Localization in social gaming is absolutely essential in today's global market. Even for the best social games, natural and native localization is imperative. The fact of the matter is that players who spend their time trying to decipher incorrectly translated text will leave the game, regardless of how good that game may well be. Therefore, the question is how do you localize a game properly?
My career in localization began while I was translating content for a small company. Then I taught high school economics for two years and I decided that it was high time to venture into a less stressful arena. Believe it or not, I ended up in game production!
I consider myself a person with strong linguistic abilities, since I'm fluent in English, Russian, German and Ukrainian. My work at Plarium began in 2011 as part of the localization team. I began as a game content editor and lead translator. I've been part of the team that oversaw the localization initiatives for 12 titles. The majority of our games at Plarium are translated into 7 unique languages, with the possibility of increasing that number as we expand into new markets.
I'd like to take a couple of minutes to identify various localization challenges for social game developers, and to give you insights into how we solve these challenges at Plarium.
It’s not difficult to find a competent company or freelance translator to provide localization services. There are scores of professionals providing cultural and linguistic consulting, translation services, proofreading and the like. The challenge is finding somebody to provide timely, cost-effective, professional and insightful work. Translation needs to be superbly crafted.
We put together our localization dream team in 2011. Along the way we stumbled. A conflict of interest arose between the translators and the proofreaders. Recognize that proofreaders are well versed in translation and creative writing; this sometimes led them to challenge the translator’s work, rather than merely to proofread their work. It may be that they are looking for translation work which is better paying.
Our Spanish localization process was riddled with problems between proofreaders and translators. We found a constant conflict of interest between both parties, as each thought that theirs was the best version. In truth, both versions were interchangeable and equally acceptable. The translated material would go back and forth multiple times, as the professionals tried to outdo one another. This resulted in us setting a standing policy regarding the interaction between translator and proofreader. Clearly defined roles and ground rules are absolute essentials in compiling translator/proofreader teams for seamless interaction.
Make sure you have an independent reviewer and/or proofreader. The person should be completely fluent in the target language and fully capable of proofreading the translated material to ensure that it is accurate. It's always good to have a second pair of eyes!
How do you define terrific localization? It is clear that context is important. But context in social gaming requires the translator to understand the intricacies of the game. You cannot possibly provide the context if you don't understand the mechanics of the game's universe. Sure you can find great translation without these specifics, but then the translation runs the risk of being boring, lacking style and pace. Even if you don't spot it, the players certainly will.
We began with Total Domination on Facebook with standard kits. It looked like it was working well; translators had screenshots, glossaries and descriptions to create good translations. Neither the proofreaders nor the translators thought that playing the game was a requirement. Then what happened was surprising: the translators started playing the game and they realized that the translations were inaccurate or simply not suited to the context of the game. The same was true of the proofreaders. Now, our long-term vendors love our browser strategy games and they've become hardcore players. Our proofreaders and translators help us to test out beta builds on a regular basis. This works out great for both of us!
Convince your translator to be a gamer, but don't rush them into it. It's good to study the game, even simple games, to understand the story. Explain things to the translator, as this will help him or her to understand precisely what you're trying to achieve. Things like character references, music samples, concept art, sound effects, storylines and timelines should be expanded with the localization kit. The best thing that can happen is for your translator to become a big fan of your game!