Imagine the perfect mobile game: The graphics are stunning, the sound is second to none—and it’s going down a storm in your domestic market, but what happens when you decide to take it global? How do you ensure it’ll be as well received in other countries or regions? Which best practices can help make your mobile game a global hit?
A panel discussion at the Game Global Digital Summit in October 2021, hosted by Andrea Tabacchi, VP Customer Success at Phrase, provided a strong insight into the challenges and opportunities for both localization managers and developers to achieve sustainable quality in video game localization.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the top 3 challenges that the 3 panelists consider key for quality video game localization—from choosing the right time to implement localization, acquiring and retaining top talent, to managing queries. With more than 45 years of combined experience, the experts have the know-how we need to get ahead of the game:
- Natalie Gladkaya, Director of Localization at Plarium
- Mikhail (Mike) Gorbunov, Head of Localization at Social Quantum
- Kseniya Shorokhova, Head of Localization at Playrix
What does “quality” mean in video game localization?
Let’s start by looking at the meaning of “quality” in video game localization. For Playrix’s Kseniya Shorokhova, good-quality localization is about making a game seem as though it was made in the target language. If the language in question makes that difficult, the least we can aim for is a high-quality translation that provides a seamless user experience.
Nevertheless, what all our experts are keen to stress is that quality is not just about the product but about the process. If we want to produce top-quality localizations in the gaming industry, then we need to work on establishing top-quality workflows and teams to support that goal.
Challenge no. 1: Getting the timing right
Our first challenge in achieving quality game localization is choosing the right point at which to implement the localization strategy. As Mike from Social Quantum points out, localization has often been left as an afterthought in the game development process, when in fact it’s just as important as any other element, such as graphics or sound design. When this happens, developers may find that once they come to localize the product, there are issues with code, the user interface, or imaging that present a problem to the localization process.
And there’s more than just the language to consider. Culturalization has just as much sway as translation in the success of a localized game. To truly enhance player experience, we may need to adapt certain color schemes, images, and characters to meet the needs and expectations of the target culture. If we don’t start thinking about all this until the game is essentially finished, we’ll have a lot of catching up to do to make it ready for other markets.
The solution: Incorporate a localization strategy from the beginning
As Kseniya says, “localization starts well before the actual translation” and, to achieve quality localization, it is crucial to integrate a localization strategy into the game development process right from the outset. For Mike, the key to good localization quality is the interconnection between the localization team and all other teams involved in the project. Developers, artists, sound designers, producers, the legal team, marketing specialists—everyone should be aware of the localization workflow and their role within it.
Natalie recommends working with the localization team to make a list of technical requirements or ‘check points’ to include in the early game build, which can be shared with developers and the QA team. This would include factors such as ensuring that the code accounts for different fonts and formats, variables such as syntax and different language structures, or the ability to add or close strings depending on the needs of the different locales. That way, everything is already in place by the time it comes to implementing the languages that have been agreed on.
Tip: Share the expertise and enable other teams to work for you.
Our top tip here comes from Mike at Social Quantum, who advises investing time in explaining the localization process to different stakeholders. He recalls spending a whole month explaining the character limits and word order rules in different languages to the UI team for a particular project.
This strategy is also endorsed by Kseniya at Playrix, who has compiled a list of localization rules for the marketing team so they know what to look out for when working with translated texts and don’t introduce errors in the final stages. All these things can take time—but if they help to ensure the quality of the overall product, then it’s time well spent!
Challenge no. 2: Acquiring and retaining talent
Another major challenge to achieving quality localization in mobile game development is finding the right talent and holding onto it. Do we need to establish an in-house team, or can we rely on external providers? And is it essential to find linguists who are also gamers, even if this limits our pool of potential talent?
As Natalie points out, retaining talent is especially important with mobile games. Unlike console games, which are a finished product, the development of mobile games is an ongoing process, so we really need to maintain a dedicated set of linguists if we are going to achieve a consistent level of quality. So how do we find them, and how do we keep them in play?
The solution: Play up the team spirit
There is no single right way to recruit translators for game localization, but there are some crucial skills to look out for. For Kseniya, it’s not essential that linguists have a background in gaming. It’s more important that they have a real flair and passion for language, that they take ownership of their role while also being team players, and that they’re open to feedback and willing to learn. As long as those key attributes are in place, the technical elements of game localization can all be taught.
As Mike reports, we may need to consider working with a combination of in-house linguists, freelancers, and language service providers (LSP) for different languages. Still, whatever the team structure, the trick to retaining talent is establishing a strong team atmosphere. Supporting the localization team and listening to their ideas will do wonders for the quality of the product.
Tip: Get linguists in the game
Our expert tip here comes from Natalie at Plarium, who recommends getting linguists to actively participate in the game development process, no matter their previous gaming history. While language comes first, understanding the gaming community and what makes gamers tick will lead to better quality localization. Ignite their passion for the game by involving linguists in game playtests and seeking their feedback, and we’ll have better quality translators who are more personally invested in the product.
Challenge no. 3: Managing queries
Query management is a key part of ensuring quality in any localization process, but it is especially important to have an effective strategy in place with game localization. With lots of different people working on such a complex product, we’re at risk of becoming inundated with queries, losing track of them, and duplicating our efforts.
So how do we streamline query management and what measures can we put in place to make the best of what can be—as Andrea so accurately dubs it—“a very tedious process”?
The solution: Cut out the middleman
For Kseniya, the key is to integrate query management into the tools already in use by the localization team. That way, it becomes part and parcel of the day-to-day workflow, rather than a separate task that requires dedicated time and effort and has the potential to be overlooked.
Kseniya recommends limiting PM involvement by allocating a language lead per language to respond to queries. We can also make the process much more efficient by cutting out the middleman and allowing different stakeholders—e.g., developers, in-house translators, and external providers—to communicate directly with one another and answer each other’s queries.
Mike’s weapon of choice here is Telegram, which offers an ideal platform for linguists to discuss queries between themselves. We might wonder if that might cause more admin for the PM in terms of moderating the group, but in Mike’s experience, it’s a self-regulating process that works well.
As Natalie points out, it’s also worthwhile establishing a procedure for keeping track of queries. For example, translators may come up with some great suggestions for a technical aspect of the game. While it may be too late to implement these requests in the current project, they could be valuable for improving any games developed in the future.
Tip: Encourage customer queries, too!
Another top tip comes from Mike at Social Quantum, who reminds us that insights from those playing the game can be just as valuable as from those working on it. Take the example of a Muslim player who got in touch to ask why the mosque in a certain game appeared smaller than the cathedral.
In Islamic culture, depicting one religious building as larger than another indicates its superiority—so rectifying this oversight was important in order to avoid offending the Islamic community. Giving our players a platform to report issues helps us to learn and improve the quality of the product.
Level up your localization game
As Mike says, no matter how brilliant the other features are, bad localization will ruin your game. Good localization, on the other hand, can take it to a whole new level, making it even more interesting and enhancing the player experience. So, let’s not leave localization to the last minute. If we give it the same time and effort as we’d give to the graphics, sound, and game play, then it will be ‘game on!’ rather than ‘game over!’ for our product.