This is the Indie Developer's Guide to a Kick-Ass Game Localization, part II. Click here to read part 1, Preparing Your Game for Localization
In this article:
- Should you work with a translation agency or a freelance translator?
- Where to find game translators and agencies
- What to look out for
- Red flags
- Info you and your translator should share
Finding the right person you can trust with localizing your game into a language you don't understand can be like jumping off a cliff—you just won't know if you'll break your neck or have the time of your life until you're there. The localization of your game could make or break your success in other countries. And as you cannot determine the translators' language and translation skills, you'll have to rely on the few things you can check.
Who should localize your game: a translation agency or a freelance translator?
Deciding whether you should work with an agency or an individual translator depends on your project and what you're looking for. Does your game have 500,000 words and needs to be finished in two months? Go with an agency! Do you want to cut out the middlemen and collaborate closely with the individual translators? Contract a freelance translator!
Here are some advantages (+) and disadvantages (-) of working with translation agencies and freelance translators:
With independent game translators you get a personal service and direct communication. Localizers who work with you directly are much more committed to your project than those who work for agencies. But a translator is only one person—and there's only so much a translator can work in a given time.
+ cheaper than agency
+ generally more motivated and committed to your project
+ direct contact and Q&A
+ 1-on-1 service and commitment
- can only handle so many words
- can likely only translate your game into one language
- might become unable to continue project due to sickness etc. (most established translators have trusted colleagues they can contact in case they need a backup)
Agencies have a big network of translators and can offer a fast turnaround of the localization of your game. However, in order to compete with other agencies on the basis of price, many of them offer very small rates, which turns off experienced localizers. Another problem is that many are reluctant to forward queries to their client, which leaves translators having to translate without vital info about the game.
+ faster turnaround due to higher number of translators
+ pool of backup translators
+ can handle several languages
+ will likely have a proofreader check the translation
+ project manager will handle file distribution
+/- you'll only communicate with one person
- more expensive than freelance translator
- translators are less committed to agency projects
- risk of inconsistent text due to different translation styles
- translator selection process isn‘t always aimed at quality: agencies may give the job to the translator with the lowest rate or to whomever is available
- you don‘t know who‘ll translate your game
- level of service may depend on importance of client
Secret third option: Translations teams
Translation teams usually consist of 3 or so translators of the same language. The features are similar to those of an individual translator, but since they are several people, they are able to take care of a higher volume, have a backup, and often have a proofreader who is not the translator. The disadvantage is that, just as with agencies, every contributor will add their own voice to the translation—which can result in an inconsistent style.
Secret fourth option: Freelance project managers
The freelance project manager manages projects like an agency, but on a smaller scale. While established agencies have a physical office address and employees, this is just one guy who has a network of trusted translators. And since this guy works on his own, he will be your partner for everything, be it Q&A, invoicing, or any concerns regarding the localization. Not having to pay people also means he can charge less while providing you with a much more personal service than the average translation agency. There are also freelancers who sell their services as agencies, even if they are just one guy with a network of translators.
Where to find freelance game translators and translation agencies
Your very first choice should be recommendations from people you trust. Did any of your colleagues have their game localized and can recommend the people they worked with?Or definitely not recommend them? Do you already have a trusted German translator who can refer you to a Portuguese colleague? Here are some options for when you don't have another place to start.
- Web search—Didn't see that one coming, did you?
- The Open Mic—A platform and forum for translators, and a translator database for translation clients. Lots of game translators of all languages there.
- Gamasutra—Many professional game localizers have an account and even a blog there.
- ProZ—Meeting platform for translators and those seeking translators.
- Twitter—Search for people with #l10n #gameloc, or #gamelocalization. Maybe you're already in contact with anyone interesting!
- Gaming events—If you have the time, go to places where developers and localizers can meet casually, such as GDC, Gamescom, or Pax East.
- Facebook Groups—Give a shout in Facebook groups such as Indie Game Localization (you'll find a good mix of localization veterans and newbies there).
What to look out for
- References: Do they have client testimonies on their website or LinkedIn profile?
- Past projects: Have they worked on similar games before?
- Gaming experience: Have they played similar games before?
- Work experience and education: Have they worked in the game and/or translation industry? Could their experience be beneficial to your project?
- Other experience: If they don‘t have experience, are they confident they can handle your project? Is there anything that proves their knowledge, perhaps they write a blog or have published a game themselves?
- Do they have enough info? If a translator or agency agrees to translate your game with virtually no information about it other than it's a video game—this should be a red flag for you. While game localization is a clear specialization for a translator, game localizers are usually not proficient in just any game genre. I, for example, am not great at sports games, war-driven worlds, or anything that relies heavily on weaponry, alone for the fact that I don't enjoy playing them.
- Are they known scammers? Check whether their email address is listed in Translation Scammers Directory.
- Would others work with them again? Check if they have a ProZ profile; in the upper right corner is a number, their "Willingness to Work Again". It's the rating they have received from by colleagues and clients. Don't worry if they don't have a lot of ratings (I don't really use this platform either), but watch out if they have a rating below 4. Sure, you can't really rely on these things anymore, but you might find something there.
- Do they write well? If the messages you receive from your contact are written sloppily—without punctuation, uncapitalized words, or your name misspelled—you can‘t be sure they won‘t treat their translations with just the same amount of care.
- How does their website look like? Check out the translator's website: if it looks unprofessional or if you feel that they are publicly giving away information they should not be sharing, this could be a warning. Trust your feeling here.
- How is their public appearance? Check out their Twitter or other public profile: Do they seem like someone you would like to work closely with? Do they look friendly? Do they publicly trash-talk their co-workers? Again, trust your feeling.
- Do they charge enough? Translation agencies act as middlemen and therefore need to get a cut of every project. If an agency offers you a lower price than the average freelance translator, you should worry about what kind of translators this agency works with. If this part is important to you, don't be shy to ask the agency how much they pay their translators.
- Do they ask enough questions? This starts already during the project inquiry by finding out as much as possible about your project. But it is especially important during the translation process. No matter how well you prepared the localization kit and no matter how straight-forward the tex appears to be—there will always be a ton of questions. Especially beginners are often too shy to ask for clarification to avoid looking unqualified, but the opposite is the case: a thorough localizer will nag you with questions to make sure they understand everything without a doubt.
Information you and your translator should share
Before assigning the project, don‘t hesitate to ask a couple of questions until you know whether you trust or don‘t trust your potential language partner with your game. But it's a good sign if they ask you some, too.
Before agreeing to localize your game, you guys should know a few things about each other, at least:
- Size of the game (ideally in word count)
- Deadline (flexible or definite)
- What the game is about (genre, platform)
- How the text looks like (if you can't send them the textfiles, they should see at least a snippet)
- If there is any already existing material on the game (prequels, Steam Greenlight page, YouTube videos)
- Each other's time zone
- The desired level of localization
I'm not saying that a translator with flaws or little to no professional experience cannot get a great localization out of your game. It's perfectly fine to give new translators a chance if you have a good feeling about them. At some point in our lives, we all have to rely on someone to give us a shot, right? But hey, this is the Indie Dev Guide to a Kickass Game Localization.
It's good to know what you're getting into, but you often get what you pay for. Good luck in finding the right translator!
Would you like me to localize your video game into German or use my network of awesome game localizers to help you find the right person for the job?
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