Localization Business School: Game yourself to the top

It was right in front of me, but I failed to seize the opportunity to make it big in gaming. I just did not see or believe in its future. Some 30 years later, my older son uses Minecraft to test AI and my eight-year-old builds his own worlds in the same game. I challenge you to play it and not fall victim to the same universe’s sense of humor.

In 1988, I tested games for the then-leading computer magazine in Germany, 64er Magazin, published for users of the Commodore 64. I walked in and out of game developers’ offices. One of them, Rainbow Arts, even donated a free version of their marquee game, The Great Giana Sisters, to readers of my book. The soundtrack for the game has become one of the most popular video game soundtracks of all time. In 2015, an HD remake of the game was released for Nintendo DS.

In 1988, I did not anticipate the rise of games. When it comes to game localization in 2020, there is no excuse for you to make the same mistake. Here is why.

Microsoft estimates that there are two billion game players around the world, with expected revenue of $196 billion in 2022. Gamers in the US play over seven hours each week on average. Gamers in Germany play almost eight hours a week (Figure 1). Other countries where games are popular with players include Singapore, France, India, China, Japan and South Korea.

In short, game localization is huge.

Why then are many language service providers (LSPs) missing this opportunity and struggling to compete for the same accounts as everybody else? As it turns out, game localization is dominated by a few players. Only one of them is among the top ten LSPs. Despite its size, gaming remains a terrific differentiator for smaller localization outlets.

If you have not jumped on that opportunity yet, it is probably not because of a lack of vision. Like me, you most likely weigh your options. The difficult decisions in life are not between good and bad choices, but between competing interests.

Two years into my career as a computer game tester and critic, the Commodore 64 began its steep decline. Game developers LucasArts, Microprose, Epyx, Broderbund and Electronic Arts had all ended their support for it.

For me, it felt like games had been exiled to cartridges for game consoles, evidenced by Nintendo successfully urging the makers of The Great Giana Sisters to withdraw the game from sale, arguing that it infringed on copyrights.

In other news, my mobile phone weighed 4.5 kg (9.8 pounds). Monochrome monitors were the norm. Apple’s first laptop product was the 16-bit lead-acid battery-powered 7.2 kg Macintosh Portable. And when I visited the Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it was overshadowed by the Adult Entertainment Expo that took place during the same time in the same building.

Around that time, I met with Bill Gates at the Frankfurt Airport for an exclusive interview with Forbes magazine. He made many terrific predictions then, including that Sting would play at his wedding — he mentioned future collaboration with Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s role in the networking market and so on.

That was also the time when Gates thought the internet would never be a business model for Microsoft and one of his pet projects was Encarta, the CD-ROM based encyclopedia.

The choice I had to make was between my passion for gaming, or the vision of a thirty-something with a billion dollars of cash in his account. I finally went with Gates’ vision and invested my time and money in multimedia books instead of games. A decision that proved to be fatal, and as a result I tanked my first business producing books on CDs.

Oh, the irony. The one piece of advice I took from the richest man in the world bankrupted me. The universe has to laugh with me.

What I should have done instead is stick with my own ideas and learn how to think more broadly from Gates. It is not coincidental that gaming did not come up once when we met, but Microsoft is a major player in this market today. What makes a difference is not our individual plans, but the way we create, execute and adjust them.

Could the same be true for your role in game localization? Let me challenge you with three questions:

1. What would you need to do to expand your career or business tenfold through game localization? What would you need to stop doing?

2. What would be a challenge that gives you an exciting vision for the future of game localization?

3. What are the three personal qualities you would need to show up with every day to be successful?

Then make that itself a game. Set an alarm on your phone three times a day. Give it a label with these three personal qualities you chose. Whenever the alarm comes up, check in with yourself. If you exhibit all three qualities at the time, celebrate. If you don’t, either take immediate action or change a belief to get back on track.

Remember that your ability to think is the universe’s gift to you. How you play with your thoughts is your gift to yourself.