So you want to be a games localizer

MultiLingual January February 2020 From social media and customer help lines to actual brick-and-mortar stores, business-to-consumer (B2C) companies have a lot of channels to monitor.
Tugdual Delisle headshot

Tugdual Delisle

Tugdual Delisle is general manager of Lionbridge Games. A French native, he has been with Lionbridge since 2002 and works from the company’s Bellevue, Washington office.

Tugdual Delisle headshot

Tugdual Delisle

Tugdual Delisle is general manager of Lionbridge Games. A French native, he has been with Lionbridge since 2002 and works from the company’s Bellevue, Washington office.


o you already work as a translator and want to localize video games. You love playing them, so why not? But are the skills you use now transferrable? It’s not like the American Translators Association offers a certification for playing Mario Kart in Finnish, so what do you need to know in order to get the job?

Well, for starters, which job? Just as translating and interpreting are two separate careers with their own required qualifications, multilingual gaming professionals can hold a myriad of roles. Let’s take a look at the most popular ones and discuss the skill sets required for working in these roles.

  • Translators and localizers. Of all the linguist jobs in the gaming world, this one shares the most in common with more traditional translation roles. Video game translators and interpreters study the language, characters, visuals and other meaningful elements used in the original game and adapt them for new markets. The goal — as with other specializations — is to create an experience as flawless and fun in the localized version as it is in the source.

“It’s a full cultural perspective,” says SongYee Han, a localization expert in our company’s Beijing office. “It’s contextual understanding, it’s history. And it’s a lot of gut instinct.”

Again, this holds true for other translation fields. But before you think they’re exactly alike, game testers don’t just have to understand the source and target cultures — they also have to intrinsically understand the culture of the game, grasping not only characters’ personalities but their relationships with each other. “In many Asian languages, there are formal and informal ways of speaking,” Han says by way of example. “We have to make sure the character, the situation and the surrounding circumstances all work properly together with the correct cultural intonations.”

Take Korean: “It’s critical to get the nuances of the language correct, so the game feels native. We have to take into account every character’s age, background and family history,” Han explains. “Language definitely matters.”

Linguistic precision is important, yes, but so is speed, which is why community and conference interpreters have the potential to become great game translators. Game-makers are constantly accelerating their development cycles, and content releases have to keep up across all languages. The games themselves have new features this week that didn’t exist last week: new characters, new episodes, new weapons, new story arcs. This requires constant translation and multilingual testing.

Comparatively, interpreters handle changes in subject matter, unexpected interruptions and conversational tangents every day. Unlike translators who receive written copy with (typically) some time to prepare, interpreters never know what words they’ll have to work with until they’re already in a session. They think quickly and they move quickly, and this talent could make them great game localizers.

But translators, don’t feel left out. Website localization also requires a lot of in-the-moment thinking on your feet. Those used to doing this work also have to iterate quickly, often dealing with isolated strings emailed or sent over one or two at a time from translation management systems. If you’re great at getting on those smaller, rush project updates, games translation might just be for you.

  • Functional quality assurance testers verify game mechanics, performance, stability, playability, graphics, balance, platform certification and device compatibility for games’ new, target versions across mobile, console, PC and streaming devices. Simply put, game testers break companies’ games so that their customers can’t.

So long as you have the actual gaming chops, this is a job that current financial and legal translators should be able to perform exceptionally well. All three subject matters require acute attention to detail, which is the exact skill functional quality assurance (QA) experts need in order to break localized games while they’re in pre-launch testing.

Testers must not only have an eye for details, but also possess the cataloging skills required to record potential problems they find and enough working memory talent to remember which moves they made in the game before. That’s because functional QA testers return to the same scenes and settings in a game again and again, playing out every possible iteration like it’s the video game version of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. “Patience isn’t just a virtue,” says Polish tester Piotr Jasinski, “it’s a necessity. I’ve spent weeks working through the same part of the same game to ensure it runs flawlessly.”

  • Multilingual test automaters use advanced technology to log crashes across localized games, “soak test” target versions (that’s the industry term for leaving a game unattended or on pause for long periods of time) and more. “We’re testing every part of the game organically,” says Michael Friend, senior director of global games testing. “If a game is designed to have 100 gamers playing simultaneously, we have 100 gamers play it simultaneously. There’s no substitute for real-world testing — and it takes time and patience.”

Steffen Strohmann, one of our company’s QA test managers, agrees: “We’ve been working on our current project for a year, because that’s what it takes to make the game right. We test, we try to break it, we log the errors — we suggest ways for the developers to fix it. It’s more analysis and data sharing than game-playing.” In fact, Strohmann says it’s not uncommon for a game testing team to find thousands of things that need to be fixed in any single game.

Translators who prefer editing or proofreading — as opposed to performing initial translation — are therefore perfect matches for the role. They were born to nitpick. “Games have become unbelievably complex,” explains project management team leader Carolina Montero. “Imagine all the variables — all the possibilities that a character could encounter. Every move creates new possibilities and every possibility has to be tested and retested, taking into account all the possibilities that preceded it and all that can come after it. A flaw in a game is unacceptable, and we make sure there aren’t any.”

  • Localization quality assurance testers evaluate the translation accuracy of user interface scripts and commands, ensure new language voiceovers sync correctly with the game, ensure target language strings are formatted correctly and check localized builds for possible geopolitical problems.

“It’s not a matter of translation just being wrong — it can be offensive,” says Strohmann. Just like every other specialization, games localizers “can all cite examples we’ve heard or seen firsthand where a game developer didn’t catch an error in their native language and it can sometimes be horrifying. Localization QA testers make sure that doesn’t happen.”

  • In-market testers use local devices, ISP addresses, internet speeds and payment providers to ensure final functionality and performance details are 100% complete and ready to go.

In a way, this work isn’t too different from in-country review (ICR). If you currently ICR localize websites, the tasks themselves are essentially the same. This role serves as a final check between localized games and their target markets, making sure each new version is as fast, engaging and bug-free as possible for every user in every market in every language.