Video game localization requires a group of talented people who can wear many hats. A typical team consists of the following specializations:
- Translators convert linguistic elements — not only in-game elements, but also documentation like glossaries and style guides. They often work with a team that includes a lead translator, editors and reviewers, who check their work.
- Artists adapt visual elements to a target age rating or culture, perhaps by adding clothes to characters, or by changing a wedding scene from a white dress to red and yellow for the Chinese market [source: Skoog].
- Voice actors record dialogue, narrative or sounds.
- Quality assurance (QA) subgroups perform functional and language testing to avoid bugs or other problems.
- Project managers/localization coordinators oversee processes, timelines, budgets, etc., for every step of localization. They also act as a bridge and point of contact with the game developer.
- Marketers consider whether existing promotional campaigns will work or if new regions call for fresh approaches.
Some companies prefer to handle one or more of these areas in-house and contract with a localization company to do the rest.
"Reworking and rewrites take time and cost money, so having a localization professional on staff is incredibly beneficial," Deming said.
As with any creative enterprise, roles overlap. The translator, reviewer or editor might adjust a string for length or ensure it retains its intended meaning and original purpose. If someone has expertise in a particular subject, such as sports, that can come into play as well [source: Skoog]. And so it goes, through multiple passes until the product is good enough — or, presumably, until time and money run out.
Today, hundreds of translation houses compete worldwide, and no single company dominates — although some, such as Keywords International, maintain offices in several countries [source: Deming, Mangiron]. Skoog said she worries that a growing glut of localization companies is driving rates down to unrealistic levels. This "race to the bottom" distorts how developers perceive costs — and causes quality to slide.
"It is easy to quantify cost, but it is not as straightforward to judge quality, especially if a developer doesn't speak one of the target languages and doesn't understand the quality impact an extra cost — such as linguistic QA — has," she explained.
It's a vital distinction. Poor quality can ruin a game's ROI in a region, which can lead game producers to assume that the game is a poor match, rather than seeing that the problem really stems from the bargain-basement quality of the work.
"Game companies are aware that localization is necessary to be successful globally and to maximize their return of investment, but I do not think all of them view it as a priority; for some of them it is more like a necessary evil," Mangiron said.