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Leading with Localization: Translators Bring Video Games to Wider Global Markets


Starting in the 1980s, video game developers around the globe became excited about the prospect of exporting their games to other countries. However, as most of the developers were not translators, the translations reached varying levels of accuracy. The developers also did not understand the cultural nuances of other countries and people, and for this reason, their translations lacked important context.

Thus arose the need for “localization”—hiring professional translators and technical specialists who are also able to take into account and incorporate into the text the culture of the country where the game is being exported. Pablo Muñoz, an English-Spanish video game translator, says it best:

“The shortest distance between a great game and the audience is an excellent localization.”

Nowadays, localization requires significant monetary resources, as video game companies spread their influence globally and create massive, 100-hour games. In correlation, the need for video game translators is higher than ever before, with the North American market making up only 25% of global video game industry sales in 2017.1 Many international localization companies have sprung up to accommodate the need, such as Keywords Studios and Andovar. Some of the languages most desired in the industry are French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Korean, although languages such as Russian are growing in popularity.2

Extremely rewarding, localization presents translators with challenges and obstacles at different stages throughout the process. According to Muñoz, “a good translator has to be invisible, […] it’s all about conveying the message without leaving a trace.”

Video game translators rely on a variety of skill sets—including written skills, gaming know-how, technical understanding, language skills, and cultural awareness.

They are creative writers who are knowledgeable enough about the franchises to tackle tasks with limited context. Their translations must also fit within the technical confines of the games because direct translation doesn’t always work within the code. Above all, translators must be team players, ready to adjust to tight deadlines and to work on many different aspects of the localization process. As for the cultural component, they must be respectful and aware of gamers’ expectations in the target country—paying special attention to historical, religious, and social references.

This is one reason why it’s helpful for aspiring video game translators to study abroad and experience another culture firsthand! Immersion is an excellent way to broaden your perspective and begin to internalize the values of another culture.

Overall, video game localization is a lot like a video game itself: It’s a great adventure!

Interested in the localization of video games, websites, apps, or films? Explore some study abroad programs that could offer the cultural insights necessary to boost your career! Then check out our Translation Sector Profile and learn more about possibilities within the broader profession.

Has a localizer worked on a product that you use regularly—even today? Likely so! Tell us about it @LeadWLanguages on social media.