Localization 101

Localize your game into different languages with these helpful tips.

One of the easiest ways to increase the reach and international appeal of a game is to have it localized. Not only does doing so remove the language barrier to entry, it also serves as a message to the players of those regions that the developers remember and care about them, providing for more open communication across languages and countries. Truly, in this unprecedented era of services and communication, a studio’s only requirement to get started with localization is for them to contact a company that offers localization services, and their representatives will walk you through the whole process. To be better prepared for this process, however, I will list out each step in the process and their requirements.

1. Choose and Prioritize Regions

The first step in the localization process is to decide which regions you are planning to target for the game and determining where your priorities will be. Even when working within a specific language, there can be significant differences in grammar, sentence structure, and idioms between regions, and the developer must decide which translation(s) they will prioritize and how many they will support. Some common dichotomies are American and British English, French and Canadian French, Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish and Latin American Spanish, and the list extends far beyond this small handful of examples.

2. Create a “Loc Kit”

Developers will often use Word documents to write out the dialogue and text of a game in a manner reminiscent of novels and other forms of literature. While doing so is generally fine for the initial writing process, it will quickly become a nightmare once localization begins. What the developer needs to do is create a Loc Kit: an Excel file with every string (i.e. self-contained unit of text, like a sentence or an item description) associated with a string key (i.e. a number used to reference that string) listed in a column beside the other intended languages. This Loc Kit must include every string that needs translation in the game: item text, dialogue, UI, error messages, everything. I’ve provided a very basic example of the format below:

Key English (American) French (Canadian) Italian
1247 Start Game
13865 The lobby you are trying to join no longer exists

3. Contact a Translation Team

Once you have a Loc Kit and a set of targeted languages, it’s time to contact a Translation Team that offers those services. When initially contacting them, provide them with the following:

  • The set of languages you want for translation
  • The overall word count and string count
  • A proposed timeline for when you’d be providing the Loc Kit
  • A request for an estimate on how long the translations will take given the above information
  • A request to provide a cost estimate for this project as well as their fact sheet if you don’t already have it.

If both parties agree to the scope and cost, the next step is to:

  • Provide the Loc Kit
  • Provide a set of Character Bios for anyone getting dialogue translated so the translation team can give each character a better ‘voice,’ which might affect word choice, using idiomatic language, polite vs casual tone of speech, and/or expressing character relationships correctly for things like seniority. All of these things and more make the difference between a great localization and a poor one.

4. Integrate the Updated Loc Kit into the Game

After receiving the completed translations for the game, double check the Loc Kit to make sure the document is in the right format and that the translation team entered all of their information correctly before implementing it in-game.

5. Contact LQA (Localization Quality Assurance)

After the Loc Kit has been implemented in-game, it will likely create a whole host of unanticipated issues, such as unsupported characters, unhandled string references, incorrect string references, string length causing text to display off-screen or out of bounds, and so forth. To catch all of these issues and any contextual mistakes made during the translation process, the best next step is to find a company that offers LQA. When contacting them, provide the following information:

  • Supported languages
  • Approximate word count
  • Approximate playthrough time
  • Important gameplay features (e.g. multiplayer)
  • Proposed start date for the LQA pass
  • A request for a quote (i.e. cost estimate)

I would suggest scheduling at least 2 LQA passes: the first for finding any existing issues, and the second to confirm that all issues are fixed and the game is ready for launch from a localization standpoint.

While there are a great deal of other potential problems and pitfalls a developer might encounter during the localization process, this article covers the basic translation processes involved in getting a game ready for another region. Good luck!

Kosmas Ulysses Stocking is an Associate Producer and the former QA Lead at Modus Games with interests in game design and ludology. He is also the proud recipient of a fortune cookie stating “You are careful and systematic.”

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