The Game Localization Handbook: Second Edition

Back in the day when I used to work in a quality assurance department in the United Kingdom, The Game Localization Handbook by Heather Maxwell Chandler was stealthily circulating as the ultimate reference book, being passed under our desks piled with debugging equipment, localized builds and wired controllers. As times have changed, so have technology and the global economic scenario.

Accounting for 30%-50% of total revenue in a worldwide industry worth over $50 billion, according to The Economist, game localization confirms itself as a strategic factor in global success. Yet it tends to be underappreciated by the game development industry and in specialized literature. In addition to dedicated events, professional networks and a few publications emerging in recent years, further steps need to be taken toward internationalization awareness, integration management and standardization.

Capitalizing on these recent experiences, The Game Localization Handbook, Second Edition provides a detailed and insightful guide to game localization processes, methods and tools, also depicting the landscape of international requirements, teams and people. The authors boast wide experience in the field: Heather Chandler is a veteran game producer who has contributed to a number of AAA international titles, including the Ghost Recon series. She has also authored two other volumes on critical game development and production issues. Stephanie O’Malley Deming is a software development producer, consultant and operations executive with a solid background in international projects, such as the Guitar Hero and Call of Duty series. The authors have also included a varied collection of interviews, case studies and contributions by internationally recognized experts, among whom Kate Edwards, Miguel Á. Bernal-Merino and Binari Sonori can be mentioned for their specialized expertise.

The volume, published by Jones & Bartlett Learning, comprises five major thematic sections divided into 16 more detailed chapters for a consistent and straight-to-the-point reference. The aim, to use the authors’ words, is to “provide comprehensive information on how to create localized versions of games for any platform and size and the necessary production tasks needed to accomplish this successfully. The focus is on producers, translators, development personnel, studio management, publishers, students, and anyone involved directly or indirectly with the production of localized games” (xiii).

After a general introduction to core game localization concepts and processes, the first section sheds light on international requirements, including cultural issues and software age ratings. Drawing insights from geopolitical and cultural studies in particular, the second chapter leads the reader toward an increasing awareness of cultural otherness while leveraging numerous video game examples and outlining practical strategies. From the very first chapters, the authors bring to the forefront one of their major arguments throughout the book: the integration of localization in the development process through early planning, cultural awareness and localization-friendly code.

The second section offers a well-thought-out and knowledgeable description of the project management framework applied to the unique needs of game localization planning: from scope management to time, cost and human resources management, without omitting language vendors and translators. This is complemented by charts, checklists and templates that will be extremely beneficial to real-work situations.

The central section devoted to producing localizations leaves no stone unturned in describing the steps of an optimum localization pipeline. Topics include localization-friendly development and organization of the assets, localization tools, asset integration methods, testing and creating final masters. The empirical approach of the discussion guides the reader toward project execution and control by detailing the best practices for meeting deadlines and thus ensuring a smooth workflow. Of particular importance is the discussion of localization tools and of the management of voice-over/cinematic assets as strategic areas for advancement.

The authors’ roadmap to successful
localizations continues with project closure, including the collaboration with marketing departments and the creation of demos and localization kits. The fifth section is a must-read overview of a variety of localization pitfalls and lessons learned in the localization process. In contrast, the concluding case studies on Fable II and Ghost Recon: Island Thunder stand out as emblematic examples of effective localization workflows. Particularly noteworthy is the challenging Fable II project involving 420,000 words and 15 target locales, which puts forward brand new modi operandi and organizational models in a proactive collaboration among developer, language vendor and publisher.

The final appendices include the Ghost Recon case study, a glossary of game localization terms, suggested readings and developer biographies. The accurate terminology base presented throughout the volume has exact definitions set in the body of the text. This is an interesting take on internationalization in itself, since it provides common ground for effective communication across international teams, standardization and training. Let me just point out that the concepts of dubbing and subtitling as defined by the authors do not overlap with the common perception nor with the long-established practices of the film industry. This is no particular demerit of the book, but rather a general trend in a young industry that has largely developed independently from the heritage of the audiovisual translation techniques constantly improved over 80 years of talking movies.

The wide range of contributions and the wealth of information contained in The Game Localization Handbook are difficult to sum up, but it is worth noting that the second edition appears to be enriched in many ways in relation to the first. A broader variety of game genres, tools and localization contexts is described, including massively multiplayer online role-playing games and social networking games, although other emerging or specific phenomena have been omitted, such as managing motion-sensing and 3D technology, free-to-play games, licenses and user-generated content. In addition, the second edition gives more space to key issues in the industry, in particular culturalization, translation and automation. One of the most original achievements is the chapter on culturalization, which goes “a step further beyond localization as it takes a deeper look into a game’s fundamental assumptions and content choices, and then gauges their viability in both the broad, multicultural marketplace as well as in the specific geographic locales. Localization helps gamers simply comprehend the game’s content, but culturalization helps gamers to potentially engage with the game’s content at a much deeper, more meaningful level” (20). Hopefully, in the future these principles will foster further quantitative market research on the enjoyment of localizations and reception of linguistic quality on the part of foreign users, partly because the concept of customer value tends to overshadow the prominence of return on investment in marketing management. That said, the insightfulness of the additions make the second edition worth consulting, even for those who already possess the version published in 2005.

The Game Localization Handbook has been and remains a valuable reference for anyone involved in the video game localization industry and to those who wish to come on board. In offering a comprehensive, well-organized and in-depth guide to video game localization, this book has managed to bring together the key ingredients of international teams and people, tools and technologies, along with methods and processes in order to help professionals confront change, complexity and fragmentation. Since advancements in technology and ways of doing things are recognized to be growth triggers in highly innovative sectors, The Game Localization Handbook is a must-have collection of guidelines and best practices.