What is… localization?

What exactly is localization and what work does it involve? Robert from the localization team was kind enough to answer these questions and more in an interview.

Q: Hi Robert. What does localization really involve? What do you get up to every day?

A: It’s actually quite a broad field but let me try and give you an idea of what it’s about: At its core, localization deals with the translation of all manner of texts that a player comes across. These texts aren’t usually just translated into one language, but ideally into all the languages we offer. In the case of Travian: Legends, for example, that’s currently 39 languages.

Our job is to make sure that all texts – wherever they crop up – are translated into the right languages and that they are translated in a way that also makes them fun for our players. This doesn’t just mean the languages themselves, but also the technical aspects involved in localization. So, in simple terms, that’s what we do every day. We regularly receive texts from a wide range of departments here at the company; for example, it could be the marketing department or the social media team that comes to us to “have something translated”. We initially take a look at the texts, ask any questions we can think of and then send them out to our external teams for translation. Here it’s really important that we pay attention to when a translation is needed, what might have been forgotten and whether each page contains all the necessary information. It sometimes feels like juggling lots of balls. We can actually pull it off really well for the most part.

Q: So you’ve got a number of teams that translate the texts?

A: Yeah, there are only two of us in the Munich office. Our translation teams, each comprising at least two people, are based in various countries around the world. These teams are responsible for the actual translation work. And they are all awesome!

We often also work with professional agencies if we don’t have a team available for a certain language, for example, or if someone falls ill. These in turn have access to experienced gaming translators who help us out with translations.

Q: What did you study for this job?

A: I didn’t study something specifically for this profession, but something else entirely. My background is in the humanities. That doesn’t have much to do with translations, but you do have to spend a lot of time dealing with languages, and do a huuuge amount of reading (laughs).

It all started when I worked on translations for video games as a freelancer. The first game I was really actively involved in was Warhammer Online. Thanks to that experience, I then also found myself a permanent position in Dublin (Ireland), where I began as a translator. There I also worked on translating other games in addition to Warhammer Online. I can count myself as fortunate to have worked on the first German version of League of Legends, for example. During this time, I started honing my craft more and more, while also learning a lot about managing translation projects. In other words, I am a classic example of a career changer to the gaming industry.

Q: Were you taught languages previously?

A: Not directly. Although I went to a grammar school for languages, I taught myself a lot independently as I have always been interested in languages. Even in games. For instance, I usually like to play the localized version of a game, and I always found it frustrating whenever I found a poor translation and/or synchronisation in a game. Unfortunately, it was once often the case that games were inadequately localized.

That really annoyed me and I would think to myself: “I could do it better!” Once the first content was released for Warhammer Online, I would regularly complain about the translations often lacking in quality. At some point somebody said to me, “Then do it better!”. So, I went ahead and did just that (laughs).

Q: When you say you studied something completely different, does that mean there actually is a “proper” study course for learning localization?

A: Yeah, there are conventional courses or degree programs for becoming a state-certified translator/interpreter, for example. A degree program based on a specific language, such as English or German studies, is also a good option. So there are courses for localization, but not necessarily for games and software. However, as translating games is not really all that different from translating a “normal” text, this can all be learned. It is important that you have a feel for languages, how languages are structured and how they work. You should also master spelling in your native language perfectly and have an excellent understanding of the language the texts are translated from. As project manager, it is also a great advantage if you have some rudimentary knowledge of other languages and understand how they work, what specific characteristics they have and where problems may arise. For our industry, you should also be knowledgeable about games.

These are the main aspects. If you have studied English, Japanese or German, for example, you are well equipped for localization. Even though we don’t translate anything internally here (except for small, minor texts), we always have to anticipate what could go wrong with the translations we order.

Q: How many languages do you speak?

A: German and English are my main languages. I’d say that I can also speak them really well (laughs). I also have basic knowledge of French and Russian, but that’s more or less from my time at school. That really does help me with my work today, though. It’s useful to be able to read Cyrillic or French here and there, and get an idea about the text. But I don’t speak them fluently right now.

Q: Reading Cyrillic must be really difficult, right?

A: Once you have learned the alphabet (and that takes quite some time), then it’s okay. The language itself, in this case Russian especially, is of course not the easiest language to learn. But it’s a useful skill to have to be able to read the words without necessarily having to understand everything. Russian is also really important for us as a company as we have a lot of players in the Russian Federation.

Q: What made you decide to work in the gaming industry? If languages are so important to you, why didn’t you become an interpreter, for example?

A: Because I really love games. I like to play a lot, myself, and I find games incredibly entertaining. That’s why it’s important for me to have translations that are so good that all of our players are able to enjoy the game in their native language, just like the game developers intended.

Most of the content of a game is communicated via language, in addition to visual cues. This could be spoken or written language. It’s a hugely vital aspect of a game, which is why I have always felt so strongly about doing it well. If a translation is done well, the players don’t notice that it’s a translation; for the players, it appears like it was created just for them. That’s our goal.

Q: What kind of games do you like to play? Do you have any favorites?

A: I like to play everything really. But there aren’t any games that I play forever. At the moment, for example, I’ve just played through the first add-on to The Witcher 3, Heart of Stone. I also enjoy Rocket League, Overwatch as well as Rail Nation. So I really do play everything inbetween. Except maybe horror games; I get scared too easily. A game has to entertain me. I also play various consoles, on the PC and on my smartphone. Always a little bit here and there.

But that’s also due to my work, to a certain degree. I like knowing what other companies are doing with their localization. So I usually play the localized, or German, version of a game. It gives me an idea of who in the industry is offering quality and who may have completely ruined a title – although that doesn’t happen that often nowadays, except perhaps with mobile games. There you’ll often find the hand of Google Translate, sometimes leading to curious results.

Q: Is it fun to work in the games industry?

A: Yeah, absolutely! Otherwise I wouldn’t be here (laughs). I haven’t previously worked in any other industry, so I can’t say how it is outside the world of gaming. My first full-time position was actually in the gaming industry. I’m really enjoying it so far. You’re surrounded by many young, dynamic people with lots of ideas and vision. There’s also a relaxed atmosphere and I don’t have to wear a suit to work every day. And there’s a sense of openness that I imagine you don’t find in many other places. The industry and the companies within it are very international. You frequently meet people from all around the globe; you no longer merely distinguish people on the basis of where they are from, but also other aspects. That’s really great. Not to mention you’re working on games – what can be better than working on games?

Thank you, Robert, for giving us an insight into localization.

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