Learning Languages with Video Games!

One of the first things I do when I start playing a game is to check the language options. I am genuinely curious how many languages developers/publishers chose to localize to, as well as which languages. (I also love testing my language skills by playing games in other languages, usually French, Spanish, or Swedish when available.)

It is usually difficult to find ample language options in games, particularly for voiceover.

Acquiring New Language Skills

Even though I haven’t studied Portuguese, I played WoW on a Portuguese server for a while and ended up picking up a fair number of words by questing with others. I typed to them in Spanish (using my rather limited Spanish language knowledge at the time), and they typed back in Portuguese. Although some words are similar, Spanish and Portuguese are very much two separate languages.

It actually didn’t take long before I was able to use some Portuguese words while playing WoW. It was a whole different way of experiencing the game, and a whole lot of fun!

How to Change the Language

It can be surprisingly tricky to find the language options for different games. In your Steam library, you may have to right click the game in your library and then select a language option, rather than being able to change the language in-game.

Even for consoles, it is possible (for some games) that you will need to turn your console’s language into the language you want to play the game in, as a select number of games don’t have a language menu option available. 

Before we move onto our list of games that are good to learn from, I want to take the time to cover UI/menus and why it can be complicated for even intermediate language learners to understand games that automatically change menu languages as well.

Complex vs. Simple Menus

Pillars of Eternity      vs.      Broken Age

In the majority of games, changing subtitle options also changes the menu text. This can make it particularly challenging to play a game in a language you aren’t already familiar with.

…And I don’t mean you’re familiar with words commonly used in modern day France or Germany

…I mean that, in order to understand most game menus, you need to understand genre and game-specific words.

This may include words like:

  • “Screen resolution,” “magic system,” “poison status,” “durability,” and “weapon repair kit”

…plus detailed descriptions of items, such as:

  • “Used for repairing steel and iron weapons”

  • “Increases relationship points with peasants and farmhands.”

This is a particular challenge in playing RPGs in other languages, especially in games where pop ups are frequent and in-game menus are extensive. It can be extremely challenging to navigate when you don’t have advanced language knowledge (or very specific vocab!).

Let’s dive into the list of games that are good to play in other languages!

5 Games to Increase Your Language Skills!

1. Broken Age

Double Fine

Subtitles: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian

Voiceovers: German

Good for the following skill levels: Intermediate and higher

What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • Dialogue selections don’t impact gameplay.

You have time to read each dialogue option carefully (if you wish), and after you select an option, the character repeats the selected option in English. It is an excellent way to test your language skills and learn new words!

Plus, dialogue selections don’t impact gameplay, so (as far as we’ve seen), you won’t unintentionally select an option you didn’t mean to choose.

  • Limited in-game UI.

Since the inventory menu is image-based in Broken Age, the only menu you might have to read is the option menu, with languages and the ability to save and exit the game. This requires relatively minimal language knowledge. As long as you know the word for “Subtitles,” you can easily navigate back to the English option and change any settings before continuing on with the game.

My experience playing Broken Age in other languages:

This is a game I now thoroughly enjoy playing in French because I am able to practice my comprehension and learn new vocab. Because the game has such limited UI, I am still able to enjoy the game without being a complete master in French.

I could see where it wouldn’t be as enjoyable to play with only basic knowledge of a language, but for increasing intermediate language skills, it’s a great learning tool!

Although German isn’t one of the languages I’ve studied, I gave the voiceovers a shot. If you wanted to level up your German language skills, the voiceover option is a fantastic way! You can change the voiceover and subtitle language separately, so you can have spoken German and German subtitles, English subtitles, or any other subtitle language option.


  2. Alan Wake

Remedy Entertainment 

Subtitles: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese (traditional), Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian

Voiceovers: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese

Good for the following skill levels: Intermediate and higher


What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • It is possible to enjoy Alan Wake with intermediate-advanced language skills.

Even if you play with voiceovers in another language, the storyline and dialogue is relatively easier to understand than in most other games with voiceovers.

It isn’t an overly complicated storyline to follow if you don’t understand a cutscene entirely, (and if you want to understand a cutscene more completely, you can look it up on YouTube to catch what you missed). As always, it helps if you have some familiarity with the storyline already (i.e. this is your second playthrough).

You’ll notice that further down in this list, I marked another game with voiceovers as more appropriate for advanced language learners – Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This is because Deus Ex has a lot more happening at once story-wise than Alan Wake (due to multiple storylines, background dialogue from NPCs, more intense reading comprehension, in addition to complicated UI/menus).

Have a different opinion about Alan Wake and Deus Ex in other languages? Leave a comment below, or tweet us @LAIGlobalGame!

What makes this game complicated to play in other languages?

  • As with many other games, all in-game instructions are in the target language.

You may have to double check key mappings if you aren’t familiar with how to play the game. Since it had been a while since I played Alan Wake, I had to look up what the key “maj” was in French. (It turns out “maj” is sometimes used for “Shift.”)

My experience playing Alan Wake in other languages:

This is a game I can see myself playing multiple times in different languages in languages where I have intermediate comprehension. My knowledge in Japanese isn’t high enough yet to enjoy the voiceovers with the subtitles (since the voiceovers and subtitles seem to be a package deal), but it is enjoyable to play in languages where I do have intermediate language knowledge.


3. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

The Chinese Room 

Subtitles: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese (Iberian and Brazilian), Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Polish, Russian

Voiceovers: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Russian

Good for the following skill levels: Intermediate and higher

If you think it’s rare to find games with voiceover language options, it’s extremely rare to find an indie game with voiceover options, and the voiceovers in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture are done extremely well!

I tweeted The Chinese Room about it, and they credited their publisher, Sony, with providing language options for players:

What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • You can change the voiceover and subtitle options separately, plus it uses an icon-based UI system!

I ended up trying voiceovers in French and subtitles in Swedish (German subtitles shown in the below image). What I didn’t catch in one language, I was able to pick up from the other. The UI is limited (and in-game posters, etc. are still in English), so you can understand the full game by changing either the voiceovers or subtitles to a different language and retaining the other in English. 

This is a game I could see myself going back to simply for the language learning value!


4. The Last of Us Remastered

Naughty Dog

Subtitles (European game version): French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Czech, Greek, Turkish

Voiceovers (European game version): French, Italian, German, Spanish

Good for the following skill levels: Any

 What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • You don’t need to be a language wizard to enjoy this game.

This is one of the only games I’ve seen so far where players can separately change subtitle language, menu language, AND voiceover language. Major props to Naughty Dog for allowing users to change each of these language options separately!

What makes this game complicated to play in other languages?

If you decide to play through the game with all text in the target language, it can be challenging to say the least.

There are a lot of letters scattered throughout the game, and they can be rather long and dense (filled with words beyond a regular language learner’s intermediate vocab), but if you’re willing to spend a little extra time, it is a rewarding game to play in another language. (You can always switch the text back to English if needed, although it does take some time to restart the game.)

Before playing The Last of Us with Swedish subtitles, I had no idea how to say words like “infected” or “explosive,” but even made up words like “clicker” (“clickare” in Swedish) were easy to follow. A lot of the new vocab you pick up in games isn’t necessarily the most useful for everyday life, but you certainly learn a lot of useful vocab along the way too.

Crafting can also be complicated to understand the first time you see it in another language. I don’t think language teachers are likely to teach students words like blade, binding, rag, or explosive. Fortunately, the text for the crafting system is rather limited (and includes icons), so it doesn’t take too long to pick up.

My experience playing The Last of Us in other languages:

Since it’s harder to find games that include Scandinavian languages (the majority of Scandinavians prefer to play games in English), I thoroughly enjoy the fact that Naughty Dog offers both Uncharted and The Last of Us in Swedish (at least, in European versions of the games).

I don’t have the most advanced knowledge of Swedish, but I was able to get the gist of most in-game letters on my second playthrough of The Last of Us. Some, I could even read in their entirety. There were some though, where the words baffled me.

I asked a Swede why the word “dagar” (days) became “dar” in one of the letters (“dar” was a word I’d never seen or heard before). It turns out some of the text uses shortened versions of words people use only when speaking, not writing.

It’s a little like how people bunch words together in English when speaking. Instead of distinctly saying each word, “What do you want?” it can become “Whaddya want?” (A dictionary is unlikely to have spoken slang or shorthand (i.e. “whaddya”), so it can be an extra challenge as a second language learner.)

I had a lot of fun playing through The Last of Us again with Swedish subtitles. As I mentioned, the UI can be a major hurdle, but if you’re patient with a dictionary, have a bilingual friend to play with, or can find the same text online in English, it can be a great way to pick up new pieces of a language fast!


Voiceover Options++

The following game will test your spoken language knowledge, as well as written. It can be rather difficult to find games that have a lot of voiceover options, as it is more common for games to have subtitle options only or limited voiceover options.

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Eidos Montréal

Subtitles: French, Italian, German, Spanish

Voiceovers: French, Italian, German, Spanish

Good for the following skill levels: Advanced

UI note: If you change the game into a language you don’t know and try to get back to the menu option to change, it can be challenging to say the least. There are a couple layers of menus you need to go through to find the language selection option.

What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • This game will really test your knowledge!

As far as I can tell, there is no way to separate voiceover language from subtitle language. If you change the game into Italian, your Italian should be at a pretty advanced level already in order to fully appreciate Deus Ex.

That being said, it is less common to find games with localized voiceovers in so many languages. If you played through Deux Ex at least once already (so you are familiar with the story and won’t miss anything!) and have an intermediate skill level in French, Italian, German, or Spanish, you can really up your language skills by playing through it again in one of these languages.

My experience playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution in other languages:

I haven’t played Deus Ex all the way through in another language yet, but this is one game I plan on returning to multiple times to boost my language skills!

Thanks for Reading!

We’re a nearly 25 year old game localization and publishing company here at LAI Global Game Services, and we are passionate about giving gamers the option to enjoy video games in their own languages.

With people now playing games all over the world, it is becoming more commonplace to offer games in a variety of languages, and we are glad to be a part of helping to make games more accessible to a global audience!

Have a different opinion about playing these games in other languages or have other games to recommend? Leave a comment below, or tweet us @LAIGlobalGame!

All language option information (subtitles and voiceovers) gathered Fall 2016. Broken Age, Alan Wake, and Deus Ex were tested using Steam. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and The Last of Us Remastered were tested using the European PlayStation console versions.

The Dangers of Over-Localization

Most game developers and publishers understand the importance of reaching gamers abroad by localizing game content.  Fortunately, this increased attention on game localization has opened gaming up to a broader audience, so that people around the world can experience games as if playing the original.  For the most part, game localization has vastly improved since its origins in the games of old, i.e. “I am Error.”  (View this article to learn about the current development trend of producing incomprehensible in-game text.)

If you follow gaming articles and forums, you’ll hear gamers lament about areas they perceive to be missed opportunities for localization in their favorite games, pinning down specific phrases that could have been translated differently or character names that do not directly match the original meaning.  While gamers continue to shine a spotlight on localized game content, developers and publishers work to achieve the level of quality gamers expect from localization.  Oddly enough, this spotlight has also led to a unique phenomenon in localization – the practice of over-localization.


While it is common to embed cultural content into games via game settings and themes, we are just starting to see other cultures emerge through games, primarily via the indie scene.  Mainstream games frequently utilize Japanese and American

Persona 4

culture, such as in the Persona series and Call of Duty, whereas indie games cover a broader range of cultures (i.e. from Ireland, Mictlán from Mexico).  Unfortunately, the widespread commercial success of games rooted in Japanese and American culture and the unproven commercial success of games with other cultures subsequently means that developers and publishers may not take on the ‘risk’ of embedding content from other cultures into their games.

What does this mean for gamers?  Ultimately, it means a largely homogenized pool of games with the same cultural elements we’ve experienced for decades.  In fact, games that start out with content from other cultures are heavily edited (or localized) down to exclude the very elements that make them unique, resulting in near-duplicates of games already dominating the market.  This practice has become known as over-localization.

Within our own game localization company, Language Automation., Inc. (LAI), our CEO came across opposites of this spectrum within five minutes of each other at an industry event.  The first developer had a game from Asia (to be localized into English) and said that under no circumstances was LAI allowed to “touch or modify in any significant way the culture that was created.”  The second developer was from Eastern Europe and afraid that local content would turn off potential players, so our CEO was instructed to entirely eliminate cultural elements from the original game.  That company was determined to play it safe and “make [the] game exactly like all the other games out there because [those] have been successful.”



While it makes business sense to help ensure a solid game release by avoiding risk, it also means that gamers are losing out on a larger library of unique games.  Over-localization, or the stripping away of cultural content from a game, goes a massive step beyond localization.  Whereas over-localization entirely changes the gameplay experience, localization is meant to immerse players into games by adapting linguistic and cultural elements so the game can be enjoyed as if it were the original.



To learn more about over-localization and localization in general, check out our newly released interview featuring – David Lakritz, CEO of game localization company Language Automation, Inc., and Michael Sundman, creator of Gaijin Goombah, a

LAIzer & Gaijin Goombah

webshow exploring cultural content in games.  (LAI’s CEO touches upon over-localization around the 41 minute mark.)  Enjoy!  Listen to the interview at this link.

Also, be sure to check back for LAI’s new podcast “LocaLAIse This!,” featuring exclusive interviews with experts on game localization, global game markets, and other aspects of language and culture within the industry.  In our first episode, we interview Ubisoft’s Localization Project Manager Margherita Seconnino about her experience overseeing the localization of Assassin’s Creed titles.  “LocaLAIse This!” will be available in the App Store this November.

Is Google Translate Causing Developers to Revert Back to Mistranslations from the Days of the NES and SNES?

You may think back upon games on the NES and SNES and remember – with amusement – the first time you came across mistranslations like “All your base are belong to us” and “I am Error.”   There are an extraordinary number of YouTube videos noting the lack of time and resources game studios used to devote to game translation.  Many a gamer has come across these mistranslations and likely said something to this effect, “What were they thinking?!” (to quote the Angry Video Game Nerd).

While established game developers and publishers now dedicate the time and resources necessary to solid translation, tools like Google Translate have given rise to a new sector of poorly translated games – games from indie developers looking for the “quick-fix” solution to global game markets.  I’ve written blog posts on this topic before, and I’ll likely write on it again, as I continue to encounter increasingly larger numbers of game studios using tools like Google Translate at incredibly high rates, at significant risk of actually driving gamers in global markets from playing their games.  By using translation tools at excessive rates (and more as a translation program than a mere tool), game studios could likely end up in a new series of YouTube videos by gamers who find your translation just as amusing as English translations of the NES/SNES days – “Conglaturation!!!  You have completed a great game.  And prooved the justice of our culture.”


Given that over 50% of worldwide game revenue comes from markets outside the United States, it is crucial for mobile game developers not only to make their games accessible on multiple platforms but also to gamers of different linguistic markets.  Would you take your Unity code that you developed for your iPhone game, simply use it to build an Android version, and release it – as is – for the Android market?  No!  Of course not!  With the varying interfaces, input methods, and other capability differences between Android models, it is essential to test for bugs and correct them, adapting your game to various Android devices.  The same is true with releasing your games for foreign markets.  If you don’t take the time to adapt your game to other audiences, you run the risk of your game simply not working within those markets.


We’ve all heard stories across brands, industries, and product lines in which cultural and linguistic considerations were not taken into account, and what generally happens as a result?  Entire product lines are recalled, at great expense to the company.  Imagine the money these companies could have saved by simply asking a native speaker to review their marketing materials and products.  Even images that non-native speakers might not consider to check are subject to costly errors within a given target market.  Ever hear about Nike’s product recall in 1996, forcing the company the recall 800,000 shoes due to the “Air” logo resembling the Arabic script for “Allah?”  Do you really want your game studio to make headlines by outraging an entire community of gamers?  I’m guessing a lawsuit is at the very bottom of purchases you’d like to make.


The American Marketing Association (AMA) conducted a study regarding product recall and found that consumers “[tend] to be more understanding if the company initiating the recall had never done so before or if it was well-liked.”  Unfortunately, smaller game studios just finding their place in the international market are more likely to use Google Translate as a cheap translation solution rather than a tool.  These are the same companies that likely have not had the time and resources to build up their brand’s reputation on a global scale and will be severely impacted by a localization blunder.  By taking such shortcuts, you have a better chance of negatively impacting your company’s image as opposed to enhancing it.  This quote from an article about reputation and brand image sums up the damage that can result, “Building your brand’s reputation takes years.  But it can be destroyed overnight with a product recall.”


Aside from the fact that there is a strong likelihood developers will damage their brand by relying too heavily on Google Translate, here’s the real kicker – By running your game’s strings through Google Translate, you are actually granting permission to third parties to permanently retain and use your original text.  For this reason, a number of translation companies legally prohibit employees from running any source material through Google Translate and similar tools.  You wouldn’t want to make your game text liable for being recycled by another developer, now would you?


It typically costs less to do something right the first time than spend the time and resources redoing it, and in the case of adapting games for foreign markets, the associated cost of recovering from significant localization blunders can come at an incredibly high price.  Game studios that overutilize translation tools and don’t allot the attention necessary for localization are likely to damage their games and brand reputation within foreign markets.  The financial implications of overutilizing these tools are significant, as these markets are key to attaining over half of the potential revenue for any given game.  Google Translate is a great tool, but it is just that, a tool.  Asking a native speaker to translate or (at the very least) review your game in the target language can rescue your game from becoming a wildfire YouTube share for mistranslations on par with “A winner is you!”

The Top 5 Myths & Facts about Video Game Translation & Localization: What Every Game Developer Needs to Know (Part 4 of 5)

Fact: Over 50% of worldwide video game revenue comes from markets outside the US.


Despite the importance of making games available in a variety of languages for gamers across global markets, translation and localization is still a source of confusion for many developers.  Due to the number of easily-avoided issues encountered by game translation and localization companies on a regular basis, we realized the value to the entire development community to dispel common myths regarding the localization process, thereby perpetuating a network of informed developers to ultimately enhance decisions regarding game translation, producing a global library of games with quality localization.


Part 1 taught you that switching localization vendors can have a negative impact on your company’s financial statement.  Part 2 revealed the quality issues that distinguish one vendor from another, and part 3 showed you how to avoid paying threefold unnecessarily by effectively using prior work.  In this post, we cover one of the most common mistakes made in video game translation and discuss how it, too, can have a significant impact on the quality of your game.  Be sure to check back this Friday, November 16th, for Myth #5.



Myth #4: My friend/relative/significant other/guy down the street speaks (insert language), I’ll just have him/her translate my game.

Good plan, in theory.  However, there is a reason translators spend years earning their qualifications, despite their fluency in more than one language.  Due to the long hours spent training, preparing for their future careers, there is a significant difference in the quality of translation between a professional translator and a bilingual off the street.


If you were developing a massive RPG, you probably wouldn’t want novice writers creating the multiple, overarching storylines that define your game’s genre.  You would want established writers who have a deep understanding of the intertwined web of fully-constructed characters, their complex relationships with one another and the rest of the world, plus the development of an incredibly intricate society, complete with new races and relevant languages, backstories for all aspects of the civilization (including origin) and the creation of different cultures, among a host of other complex components.  There is a layer of depth that will likely be lacking in the hands of someone who has not spent years training and practicing their creative writing abilities under the supervision of highly experienced and studied mentors and, besides that, has no professional writing experience of which to speak.  Just as a RPG with the depth of Skyrim cannot hope to achieve a similar immersive experience by writers with little to no experience writing on a similar scale, quality translations cannot be wished into existence by bilinguals who may not have a clear understanding of translation, creative writing, and/or game terminology.  You wouldn’t want your original text to be written by someone without a thorough understanding of creative writing and video games, so why would your thought-process change when it comes to the translation of your game?


Professional translators have a thorough understanding of the intricacies of languages and what makes a quality translation.  Translations cannot be sufficiently handled by machines because translation is not a straightforward process and there are multiple ways to translate even seemingly simple words.  There are subtleties in meaning, idioms and words without direct equivalents, and the reinvention of character names, equipment, places, items, etc. that make game translation incredibly complex.  While an unstudied translator may be able to handle certain pieces of your game, you don’t want to compromise the overall quality of your game by entrusting its complete iteration into another language to a novice translator.  Remember – your game and company brand are at stake, and gamers know what they want when it comes to quality.


One of the worst mistakes people make is believing that someone with less than native proficiency in the target language is fit to localize their game.  It is a common misconception that a couple semesters of a foreign language or a couple summers abroad qualifies someone to translate a game.  If you’re lucky, a couple summers abroad might set you at the proficiency level of a 3-5 year old, but would you let a 3-5 year old translate your game or even write the original text for your game?  How long did it take you to achieve an adult-level of proficiency in your own native language?


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in English alone there are roughly over 170,000 words, 9,500+/- derivative words plus 47,000+ obsolete words.  A BBC article estimates that most people know about 50,000 words, and educated individuals may know about 75,000…but how many of these words do people use in everyday speech?  Certainly not all of them!  There are bound to be significant knowledge gaps among people who are still working toward fluency in a language, resulting in lack of quality options for the translation of words and phrases.  There are specific groups of vocab that new speakers of a language may not even be exposed to, such as situation-specific words (describing tools, house repairs, and plumbing emergencies; explaining philosophy and ancient cultures; telling a doctor how you injured yourself, relevant allergies and family medical history).  And, unless your pal is an avid video game player, comic reader, or has managed to expose him/herself to genre specific vocab through consumption of relevant books, movies, and games, it is highly unlikely (s)he will know the words central to the theme of your game – words pertaining to sci-fi, fantasy, MMO’s, etc.


While your friend/neighbor/etc. may be the most intelligent person you know, that doesn’t mean they have reached a level of proficiency that qualifies them to make difficult translation calls or understand cultural nuances pertinent to quality translation.  For example, in a number of cultures, it is common to call boyfriends and girlfriends “husbands” and “wives” if the couple is acting as husband and wife (aka living together).  Someone without that cultural knowledge may translate boyfriend literally as boyfriend as opposed to husband, contextually changing the nature of the couple’s relationships.


In addition, even though someone can easily converse with natives does not mean they can write like natives.  There are different proficiency levels in speaking, writing, and listening that can vary drastically for individuals in a given language.  If the individual lacks writing skills to begin with, they are likely to face equal or greater difficulty writing eloquently in another language.  While you may very well trust your friend to help you close a business deal with a foreigner, it may be a very different story when it comes to writing a follow up e-mail.  Some people learn how to speak a foreign language without ever learning how to read or write, others may have trouble with grammar, spelling, and punctuation in general that would make written interactions disastrous.  After all, do you really want your video game text to be akin to the incomprehensible spam comments you receive on your blog?


The breadth of vocabulary and grammatical knowledge necessary for translation would be lacking in those who are less than native in the target language, and natives can definitely tell the difference.  After all, would you honestly translate a game with your high school French or Japanese?  It’s like taking a high school level biology course and then applying for a job as a scientific writer – while the fundamental knowledge may be there, a high school bio course does not qualify someone to speak, or write, at a level equivalent to scientists with years of experience in the field.


Even bilinguals will not have the skills of a professional translator and will quite possibly not have the writing abilities or gaming knowledge pertinent to quality translation of your game.  The experts have a thorough understanding of all of the components important to video game translation and localization – be sure to stick with a qualified professional.



Don’t make the same mistakes commonly made by game developers and publishers.  Read the rest of our “Top 5 Myth” series to ensure you don’t fall into the same pit traps as others, and be sure to read our final game translation myth this Friday (Nov. 16th).  Here’s a preview:


Myth #5: Everyone in the gaming world speaks English, so it’s a waste of money to professionally translate my game.  If nothing else, I’ll run it through Google Translate for other languages.  That’ll be good enough.

  • Low quality translation treatments will certainly generate buzz about your brand – thousands of YouTube videos will be made and your game will get made fun of.  Google Translate doesn’t make for an immersive experience, but it can provide hours of entertainment in other ways.
  • As for English speakers of the gaming world – not even the US, UK, and Australia can boast 100% English-speaking populations, and even in countries with high English proficiency rankings, children are likely to have a much lower level of proficiency.  Besides that, children and adults alike are not likely to understand the cultural elements that have a significant impact on immersion into a game, elements that are remedied through quality localization efforts.

The Top 5 Myths & Facts about Video Game Translation & Localization: What Every Game Developer Needs to Know (Part 3 of 5)

Fact: Over 50% of worldwide video game revenue comes from markets outside the US.


Despite the importance of making games available in a variety of languages for gamers across global markets, translation and localization is still a source of confusion for many developers.  Due to the number of easily-avoided issues encountered by game translation and localization companies on a regular basis, we realized the value to the entire development community to dispel common myths regarding the localization process, thereby perpetuating a network of informed developers to ultimately enhance decisions regarding game translation, producing a global library of games with quality localization.


In part 1, you learned how switching localization vendors can have a negative impact on your company’s financial statement, and in part 2, we discussed the core quality issues that set one vendor apart from another.  Thus far in our “Top 5 Myths & Facts” series, we have covered

-          Myth 1: A translation is a translation is a translation – In the long run, cheaper is better for my company’s bottom line, so I should always be searching for vendor alternatives.

-          Myth 2: Translation vendors are all built the same.  There’s no difference in one agency versus another.

This brings us to Myth #3:


Myth #3: Prior localization efforts are unnecessary to current translators of my games.

Would you want a surgeon operating on you without any knowledge of your medical history – past surgeries and illnesses, allergies, patterns of disease within your family?  While localizing a game certainly isn’t life-threatening, that doesn’t mean past localizations don’t have a place in current projects.  You don’t want to send translators in blind.


You know that dropdown “synonym” button in Microsoft Word?  Think of multiple games in a series, each using different translators without access to prior translation work directly relevant to the current game (a terminology database for the game series).  Now imagine the series is sci-fi, and each frequently used keyword has multiple options for translation.  Just like receiving roughly 5-10 different possibilities in that dropdown “synonym” tool, each translator is subject to using a different word for each new game in the series or even within the same game!  There may very well be no consistency in words like warp speed, cyborg, and lightyear.  That may not be a huge deal between games in the same series (although it would be odd for one game to consistently use the word “cyborg” and for the next to refer to those same cyborgs as “robotic humans,” no matter how accurate the two translations may be).  However, some game companies won’t hesitate to change translation companies midway through a project.  Since these are frequently the same organizations that don’t see the need to provide the translation work completed for the 1st half of the game, the second translator is lost in an ocean of “what ifs”…What if the quality of the 1st translation agency was subpar and the 1st translator didn’t understand science fiction, instead translating warp speed as light speed?  What if the 1st translator continuously referred to the Empire as the Galactic Empire, leaving the 2nd half of the game subject to inconsistencies?


The really tricky part is the translations of essential character names, equipment, and places.  These items pertinent to the game and overall gameplay are often difficult to duplicate without knowing the prior translation, particularly for names and places invented specifically for the game series.  There is no frame of reference for these names, so it is impossible for future translators to know whether to translate by sound, meaning, etc.  The world of video games is such a creative space and sometimes, so too are the translations.  In our recent post regarding the intricacies of game translation, we discuss the translation challenges unique to video games, including the pairing down of translations to fit UI space.  UI considerations and other aspects unique to video games must be balanced with the creative translation puzzles faced by game translators.  For example, in addition to developing an entirely new word for a weapon eloquently conveyed in Kanji through wordplay, translators must balance screen space with the translation of 4 separate Japanese characters into a concise equivalent, while maintaining a large part of the meaning expressed in the original text.  Therefore, it is nearly impossible for two game translators to develop the exact same translation for the “who,” “where,” and “what” of games – characters, settings, and items.


How do you think players would react if some Final Fantasy games had moogles and others had an alternative translation, like moogrels, for example?  The Twitter feed and Facebook pages would be flooded with gamers angry over lack of consistency between games in the same series.  What if two different translators had handled Star Wars and had no access to the other translator’s work?  In half of the movie, Darth Vader may have ended up as Lord Vader.  While a couple instances of Lord Vader would be acceptable to fans, there would have been a big problem if he was Darth Vader for the first half of the movie and Lord Vader for the second half.


Since localization is such a complex process with many decisions made by individuals outside of your control, how can you make sure that you end up with satisfactory results?  A: Linguistic QA testing.  It is only through linguistic QA testing that all of the elements and decisions made during localization can be seen in-context to make sure they are the choices most appropriate for your game.  Of course, experienced game localizers make those decisions all the time, but they’re handicapped because they’re working out of context – typically from an Excel spreadsheet whose layout of in-game dialogue may not even match the flow as experienced by a real gamer.  Do you really want the millions of gamers who purchase your game to be the first to actually see your localized game?  It would be like skipping normal QA testing during the development process and shipping a game merely on the basis of having built the executable without actually playing the game.  (Check out the upcoming interview on our YouTube channel with Language Automation, Inc.’s CEO speaking about these aspects of the game localization process.)


By not providing future translators with previous translation efforts, you are not only squandering the money and time spent on the previous translation, but you are ultimately reducing the overall quality of your game.  It takes time for translators to develop quality translations, and you are paying for their time and the output of their time – a database of terminology used on the project in addition to the game translation.  The problem with denying future translators access to those terminology records is that you are not only comprising the quality of your game through inconsistencies, but you are also requiring translators to redo work that has already been done.  Thus, you are paying threefold unnecessarily – for the time of the original translation plus the 2nd translator’s new translation of terminology used throughout a game/game series; for the output of the two individuals’ translations; and for the inflated workload of the QA tester.  If you don’t have a linguistic QA tester ensuring the consistency of terminology throughout the game(s), you are also costing your company PR dollars and quite possibly diminishing your customer base due to a perception of a low quality product.


Do yourself, your translators, your brand, and your consumers a HUGE favor, and absolutely ensure terminology databases make it to relevant translators.  It will make a significant impact on your financial statement and will save a huge headache for future translators and QA testers.



Here’s a sneak peek at next week’s topic (watch for it Tuesday, November 13th):


Myth #4: My friend/relative/significant other/guy down the street speaks (insert language), I’ll just have him/her translate my game.

  • Your game and company brand are at stake, and gamers know what they want when it comes to quality.  Don’t repeat the fatal mistakes made by other game developers!

The Top 5 Myths & Facts about Video Game Translation & Localization: What Every Game Developer Needs to Know (Part 1 of 5)

Fact: Over 50% of worldwide video game revenue comes from markets outside the US.


Despite the importance of making games available in a variety of languages for gamers across global markets, translation and localization is still a source of confusion for many game developers and publishers.  Due to the number of easily-avoided issues encountered by game translation and localization companies on a regular basis, we realized the value to the entire development community to dispel common myths regarding the localization process, thereby perpetuating a network of informed developers to ultimately enhance decisions regarding game translation, producing a global library of games with quality localization.



LAI – Obliterating Translation Errors for Nearly 20 Years.

Our pumpkin features Cats of Zero Wing atop an Angry Birds scene, and his quote infamous to game translation, “All your base are belong to us.”  He’s on top of the tower of Angry Birds enemies because he represents the worst scenario in game translation – gamers have spent the last 20+ years quoting Cats when making a point about how little emphasis was placed on video game translation in the past.  It is Language Automation, Inc.’s mission to capsize these poor translation efforts, and we use our blog posts to aid this process through educating developers and publishers about video game translation and localization.


Myth #1: A translation is a translation is a translation – In the long run, cheaper is better for my company’s bottom line, so I should always be searching for vendor alternatives.

As tempting as it might be to constantly hunt for cheaper translation and localization vendors, not only does the search waste valuable company time and resources but transferring your localization projects could ultimately have a negative impact on quality.  Over time, translators build a deeper understanding of your games and your organization’s needs – commonly used words, company mission, cost vs. quality considerations – all of the factors most important to producing a localization aligned with your company’s global vision.


As you spend more time working with a translator, you develop a certain knowledge base that is not immediately transferrable to other translators.  It’s like playing the original NES Mega Man – no save capabilities, no password system… no magical way of skipping forward to avoid repeating hours of work.  Your translators spend valuable time learning the unique aspects of your studio that sets your games apart from others on the market.  Details that you might not consider of primary importance to your game’s translation team (such as your company’s overall vision) are components that specialized game localization companies put at the forefront of your localization projects to ensure consistency with your business strategy.


When switching translation vendors, you are actually squandering company resources.  Think of all the statistics out there about the expense associated with signing new customers.  Some specialists believe it’s 5 times as expensive, some 7.  You should apply a similar financial loss estimate when switching localization vendors due to the time spent learning (and in the case of your new vendor, relearning) the specifications of your unique business needs, and that is a significant chunk of money from your pool of game production capital.  This learning and relearning by multiple translators equates to valuable company dollars and sunk cost for your company.  At the very least, before switching to another translation company, you should ask for the list of terminology developed by translators specifically for your game.  These files legally belong to your company and are directly relevant to current and future iterations of your games.  (See part 3 of our upcoming blog post for more information.)


Decision-makers within your organization are looking to cut costs in order to better serve financial considerations.  There is a reason game developer and publisher industry leaders (such as Sony and Ubisoft) repeatedly do business with us and why we choose to remain a boutique company dedicated solely to the video game industry.  When you work with a highly specialized game translation company like Language Automation, Inc., you receive closely tailored services by an organization who understands the specifications and key considerations of the game development community.  We have proven solutions for the common issues most relevant to game developers due to our longstanding and vested interest in the industry:


Due to our deep understanding of the cost versus quality battleground and relevant tradeoffs, we work with companies to accommodate these shifting needs.  Unlike vendors focused on providing translations across a wide range of fields (legal, medical, literary, website, etc., ultimately thinning corporate resources for deeper reach into specialized industries such as game development), our game localization services are expansive and are designed to grow with the needs of your company.  If low cost is your priority, we provide a more economical approach to work within your budget.  On the other hand, if schedule is your priority, we developed proven solutions to ensure your needs are met.  We give you complete freedom to achieve your goals according to your specifications.


Is there ever a time to change vendors?  Certainly – but switch vendors only if your current vendor doesn’t satisfy your needs or understand the growth path of your organization.  As you’ll read in the next section, not all translation vendors are built the same.  As such, there could very well be another organization better suited to your needs.  If you are unhappy with the quality of your vendor’s translations, encounter communication issues with the translation team, or find that the company simply can’t cater to the business goals and strategies of your company, open the lines of communication.  Talk to your vendor and discuss relevant issues.  Quality problems are frequently due to poor communication or lack of in-game testing (an essential part of the complete localization process, and a component we’ll cover in a future blog post).  These problems are usually easily resolved with a phone call or meeting.  The key to remember is that translation vendors are on your side and want you to be successful.  However, if you’re looking to switch translation vendors due to a minor or even moderate difference in price per word, it’s likely you won’t save your company anything by jumping ship.  You could even be costing your company in ways that may not be immediately transparent on your financial statement.  Check back on our blog Nov. 6th for part 2 in order to gain a better understanding of these nuances and learn which kind of translation company best fits in with your organization.


Here’s a snapshot at next week’s blog post:

Myth #2: Translation vendors are all built the same.  There’s no difference in one agency versus another.

  • Without a broad understanding of the quality issues you may encounter with some translation vendors, you are risking financial loss due to consumer drop off.