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The do’s and don’ts of video game localization

[This article was written by my colleague Amélie Vergne as part of the La Linguistiquerie projet. If you’d like to read more articles written by her, you can visit her LinkedIn profile here.]

Introduction

You have just finished developing and designing your game. It’s beautiful, fun and immersive. Great! But to let gamers across the world have a go at it, you might need to translate it into different languages (not everybody speaks English!). This is called video game localization. And there are a few tips you should follow if you want to make sure your game will be properly localized, and enjoyed worldwide.

Professional workers only

Localization includes not only rendering the source words and ideas in another language, but also adapting the translation so that it fits a specific target audience. Let’s assume your game includes references to cultural elements, like « eggnog » or « shortbreads » (yes, we are foodies at La Linguistiquerie!). Although it may be appropriate to keep these references in a target language if the game takes place in a typical US or British setting, these references might need to be changed, since most French players probably wouldn’t even know what those are! A joke might fall through if translated poorly… Localizers might need to pick a different one, use puns, or sometimes even leave out the joke so that the target localization doesn’t read awkward.

Technical aspects are also of the utmost importance in localization. Character restrictions, placeholders and other video game specificities can be tricky to work with… And someone who has never had to deal with such restrictions might deliver a poor translation that could have a bad impact on how your game is received.

To sum things up, localization is a tricky art, and this is why it is crucial to entrust professional workers with the localization of your game! When targeting a specific audience, it is also important to make sure that your localizer will both know the cultural aspects of the source language, and master the target culture so that nothing gets left out!

Plan ahead

Localization – and translation in general – is a task that tends to be forgotten when a project is initially planned. There are a number of steps to be followed first, from development to level design including animating, composing, testing, etc. Everything has to go smoothly before you can even consider localizing your game. This leads many game studios or independent game developers to kind of forget that localization, as any other step, should be thought through.

Planning a specific budget and deadline for localization from the very beginning is extremely important in an industry where deadlines are often tight and which tends to suffer from the crunch culture. Remember: a good localization might often go unnoticed (although it certainly contributes to the immersion!), but a bad one can create a buzz for all the wrong reasons (you know how the Internet works!).

Context matters

Since the deadlines are often quite tight, games tend to be sent for localization with hardly any piece of information or screenshot to help localizers. While localizers can try to deduce the context from the source text, it is sometimes unclear what elements are replaced by placeholders. When segments are all mixed up, when UI elements from the main screen get inbetween dialogs, and when no visuals are available, errors are almost inevitable.

Ideally, an alpha or beta version of your game would allow localizers to see everything in context, and could could greatly help know where text will be displayed, or how to use agreements with specific placeholders, for instance. But if it is not ready yet, don’t worry! Screenshots, written explanations, or simple answers to emails could also help! By providing context to your localizer, you ensure that your text is properly understood, and so properly translated and adapted for your players.

Conclusion

Localization is a subtle art, which will complement your game… if done correctly. Don’t take the risk to rush it, or to employ someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Don’t let all of your efforts go to waste because of a poor localization or a lack of context.

We at La Linguistiquerie are not just game lovers. We are trained and experienced video game localizers! We also love communicating with our clients, and we believe that collaboration works best through exchanges, feedback and questions. So if you are curious about how we work, feel free to get in touch, we’ll be happy to discuss this further with you!

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