Game localization is one of these disciplines that generally get noticed by media and gamers only when things go wrong. A quick online search will return tons of examples of bad game translations, sometimes hilarious. However, you will have trouble if you’re trying to find examples of outstanding works.
Game translators are the unsung heroes of localization, and it is in the best interest of the industry to work toward solutions that will reward the best of us.
A few existing initiatives
Although we love to complain about the lack of publicity we get when we do a great job, there are actually a few awards for outstanding localization works. The Atrae’s (Spanish Association for Audiovisual Translation and Adaptation) awards for the teams in charge of translating Far Cry 4 and Inazuma Eleven Go into Spanish are good examples.
How could we organize awards and who should be allowed to vote?
The LocJAM organizers will tell you better than anybody else, it takes an incredible amount of time and efforts to organize a contest covering several languages.
It would probably be too ambitions to start awarding translations for more than a few languages to begin with. Instead, the ideal solution is to concentrate efforts on a few languages to gather a strong jury and ensure a smooth and reactive organization.
EFIGS (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish) and Japanese are the most common target languages for game localization and could be a good base. Portuguese, Dutch, Russian, Arabic and others could be considered later down the road. In general, the LocJAM model could be a good fit for the development of such awards.
The question of jurors is also important. Opening the awards to just anybody would turn the thing into a popularity contest, which is obviously not the goal here.
Media specialized in video games (magazines, websites, etc.) are of course a good place to start with. Professionals who play all sorts of games all year long and with proper writing skills. Asking more general media that offer a game column could be a great way to have more votes and to put the awards in front of more eyes – which is the goal in the first place. And let’s not forget about relevant associations, such as the Atrae mentioned above.
As for the voting itself, some questions will need to be discussed with all parties. Can any game be nominated? Could several games be nominated? A few headaches ahead!
The limits of game localization awards
Before going too far into things, let’s try to keep in mind some critics such an initiative may face:
-The influence of game quality: To be absolutely honest, when I try to think of some games I thought were extremely well localized, only major titles come up. There are probably lots of mediocre games that were translated exceptionally well, but we naturally tend to remember the games we enjoyed. Putting these considerations aside would be one of the biggest challenges for the jurors.
-The influence of source text quality: The source material plays a vital role. Sure, the greatest translators can make a target text even better than the source. But if the original game is full of boring descriptions, meaningless dialogs and all-so-common characters, the translator’s margin of improvement will be limited.
Unfortunately, there is not much we can do here. Contenders would most likely be games well written in the first place. All we can do is use the fact as an opportunity to celebrate both exceptional localization teams and game writers. The skeptics will point out that having your name in the credits would be a good first step. I remember of a game I proofread this year, the credits had an impressive 5,000+ name list, including the pets of the developers (not even kidding), but absolutely no mention was made of the localization team.