Expert Tips: How to Ensure Quality in Game Localization

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Imagine the perfect mobile game: The graphics are stunning, the sound is second to none—and it’s going down a storm in your domestic market, but what happens when you decide to take it global? How do you ensure it will be as well received in other countries or regions? Which best practices can help make your mobile game a global hit?

In a panel discussion at the Game Global Digital Summit, hosted by Andrea Tabacchi, Chief Customer Officer at Phrase, experts shared both eye-opening insights into the challenges faced by localization managers in the video game industry and tried-and-true best practices for achieving sustained quality in game localization.

This guide walks you through the top 3 challenges that the panelists consider key for quality video game localization—from choosing the right time to implement localization, acquiring and retaining top talent, to managing queries. With over 45 years of combined experience, these experts have the know-how you need to get ahead of the game:

  • Natalie Gladkaya, Director of Localization at Plarium
  • Mikhail (Mike) Gorbunov, Head of Localization at Social Quantum
  • Kseniya Shorokhova, Head of Localization at Playrix
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What does “quality” mean in video game localization?

Let’s start by looking at the meaning of “quality” in video game localization. For Playrix’s Kseniya Shorokhova, good-quality localization is about making a game seem as though it was created in the target language from the start. If the language at hand makes that challenging, the least you can aim for is a high-quality translation that ensures a smooth and seamless user experience.

Nevertheless, what all experts are keen to emphasize is that quality extends beyond the product—it encompasses the entire development process. To achieve top-notch localizations in the gaming industry, it’s imperative to establish both effective workflows and teams.

Challenge no. 1: Getting the timing right

The first challenge in achieving quality game localization is determining the appropriate timing to implement the localization strategy.

As Mike from Social Quantum points out, localization has often been left as an afterthought in the game development process, when in fact it’s just as important as any other element, such as graphics or sound design.

In such scenarios, developers may find that, when they come to prepare the game for localization, there are issues with code or the user interface, which can seriously impede the localization process.

And there’s more than just the language to consider. Culturalization has just as much influence as translation on the success of a localized game. To truly enhance the player experience, you may need to adapt certain color schemes, images, and characters to meet the needs and expectations of the target culture.

If you don’t start thinking about all these aspects until the game is essentially finished, you will have a lot of catching up to do to make it ready for other markets.

The solution: Incorporate a localization strategy from the beginning

As Kseniya says, “localization starts well before the actual translation,” and to achieve quality localization, it’s crucial to integrate a localization strategy into the game development process right from the start.

For Mike, the key to good localization quality is the interconnection between the localization team and all other teams involved in the project. Developers, artists, sound designers, producers, the legal team, marketing specialists—everyone should be aware of the localization workflow and their role within it.

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Natalie recommends working with the localization team to make a list of technical requirements or “checkpoints” to include in the early game build, which can be shared with developers and the QA team.

This would include factors such as ensuring that the code accounts for different fonts and formats, variables such as syntax and different language structures, or the ability to add or close strings depending on the needs of the different locales.

This ensures that everything is already in place when it comes time to implement the agreed-upon languages.

Tip: Share the expertise and enable other teams to work for you

Our top tip here comes from Mike at Social Quantum, who advises investing time in explaining the localization process to different stakeholders. He recalls spending a whole month explaining the character limits and word order rules in different languages to the UI team for a particular project.

This strategy is also endorsed by Kseniya at Playrix, who has compiled a list of localization rules for the marketing team so they know what to look out for when working with translated texts and don’t introduce errors in the final stages. All these things can take time—but if they help to ensure the quality of the overall product, then it’s time well spent.

Challenge no. 2: Acquiring and retaining talent

Another major challenge to achieving quality localization in mobile game development is finding the right talent and holding onto it. Two key questions come to the forefront:

  • Do you need to establish an in-house team, or can you rely on external providers?
  • To what extent is it crucial to collaborate with linguists who are also gamers, even if doing so restricts the available talent pool?

As highlighted by Natalie, retaining talent is especially important in the context of mobile games. Unlike console games, which represent a finalized product, mobile game development is an ongoing process.

To sustain a consistent level of quality, it’s crucial to keep a dedicated group of linguists on board—but how do you identify suitable candidates and, once they’re part of the team, ensure their ongoing commitment?

The solution: Play up the team spirit

There is no single right way to recruit professional linguists for video game localization, but there are some crucial skills to look out for.

For Kseniya, what matters most isn’t whether linguists come from a gaming background. What really counts is their genuine love for language, their ability to embrace their responsibilities while also being team players, and their openness to feedback and eagerness to learn. As long as they possess these essential qualities, the technical aspects of game localization can be easily taught.

As Mike reports, you may need to consider working with a combination of in-house linguists, freelancers, and language service providers (LSP) for different languages. Still, whatever the team structure, the trick to retaining talent is establishing a strong team atmosphere. Supporting the localization team and listening to their ideas will do wonders for the quality of the product.

Tip: Get linguists in the game

Our expert tip here comes from Natalie at Plarium, who recommends getting linguists to actively participate in the game development process, no matter their previous gaming history.

While language comes first, understanding the gaming community and what makes gamers tick will lead to better-quality localization.

Ignite their passion for the game by involving linguists in game playtests and seeking their feedback, and you will have better-quality translators who are more personally invested in the product.

Challenge no. 3: Managing queries

Query management is a key part of ensuring quality in any localization process, but it’s especially important to have an effective strategy in place with game localization. With many different people working on such a complex product, you might be at risk of becoming inundated with queries, losing track of them, and duplicating efforts.

So, how can you simplify your query management and implement measures to optimize what, in Andrea’s words, may quickly become a “very tedious process”?

The solution: Cut out the middleman

For Kseniya, the solution lies in integrating query management into the existing localization technology platforms used. This ensures that query management seamlessly becomes a routine part of the daily workflow, rather than an isolated task demanding dedicated time and effort, which could potentially be overlooked.

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Kseniya recommends limiting PM involvement by allocating a language lead per language to respond to queries. You can also make the process much more efficient by cutting out the middleman and allowing different stakeholders (e.g., developers, in-house translators, and external providers) to communicate directly with one another and answer each other’s queries.

Mike’s weapon of choice is Telegram, an encrypted messaging app that provides a platform for linguists to discuss queries among themselves. You might wonder if this could cause more administrative work for the project manager in terms of moderating the group, but, in Mike’s experience, it’s a self-regulating process that works well.

As Natalie points out, it’s also worthwhile establishing a procedure for keeping track of queries. For example, translators may come up with some great suggestions for a technical aspect of the game. While it may be too late to implement these requests in the current project, they could be valuable for improving any games developed in the future.

Tip: Encourage customer queries as well

Another top tip comes from Mike at Social Quantum, who emphasizes that insights from those playing the game can be just as valuable as from those working on it. Take the example of a Muslim player who got in touch to ask why the mosque in a certain game appeared smaller than the cathedral.

In Islamic culture, depicting one religious building as larger than another indicates its superiority—so rectifying this oversight was important to avoid offending the Islamic community. Giving your players a platform to report issues helps you learn and improve the quality of the product.

Level up your localization game

As Mike puts it, your game might have all the bells and whistles, but if localization falls flat, it can ruin your game. In contrast, effective localization can turn your game into a winner, amplifying its global appeal and boosting the player experience.

That’s why, localization should be part of your game strategy right from the start—avoid saving it for the last minute. If you give it the attention it deserves alongside graphics, sound, and gameplay, it will be “game on” instead of “game over” for your product.

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