The video game industry is worth billions. Nowadays, more than fifty percent of the revenue generated by the industry comes from international markets.
Although most video games are developed in English and Japanese, the new global market requires that video game developers translate their products into many other languages.
Until recently, the need for professional video game translation and localisation was not recognized and incorporated into most video games’ international releases, which resulted in many memorable translation mistakes.
- “Conglaturation!!! You have completed a great game. And prooved the justice of our culture. Now go and rest our heroes! ” (Ghostbusters)
- “All your base are belong to us.” (Zero Wing)
- “A Winner Is You.“ (Pro Wrestling)
- “Congratulations. This story is a happy end.” (Ghosts N’ Goblins)
- “Being the wise and courageour knight that you are you feel strongth welling in your body.” (Ghosts N’ Goblins)
- “Destroy the mother brain the mechanical life vein.” (Metroid)
- “See your face upon the clean water. How dirty! Come! Wash your face!” (Final Fantasy I)
- “Somebody set up us the bomb.” (Zero Wing)
- “Do not be angry each other, love is the power supreme.” (Samurai Showdown 2)
- ”All creature will die.” (Samurai Showdown 2)
- “You invaders get you the hot bullets of shotgun to die” (Battle Rangers)
- “Take Joe to the exit while avoid spikes! While you are magnetised, the neighbour magnetic cells attract you!” (Magnetic Joe)
While the aforementioned examples only refer to bad translations of in-game text content, such poor translations are also a common practice in video game marketing campaigns.
“Death Trap is a horror action game that the terrifying graphics will make you enticed with surreal illusion.” (Death Trap marketing text)
Adapting a video game to different markets is a highly complex process, and translation and localisation service providers play an important role in it.
There are several components, called “assets,” that need to be translated and/or localised in a video game:
- the in-game texts (user interface);
- the audio assets (voice over, scripts for dubbing and subtitling);
- the art assets (graphic art that contains text);
- the printed materials (product description, user manuals, instructions, tutorials, packaging).
Challenges in video game translation and localisation process:
- In-game texts
Different languages use different characters, there are right-to-left and vertical-reading languages. Another issue is the length of words. The on-screen text in video games is usually subject to strict character restrictions (often the target language shall not exceed the length of the source language), because of the limited space on the screen.
Nowadays, video games are very interactive and contain many detailed menus and options for controlling game features, these characteristics pose further challenges.
- Audio assets
Dialog for dubbing consists of written scripts and sound files.
Dialog for subtitling consists of oral texts that have to be presented in a written form.
Usually video game dialogues are very complex and translators shall carefully study the game in full and be familiar with all game characters in order to be able to determine if the participants in a particular dialogue are men or women or a group of characters and accordingly use masculine, feminine, or plural equivalents in the target language.
Translators face further issues, such as reproducing the original dialogue in a written form, lip-synching, number of characters per subtitle, etc.
Dialogues and music, used in video games, shall be localised to reflect the target market culture in a way that the final player can identify with the game and enjoy the playing experience.
- Art assets
Video games contain multi-layered graphics.
Cultural adaptation in video games is unique because it goes beyond words and requires the modification of the graphics and DTP as well.
Video game source code contains many variables that allow players to build characters and strategies by choosing between many available options.
In most cases, the strings that need to be translated are just one or two words completely out of context. Translators have to be very careful which strings belong to the source code and shall remain untouched and which have to be translated, since even changing one letter in the source code might result in the video game not functioning properly or even crashing.
- Coordination challenge and best practice
The best practice is that video game developers work together with the translation and localisation service provider from the early stage of game development, as opposed to sending a video game for translation after it has been completely finalized.
Developers shall write the software with translation in mind. Translators can request modifications to game assets when they deem it necessary to better reflect and reach the targeted market.
A good practice is that during the development process, a glossary is created that includes all the terms that appear in the game (names, characteristics and attributes of characters, places, items, weapons, levels, scenes, buttons, game options, etc.).
The glossary shall be the first thing to be translated and localised. Once approved, the terms in the glossary shall be used in the translation of all materials related to the game.