It’s boom time for the QA and localisation sector as gaming heads further into the mainstream. Christopher Dring speaks to the specialists on the ever-changing face of quality assurance…
The discovery of Qur’an references in LittleBigPlanet and the game’s subsequent delay was a huge blow to everyone involved. But it’s also a perfect example as to why QA and localisation can be so crucial.
Get it right and nobody notices. The game sails through submission and the publisher can watch the money tumble in. Get it wrong and critics complain, consumers are left disappointed, and effigies of Sackboy are being burnt around the globe. So it’s understandable that more companies are treating localisation with the importance it deserves.
“Developers seem to take localisation and QA increasingly seriously,” says Testronic’s service line manager Arnaud Messager. “It is common knowledge that functionality bugs generally affect end user experience, but developers seem to now have a better understanding of the negative effect localisation bugs can have on the quality of the product.”
Despite this, QA and localisation can still be a thankless task – often performed under strict deadlines, with an ever-increasing list of requirements. Online gaming has brought with it its own jargon, naming conventions are becoming increasingly numerous, whilst next-gen games are just getting bigger, with deadlines growing tighter all the time.
Indeed the arrival of next generation consoles have brought about many new challenges, as Yan Cyr, president and CEO of Enzyme Labs, explains: “Over the last few years QA has changed significantly because of the increased complexity brought upon the industry in the form of more varied and complex platforms,” he says. “The introduction of new generation consoles has produced games with increased functionality, and therefore we must be increasingly diligent in the way we approach each project.”
One of the many new aspects of next-gen gaming is the growth in downloadable content. Whether it’s extra missions for GTA IV, a full WiiWare title such as Lost Winds, or a couple of extra guns in Dead Space, all DLC must be tested and translated before it’s released – which naturally impacts the outsource specialists.
“Digital downloading has become an international business,” affirms Meaning Makers’ localisation manager Elena Martos. “This new global marketplace scenario poses new challenges that require new localisation practices and internationalisation techniques.
“Furthermore, these titles are completely different from traditional games in terms of dynamics; they also produce an ongoing stream, which obviously has an impact on localisation processes and more technical implications for translation.”
It’s not just downloadable content either: the casual gaming boom has also had a significant impact on the QA and localisation space. With so many casual titles released every month, testers and translators must turn around projects at a much faster rate so they can pass through Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft’s vigorous checks. And, with each game targeting a different market, localisation specialists must adapt their methods to suit the needs of entirely new audiences.
“Casual games requires an improved linguistic accessibility,” says Orange Studios’ Gabriele Vegetti. “If a hardcore game allows a certain degree of technical jargon, casual gaming needs translators to better focus on their audience: often very young or old people who are probably playing for the first time. So you’ve got to be very attentive to detail in order to make sure the player understands what is required.”
Along with casual gaming, the MMO market has also expanded significantly – and these require almost the exact opposite treatment to casual titles, as Partnertrans’ Markus Ludolf, who worked on Lord of the Rings Online, explains: “MMOs, especially the RPGs among them, require a completely different approach to casual gaming. What you need here is rock solid planning, a keen eye to anticipate problems before they even surface and a process that ensures quality results even with very tight deadlines.”
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
For all the changes that digital, casual and online gaming have brought to the QA and localisation space, one of the biggest growth areas has been the need to localise more games into more languages. For years the industry has mainly focused on translating games into English, French, Italian, German and Spanish (EFIGS), and even today many companies just focus on these established territories.
Yet not properly localising a title for each territory it is released in can cause its own set of problems. For example, a word in one country could mean something completely different in another. And it’s not just about keeping an eye on potentially damaging words and phrases – putting effort into individual territories can establish a game (and a publisher) in a new market, opening up a new revenue stream in the process.
“We are seeing an increase in developers localising games for territories where they had previously released content in English,” says Absolute Quality’s Neil Ross. “The Nordic countries, Netherlands and Portugal are increasingly popular and we have scaled our teams significantly over the past year to meet this demand. Often the marginal cost of localising for these territories is far outweighed by the additional revenue and positive brand awareness from having a localised title.”
Localsoft’s Randall Mage agrees: “Publishers and developers realise the potential of internationalisation and are taking localisation much more seriously these days. Many publishers now have in-house localisation experts and developers are starting to go that extra mile in translating their products.”
It’s not just existing territories that have benefited from renewed localisation efforts. Emerging markets in Eastern Europe and the Middle East too are seeing increased attention:
“I’ve recently visited Japan and GStar in Korea, and all the discussions I had were with customers wanting to take their IP to Europe or the US,” enthuses Babel’s maketing director Keith Russell. “Similarly, many of our Western clients are looking at new markets – such as THQ doing Wall-E in Arabic. As IPs get more valuable, more customers understand that scrimping on the localisation just devalues the IP, especially in a new territory.”
Over the past two years the QA sector has enjoyed immense growth, but despite all the changes the outsource sector remains all about the quality. “It’s always good to remember that a game can always be improved,” concludes Universally Speaking’s project manager Loreto Sanz Fueyo. “So to all the developers out there, please allocate as much time as possible to quality assurance. More time equals more quality equals better reviews equals better sales. It’s as simple as that.”