[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!

Anthony Teixeira

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

Contact form - Freelance translation services
As a professional and experienced French translator and proofreader, I will help you with all your localization needs. My services cover various types of texts, from user manuals to software UI.

Quality, punctuality and professionalism are my values. Let's work together to ensure the success of your products and services in French-speaking markets.

Ask me for a free quote so we can get started right away, or send me your questions anytime: you will get a reply within a day in most cases.