Interviewing Paula Ianelli on game localization for devs
In their 2014 GDC talk, Sony QA team wondered:
“Why don’t translators get it right the 1st time and make 40% of all errors?”
After some number crunching, they’d found: Most of that 40% of loc’n errors aren’t linguistic but bugs resulting from dev’s shortcomings.
So why didn’t game devs get it right the 1st time?
Find out in my interview with Paula Ianelli, my fellow team member at the Indie Localizers Team and a game localizer with many titles localized under her belt.
When a big chunk of localization failures and bugs are shortcomings of game devs themselves and not localizers and could’ve been avoided with just a proper approach, her insights are a must-read for devs who are new to localization, and especially forthose considering to launch in Brazil.
The country has a large market with a very passionate gamer community, but it’s quite different from Portugal, so make no mistake! Read further to find out exactly how to make a localized launch in Brazil.
# Hi Paula! You are a video game localizer. How different is your job from, say, website localizer’s? Could you briefly tell about yourself?
Hi, Artem! Thank you for inviting me to this interview. I am a Brazilian translator and conference interpreter based in Sao Paulo. I have been working with game localization for a few years now, and I love it. I have always been a gamer — my first console was a Master System Girl my parents got me when I was six years old — so being able to translate games has been a dream come true. I have been part of projects like The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, Far Cry 3 and 4, ZombiU, among many other AAA titles. Each of them pose different challenges and game localizers have to be extremely versatile since games are full of styles, registers, puns, jokes, plays on words and nuances. As translators, we need to be very creative and detail-oriented to make sure the message is conveyed without a hitch.
# Any tips for devs on how to help your localizers do the best job of their life and ensure the whole localization effort is a positive experience?
It is all about teamwork and context. When we dive into a new localization project, every bit of information is valuable.
I always explain to my clients that they spend years working on every detail related to a project, but we are usually included towards the end, when there is not much time before a game goes to market. Sometimes we have just a few hours or days to translate what you guys took months to craft, and that may hurt the translation.
So do your best to treat the localization team as part of your company and to include them in your pipeline as soon as possible. Schedule a short call with them right off the bat to go over your goals, any challenges you faced when writing the original script, who your target audience is and any major decisions you had to make thus far. By the way, any piece of context is highly appreciated.
Do you have character sheets? Gameplay videos? Pictures and descriptions of items?
Please hand them over to the translation team! The more, the merrier.
In addition, be available to interact with us on a regular basis so we can ask questions as soon as an issue comes up. Trust me: your translation team will appreciate it and your game will be way better localized — a classic win-win situation.
# I would add: Just reviewing and following i18n and l10n best practices would save from reworking your game in future. Personally, I had to reject a project with a couple game devs simply because their code wasn’t ready… [My French colleague recently wrote a nice rundown of such best practices for game devs].
Back to our interview: How to pick talented localization specialists and be more or less sure that the money is well-spent?
Look for people who are willing to become part of our team for the duration of the project. People who care about the outcome. Experience helps a lot, so check what they have done before and ask a few questions about their strategies to cope with common challenges. See if they ask questions too — that is key. If all they ask is how much the project is going to pay and what the deadline is, that is a bad sign. The thing with game localization is that there are lots of gamers who are dying to enter this market, but they are not qualified whatsoever. Never hire them to save money. Jeopardizing quality to cut costs will not be a smart move in the long run. A background in translation is always a great start, for example. If a freelance spent 4 years in college to study translation or has been working in this industry full-time for the last 8 years, chances are they are serious about what they are doing. Look for that. You want to work with people who know their craft and who want to do their best.
# If you were an indie dev, how would you know if localizers did a good job, given you don’t speak/understand those languages?
Definitely invest in some third-party testing. At this last stage, every penny will be worth it. Preferably, you should look for a native tester who is a gamer, who speaks both the source and the target languages perfectly and who understands the translation industry, because that is how he or she will be able to judge quality. You can also hire a linguist to prepare a guide on what to look for while testing. With clear, simple instructions, testers will be able to assess if the translation is true to the original while sounding natural to the target audience. Ask them to fill out a standard report provided by you with examples of positive and negative translation choices, as well as a to write a final assessment on overall localization quality. You can also ask the same from beta players as the case may be.
# How different is Brazilian and European Portuguese? Is it worth to localize into both or just one is enough to save the indie budget?
That is a great question. Sometimes the differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese are majorly overlooked. Brazilians usually have a really hard time understanding European Portuguese. Grammar and vocabulary are not the same, and we are not that exposed to the European accent — though the opposite is not true, because they are used to our music and soap operas. If you are a game dev and you are planning your localization pipeline, I definitely recommend including both varieties in your budget. Now, if you have to choose between one of them, there are tons of reasons to go with Brazilian Portuguese: we are a country of over 207 million people (compared to under 10 million in Portugal), we have a large and active gaming community, and it is very likely that most Brazilian gamers would rather play a game in English than in European Portuguese.
# How much demand is there for localized games as opposed to English-only ones in Brazil? What are fan expectations?
Localization is key in Brazil. Even though most people do have English classes in school, not many Brazilians are fluent enough to enjoy a game thoroughly without missing any nuances and bits of information. Moreover, we know how much immersion plays a role in the experience. Some older gamers are used to playing in English, but they probably will not make the most out of it. Most gamers will play in English if needed, but they will definitely prefer playing with subtitles or dubbing in their own language. Now that most major games have been localized in recent years, the audience surely expects to have this option off the shelf.
# Could you cite some games that failed or nearly failed when they were launched in Brazil? Why so?
Well, Mortal Kombat X faced huge criticism when launched in Brazil because of how the game was dubbed in Brazilian Portuguese. Famous Brazilian singer Pitty voiced character Cassie Cage, and players hated it. Though she probably did her best, Pitty had no dubbing experience, and it showed. All of her lines sounded off and distracted players from enjoying the game. At the time, there were heated discussions on whether studios should hire celebrities to dub games or not. While that might work with movies most of the times, it seems gamers are not really into compromising quality just to hear a familiar voice. We need to respect that. Here’s hoping we learned that lesson.
# Would you like to share something about your work at the Brazilian Association of Translators and Interpreters (ABRATES)?
I have recently joined Abrates as a council member of its Board of Directors. Abrates is a non-profit professional association managed by translators and interpreters since the 70s. We offer a variety of programs, events, conferences, benefits, and services to independent professionals and translation company owners who rely on our support. We are really looking forward to our annual conference — the largest of its kind in Latin America, which will be held at the end of this month (May 2017). Our goal is to advance the translation and interpreting professions and encourage professional development in our industry so we can strengthen our market and help bridge the gap between clients and translation providers. It is challenging work, but I love it. That is how I have been fostering the translation and interpretation market in Brazil and I hope to keep on doing so.