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Video Game Translation in a Global World

video game translation

professional video translationDo you want to play a game?

Playing video games is a popular pastime around the world.  Video games are played for relaxation, excitement, education, fitness, and many other reasons, as well as connecting with players who could be on the other side of the world.  Video game play has spread from consoles to desktop computers to mobile devices, with the top three markets being China, the US, and Japan.  Germany and the UK are not far behind.

With the globalization of the internet and game distribution channels, video games are not limited to their country of origin.  A popular game will attract players from many nations and all walks of life, which leads us to the subject of video game translation.  In this post, we will look at what video game translation is, how it is used, and what is involved in being a professional video game translator.

How is video game translation used?

Every video game is a world of its own, and the game’s language should merge seamlessly with the player’s language of fluency.  Here are some ways professional video game translation is necessary for a game developer to be successful in a globalized market:

  • Cutscenes are an important part of a game’s story. If professional translation services are not used, the text, video, or audio could be awkward or nonsensical.
  • Accurately translated character dialogue will take a game from confusing to exciting.
  • In-game text is used for instructions, item descriptions, exposition, and rules.
  • Professional video game translation enables global multiplayer games to be enjoyed.

Localization is another valuable service a professional translation agency can provide.  A game must make sense to the player, and if unfamiliar phrasing, jokes, and references are made, the game may lose appeal.  Cultural competency is another skill professional translators bring to the table with their ability to relate to the target market and identify do’s and don’ts to make the game’s translation successful.

Bad translation- it’s not as funny as it looks.

In 1991, arcade-style game Zero Wing was released for the Sega Megadrive system.  The game has become a legend for choice pieces of Japanese-to-English translation like, “Someone set us up the bomb,” and “All your base are belong to us!”

RPGs, or role-playing games, are an important genre for video game translation, with two of the largest markets being the US and Japan.  Enormous streams of game-based commerce flow between the two nations.  Some RPGs can be played without starting over for years, with a huge amount of in-game language spoken and written along the way.  English and Japanese are very opposite in terms of language structure, and it takes a professional translator skilled in both the language of the player and the language of the game to make a product that reads and sounds right.

Released in 2014 for PlayStation Vita, the Japanese-to-English version of RPG Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is another example of terrible translation.  Lines like, “Klein became to one who did the fight without everyone noticing it,” render character dialogue clumsy and distracting

Here are more reasons to use a human translator instead of machine translation, especially machine translation that has not been post-edited by a professional translator (#s 1,8):

  • Grammar and sentence structure concerns. Passive versus active tense, gendered words, all are important in how well-translated and localized a game is.
  • Bad translation destroys immersion and spoils the experience the game was meant to be.
  • Clumsy video game translation makes the game difficult beyond the challenges intended by the developers.
  • Lack of localization could turn people off or confuse them.
  • Rushed video game translation will lead to negative reviews, lost image, and lost sales.

Video game translators are beating the high score.

Education is working to keep up with the demand for video game translation and localization.  RIT students can earn a Bachelor of Science in Applied Modern Language and Culture, with a major in three different languages.  These majors are currently Japanese, Spanish, and Mandarin, but the school plans to add German and French soon.  To better target their desired skill sets, students can double-major in technical or artistic fields.  Minors and courses in ten other languages are already available (#7).

Professional video game translators keep their skills sharp by continuously reading and writing both in the source and target language.  Machine translation can come in handy here, as the better programs can learn what is needed and form a bank of the translated text.  The professional translator will then take the output and post-edit it themselves, checking against the source material and consulting with other experts (#s 4,6,8).

Living in a multiplayer world. 

Video games are a perfect example of how good translation brings humans together, for fun or a challenge.  They offer us ways to explore a virtual world of our own making.  Language is one of our greatest tools of creation, and bringing a game to life for an international market cannot be done without quality translation.

Professional game translation and localization guarantees that all aspects of your game will be effectively handled to reach the target culture, from packaging and instructions to character dialogue and help. To maintain the interest of your players you must give them a genuine gaming experience as if it was originally written in their language.

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Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie was born in Venezuela. Jackie has a BS in computer engineering; As President of JR Language, she spends time researching new technology and productivity tools for the Company. She holds a certificate of Localization and Project Management- Localization. Through her many years of experience working in multilingual corporate environments, she understands firsthand the value of bridging language barriers in creating smooth communication that allows for productive and happy work environments. She is fluent in Spanish and English, and is a frequent contributor to both our English and Spanish blogs. Jackie loves nature and to be outdoors.