Develop talks to the specialty's best about adapting games for the global stage
The practice of localising games long ago shook the misconception that it is merely about the act of translating games.
And yet, such is the pace of today’s increasingly globalised games industry, localisation is constantly moving forward, having to adapt and expand the remit of the services it incorporates.
As a result, the perception of what localisation is still lags behind the reality.
Things are changing, and doing so fast. So quickly, in fact, that there is little time for localising firms to consider the past. All eyes look forward, as the market expands at an exponential rate, and the pressure to maintain quality increases.
“In the past, localisation was seen as an element of a title tacked on at the end of production, often without any human input and using a translation tool,” explains Alastair Harsant, vice president of operations for Games Services at Testronic.
“We are now at the stage where each territory and locale must be seen with the same amount of importance. If a title needs to be localised, then it must be done well.”
New territories worthy of quality localisation are on the rise, and the new wave of ubiquitous platforms mean more opportunity than ever before.
“The increasing localisation of games for developing markets – in terms of penetration of video games – is very good to see,” offers Keywords International CEO Andrew Day.
“Likewise, the very rapid transition to high quality localisation for social, mobile, casual, and free-to-play MMOs that we have witnessed over the last two years is very encouraging, and proof that in a very competitive environment, quality counts more than ever.”
Platforms like Facebook, browser and iOS now mean it is easier for developers to reach wider audiences geographically, and self-publishing and digital distribution are letting studios cross more national and cultural borders than ever.
“As a result the desire and potential for localisation demand has increased,” offers Localize Direct’s business development director Michael Souto.
“There are countries which normally would not have received a localised version at retail but now can.”
“Lately we have seen a change in the industry where publishers are trying to get into emerging markets so it is no longer just about FIGS – French, Italian, German, Spanish – but about including territories like Poland, Brazil, Asia and Turkey for instance,” adds Richard Sturgess, senior business manager of Alpha CRC’s Games Division
And the more countries there are demanding specifically tailored games, the more the need for a presence globally, insists U-Trax president and founder Richard van der Giessen.
“We feel this can only be done by creating local offices with local linguistic experts for translation and marketing, then gradually expanding with in-house recordings studios for voice production,” he says.
What’s more, the rise of social and mobile has created a new approach to pricing games that also happens to mean there is now a lot more work – and responsibility – for games developers.
Combined with the ubiquity of smartphones, the 69p app means that games of less than 5,000 words of dialogue are suddenly worth translating into less common languages, simply because it is ‘easier’ to make money back with games marketed at such a low price point in new territories than with a full-priced triple-A boxed product.
“Following the explosion of browser, online, iOS and Android markets we are seeing a shift in direction away from the traditional ‘norms’ and recognising a global swing in adoption to new markets, new territories and new trends,” says Vickie Peggs, MD of Universally speaking.
“Currently for Facebook, some of our clients are localising into over 40 languages, all in real time, with continually streamed new content and live testing,” she adds.
“A successful Facebook title can reach tens of millions of end users across the globe. A successful localisation strategy combined with tailored monetisation will allow for enormous rewards.”
As the success of Facebook in different territories can prove to be something of a lottery, good localisation decision making can prove essential to the generation of what Peggs calls ‘solid’ return on investment.
“I expect the power of the masses all using these social media in their own language will mean an increase in work for localisation agencies,” adds van der Giessen on the matter of the new opportunities in the social space.
“Hopefully it helps to finally destroy this false argument that is used throughout the industry for not localising into small and emerging languages like Dutch, Nordic and Hindi, because ‘they all speak English so well’.
"Yes, but not when they are being social or enjoying entertainment. Not localising, in other words, is antisocial.”
Social gaming also provides localisers with another prospect; namely that of ‘dynamic’ user translations, where a potentially crowd-sourced approach sees translations from the public realm quality assured and managed back into a project.
It applies to the social space, says Stephanie O'Malley Deming, co-founder and president of localising specialist Xloc, because in that space “content is constantly being updated and improved, so this seems an inexpensive way for true fans to have an impact on their own gaming experience.”
However, the use of what Souto calls ‘player generated localisation’ must be treated carefully, he warns: “you will need to ensure you have a solid management process as this could get very messy.”
However, despite the challenges they present, it is because platforms such as Facebook boast a popularity and ubiquity worldwide that the number of languages that are now easily within reach to even the smallest studios has greatly expanded.
“This has presented new opportunities for localisation, but also many challenges because it is often difficult to find qualified linguists in languages in markets that were previously less accessible,” states LAI’s president and CEO David Lakritz.
“However, the ability to reach those new audiences and interact with them is very exciting.”
The opportunity for smaller studios to begin localising their games with more reach is certainly a positive development, but it means localisation companies once largely concerned with triple-A games are now having to adapt to meet smaller budgets for studios of a less significant size.
“As direct publishing channels continue to open up and grow, self publishing developers need the services of specialised localisation and testing vendors, but the lack of experience and organisation of the localisation process can present challenges for both parties,” admits a frank Day.
However, the solutions are already in place to adapt to that change, believes Richard Leinfellner, CEO of Babel Media.
Adapting to suit the needs of smaller studios, he says, can be done “by using technology, by translating smart, and by understanding how to use a client’s budget for maximum return.”
“That may mean dropping a few languages to do others well, because a poor and/or cheap translation across a wider group of languages just gets you lots of unhappy players, there is lots of great content to choose from and the customers can switch providers with a single click,” Leinfellner suggests.
“You need to be smart about what smaller studios need and understand how they work, their priorities, and their capacities. As a service provider, we are here to support companies of all shapes and sizes,” adds VMC Labs client solutions executive Chloe Giusti on the matter, who advocates flexibility and efficiency on behalf of the localising service providers looking to work successfully with small developers.
“Localisation providers need to be agile and streamlined,” says Souto in agreement.
“There are far more games and people making games out there than ever before. We need to be able to receive, localise and return the content in the most streamlined way possible.”
Aside from adapting to meet the needs of social, mobile and smaller creative outfits, localisation firms are also having to adapt their approach to localisation QA.
That’s according to CD Projekt’s localisation specialist Mikolaj Szwed, who recently worked on The Witcher 2.
“Reported bugs not only concern translation-specific issues but other functional stuff such as truncations, level of implementation, sound levels, etcetera,” he says.
“It’s very important to test the localised versions of the game as many of the bugs are not visible during translation until the text and audio is implemented."
Another impact on the working practices of localisation companies is the matter of what Universally Speaking’s Peggs calls ‘culturalisation’.
“Think of the works that localisation agencies do as ‘culturising or globalising content’, both in terms of text, visuals, style, audio, humour right down to very subtle cultural adaptions,” suggests Peggs, who admits she finds cultural adaptation of video games “incredibly exciting”.
In the modern climate, says Peggs, without having a depth of knowledge of target markets on a cultural level, developers can no longer expect their games to succeed.
“You just need to look at the level of detail StarCraft II as an example of a very highly polished, detailed localised project from localised facial lip synching, to full art asset localisation,” states Peggs.
And the Universally Speaking boss isn’t alone in her enthusiasm for the potential of the culturalisation process.
“Geopolitical and cultural issues are always fascinating, and becoming more prevalent in our industry. By those issues I mean understanding both the political and cultural relevancy of your multicultural audience and how a developer’s creative vision can be enhanced by this understanding,” offers Xloc’s O'Malley Deming. “It’s fascinating stuff.”
Looking further ahead, as the trends discussed above continue to increase the workload and diversity of responsibilities for localising agencies, there is recognition that smarter tools are an essential part of assuring companies in the highly competitive space a healthy and long-lasting future.
“On the technology side, we have in our armoury more tools than ever before, and whether that is building glossaries, or databases of hardware manufacturer’s terms, through to tools that allow clients to ‘check in’ and ‘check out’ files 24-seven, through to great tools for extracting and integrating text into the game.
"It is the technology that is bringing the biggest leaps forward and also savings to the client,” says Babel’s Leinfellner.
And it is those tools, claims VMC Lab’s Giusti, that through being integrated in the actual development process, can future-proof localisation services.
“More people are now doing it, and this means you are making bug fixing a whole lot easier and faster,” says Giusti.
“You still need to provide clean context to your translation team and you still need native language testers to conduct your localisation QA, but the pace of bug fixing and the time it will take your dev team to turn around a clean fresh localisation build is much reduced.”
If the world’s games localisation specialists share one thing, it is optimism. The opportunities presenting themselves are manifold, and business is certainly booming. There is a lot of work to do, but that is no bad thing.
“The future seems very exciting indeed,” concludes Testronic’s Harsant. “Cloud computing and gaming will surely push the boundaries of what we currently perceive as the three big territories.
"With that will come a new means for millions of people to access triple-A titles, and they will no longer be bound by the limits of the hardware.”
Positivity, it appears, is something unlikely to get lost in translation.
Localisation, some will tell you, is but half of the process of globalising contemporary video games.
The other half is internationalisation, which, according to the firms who specialise in the practice, is the process of making a single code base locale-independent so the application can be easily localised to other locales with no source code changes.
“Another way to put this is that the fundamental logic and processing of how software presents and processes information needs to be adapted so it’s capable of supporting any language, cultural formatting preferences and processing of data – from the user interface on through the rest of the applications parts, such as databases, data processing and reporting,” explains Adam Asnes, CEO of internationalisation firm Lingoport.
“Internationalisation always involves changes to the source code, while localisation primarily involves translation of words presented in the user interface or help files. Before localising software, it first needs to be internationalised.”
While some companies include the internationalisation service under the localisation banner, Lingoport has made the practice its specialty.
Key localisation experts offer advice for development studios looking to get the most they can from working with a localisation company.
Vickie Peggs, MD, Universally Speaking
“Select the agency you work with carefully, check out their pedigree in games and the range of clients that work with them and the length of those relationship. Once you feel happy with your selection, engage with them, allow them to be part of your team and ensure you give them everything they need, to deliver back to you an excellent level of work.”
Andrew Day, CEO, Keywords International
“Give the localisation vendor as much visibility as possible as early in the development cycle as possible. Even though schedules are likely to change, advance notice of what is coming up is always valuable and provides a chance for an interchange of ideas and advice to help the localisation process run smoothly.”
David Lakritz, President and CEO, LAI
“Understand the localisation provider’s process and workflow, so that you can decide the best ways to make it fit within your own development pipeline.”
Silvia Ferrero, Director, MediaLoc
“Communicate, communicate and communicate. The more information you provide about your game, the easier it will be for the localisation professionals to get a feel for it and achieve a product that maintains the spirit of the original.”
Alastair Harsant, Vice President of Operations for Games Services, Testronic
“Communication is without doubt the most important single factor in the relationship. The producer must be upfront with the localisation company and provide timelines and budget constraints. Likewise the localisation company needs to ask the right questions in order to meet the timelines and budget constraints.”