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Video Game Translation: The Dos & Don’ts 

Video game translation is difficult – so much so that even the likes of some of the world’s biggest publishers still run into major problems every now and then. Few developers and publishers can appreciate how challenging video game translation is until they have tried it for themselves and, almost certainly, ended up making some mistakes.

We have discussed the subject of gaming translation mistakes plenty of times over on the Jackpot Translation blog but, today, we take a different angle and focus on some of the most important dos and don’ts in video game translation.

Seven dos in video game translation

First, let’s start with the must-dos in video game translation and seven crucial steps publishers and other companies should carry out on every project. By following these for every title, publishers will be in a better position, in terms of avoiding the most common gaming translation mistakes:

  1. Working with professional gaming translators: Video game translation is a highly specialist field, so working with professional gaming translators is important – ideally, ones with experience in translating games similar to yours.
  2. Market research: choosing language audiences based on extensive market research is key to ensure you meet revenue targets in each market.
  3. Know your audience(s): extensive audience research needs to be carried out by publishers for each target market. This is to fully understand whom their game is targeting in each language and become aware of any important differences – e.g. age, demographics, expectations, cultural factors, etc.
  4. Providing as much context as possible: Translators need to be provided with as much contextual information about a game as possible, including the storyline and its characters so they are not simply working with a script.
  5. Planning ahead: Starting the translation process as early as possible – ideally, at the early conceptual stages of development.
  6. Design & develop for translation: With early planning sorted, designing and developing for a game should be done in a way that facilitates translation.
  7. Translation testing: the translated versions of a new game should always be tested internally and also with sample audiences to identify and fix any issues ahead of release.

The biggest mistake we have previously identified that game developers and publishers make with translation is falling short on the planning stage of a project. By planning ahead translation strategy, developers and publishers make informed design and development decisions that will make translation easier. For example, designing user interfaces to deal with text expansion.

Also Read: Why game localisation & game translation services are important

Seven don’ts in gaming translation

In the previous section, most of our must-dos revolve around proper planning and establishing a translation process that will get things right the first time. In this section, we look at seven must-nots with the focus on the most common mistakes we often see developers and publishers make with video game translation:

  1. Relying on machine translation: machine translation should not be considered as a standalone solution for gaming translation.
  2. Relying on fan translations: Likewise, depending on fans to translate games especially in important markets, is not a good option.
  3. Hiring just one translator: It is important to work with multiple translators for each target language so they can review and approve final translations.
  4. Working with non-gaming translators: Publishers and developers should always work with specialist video gaming translators with proven experience in the field.
  5. Leaving translation to the last minute: Translating a finished game is always more difficult (and expensive) than a game that is already designed and developed with translation in mind from the beginning.
  6. Cutting corners: for companies investing in game translation, we advise this is done properly. That is because any corners cut during the process will most likely show in the final result.
  7. Forgetting about localization: Translation is only one part of adapting video games for international audiences, so publishers need to ensure they have a complete localisation strategy in place.

Above all, leaving translation to the last minute or treating it as an afterthought is going to cause all kinds of problems. As mentioned in the previous section, the most effective translation process starts early on in the development stage so that publishers and developers can design and build their game(s) to seamlessly accommodate translation without having to rework any code or rethink other aspects of the game.

The next crucial step is to hire specialist gaming translation experts and never rely on machine translation or fansubs. As already mentioned, having multiple translators for each target language is highly recommended because it’s important to have a translation process that involves a solid editorial and review process.

Again, cutting corners is not going to help with video game translation and is something publishers and developers need to avoid.

Finally, translation is only one aspect of adapting a video game for foreign-speaking audiences and publishers should keep that in mind. Language files must be inserted into the game so they don’t interfere with the core files, allowing your developers to edit and add new languages without touching core game codes. In addition to this, interfaces need optimising for text expansion to avoid layouts breaking or inconsistencies between different languages.

The more technical elements of gaming translation are covered by a broader service called game localisation, which includes the optimisation of non-language elements (game code, UI design, language selection, etc.) and aspects where direct translation is not sufficient, such as making character names more relevant to specific audiences.

If you or your team is not familiar with the distinction between game translation and game localisation and you have any questions about the video game project you’re currently working on, get in touch with our gaming translation experts by calling us on +44 (0)20 7324 0950 or filling out our Quote Request form on this page.

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