Better Game Localization

Tips and ideas for making your game reach a global audience

Getting your game localized to fit your target markets is a great way of reaching a wider audience. Here are some ideas to make the process as smooth as possible.


• Get a good, English-speaking script writer
If the content needs to be translated into several languages, it’s a good idea to use English for your source material as pretty much all translators can handle this. If your source material is not in English, it may have to be translated to English first, and then into your target language. There is always a risk that misunderstandings may creep in during this process, so getting a good English-speaking script writer in from the beginning can help avoid these issues.

• Proof-read the script before sending it off for translation
The English script will be the source for all other translations, so it is essential that it has been thoroughly proof-read in advance. Proof-reading includes spelling and grammar checking, checking for term consistency, proper commenting, potential misunderstandings and jokes/idioms that won’t work in other languages.

• Use character/location/object/interface names consistently
Consistent term usage throughout the dialogue, on-screen text and the manual is very important. This ensures coherency, eases translation and helps avoid any misunderstandings.

• Language-specific jokes and references don’t translate well
Translating language-specific references is never easy, and this is particularly the case with puns, idioms, jokes and other references. So refrain from these if possible – or at least bear in mind that any joke, idiom or reference will have to work in all of your target languages.

• Check your lengths
If you have a maximum character length for a given line, let the translator know. While the line in your source language may not exceed the maximum length, the translated line potentially could, as some languages simply need more words to say the same thing. Also note if there is a maximum duration on dialogue lines.

• Formal or informal?
In some languages, the difference between formal and informal addressing or tone of voice can be huge. Your desired target style may not always be apparent from your source material, so let the translators or agency know what style you want.

• Who are “you”?
If an English text has a reference to “you”, it may not always be clear who is being addressed. Is it the player, a character in the game or a group of people/characters? This can have significant implications for the translation, so make sure you clarify this where needed.

• Remember: Source errors will be multiplied by the number of target languages
Any errors in the source script will be mirrored in all the languages your product needs to be localized in. So it’s definitely a good idea to ensure that the source material is as good as possible before sending it off for translation!

Helping The Translators

• The translators may not see the game
Remember that the translators may not get to see the actual game, so add as much information as possible about a given line (in a separate column) to help the translator better understand the line within its proper context. If possible, provide a beta build of the game so the translators can see the lines in the proper context.

• Provide guidance
As mentioned above, providing a beta build of the game can be help the translators understand the proper context of your material. If you cannot provide a beta build, provide object/character images and descriptions if possible. Screenshots can also be great for giving the translators a feel for the context.

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Keeping Your Costs Down

Here are a few ideas from our translators to keep your translation costs in check:

• Reuse terms and phrases
During the localization process, the translator will keep a database of translated phrases to give you a consistent translation. If you’re using the same term repeatedly, keeping the exact same wording whenever a given phrase is used means that it only has to be translated once – thus keeping the cost down. However, bear in mind that variations on a phrase can be desired in a voice acting context to avoid tiring the listener.

• Check your targets
Some parts of your source material may only be relevant to certain target markets. Your material is usually translated into all target languages unless specified, so remember to list any material that only needs translation into specific languages.

• Simplify your content
Another obvious way of keeping down your localization costs is to reduce the amount of content in your source material. See if you can shorten explanations, descriptions and dialogue, so you still get your message across, but in fewer words. Remember not to cut down your content too much, though, if it is to be recorded by voice actors – otherwise, you may end up making your dialogue sound stiff and lifeless.

• Reuse your content
You may be able to reuse certain parts of your content across both the manual, on-screen and for the dialogue. Review your source material to spot areas where this could be relevant.

Some tips on keep your voice recording costs as low as possible:

• Minimize the number of recording sessions needed
There is usually a start-up fee involved whenever a voice actor is brought in, so getting as much done in one session will ensure that your project stays within budget and on schedule. Ways of reducing the need for additional recording sessions can include making certain your source material is as good as possible from the get-go, providing guidelines where needed, using dummy voices, and compiling any needed changes into as few batches as possible.

• Use fewer voice actors
Voice actors are usually able to do a number of voices, so using the same voice actor for several different characters is another way of reducing your costs. Of course, it’s worth remembering that asking a voice actor to a large number of characters can affect the quality of the final product, so it’s not advised to go overboard on this one.

During Localization

• Submit changes in larger batches
If the source material is being continuously updated while translation is ongoing (not recommended, but unavoidable in some cases), submit any changes or updates to the source material in larger batches to keep translation costs down.

• For separate translation batches: Create a term list
If everything (onscreen, manual, dialogue, packaging) is not sent off for translation in one go, it’s a very good idea to keep a term list of commonly mentioned objects/places/terms. During the 1st translation run, the translator fills in the term list with their translations of the listed terms. This list can subsequently be used as a reference for the following translation runs. Doing this helps ensure term consistency in the translation.

Voice Acting Tips

• Use dummy-voices
Getting English dummy voices recorded can help you get an understanding of how your dialogue will work in the game. You can also use dummy voices to ensure that the proper expression is used for a given line of dialogue. Get these recorded before the voice actors are brought in – the approved dummy voices can then serve as a guideline when the voice actors will be recording their lines.

• Add direction
Some parts of your script may need to be read out in a certain way – ie. whispered, yelled, etc – or may call for a certain mood or tone of voice. This may not be immediately clear from your copy, so add a comment on the style needed for a given line to get the emphasis you’re after.

• Add exclamation lines to your script
To bring life to your game characters, it’s often a good idea to add a selection of exclamations for each character – even though you might not think you’ll need them at first.
Recording these extra lines don’t add much overhead – but if you later decide to add them in, it may be more expensive and time consuming if voice actors will have to be brought in again to record those additional lines.

• Staying in character
To ensure consistency across future titles, it’s a good idea to keep note of the voice actors you’re using for your current production. This ensures that character voices sound the same throughout your productions.

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