires a very systemised approach. At XLOC, DLC is what we provide, so we feel it’s been beneficial, and works really well in a publisher environment.

We are also noticing more and more developers that want to self-publish and distribute their products digitally. That movement has changed the economy of providing a service and tool. No longer can they rely on their publisher relationship to ensure full simultaneous development.

Instead, developers must figure out their own organisational techniques, develop relationships with external vendors, and educate themselves on what it means to produce a fully localised product. This is a ‘cart before the horse’ situation where developers may not have surplus funds, so we work with them to achieve their goals through our solution.

Christoffer Nilsson, Localize Direct: Localisation has always been a ‘as soon as you can please’ part of the business. We're well placed, however, in that once you're using LocDirect then you can simply request the additional text you need through the web client. Smaller projects can receive all required translation extremely quickly. Publishers or developers can also check through their translation memory and ensure that any text previously localised is reused.

When you talk about downloadable content there are so many platforms out there. Phones, handhelds, PC, even platforms on platforms. There are so many games  out there that aren't sold in physical form, which of course increases the amount of localisation required. With regards to whether it is a lucrative extra source or not, I would suggest that all text is equal.

Thao Mai, Anakan: The trend nowadays aims more and more for the online market. People can download everything conveniently and there are no additional costs arising for the publishers in regard to packaging material. Plus, for most games that do not support downloadable content or updates the user stops being interested in the game after one or two play-throughs.

The advantage of the online market is that the economic lifetime of the game can be extended. This means for QA and LT that these games dispose of additional capacity. The team is already familiar with the game content and the whole workflow which makes the testing much faster and easier and of course reduces costs. The disadvantage is that there is no possibility to extend the release.
 
Has the increased number of ‘open betas’ performed on titles like Call of Duty, LittleBigPlanet, MAG and ModNation Racers simplified or complicated the process for QA and localisation firms?

Andrew Day, CEO, Keywords International: The areas that the open betas focus on are different from and complementary to the scope of our work. Depending on how good the publisher’s strategy is in terms of integrating these two phases, it can result in either simplified or more complicated processes.

Thao Mai, Anakan: Open beta releases often take place at the same time as the QA and localisation testing. The developers are open for improvements from the user’s side, which is great help and good for the quality of the software, but at the same time this could lead to complications within the workflow. The ongoing changes in terms of the design of the games, content, schedules and deadlines would make the testing process more difficult.

The permanent alterations often require updates in QA and localisation standards. Inconsistencies are pre-programmed. The best thing for the QA and localisation process would be that the department receives the beta version which is closed and ready for testing. However, we are always open for any improvements concerning video games.

Christoffer Nilsson, Localize Direct:
I believe it has complicated the process as there is now an additional layer that must be included in the development process. Creating an open beta currently requires an interruption to the development cycle and creates additional work for stakeholders in the process. For developers that started the localisation and loc QA process early and involved their localisation partners, this can be relatively painless for all involved and actually help the process going forwards, as part of the game already will be localised. The complication many experience is to track and update assets that may change from beta to release, and to ensure consistency.

Stephanie Deming, XLOC: I think this depends on the developer and how they respond to feedback from open betas. The goal of open betas is to test the market and see the consumer response, so the feedback is incredibly valuable.

However, if the full direction of a game is changed, new assets written, new levels produced and new VO recorded pretty late in the development process that can have a very significant impact on both the localisation and the QA process. Text is one thing, but re-recording voiceover can be incredibly expensive,  when doing so for many languages.

So, changes need to be done very thoughtfully – with an understanding of how those changes will impact costs. Many times, those benefits outweigh the costs, which are justified – but it’s certainly an important part of the decision-making process.

Keith Russell, Babel Media: Using Joe Public for cheap QA is a myth – what you get are hundreds of random messages, none in a useful format for the dev team, many without the steps to reproduce. So what you need is a good QA service that filters all that noise and turns them into correctly written, reproducible bugs for the dev team that can be regressed once fixed. So it hasn’t made it simpler or more complicated; it just makes it a different service. Though for high value IP I still wonder if people realise what they are putting out there.

Alastair Harsant, Testronic Labs: Mass feedback from the public is a fantastic idea in principle to capitalise on free testing and stressing servers. The flipside is that it takes time and skill for the teams to digest all the bug reports to effectively then implement the required fixes.

In a landscape where development cycle times are ever-decreasing, the teams involved with the feedback also need time to coordinate and implement the changes – you need to be very clear on the priorities.