Pwning Noobs and Typing in All Chat: Trends in the Gaming Translation Industry

Before the turn of the century, sports and films were the main sources of entertainment for the bored. Now, it’s flashy fight scenes and rapid clicks as people—young and old alike—turn to gaming as their main mode of fun. A report by Mordor Intelligence forecasts that the gaming industry, currently valued at 177 billion USD, is expected to nearly double its value by 2027. “The gaming market is growing… With the increasing use of smartphones and consoles and cloud penetration, the market shows high potential growth in the future,” the report states. 

The rise of gaming is accompanied by subsequent growth in the translation industry. Despite the universal appeal of video games, languages are still a hurdle; popular video games are often made in a few select languages, such as American English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean—obvious, given these countries are powerhouses for video game production. According to research by translation company Andovar, close to “75% of the game market’s total global sales are just from the largest game sellers, which includes Electronic Arts (EA), Tencent Games, Sony, Nintendo, Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namco, and Ubisoft.” 

2019 game localization revenues. Newzoo


2020 global games market. Newzoo.

2020 global gamers per region with year-on-year growth rates. Newzoo.

Many game localization providers have expressed positive attitudes toward their future, reportedly projecting 20-30% increases in their revenues in the coming years. Game localization is a key step in the production process, making sure users worldwide are able to enjoy the game in their respective languages. Regarding this growth, Andreea Balaoiu of the translation service Ad Verbum points out three general trends in the game localization business to keep an eye out for. 


1) Cultural Sensitivity & Translation Accuracy

Balaoiu notes that cultural sensitivity is an increasingly important concern in game production. It’s always been an issue, yes, but with growth and development in the industry comes greater attention to detail and accuracy. For example, it’s no longer acceptable for Latin American gamers to simply enjoy games localized for Spain; the linguistic differences, once accepted out of necessity, are too great to ignore. A recent petition against Nintendo’s Pokémon game localization has brought about great controversy, as gamers point out that a lack of localization that have led to grave errors in translation. 

The petition, signed by more than 20,000 gamers, claims that European Spanish terms and phrases are not always appropriate for the Latin American market; the slightest changes in word choice can lead to vulgar expressions that are not suitable for younger gamers. As of 2020, Latin America is home to more than 259 million gamers; as such, proper localization practices should be the norm. 


2) The Metaverse

With Facebook’s recent transition to Meta, the world has entered a new era in which virtual experiences rival, sometimes trump, that of the real world. Balaoiu’s point is that the complex nature of the metaverse requires even more delicate translation and localization work. She notes the complexity of metaversal content, “from textual content (UIs, captions, subtitles, in-video game text) to audio content (voice-overs, dubbing) and holistic creative and marketing content (graphics, artwork assets, digital advertising, landing pages, social media pages) all the way to labels and policies.”

If, previously, game companies were allowed to get away with shoddy localization practices, companies can no longer put off localization as games come to mimic reality, more so than ever. In the future, near and far, we expect to see more interest and attention given to game localization providers as the metaverse expands. 


3) Technological Developments

With the demand for better technology in the language industry, there also comes a demand for QA, technology integration, and NMT support personnel. Translation relies heavily on MT, especially in computer-aided translation (CAT) tools. The same applies to virtual and augmented reality technology. 


However, there are credible reasons why companies often refuse to have their games localized. Localization is a complicated, lengthy process that can’t be rushed (although many companies do, ending up with a messy, incoherent product). In a Game Global article by MT specialist Cristina Anselmi and localization veteran Inés Rubio, the authors cite three specific difficulties unique to in-game text localization:

Terminology: Consistency in terminology is fundamental not only to ensure a good gaming experience but also to prevent noncompliance issues that might hinder the release of the game.

Variables and tags: The presence of variables and tags poses a technical challenge. Variables and tags both need to be respected in the translated text, as they will be replaced by the player name (for instance) or by a link to a screen in the game itself. Sometimes they are just cosmetic tags to modify the text format. Mistakes could result in code errors that would provoke functionality and display issues, disrupting playability.

Creativity: Aside from the technical components, one of the biggest challenges with NMT in the gaming industry is creativity. The types of texts can vary a lot from conventional on-screen text, and due to this, the required level of creativity changes. Apart from audio recordings, which by nature need to be quite liberal and natural-sounding, we often come across made-up language or puns and jokes that need to be transferred to the target language. 


The Necessity of MT in Game Localization

Despite these difficulties (or rather, because of them), Anselmi and Rubio argue for the implementation of MT technology in the game localization industry. Game localization occupies a unique space, somewhere between technical translation (dealing with code) and creative writing (in-game text); as a result, working with MT can help tremendously with speed and accuracy. In the modern workplace, where speed is valued over quality, translators can manage to find themselves relevant by producing high-quality outputs by utilizing the full functions of MT. 

Anselmi and Rubio point out how “MT can help by being more agile and increasing the speed of delivery.” But speed isn’t the only benefit to implementing MT, as MT also helps with utility. “MT might be needed if only to understand the general meaning of specific documentation for internal purposes,” the authors write, “to avoid dedicating precious resources and time to this task.” Then, of course, there is cost. Machine translation can help companies save money by decreasing time and resources spent on translation. 

Konstantin Savenkov, CEO of Intento—an AI startup—reminds readers of his Game Global interview to understand that “a lot of content [in the game industry] needs to be translated in real-time.” Carefully meditated, delicately written in-game text isn’t the only source text that needs to be translated in the localization process; there are also “other types of content to translate aside from product-related content” such as “support tickets, support chats with customers, and even chats between players” and “internal use cases, i.e. communication amongst developing teams who might sit in different locations all over the world or software documentation.” While these tasks don’t necessarily fall under the realm of localization, they are added benefits of MT implementation alongside product translation and localization. 


The Current State of Translation in the Gaming Industry

All this is idealistic. Despite advancements in MT technology and translators’ willingness to work with MT, game companies often spend a less-than-adequate amount of funding to properly localize their games. This affects gamers all over the world, hindering gameplay and user experience. In an article for Input, reporter Jay Costello writes of various mistakes caused by improper localization practices, taking the example of Brazilian Youtuber Rodrigo Soncin:

In Hexen II, for example, [Soncin] says translators appeared to struggle with words that seem like English homonyms, but aren’t. In a dungeon, one text read “você encontrou o tombo do Lorick” or “you have reached the tumble of Lorick.” Presumably, Soncin says, they meant “tomb” – tomba not tombo. In another case, he searched for some people, when he should have been looking for a staff. Somehow, the sceptre had been mistranslated as a group of employees.

Costello interviews Japanese to English translator Katrina Leonoudakis, who stresses the importance of ample resources and communication for high-quality localization. “Localization involves dozens of people per language,” says Leonoudakis, “no localization decision happens in a bubble, and good localization teams have strong communication line between everyone involved.” 

The problem, then, is not the state of MT technology; MT is advanced enough to be used as an aid for translators to work faster and more accurately. Rather, the problem at hand is the general lack of understanding of why localization is time-consuming yet necessary. “The main issue is… low pay, really tight timelines… the result is always low quality,” says Emma Ramos, a former translator who’s worked both freelance and in-house.

The solution? Better awareness on the part of management to allocate appropriate funding for localization and translation steps in product development. But that is a great feat, a luxury translators can’t fantasize about as they hurriedly type away, mistakes and typos slipping past their finger as they try to meet outrageous deadlines. That, however, will always be better than machines, ingesting and throwing out poorly processed, badly translated texts for the next user or player to grimace over. 


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