English to French IT Translator Blog

Pre-TGS Game Localization Round Table Recap (IGDA LocSIG)

Here is a short recap of the round table the IGDA LocSIG held before TGS 2017. I will try to update this article with more details when time allows. I also apologize for the random order of topics, I wrote this as memories came back to me

The format

1 hour, 20+ participants, 5 broad subjects (market trends, localization technology, career, etc.) with a few specific topics each, 2 moderators to swiftly move the conversation from a question to another.

We had a fair mix of translators (aspiring, freelance, in-house), project managers/agency representatives and people from the end client side.

I admit I was worried 1 hour wouldn’t be enough to cover all topics, but it turned out to be just perfect. You would usually hear 2 or 3 points of view for each topic (often translator vs. agency), clear and concise. Everything flowed naturally and there was no idle time. More insights in 1 hour than you’d hear in 1 day at many conferences.

Topics

Can non-native speakers be trusted for translation?

Several participants noted they knew or had heard of at least 1 non-native English speaker who could a really good job on Japanese to English translations (I know such a guy myself! He now works for a big Japanese dev, still does great work). Interestingly, Japanese to English was the only language pair for which we could think of such people.

Is it OK to refuse translation projects? How to do it?
Refusing jobs is OK. A few project managers present agreed that if they were happy with a translator, they wouldn’t give up on them easily. Actually, one person went as far as to mention that translators who accept all types of projects without hesitation, even difficult ones or ones with a very tight deadline, could be “suspicious”. You shouldn’t try too hard.
Refusing a project is fine, but do give a reason so things can move on, or it will sound like you don’t care. Common sense, but apparently not so common for some of our colleagues.
My 2 cents as a translator: try to negotiate when you can (if the issue is related to the rate, deadline, etc.) – if that’s not enough, decline politely and explain why. If you’re not comfortable with the topic (may that be for lack of familiarity with the topic or personal beliefs/ethics), just say it, your honesty will be appreciated. If you’re simply too busy, try to give your PM an idea of how long you won’t be able to accept new assignments.
Project managers appreciate open and transparent relationships with their translators. Quality is all that matters.
Project management tools (Plunet)
Project managers seem to like Plunet a lot. I can’t say I’m too fond of its interface (I prefer talking to human beings, too), but it seems to be here to stay. Well, my friends, machines may take over the jobs of project managers before ours. OK, enough for cheeky remarks.
Getting jobs: ProZ, LinkedIn, networking&word of mouth?
Networking and referrals still seem to be the strongest way to build a clientele. Online, some noted that power is slowly shifting from ProZ to LinkedIn. Speaking personally, I still get strong leads from both. Build a strong profile and keep promoting yourself. On LinkedIn, try to be active in industry groups
(note: ProZ is currently developing and promoting a new feature, expert pools, to help game localizers get more visibility. It will be interesting to see how this turns out)
How to control quality when you don’t know a thing about the target language?
During localization: Choose proven partners, have an independent and equally trusted party review the translation
Post-release: gather as much feedback as you can in the target market:
– Check what the gamer community says
– Read reviews and look for mentions of localization quality
– Ask local industry experts, for example game journalists
Using text-to-speech during the proofreading stage
Nice tip shared at some point: listening to your own translation will help you catch things your eye may have missed, also helps noticing flow/pacing issues
Do I need a degree in translation to get started? What is the trend?
Most people of the industry have learned on the field. But now that our industry has matured, there are more and more universities offering audiovisual translation courses. The proportion of vocational translators is increasing and should continue to do so.
Creative vs technical profiles
Interesting comment from a former PM. Some people excel at creative translations, others at drier texts that require more accuracy. Agencies should have this in mind when building up teams for their projects.
On amateur translations…
Mixed feelings from agency people. The lack of frame and quality control is an issue to make them a reliable experience. However, if translated titles are relevant to a particular project (say you fan translate visual novels and such a project comes in), it can move your name at the top of the CV pile.
Conclusion: use your best judgment. Get specific if you feel your experience is relevant for a particular project, otherwise consider including it in more general terms (“I have translated xxx words of game content”, etc.)
Something that was said a few times by PMs: in the end, all that really matters is the quality of your work and your professionalism. Having experience and qualifications can help fast-forward things, but ultimately everybody gets a chance to show their skills because agencies are always trying to renew their translator pools
On post editing machine translation…
Machine translation may be improving, but it’s simply not there yet. Post-editing itself is a pain, and it introduces errors you wouldn’t make otherwise. If you’re going to reduce rates because MT was applied, you should expect quality to be affected proportionally.
Do you have to be a gamer to translate games?
Things like UI and menus can be very hard to translate if you don’t play games. For narration & dialogs, non-gamers can do a perfectly fine job. Once again, it’s all about selecting the right person for the job at hand.
Speaking for the French market: when game translation was a new discipline, companies would often turn to literary translators. Some of them have done wonders.

How to Get Game Localization Experience – Tips & Repository of Translation Packages

Getting started as a professional game translator is a bit of a catch-22 situation. Everybody wants you to be experienced before sending you projects, but you need to work on translation projects to gain experience.

One solution can be to build your own portfolio of sample translations & projects. To help you with this, I have a gathered a list of games you can freely translate right now and add to your samples. I have also put together a number of tips to help you find small translation projects and gain that all-too-important mileage in the localization industry.

I am planning to update this page regularly with new packages ready to be translated as well as links to other useful resources.

Translate Previous LocJAM Packages

LocJAM is (was?) an online contest for game translators. A short open source game in English is published on the official site and everyone has a couple of weeks to submit their translations.

The future of the contest is on standby at the moment, but you can still download and translate the games that were shared during previous editions.

If you translate from English

All translation packages for previous LocJAMs are available on the IGDA LocSIG’s GitHub repository.

LocJAM 1https://github.com/IGDA-LocSIG/Republia-Times

Read README.md for special instructions. The translatable file is in the bin/locale/ folder

The Republia Times is an indie game created by Lucas Pope, released in April 2012. In the game, the player takes the role of the editor of a newspaper torn between personal opposition to the government and threats to the lives of the editor’s wife and children if the editor doesn’t generate loyalty among the population. Character limits, humor and puns will give translators a good run for their money. An excellent game to show your craft.

LocJAM 2: https://github.com/IGDA-LocSIG/Locjam2/tree/master/LocJAM2

Read instructions in readme.pdf

Grandpa is an interactive story about Emi and her Grandfather trying to find his hat. The game ends on a twist. Translating it while keeping all of its subtleties and hints will allow you to show your attention to details and creative writing skills. Here is my post-mortem about it.

LocJAM 3: https://github.com/IGDA-LocSIG/locjam3

Simply translate the .docx and .xlsx files.

The Hotel of Madness is a board game openly inspired by The Shining. For this edition, we tested translators’ ability to write accurate, consistent and unambiguous rules – essential qualities for this type of game. Not a video game, but a good title to add diversity to your portfolio.

LocJAM 4: https://mega.nz/#F!12hEnJgS!KrCryf7EgZSrbswVnYpP7w

Instructions in the Readme file.

Ikinari Maou is a puzzle game dressed up as an old-school RPG. With several plot twists and tons of hints hidden between the lines, the game is an excellent challenge for translators and a pleasure to play.

If you translate from Japanese

Grandpa: bit.ly/LocJAM2JP

Try you hand at one of the winning Japanese entries of LocJAM 2 and translate it to the language of your choice.

Ikinari Maou: Windows, Mac

The original Japanese game’s package, used for LocJAM Japan.

Other Ways to Gain Experience

  • 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 professional translator.
  • Browse the Indie Game Localization group on Facebook. Devs regularly post help requests there. Just be careful with whom you offer your help to, as some are taking advantage of the community to get free translation for their many games. Find a game that seems nice, from a dev who genuinely seems to need help. Make sure the word count is reasonable and go ahead.
  • Translate mods: Translating mods is a great way to earn a little experience. Most mod devs will be happy to receive a little help, and they’re usually not creating mods for profit. They also typically have a localization budget of 0 (does currency matter here?), so you’re not stealing anyone’s job. CurseForge is an excellent place to start browsing. Help requests for mods/games also occasionally pop up on GitHub.
  • 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. Once again, see what you like (you want good games on your CV, don’t you?) and get in touch.
  • Offer to translate articles, fan sites, game guides, reviews, etc.: let your imagination do the work here, there’s so much to explore! Just make sure you have the permission of the original author.
  • What about crowdsourced and amateur translations? They surely give you relevant experience, but you may not want to write about them explicitly on your CV. Rightly or not, crowdsourced translations are not associated with quality and professionalism. As for amateur translations, they’re usually on the wrong side of legality.
    My advice: write about your general experience (“I’ve been translated for xx years“, “I have translated a total of xx words of game-related texts) and only mention titles you are allowed to. Have a small list of projects you’re proud of, with sample files if you are allowed to share them. It’s fine not to have a ton of titles to mention. I have translated well over a hundred games in my career, but I’m credited in a grand total of 4 of them. Give general information, and only informally tell about details if you are asked to.

WARNING: Whatever your translate for free, do ask to be properly credited and keep word counts reasonable – be willing to help, but don’t let people take advantage of you. Anything over 1,000 words is too much for a free translation, unless you are extremely passionate about the game in question AND the dev clearly doesn’t have the funds. When necessary, 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.

20 Things Translators Know But Most People Don’t

There are many preconceptions about translations and translators, as well as things known almost exclusively by people of the industry. I found this lovely list written by a colleague, Alice Tsymbarevich, and decided it to share it with my own twist. Enjoy!

1. Knowing a language is not the same as being able to professionally translate or interpret to/from it. A translation is a special set of skills that takes years to master and put together (and it’s not even a finite set of skills, new products, technologies and trends appear all the time).

2. Being able to translate FROM a language does not mean being able to translate TO it. In fact, it does not even mean being able to speak it. If a translator says that their translation pair is En-Fr, it means they translate from English into French only. Translation in both directions will be marked as En-Fr-En. And professional translators only produce works in languages they are native speakers – generally two at most (and we’re already talking about a small fraction of the translator community).

3. Some translators have specializations because different types of text require different approaches, different experience and different abilities. Some are better at terminology-filled legal texts. Some have a knack for translating poetry. Yet others are able to create concise and efficient instruction manuals, where a fiction-translator may easily get lost. And, of course, some translators are awesome jacks-of-all-trades! Specialized translators usually have a personal connection with their field. I received an IT degree, so I became an expert in software localization. Many medical translators have an educational background in the field, etc.

4. Translating fiction is actually more difficult than translating technical texts, not the other way around. Translating ads and catchy slogans is the worst. Creativity and cultural differences are quite an explosive cocktail. Such translations take great talent.

5. Spoken translation is called interpreting. An interpreter is not necessarily a good translator. A translator is not necessarily a good interpreter. The skill sets are completely different. A well-trained factory foreman with a decent fluency in a foreign language will give a much better tour of the premises to a foreign delegation than than a hired professional translator. Or than an non-specialized interpreter, for that matter.

6. Modern translation studies support the view that the “word-for-word translation” and word equivalency are myths. A translator’s worst nightmare is a client asking to “just translate a couple of words”. Broadly speaking, a translator turns one text with its context into another text with a corresponding context, not a string of words into a string of their dictionary counterparts. Even machine translation engines have given up this approach long ago.

7. Numbers may also require localization from one syntactic system into another. E.g. English 1,000, unless translated into French correctly as 1 000, will mean “one and zero thousandths”.

8. Translating/creating movie subtitles has specific rules: every language has a certain limit of how long a subtitle line is the best for the audience, how to choose words (long words may have worse readability for the viewer), how to adapt subtitles for people who are deaf/hard-of-hearing, etc. It’s a discipline in itself and requires yet another set of skills. It’s not something you just jump in as a translation generalist.

9. No, machine translation is not a valid replacement for an actual translator. Unless we are dealing with an extremely narrow and specialized context. No, Google Translate will not give you a decent translation of the ad for your product. Nor will your “nephew who’s spent a year studying abroad”. It may help you understand what your friend who lives abroad posted on Facebook. You may be able to have a general idea of what news say on foreign sites. But that’s about it.

10. Certain things, names, traditions, cultural norms etc. may require localization in certain types of texts.

11. A translator is, ultimately, a “complex computer that makes complex choices and considerations on many levels even for the simplest of sentences”. Not a dictionary. Not a language teacher. Not a “word-replacing dummy”.

12. There is professional translation software. No, it’s not like Google Translate or those fancy all-knowing sci-fi machines. What it does is find similar chunks in a standardized text and replaces them with what it has been taught by the translator, making the human’s work faster and less monotonous.

13. Humor is difficult to translate. Jokes and puns don’t necessarily have an equivalent in other languages. In fact, that’s what happens most of the time, so we need to get creative. Sometimes a translator even manages to produce a funnier version of the book than the original!

14. If translators face a bad original (poorly written, awkward phrasing, lack of elegance in the flow of text), they have two options: either to produce an equally ugly translation or to brush it up out of respect for the audience, the subject matter or the target language. In both cases, you never know to whom the audience will give the credit, be it good or bad – to the translator or the author.

15. It can be hard to form an opinion about a translated work of fiction because of the inevitable distortion and the translator’s enormous input into the piece. You don’t truly know a book unless you’ve read the original. It’s first of all true for poetry and the most creative works in general.

16. Unfortunately, translators are often invisible and unnoticeable. Hey, we do appreciate to be credited! It also puts positive pressure on us to deliver.

17. I’ve known translators to refuse to translate a text that offended their personal beliefs or could potentially offend someone else.

18. Everybody knows how a language becomes rusty and partly forgotten unless used. This holds true for the translators as well, so a long break from the profession may be costly for a translator. A professional translator is constantly learning – that’s the only way not to be left behind in the long run. New pages are constantly added to our internal dictionaries.

19. Still, a translator’s mind is always online. I often find myself wondering how I would have translated this or that when some ads or interesting phrases catch my attention. When I see translated materials, I sometimes try to guess what the original read like. And I’m ecstatic when it turns out I’m right!

20. I’m a freelance translator, but that doesn’t mean I work in my pajamas. I actually have fixed hours. I work at least as much as someone in-house and I do take the occasional holidays. I don’t spend my whole time home, nor having fun outside. I just have normal, balanced lifestyle.

 

How Translating Your Website Can Help Boost Your Search Traffic/SEO

If you have been involved in internet marketing for some time, then you’re probably already familiar with most of the SEO techniques that are effective in boosting your site’s ranking. With the advent of internet marketing blogs and abundance of detailed and free guides that walk you through the process of ranking a site, every enterprising and smart marketer knows the basics of link building, social signals, and on-page optimization. The democratization of what used to be concealed knowledge coupled with Google’s increasingly complex algorithms has left marketers desperate for an edge over their competitors.

One method that could double the search traffic to your site but is seldom discussed by SEO experts is translating your site into different languages to branch out and reach a global audience. Many marketers conflate the notion of the English speaking market being the biggest one with it being the only one, neglecting the fact that 75% of all internet searches are not in English. If you aren’t satisfied with the traffic that you’re getting or you feel that your SEO campaign has hit a wall, it is probably time to consider investing in international SEO.

The best practices for translating websites and getting high rankings

It is essential to know that getting your website in front of an international audience requires much more than just the literal translation of text and titles. Various cultural and socioeconomic factors will come into play to render the process a little bit less straightforward and about more than just linguistic differences. Understanding what your target audience is searching for and for what purpose, having a grasp of dialectal variations, and being able to conduct keyword research in a different language are essential components of what makes a successful international SEO campaign.

The importance of keyword research

More often than not, the value of a keyword is lost in translation due to not just linguistic contrast, but also cultural differences. The right approach is to simply conduct proper keyword research in the second language; the key here is finding the corresponding keyword, not the literal translation. Having a comprehensive understanding of terminology, local competition, and the various metrics that make a good keyword is essential.

Making use of Hreflang Tags

Hreflang tags tell Google what language is used in a specific page of your website. They’re either inserted within the <head> tags in the site HTML’s header or specified in the sitemap if multiple languages are being targeted. Once these tags are configured, your site will show up in the search engine results to people searching in that language.

They’re a critical component of website localization and their implementation will have a positive impact on your SEO campaign.

Choosing the right site structure

How you structure your site is one of the most critical steps of an international SEO campaign. The four main options that you have at your disposal are:

  1. Country-coded top-level domains
  2. Sub-domains on a single global top-level domain
  3. Sub-folders on a single global top-level domain
  4. URL parameters

There are pros and cons to each of these, understanding the implications of each one is a primordial step before opting for a particular structure.

It is generally advisable to avoid URL parameters, and while Country-coded top-level domains tend to be the most accurate when it comes to geotargeting, they require a bigger budget than what a smaller company would be willing to spend. Subfolders are the best option for a small business as they’re accurate enough when used with hreflang and localization while requiring fewer resources.

Who should you hire for professional website translation?

When looking to translate your website, you’ll have the option of hiring a freelancer or working with a large agency, with the ultimate goal of finding results that marry the fundamentals of SEO with proper and accurate translation.

On one hand, agencies may alleviate the project management burden when you’re dealing with extremely tight deadlines or a large number of languages.

On the other hand, freelancers are the best option if you’re looking for more direct communication, a long lasting working relationship, and a more hands on approach when it comes to SEO. Working with a professional translator enables you to directly give specific instructions that you want and train the translator to follow the optimization blueprint that yields the results that you want in the search engine pages.

Conclusion

Translating your website while adhering to proven and tested SEO basics can do wonders to your ranking in search engine result pages. Exploring this often-ignored facet can help double your search traffic and offers you an alternative approach that is cheaper and less saturated than the usual SEO methods and tactics.

 

Let’s Meet At The Pre-TGS IGDA Localization SIG Round Table!

On September 20th, the IGDA LocSIG will organize a video game localization round table in Shibuya. It will be followed by a networking party, which I’m sure will be as friendly as ever. Let’s meet if you’re around!

About the event

The IGDA Localization Special Interest Group (SIG) Roundtable is a gathering event for all people involved in game localization, from developers to publishers, professional translators (freelance and in-house people alike) and linguists.

From translation trends to audio, from localization technology to testing, it aims to cover a wide range of topics with a brisk pace and a friendly atmosphere.

At the end of the event, everyone is invited to attend the Tokyo Indies show on the same floor or to have dinner together in lovely Shibuya.

The plan for now is to have 3 talks by local localization experts. A survey will be run on our group to determine the exact topics.

You will find details and registration page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/496037934082751/

Place and time

The event will take place at:

FabCafe
道玄坂1-22-7 道玄坂ピア1F, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0043

From 6 to 7pm. Hope to see you there!

Game Localization Link Roundup – May-June 2017

A new era starts at the IGDA LocSIG with a new committee. I am delighted to be one of its members this time again, and I will be true to my statement by working toward new events for game localization experts and hopefuls alike.

It also means I will be handling the newsletter for a bit longer, so this series of link roundups should stay alive at least for that time! Here is my selection for the months of May and June.

Falcom President Comments on Licensing Ys VIII to NISA and How Localization is Handled

Undertale’s Japanese Localization Is Causing A Fan Frenzy – Another localization controversy, this time around the pronoun used by a character in Undertale’s official Japanese version. A little over the top, dare I say

Text Adventures: The Story of Visual Novels in America – Interesting insights from some of the companies taking the increasingly popular visual novels outside Japan

Persona 5 Gets A Small Change To Avoid Further Controversy In South Korea

Music and Localization: Fine-Tuning the Universal Language

Once Again, Overwatch Isn’t Very Good At Picking Kanji Characters – A little surprising to see another kanji issue with Overwatch, as they got laughed at pretty hard the previous time around

How to Localize your Software, App or Game : 7 Best Practices

Software and game localization best practicesSoftware, application and game developers often make a serious mistake when they approach localization by assuming it can be handled once the coding is done in native language.

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.

Localization Best Practices

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.).

Game Localization and Internationalization Checklist

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.

Game Localization and Internationalization Checklist

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.

[Guide] How to Become a Game Translator

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 to start your journey toward a career as a professional translator!

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.

What Studies?

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

Freelancing vs. Working In-House

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:

Freelancing

More freedom: as a freelance translator, 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

Working in-house…

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

Preparation

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.

Gaining Experience (Part I)

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 professional 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.

Gaining Experience (Part II)

The LocJAM:

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.

Note: The contest is on a bit of a standby at the moment, the IGDA LocSIG is working hard to come back with a new formula

Gaining Experience (Part III)

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. I also know several freelance translators who still work with companies where they used to be interns

Finding Work In-House

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. They’re also a great place to network with and learn from fellow professionals

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

Finding Work as a Freelancer

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

More on Networking…

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 translation portals 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. Websites like ProZ also allow you to discuss various topics with translator colleagues. It’s a great way to learn about best practices and business principles

Start acting now!

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!

Video Game Culturalization: Definition and Best Practices (IGDA LocSIG)

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:

  1. Reactive culturalization: Make the content viable; i.e., avoid disruptive issues to allow a game to remain in the target market.
  2. Localization & Internationalization: Make the content legible; i.e., perform “typical” localization to allow the game to be understood.
  3. Proactive culturalization: Make the content meaningful; i.e., adapt and provide locale-specific options to allow the game to be locally relevant.

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:

  1. History: Past and Present

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.

  1. Religion and Belief Systems

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.

  1. Ethnicity and Cultural Friction

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.

  1. Geopolitical Imaginations

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.

Gain awareness

  1. Attain a basic awareness: A key step is to attain a fundamental awareness of the potential for cultural issues; content creators and managers need to understand that cultural issues can occur and in which key markets and which key types of content. For example, most people are aware that China, India, Korea, and the Middle East can be sensitive markets. Also, many people know that certain types of content can become a real flashpoint for backlash, such as maps, flags and historical information.
  2. Ask questions: The goal isn’t to establish subject-matter expert proficiency, but to ask appropriate questions during development. For example, the game Kakuto Chojin (2002) contained a brief audio track with a chanted portion of the Islamic Qur’an, resulting in widespread backlash that eventually caused the product to be discontinued (note: this happened after an official protest from the Saudi Arabian government. Despite the problem being known at the time of the release, the developer assumed the issue wouldn’t be noticed. There have later been attempts to release an amended version of the game).
    Screenshot of Kakuto ChojinThis issue could have been avoided if someone had asked the question: “From where did these lyrics originate and what do they mean?” If something doesn’t seem quite right – even if the exact reason isn’t known – raise the issue immediately.
  3. Create accountability: In order for culturalization to be successful, it must be treated as a standard component of the development cycle. This means that responsibility for the process should be assigned to a specific person/team, often times the content coordinators and/or editors. Also, a new bug type “cultural” or “geopolitical” or whatever appropriate should be created in the bug tracking system to ensure the issues are flagged and resolved.

Identify issues

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:

  1. Context proximity: Stated simply, contextual proximity is the concept that the closer a content element approaches the original context in person, place, time and/or form, the greater the potential for cultural sensitivity. Developers should be looking for content that mimics real world locations, buildings, people, events, religions, nationalities, ethnicities and so on, and then evaluating the degree to which the content resembles its real world inspiration.
  2. Leverage external resources:
    a. Text references: Many reference works can be useful for basic research, such as cultural studies, country-specific guides, symbol dictionaries, encyclopedias of religions and deities, etc.
    b. Online research: Wikipedia, official government websites, non-government organization (NGO)
    websites, religious organizations, etc.
    c. Local opinions: Accessing the knowledge of people from a specific locale and/or culture can be particularly useful. If you work in a large multinational company, make use of the internal diversity of the company and ask your fellow employees for opinions. Alternatively, you can solicit opinions online in various forums (e.g., Yahoo Answers). This ad hoc opinion gathering may contain subjective viewpoints, but a large enough sample can reveal a clear pattern.
    d. Subject-matter experts: If the above forms of research do not yield clarity, seek out people in different fields such as history, cross-cultural studies or geography.

Assess severity

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.

  1. Triage the found issues: Separate the “overt offenses” – the obvious things that you know for certain will be a problem from the “reasonable risks” – the things that might raise some concerns but won’t likely prevent a game from staying in the intended locale.
  2. Document your choices: Every game publisher has a choice as to whether or not to change sensitive content. Most companies do but there are times when it may not make sense to make even a minor content change because the issue is borderline sensitive. In such cases, it’s critical to document the decision-making in a defensive explanation, in case it might be needed if a government or consumers raise the issue.

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:

  1. Be surgical: Make the most minimal change to the least amount of content. Only change what really must be changed in order to ensure distribution to the game’s target market. In the majority of cases with cultural issues, the resolution is a small, precise fix of a specific symbol, or word, or character design; it’s usually not a major issue such as the entire game’s premise (although this can occur).

Conclusion

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.

 

Anthony Teixeira

Anthony Teixeira - Professional English to French IT/Software/Video game translator
E-mail: contact@at-it-translator.com

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