Lost (and found) in translation: Adventures in Games Localization

Cropped view of person hands typing on laptop computer

While some of you might just know me (or know of me) because I post here a lot and I’m deputy head, I actually wear a lot of hats. One of the things that I do is video games localization. “What is localization?”, I hear you ask. Well, it’s the process of making a game available in another region. It’s a process that has allowed countless of games to be brought from one region to another, and I’ll tell you a bit about what this means in this article

It’s work, and work means money

That’s right! While not all of the localization work will always be paid, some of it will be (and which job is paid and which one is not will depend on you, your skills and the project itself). Remember that any skills are helpful in more than one application, though. For example, someone who is good in numbers might play a game of blackjack to try and make an extra bit of cash. In a similar fashion, a localizer will get paid for their services. Two of my highest-profile paid clients have been RPG games. At 20,000 and 230,000 words respectively, the scope of these projects allow the people making them to budget for a localizer in regions they feel they might turn a profit. I specialize in LATAM localizations (getting a game ready for the Latin American market). You may also make money by writing articles, translating blog posts for companies, helping as a local guide for tourists, and more.

So, you translate games?

Yes. And no. You see, the process of localizing a game is more than just translating some text. A translation’s point of view is usually to be as faithful and verbatim in the transition from one language to another as possible. A localization, on the other hand, puts much heavier emphasis in regional context. That’s where my LATAM experience comes in handy: the Spanish spoken in Latin America is not the same as the one spoken in Spain; the jokes are not the same, even some of the key words mean wildly different things. So my job is to adapt the original text into a regional equivalent, and not necessarily to always seek the most literal translation possible. Two of the biggest projects I’ve worked on are Rainbow Skies (PS3/PS4/PSV) and Sir Eatsalot (PSV).

Is it fun?

Yes! It’s some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done! But it’s gotta be done responsively. You see, these people are pouring their hearts and souls into these projects. You can’t just waltz in, expect to make a quick buck, and move on. You have to relate to the game, to the characters, to the developers. You have to live the game, its lore, while you’re working on it. Dedication plays a large part in this, and will sometimes make more of a difference than language proficiency (though the latter is certainly important).

How can I do it?

The best way I know how to get into it is to simply apply. You can start by translating small indie games or games your friends are working on. Go on platforms like Itch.io and volunteer to translate small projects. You gotta build a portfolio after all. It’ll also help if you have proof of proficiency in the languages you’ll be working on: maybe you taught one of those languages as a volunteer on a trip. Maybe you helped your buddy put subtitles on a film he was making. Maybe you write about games or films or other interests. Compile all this experience into a solid CV and send that off to people working on projects that fit your interests. Eventually, you’ll get your first gig.

What then?

Work, work and WORK. Make sure to comply with deadlines. Research the game, the subject matter. Invest time in getting to know the game’s world and characters. Double-check other translations and the source text, if possible, for reference: a lot of the time, while working on big projects, it helps me to check the Italian or French translations, as they are also Romance languages and have a similar structure to Spanish. Be polite, and have a strong work ethic. Be passionate and don’t let the team down. Continue working, and eventually… this may even be a career!

I hope this article helps you better understand the process of localizing a game, and how you can get into this as a career! If you have any questions, post them in the comments and I’ll do my best to reply. 

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About Marcos Codas 384 Articles
Lover of portable gaming and horror cinema. Indie filmmaker and game developer. Multimedia producer. Born in Paraguay, raised in Canada. Huge fan of "The Blair Witch Project", and "Sonic 3D Blast". Deputy head at Vita Player and its parent organization, Infinite Frontiers. Like what I do? Donate a coffee: https://www.paypal.me/marcoscodas