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In fact, you need to consider localization from the very moment you start designing your application. It’s not a one-man operation either. You will need localization experts on board early on.
Here are a few localization good practices I would like to share with you. I hope they will be helpful for your next software, application or game. If you wish to go further and ensure the success of your localization project, feel free to get in touch anytime so that we can get things started. You may also want to check my post with tips to reduce localization costs.
1. First of all, internationalize your software. Your source code should be written in a way that your software can be localized without touching a single portion of code. To achieve this, place all the content (text strings, images, sound files), including those in the application’s original language in separate files and folders, which can then be translated appropriately by linguists in a different software. In your code, pick up the translated depending on the language selected and a string ID (which can be the original string itself). XML works great for this, but there are plenty of options available. Also, try to keep a clear structure for your localizable resources. You can have separate folders for images and sounds that will require localization.
2. Translated strings can occupy a much larger screen space than their original counterparts. A Japanese string translated into German can easily get 2 or 3 times longer than the original. Design your applications with sufficient space to accommodate long strings, especially if you are working on small screens (smartphone, handheld game devices, etc.). Plan your software as if it was going to be localized in every language on Earth, and use the worst case scenario as a reference.
3. Be wary of local standards and cultural differences. Imperial versus metric system is an obvious one if you are manipulating units, but there are local differences you may not even suspect. For example, weeks start on Mondays in some countries, and Sunday in others. This is why you need to have local experts on board as early as possible: only them will be able to let you know about these specifics. If you realize too late that a code portion needs to act differently depending on the location, or that visual elements should be replaced altogether, it can be extremely painful to go back and make the appropriate edits. The sooner you are aware of local norms, the better.
Have your app/game tested by native users from the target markets before going any further. Never assume you know everything about each and every culture. Ask locals to test your product and report anything that could be considered inappropriate.
4. Be careful when you are trying to put localized strings together. Let’s suppose you have an error message in your software that says “The job cannot be added because there is no job with ID x”. If you have many error messages starting with “The job cannot be added because” and many ending with “there is no job with ID x”, it can be tempting to ask the localization team to translate these two strings separately only once and then put them together when needed. It would work in English and (most?) Romanic languages, but not in Japanese for example, no matter how you put the two parts together.
5. Having the above in mind, you have to make sure translators can put words in any order they want, and, as much as possible restrict substitution to a single word or number. While avoiding redundancies is a good practice, it can be a tricky one when it comes to localization.
6. Provide as much context as possible. To avoid confusion, comment your text strings to ensure the translators will understand where and how they will be used. Make it clear that variables are part of the string and shouldn’t be altered. Also, explain what they will be replaced with, even if it seems obvious to you. If some bits mustn’t be altered, make a note of it, especially if they otherwise look like plain text. When possible, provide your translators with screenshots, videos or, even better, the actual product.
7. Make sure you can easily track source text changes. Nowadays, most software and applications are updated on a regular basis, thus requiring extra translations. Not only will this help you save on costs by not ordering the same strings twice (or more!), but you will also avoid headaches when merging translations. If you are planning to release frequent updates, for example additional content for games, this point can be critical.
As you can see, getting your localization done right involves efforts from all parties, from developers to translators, which is precisely why you should start consulting the latter as early as possible. You can contact me anytime for all your French localization needs! I am familiar with the localization process, whether you are working on software, video games or mobile apps (iOS with Xcode, Android with Android Studio, etc.).
I’m taking the chance to share again the game localization and internationalization checklist we created at the IGDA LocSIG, a very useful resource based on our Best Practices. Ideally, you will want to read it and keep these points in mind during development, then use it as a final reference when you are producing localized versions of your games.
If you follow the general advice given here, the whole process should go smoothly. To take things further and make the most out of your localization initiatives, you can dig deeper and look for more specific resources. Most development environments offer some sort of internationalization and localization features nowadays – that is the case for for Unity3D (some interesting solutions are available on the Asset Store), XCode and Android Studio, just to name a few. No need to reinvent the wheel when great solutions already exist.
You could also save time and money by following the cost-saving tips that may apply to your project. In the end, being prepared and informed is what will save you from headaches and help you release your games in new markets at a reasonable cost.
This is the text version of the presentation I showed on Crowdcast with SmartCAT (video available here). It is based on the notes I took to prepare for the webinar, hence the disjointed writing style. Still hope you will find it useful!
Working in the game localization industry is a dream for many gamers, but the path that leads to a career in this young world isn’t necessarily obvious. Here are a few pointers to help you get started and work in the right direction.
An educational background in translation/languages is not a necessity, but always a welcome addition to your CV. Two scenarios here:
Relevant university studies
As far as I know, there are no university studies fully dedicated to game localization yet, but a few specializations will help you in your quest for a job. Here are the three types of studies you should be aiming at:
– Audiovisual translation: More and more universities offer courses in audiovisual translation, which generally include a part about video game localization. You can find a list of such universities here.
– Translation (general): More broadly available, courses in translation will teach you the general theories of translation and help you prepare your career in the industry. Although not as focused as the above, it is still perfectly relevant and appreciated in the industry.
– Languages and culture: Translation will have a smaller, but not insignificant role here. Such studies are also valued highly, especially if you study the language in a country where it is natively spoken. When I was working in-house, several of my Japanese to English translator colleagues had graduated from such schools in Japan and found a position soon after.
You’ve already graduated
A diploma is great, but you may be considering a career switch after working in a different industry. Don’t worry, there are still ways to fill the Education part of your CV.
– Lessons/Courses/Books online and offline: first of all, you will want to learn about translation as a profession. There are plenty of courses and books available online and offline, some as specific as teaching you the basics of game localization, while other covers different aspects of the job, from finding clients to managing your taxes. Perform an online search, compare the options and see what works best for you
– Go to seminars/workshops: look for relevant seminars and workshops in your area. A quick Google search will generally do wonders, but you can also check the websites of translator associations in your country. Most of them have a calendar listing such events
– Consider taking a certification exam: once you’ve learned enough about the job and are confident in your skills as a translator, you may consider taking a certification exam. The most famous one is probably the ATA‘s, but again, feel free to look for options closer to you
Game localization projects can be handled in-house by developers, outsourced to localization agencies working with their in-house team and/or freelance translators, or handed directly to translators. Your first decision in your journey will be to decide the way you want to follow: in-house position or freelance work.
Here are the main characteristics of both:
– More freedom: work whenever you want, wherever you want. No commuting, no fixed hours.
– Possible better long-term income and security: once you’re established and projects keep flowing in, you will likely make more money than you would in-house. And you don’t risk losing your job all of a sudden. If one of your clients closes their doors, you still have other customers to keep you busy
– Requires motivation/self-discipline: freedom is great, but you’ll still need to dedicate enough time to your job. You’ll have to keep track of projects, chase clients for payment, keep marketing yourself, etc. That’s also part of “being one’s boss” job description. I know some extremely talented translators who never managed to succeed as freelancers because they didn’t have that self-discipline
– Getting established takes time: building a clientele takes time, no matter how hard you try. Receiving enough work to live on translation will take you at the very least 6 months, while 2 years or more is not rare at all. Try to put some cash aside before taking the plunge, or keep a part-time job on the side to keep bills paid
– Stable income, no need to hunt new clients: busy or not, your income is the same and you don’t have the pressure of finding new clients
– More focused work: you will be translating/editing most of the time (hopefully). No accounting, no marketing, no sales, just what you like and what you’re good at
– Comparatively limited financial prospects: the higher the risk the greater the reward. A busy freelancer will typically make more money than an in-house translator. In general game translator salaries are rather in the low end in the gaming industry. There are, of course, fortunate exceptions to this
Qualifications alone won’t land you assignments. Before you start your job hunting efforts, you will want to make sure you are prepared for success.
– Learn about the ins and outs of the job (read articles/ebooks, take courses, etc.): this is especially true if you are going to work as a freelancer. Learn about the business aspects of freelance translation (how to define your rates, how to get paid properly, how to communicate with your clients in different situations, etc.). You will find a lot of articles, ebooks and courses online for a large number of topics.
– Build a solid CV/introduction highlighting relevant strengths: make sure you highlight every relevant educational or hands-on experience you’ve got with translation. Be specific: make it clear game localization is your main or one of your main specialization fields. Mentioning your favorite genres can be a plus when project managers will need to select the most suitable translator for their project.
Note about fan translations: in my opinion, that kind of experience is perfectly relevant and show your motivation, but you may not want to get too specific in public to avoid trouble. Mention word counts, game genres, etc. but only give names informally to parties interested in more details (small devs and game localization agencies will generally be curious and really just want to know what you’ve worked)
– Gain experience with a few projects: the best way to be ready for prime time is to actually try your hand at a few projects. Put everything you know in practice and make your beginner’s mistakes. More on how to gain experience in a minute.
About translation tests
Many potential employers and clients will ask you to take a test. All have different criteria for evaluation, but I would classify them in two categories:
– Ability tests: typical with localization agencies, a classical pass/fail test. Your basic translation ability will be checked: are your translations accurate, natural, free of typos/punctuation mistakes, do you follow instructions and terminologies? Most criteria here are objective, and a serious work should be enough, regardless of style considerations.
– Shootouts: typical with end customers. They want to find the one translator whose tone matches theirs. You’ll of course need to meet the basic quality standards expected of a professional translator, but the rest is very subjective in nature. You may deliver a great translation and still see someone else get the job.
As a general advice, check their games, see what inspired them and try to find something similar in your native language to give you ideas about what they may be looking for.
Offer free translation to indie devs
To gain experience, it can be a good idea to offer your help for free. Rather than helping big companies for peanuts, I suggest starting with indie developers who really need help and don’t have the finances to hire a translator.
– Browse the Indie Game Localization group on Facebook. Devs regularly post help requests there.
– Contact indie devs directly: you can use social networks to find interested devs. I particularly recommend Facebook and LinkedIn groups for indie devs (there are too many of them to list!) where people like to share information about their upcoming games
– Offer to translate game mods, articles, fan sites, reviews, etc.: let your imagination do the work here, there’s so much to explore!
– [!] Keep word counts reasonable: be willing to help, but don’t let people take advantage of you. Politely explain than you can only handle a few hundred words for free. An App Store description, menus? Why not. A whole set of dialogs? Probably too much.
– Online game translation contest, a chance to compare your skills to your peers. Winning entries are selected by reputable video game localization agencies, giving you a great chance to get noticed by professionals
– Free and open: no need to join the contest, you can translate and share your work anytime (translation kits available here). That’s concrete work you can show your prospects
– Local study groups: generally before/during LocJAMs. Great opportunity to learn & network with fellow translators
For more information about the LocJAM, you can read this related article
– Start in a different position in the game/localization industry: many game translators started in testing, marketing, project management, etc. Once you have a foot in the industry, it’s much easier move toward a translation position, for the same company or somewhere else
– Consider internships: many localization agencies have some sort of internship program. It can be a good chance to gain experience and possibly impress your employer. Again, I know of people who started as interns and became full-time employees after that
– Specialized game job sites: browse industry sites such as games-career.com, Gamasutra’s job section and similar portals in your native language
– General job sites: big job sites such as Indeed, Monster or even LinkedIn have a lot of localization job listings. Make a smart use of filters and notifications, and check new postings regularly
– Local job sites: don’t underestimate the smaller job portals. Many of them are free and appreciated by employers for this reason. You may find exclusive offers there, so look at sites specifically covering your area
– Translation portals (Proz, TranslatorsCafé): while most projects posted on those websites are aimed at freelancers, offers for in-house positions, including in the video game industry, are occasionally published there
– Dev websites, social media accounts: regularly check the websites of developers/agencies in your area that have a job page. Follow such companies on social networks and look for job offers in your feed
– Networking, online and offline: more on that a little later
– Register and check job postings on translation portals (Proz, TranslatorsCafé): register on those websites and build a solid profile to gain visibility and be able to bid on projects posted. A lot of agencies are recruiting new translators and offering projects through such platforms
– Contact specialized agencies directly: there are lots of localization agencies specialized in video games, and many of them are constantly looking for new translators. Check their website, social accounts, etc. and see their preferred method contact.
Be careful to only contact reputable agencies with good payment practices. The Blue Board on Proz is a good way to distinguish good payers from the bad ones. To help you get started, I included a small list in the notes of the slideshow above.
– Freelance offers on job sites: you can occasionally find freelance (sometimes labeled as “part-time”, “remote”, etc.) job offers on all types of sites mentioned in the previous section
– Networking, online and offline
I am a strong advocate for networking. It has plenty of benefits. You meet great people, build relationships, learn from each other and, yes, get access to jobs otherwise unavailable. Many experienced translators are happy to refer their clients to younger translations when they are busy, or to introduce them to colleagues in different language pairs.
– Prepare business cards and an introduction: always carry business cards with you. Make sure the key information is there: your name, language pair and specialization, contact info, etc. Also prepare a quick introduction you can repeat when you meet new people. Clearly tell who you are and what you do. Then forget a bit about business and try to build a genuine relationship!
– Go to game/translation conferences, seminars: conferences and seminars are great places to meet potential clients and colleagues. Don’t restrict yourself to just translation or game-related events, both are perfectly fine places to network. Don’t underestimate smaller, local gatherings. It’s easier to talk to people and have them remember you when the place is not awfully crowded
– Join associations, attend meetings: here again, target both game and translation associations. They will always have more or less formal networking events, besides conferences mentioned above. For those that have a directory of service providers on their website, it’s also a good way to earn visibility
– Also look for informal meetings around you: once you start networking with people and join their circles, you will realize that a lot also happens besides publicly advertised meetups. I can only speak for Japan here, but we have a lot of fun meetups, with a good mix of freelance translators, in-house project managers, developers, students, etc. Be curious!
– Use social media to interact with colleagues and game developers: establish yourself as an expert in your field. Share interesting content, interact with developers and colleagues, answer questions people may have about localization. Consistency is key here. If you regularly show up in someone’s feed with strong content about localization, they may remember you the next time they are looking for translation services
– Define your goals and strategy: decide if you will be a freelance translator or try to work in-house, do your homework and pick up a couple of strategies you feel comfortable with to get started. It always gets easier once you take that first step
– Look for communities around you: look for associations and groups in your area, as well as online. Join a few and start networking
– Join the IGDA LocSIG group on Facebook: because we’re a bunch of nice people who love games and languages. You will find plenty of useful information about translation case studies, interviews, tips for beginners and the latest news about the LocJAM.
And don’t forget to connect on LinkedIn!
The Best Practices for Game Localization is a true gem of information kindly shared by the IGDA LocSIG. It contains everything one needs to know about game localization. The format in which it is shared might make it a little hard to find and digest, so I decided to split it in a format easier to share and process.
The document starts with a very interesting part on game culturalization: its definition, its different aspects and best practices recommended for game developers. Often overlooked, that step of the globalization process is critical to avoid cultural issues down the road – some other which can have disastrous effects (an example of a game discontinued for that reason is given in the document).
That specific section was written by Kate Edwards, executive director of the IGDA and expert on the topic. She first worked for Microsoft, creating the Geopolitical Strategy, which evaluates and manages geopolitical and cultural content in software products. After her stint at the IT giant, she started her own consulting firm, Englobe, engaged in content culturalization and strategy, primarily for the video game industry.
Here, she shares her knowledge in a well-written, simple yet exhaustive text, with her main points clearly organized and summarized.
What is game “culturalization”?
Culturalization takes a step beyond localization, making a more fundamental examination of a game’s assumptions and choices, and then assesses the viability of those creative choices in both the global, multicultural marketplace as well as in specific locales. While localization assists gamers with simply comprehending the game’s content through translation, culturalization allows gamers to engage with the game’s content at a potentially more meaningful level. Or conversely, culturalization ensures that gamers will not be disengaged by a piece of content that is considered incongruent or even offensive in the game’s environment.
Cultural mistakes often prove to be costly for game developers and publishers – not just the loss of potential revenue but the greater effects of negative public relations, damage to corporate image, and strained relations with the local government. In the worst-case, a local government may not only ban the game but take more direct action against the company, including detainment of local personnel for questioning and even incarceration.
Levels of game culturalization
The need for game localization is a well-known necessity within the game industry; however the need for culturalization remains relatively unrealized. Culturalization isn’t just a specific task; it’s also a broader intent for all international adaptation of content. In its most basic form, content culturalization can be viewed as the following three phases:
In regards to these phases of culturalization, some clarification may be helpful:
Localization is critical but the process of achieving legibility through translation is not the only step required in preparing content for other cultures. This is true for video games as much as it’s true for every other type of content.
It may be argued that a game title should be “legible” before it is “viable.” But a government will restrict a game based on sensitive content regardless if it’s localized or not.
These phases are not a hierarchy. As with localization, culturalization takes place in various stages within the typical game development cycle and is a coordination of various tasks and priorities being orchestrated across the entire development process.
Top Four Cultural Variables
The effort of thinking outside our given cultural worldview often makes it difficult for a game designer in one locale to be aware of the issues that could cause problems in another locale. However, by considering at least the following four cultural variables that most often generate conflict between the game’s context and local cultures, it is possible to reduce the potential for issues to arise:
The issue of historical accuracy is one of the most sensitive issues for local markets. Many cultures are extremely protective of their historical legacy and origins, so any alternate or inaccurate history can yield strong, emotional backlash. History is a compelling topic, but it’s rarely possible to provide the full context of a historical event in a game. But it’s not only distant history that can be problematic but recent history can be a very sensitive topic as the memory of the events and outcome are very fresh in people’s minds.
Game content creators need to be sensitive to the underlying mechanics of the cultures into which their game titles are to be released. In general, a society based on sacred rules tends to be less flexible and yielding to the context in which information appears because they are following what they consider to be a higher standard than human judgment; i.e., if the problematic content appears at all, regardless of context, then there is potential for backlash.
Besides the more volatile issues of history and religion, there are many of issues that fit under a broad category that addresses various forms of disagreement, misperception, attitude and ongoing friction between cultural groups. Chief among those is the use of ethnic and/or cultural stereotypes and the perception of inclusion and exclusion with a negative bias towards a specific group.
National governments often reinforce their local worldview and the extent of their geographic sovereignty through digital media, including online maps and video games. This involves a situation where the government claims certain territories and they expect those territories to be shown as integrated with their nation, whether it’s on a functional map or in the world of a video game (hence the term “geopolitical imagination,” as the depiction they’re demanding doesn’t reflect reality). With some governments, such as China and India, there is no room for error on this issue as they maintain laws that dictate how national maps must appear or how their local political situation must be shown.
Culturalization Best Practices
The underlying principle of culturalization is that a minor investment of time and effort during the game development process will offset a major loss of time, money and public relations in resolving post-release issues. Fortunately, there are some key steps developers can take to be more proactive about their culturalization strategy.
As mentioned previously, culturalization is most effective the earlier it’s applied to game content, thus engaging in team discussions around meaning, intent and purpose of characters, plots, environments, objects and so on during the conceptual stages can often catch the majority of potential issues. Here are the fundamentals of identifying potential issues:
Just because issues have been identified in the research, it doesn’t mean every potential issue needs to be fixed. After identifying potential cultural issues, the key in next stage is to be able to effectively determine the “must fix” issues.
Implement with precision
Many game designers carry a preconceived notion that culturalization is about making massive changes and rethinking the entire game idea. This is a misperception, and one key reason why many don’t confront the geopolitical and cultural aspect at all, as they believe it’s going to be too disruptive. This highlights one of the most important principles of culturalization:
Create the game you want to create, but don’t forget the global, multicultural audience who will be participating in your vision, and hopefully enjoying it without any cultural disruption. Well-executed culturalization within a development cycle isn’t turnkey; it takes time to implement successfully. However, the benefits to a company’s content quality, government relations, and public image amongst local gamers will prove to be a valuable long-term investment.
I am happy and proud to announce I am running for a second term at the IGDA LocSIG. It took me a while to settle on a decision. Not because of lack of interest -quite the contrary actually-, but because I had the interests of the group in mind: was it worth running for a second term and possibly getting on the way of new candidates when I knew I would be contributing to the community with the same energy either way?
Ultimately, my reasoning was that although my degree of motivation isn’t dictated by my presence in the SIG, the reach of my actions pretty much is. There’s no point in organizing international events and creating useful content if nobody hears about them. With your support, let’s make sure more events (in quantity and in variety) for both young and experienced game translators can come to life and succeed. Let’s do more of what the LocJAM and related initiatives did for 5 editions: giving the community a chance to come together, learn, exchange and, most of all, have fun.
You can vote for up to 5 candidates at the following link: http://www.igda.org/surveys/default.asp?id=2017_LocSIG_Election
One important thing I learned during the previous term is that small and concrete actions beat big but unrealistic ideas. We are a tiny team of busy volunteers, and the best way to move towards our greater goals is to proceed by small steps.
Since joining the SIG early last year, I managed to contribute in various ways: I’ve given our newsletter a fresh start, helped the community through different channels (workshops, webinars, presentations at conferences, various articles…), and been increasingly involved in organizing the LocJAM, probably our biggest source of growth at the moment. These may sound like small things taken separately, but put together, I believe they helped make a difference.
For the new term, my objective is to build on this foundation to help the SIG develop further. Concretely, besides a renewed push to promote good practices in localization, I plan to organize more events: a successor to the LocJAM (if not in name, at least in spirit) and a worldwide, non-competitive event where people gather offline and localize a game together within a short time frame. In my experience, such meetups are incredibly effective at getting the word out among translators and developers altogether.
No rhetoric here, as I’m already taking action: I have started building a small library of localizable games (written in English or Japanese) that could fit both concepts, and acquired the knowledge to manage the organization and coordination of such events.
The only thing I need to bring these concepts to life is a little spark, which I hope you will give me. Whatever the future holds, I will keep doing everything I can to support our amazing community.
Besides controversy surrounding Persona 5’s localization, April has been a rather calm month in the game localization world.
June will see new elections organized for the IGDA LocSIG steering committee. It has been a great pleasure to help the SIG over the last year and half. Achievements include the resurrection of our newsletter – a repository for everything interesting happening in the industry -, 3 workshops/local study groups for the LocJAM, actual help organizing the event itself (finding/internationalizing a game, most notably), a couple of webinars, various articles and presentations…
Will I run again? I don’t know yet, but I am certainly planning to keep contributing to the community in various ways. More specifically, I am starting to build a small list of games that can easily be localized by anybody (= to gain experience and build a portfolio, to help young translators enter the industry) and thinking about new events that could encourage the global community to gather and celebrate what we do offline, regardless of background and experience.
But personal talks for now, here are the links for April!
Pictures from LocJAM4 study groups – Our community in action!
“I am preparing a guide for indie game devs: How to save money on localization.” – Interesting thread on Reddit where a few devs kindly shared internationalization/localization good practices
The Kyoto Study Group for LocJAM4 took place on April 22nd and was followed by a networking party. The goal was the same as usual: embody the spirit of the LocJAM by gathering game enthusiasts with various degrees of experience to discuss localization, learn from our collective experience and simply have fun.
For my third LocJAM presentation in just a little over a year, I decided to move away from the game localization process approach and instead went for something a little more concise and practical.
Here is how we approached this year’s event:
Before and after the presentation, the study group gave us all an opportunity to chat about various game localization-related topics:
Another month gone in the small world of game localization! In case you missed it, LocJAM4 is now live, with a creative English version of Ikinari Maou as source material. We could have had another Tyrano Builder game for contest, had we wanted to, but we liked that retro-looking RPG-puzzle game so much we thought it would be a shame not to see it localized in more languages by some of our industry’s finest. We’re serving you a spicy, heavily westernized version of the game, but the winning entries of LocJAM Japan -more faithful to the source- are also available online.
We’re already seeing great content from participants popping up here and there, which pleases us immensely. I will myself present at Kyoto’s local study group on April 22nd, after which I will share my presentation and notes.
But for now, here’s the link roundup for March! Interviews and excellent content from the GDC are waiting for you.
Nintendo Treehouse Log – Nintendo’s secretive Treehouse (which handles the localization for many of Nintendo’s games) now has their own blog
Localization talks at GDC 2017 – Final Fantasy, advanced localization tools and Chinese shenanigans in this quick summary of the localization-themed talks at GDC
‘Witcher’ Studio Boss Marcin Iwinski: ‘We Had No Clue How To Make Games’ – Nice long interview with CD Projekt Red’s Marcin Iwinski, from Polish localization to the Witcher
Localization Shenanigans in the Chinese Speaking World – Straight from the GDC vault
Localization Roundtable 2017 – Summary – A summary of the topics discussed during the localization round table organized by the SIG during the GDC
Direct translation clients seem to be the Holy Grail to many of my freelancer colleagues. Better rates, more direct communication, increased likeliness to be credited… There are many apparent advantages in working without a middleman. In reality, there are all sorts of direct clients, just like there are all sorts of agencies, and in some cases the latter may be your best option.
Very good question, one that would deserve an article of its own. To keep things simple for the needs of this one, we will consider here that a good agency is one that:
You could add more I guess, but that doesn’t sound too bad for a start, right?
The majority of LSPs for whom all the above apply generally fall into one the following two categories:
The greater part of my income comes from translation companies meeting the criteria above, so nothing unrealistic here.
The number of direct clients I translate for is slowly increasing every year, but I don’t feel any need to rush things. There’s a lot I love about the providers I work with:
One reality of our industry is that many of the prospects you will meet have no idea about how translation works. I receive a lot of inquiries for projects that don’t even cover my language pairs or that are definitely not a match for my specializations.
When their requests are relevant, they won’t always be sure of what they want exactly. You get a lot of “We’re pondering…”, “We haven’t defined the scope yet”, “We just want to know”, “At some point we may send you…”. Sometimes they will decide they don’t need translation services after all, for all sorts of reasons – price naturally being the most common pain point, as your average prospect also doesn’t know how much translation can possibly cost.
Once I exchanged a long series of e-mails with a prospect for about 2 hours until she finally sent me a quotable file. I had told her my per-word rates in my first message, but it’s only when I applied it to the document that she realized that… well, let me quote “Im sorry its just too expensive. I have another 3 batches like that.” To whom shall I bill my time?
Don’t get me wrong, rejected quotes are part of the game. But with agencies, you get a final answer much quicker. They know what they want and the profile they’re looking for. Which means the rejection rate also tends to be significantly lower, at least in my case. In the end, even if you get a lot of quote requests, it takes a lot of time to find a good end client.
A good agency knows that PDFs aren’t an ideal format to work with. If both of you are using a common CAT tool, they will prepare and send you a file you can start working on right away. If they can’t, they will be open to price negotiation.
On the other hand, direct clients will rather send what is convenient to them. It can take time for them to understand you’re not overly excited about working with their exotic file format, and they may me surprised when you suddenly start talking about changing your rates. I’m an IT guy, I can work around most file types, but it still occasionally takes me an awful lot of time to have something workable. I can imagine the pain for non-technical people when they suddenly have to translate a website directly from random PHP or JSON files.
A serious agency will act as a buffer or filter between you and the end client. They will be able to answer basic questions and queries for you, so that you don’t have to explain why your translation doesn’t look like Google Translation’s, or why it says your text back-translates to something nasty. They’ll often have someone in-house to handle small edit requests. And they will kindly let their customer know that “my cousin who studied French in high school and says your translation sucks” is most likely not in a position to judge your work.
More seriously, people who think they know about languages better than they really do can quickly give you headaches. I’m happy for agencies to take their cut if they handle such persons for me.
Very large and boutique agencies will, in most cases, have several clients in your field, which helps maintain a healthy stream of work. In contrast, things tend to be more sporadic and unpredictable with end customers.
Another thing is volatility. Cost reductions, people moving to another company, creation of an internal translation team… there are many ways a client can stop working without any further notice. While this also applies to agencies to an extent -I can only speak from personal experience here-, my average relationship time is definitely higher with agencies.
When we talk about direct clients, the focus is always on how much we earn. Yet, I rarely hear about how much it costs to get a direct client.
How one finds direct clients? Conferences, associations? They’re rarely free and they can eat up quite a bit of your time. A well-optimized website? Hours and hours of SEO and content writing to get any results. Direct e-mails? You’ll spend a lot of time writing them if you want to do it right, for a low response rate. Social networks? Another time-consuming method.
It takes time, money, efforts and probably a bit of talent too. That’s why agencies have their own sales/marketing people, sometimes dedicated departments for the big players.
Agencies typically find me on translation portals or social networks, and it costs me virtually nothing, time and money-wise. I pay a small subscription fee for such websites, but I haven’t made any significant edits to my profiles in years. Compare that to the time spent maintaining a website + blog…
If you start working on a large project for a direct customer, chances are that it won’t be 100% focused on your specialization. In the IT/software industry, for example, marketing texts, EULAs, etc. often get thrown in the mix besides purely technical content. A good agency will assign files to experts of their respective fields and keep a central TM/glossary.
If you work directly with the end client, you’ll either have to a. handle those parts yourself, which will take extra time if you want to translate properly, or b. spend time informing them about the situation, possibly recommending a colleague and helping them reorganize the content.
If you put all of these points together, you may start asking yourself: When all is said and done, will I really earn more with direct clients? Is it really worth spending so much time looking for them?
Spending time and money to get a deal done, explaining the process to your new customer, preparing the files, getting them to pay you, answering questions a good agency would not ask, dealing with parts that are out of your sphere of expertise… All these things will lower your average net hourly income.
Working directly with the actual customers offers other benefits than rates alone, of course, but the possibility of a better income is often what motivates people to chase them. As I wrote before, though, raw rates are not nearly as relevant as your income per time unit. Sometimes a good agency can be your best bet.
So what should you really be after? 100% direct clients, 100% agencies, 50/50, 75/25? Difficult to say. You will find extremely successful translators spread all the way between the two extremes.
In a perfect world, you would only work directly with awesome end customers who perfectly understand your job and have a ton of work for you. In the real world, translators will often find it easier to build an agency clientele and progressively try to replace them with quality end clients. Easier said than done.
In any case, and whatever path you choose to follow, try to keep these two points in mind: there’s nothing wrong working mostly with agencies if you are happy with them and direct client doesn’t equal quality client. If you build a clientele that gives you satisfaction, the rest shouldn’t matter. You shouldn’t overlook LSPs only because they get in the middle.
First things first, my apologies for sharing December’s links only now! The start of the year was pretty hectic for me, with very happy news on the personal side and more than work that I could hope for. Things are a *little* more relaxed now, so let me catch up.
We have lot of great links this time, from very formal material (thesis) to comical content (the MT experiment!), interviews, interesting facts and essays.
With LocJAM4 around the corner, you can expect a great flow of stories in the upcoming months, so watch this space!
Student Speak: Using MT for Game Localization – Giulia Mattoni, an Italian Translation Technology student from DCU talks about her experience using Machine Translation for evaluating player support content localization.
Funky Fantasy IV: a Machine-Translated Video Game Experiment – MT may be gradually improving, but it still has a long way to go, as illustrated here
Dark Conflict (EU) and Days Of Ruin (US) – An interesting video comparison of the EU and US localizations
Imagined Commodities: Video Game Localization and Mythologies of Cultural Difference – If you’re in for a thesis
What Are These Japanese WarioWare Moves All About? – More great stuff from Clyde Mandelin
And to conclude, a list of links related to LocJAM Japan that you may find interesting ahead of LocJAM4: How to Localize the Package (the process will be the same for LocJAM4) or Tyrano Builder games in general, the Kyoto Workshop Presentation, and a more technical article about Internationalizing LocJAM Japan’s game, if you’re curious about what goes into organizing these events.