games

Translators Remain Unsung Heroes in the Global Success of Video Games

Crediting practices must change, and it’s time the language industry steps up.

By Diego Perez

S

uccess breeds success. The more customers a business has, the easier it is to gain momentum — as long as their client portfolio can be demonstrated. This principle also holds true for freelance translators like me.

It took me six years to grasp that simple truth. Thanks to a solid partnership with a trusted agency, client acquisition wasn’t a concern of mine. While my language skills blossomed, my business acumen straggled behind. That had to change once I ventured back into the job market, searching for a higher income to support my growing family.

In my chosen platforms for client prospecting (ProZ.com and LinkedIn), the top translators hailed from technical, literary, or audiovisual backgrounds, not video game localization. They boasted translation samples from work submitted to clients and openly discussed their translation choices.

As a game localizer, I couldn’t do the same. Because translated content in video games is subject to changes by multiple actors — proofreaders, client-side editors, language testers, and even fellow translators working on updates to previous translations — claiming a translated segment (or an entire game) as your own work isn’t something we do. Usually, that’s not even something we can do owing to non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) by language service providers (LSPs) and game development studios.

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With no demonstrable experience, I only hoped that potential clients would believe my claims and invite me for a translation test. In an interview for a Language Lead position, I couldn’t mention my most relevant experience for the job and simply said, “You need to trust me, I know what I’m doing.” Unconvincing. Naturally, I didn’t secure the higher rates I expected. To level up my game, I needed to show I was a cut above the competition.

Until it dawned on me: I had screenshots of my game credit appearances collected in a folder named “Bragging Rights” (please excuse my brash 25-year-old self). This would be my ticket to building authority online. And it worked. My updated résumé and cover letter got responses roughly 60% of the time.

However, the 15 credit features I had then represented only 10% of my total completed projects. Unfortunately, my experience is very common. This spring, I conducted a survey — called the Video Game Localization Credits Survey — of about 250 game translators from all over the world with varying levels of experience. Forty-two percent (42%) of survey respondents reported receiving credit for 10% or less of their projects with LSPs, including 16% who never received any credit (see Figure 1). The numbers were slightly better overall with game studios; but still, 18% reported never receiving credit (see Figure 2).

Figure 1. Percentage of credited work with LSPs (respondents: 246)

Figure 2. Percentage of credited work with game studios (respondents: 153)

This significant amount of uncredited work not only hinders translators’ bargaining power with existing and potential customers, but also undermines their moral rights as creators of derivative work. Global audiences engage in stories through lenses crafted by translators, yet their authorship remains in the shadows. Secrecy, however, should not be at the core of their business.

The survey results bear this out, as game translators overwhelmingly report wanting credit for their work. On a scale of 1 to 5, a staggering 93% of respondents chose 4 or 5 when asked to rank the importance of receiving credit for game localization services (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. The importance of receiving credit

Reasons Translators Are Often Uncredited

Credit omission is a chronic problem plaguing the entire gaming industry, according to Nazih Fares, co-creator of the Game Crediting Guidelines by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). Compared to other forms of entertainment media, he says, “the gaming industry is the only one with no universal and honored crediting system.” This lack of standardization mainly impacts outsourced game development areas with “notably big workforce verticals, such as quality assurance (QA), customer support, and of course localization.”

Without an honored crediting system, the inclusion of translators relies on smooth management on the part of LSPs and game publishers — something that isn’t always a reality. Lucile Danilov, Video Game Localization Specialist at the game localization website Loc’d and Loaded, believes that “this issue stems mostly from project owners (on both the client and LSP sides) being overworked and prioritizing translation deadlines, while not leaving enough time for ‘secondary’ considerations such as crediting.”

Administrative oversight aside, credit inclusion has also been used as a punishment and reward system in the gaming industry, according to an article by gaming website Kotaku entitled “How Game Companies Use Credits to Reward, or Punish, Developers.” Because video game development cycles can stretch for nearly a decade, there are natural team shifts as contributors pursue new opportunities. With that in mind, some companies choose to credit only the final development team at launch as a means to force employees into sticking around. As a result, past contributors are denied the chance to build up their portfolios and potentially secure better career opportunities. This system has become known as “gatekeeping.”

Some LSPs have also adopted the “gatekeeping” system. As Fares claims, these particular agencies fear talent poaching. They assume that, by disclosing their translators’ names, other LSPs could steal away their human resources with a more competitive offer. “While their mentality to ‘protect’ the contractors from being poached by a competitor sounds logical, it is inheritably a form of gatekeeping, stopping freelancers from growing their careers,” he explains.

Pushing for Better Crediting Practices

Efforts toward better crediting practices are only now gaining momentum. Three major forces are driving change across the game localization industry: the IGDA’s Game Crediting Guidelines, intellectual property (IP) law in some countries, and public pressure from translators, game news websites, and other interested parties.

IGDA Game Crediting Guidelines

The IGDA is the world’s largest nonprofit membership organization serving all individuals who create games. Their mission is “to support and empower game developers around the world in achieving fulfilling and sustainable careers,” as stated on their website. Among over 40 special interest groups (SIGs), the IGDA has established the Game Credits SIG and the Localization SIG.

The Game Credits SIG conducted a survey in which 83% of 582 respondents answered “unsure” or “no” when asked if their employer or client had a game credits policy. To address this gap, the SIG created official Game Crediting Guidelines, which aim to provide a clear set of rules and procedures that companies can implement readily. The idea is to rescue studios, publishers, and vendors who don’t have the bandwidth to build internal policies.

In March 2023, the SIG revamped its guidelines after extensive dialogue with all game development disciplines to improve crediting practices across the industry. The policy now includes an example use case specifically for localization: “[If] a localization vendor was hired by the Studio to handle all aspects of the in-game and out-of-game[,] all vendor staff and external subcontractors should be credited.”

Fares explains the document has become a tool for small-scale unions and associations to demand their rights. And with localization’s increasing importance in game development, translators can leverage it as much as any other discipline. However, as the vast majority of game translators are contractors under outsourcing companies, securing proper credit in the final product can still prove challenging. That’s because LSPs will need to handle communication with game development studios, which adds an extra step to ensuring translators’ contributions are acknowledged.

Intellectual Property Law

While the gaming industry has yet to implement a globally honored crediting system, translators turn to national IP laws to disclose project contributions without breaching copyright or confidentiality agreements. Tamara Morales, a Spanish video game localization specialist, shared some insights on how that works in Spain.

According to Spain’s 2012 Intellectual Property Act, translators are considered authors of derivative work. They hold the moral rights to “claim authorship of the work” and “determine whether such communication should be effected in his name, under a pseudonym or sign, or anonymously,” as stipulated in the Act. Although video games are not covered by name, their inclusion can be inferred under “any other audiovisual works whatsoever.”

Morales says, “As a Spanish translator with my business in Spanish territory, I have the right to disclose I am the author and to be recognized as such. And I cannot waive these rights under any foreign jurisdiction, contrary to what an NDA might state.” She has made it her mission to raise awareness of the Act, encouraging fellow Spanish translators “to overcome their fears and exercise their right whenever possible, because our law allows us to.”

Local legislation can be a powerful safeguard for translators, but there are limitations to consider. First, copyright laws vary significantly by country. Unlike Spain, some legal systems may not recognize translators as derivative authors with moral rights. Additionally, video games might not receive the same legal protections as traditional literature or other audiovisual works.

Uncredited projects also leave room for fake IP claims. Even if translators disclose their contribution under the protection of the law, that doesn’t stop non-abiding professionals from claiming authorship. When the localization staff isn’t identified on a publicly available screenshot or video, the word of a legitimate project contributor holds equal weight as that of a potential pretender. So, the existence of translators’ names on the credit roll remains one of the most effective ways to demonstrate their involvement.

Public Pressure

Fed up with miscrediting in the gaming and language industries, a translator collective created an account named Gameloc Gathering on Twitter (now X) in early 2021. Laura Cariola, a source within the group, confirmed they launched #TranslatorsInTheCredits to celebrate proper crediting and denounce omissions. Spreading organically within the localization community, the hashtag is now a growing movement reaching even gamers and the press.

The first time a large video game news website (Kotaku) reported translator miscrediting was probably in January 2023. At the time, Katrina Leonoudakis had just left Sega and her role as localization coordinator for Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden. In her goodbye email, she called for her colleagues to ensure the French, Italian, German, and Spanish (FIGS) translation teams were properly credited, but to no avail. Upon realizing translators had been left out of the credits, Leonoudakis — who is now a Localization Producer at Deluxe — exposed the story in a retweet that amassed over 2,000 likes. The repercussions prompted Keywords Studios (the LSP in charge) to respond and Sega to amend the credit roll with translators’ names.

This positive outcome for translators sparked additional call-outs. Another notable omission emerged with the release of Baldur’s Gate 3 in August 2023. The product’s localization was outsourced to multiple LSPs (Asmodee, Pole To Win, Riotloc, among others), and all language teams were credited with the exception of one: the Brazilian Portuguese team (Locsmiths) contracted by Altagram. Public outcry led to a comprehensive piece by the game news website Eurogamer entitled “Why are localisation workers regularly left out of game credits?” Larian Studios, the company behind Baldur’s Gate 3, demanded the full list of contributors and amended the credit roll weeks later, while Altagram released a statement committing to the IGDA’s Crediting Guidelines.

These two stories weren’t isolated cases. The news website Game Developer also reported translator miscrediting in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Skull & Bones, Star Wars: Jedi Survivor, and Warcraft Rumble in the past year alone. This pattern suggests that while some companies react to public pressure, the industry hasn’t implemented broader reforms to prevent miscrediting altogether.

Indeed, Danilov highlighted that, out of the six nominees for the 2023 Game of the Year category at the Game Awards (the world’s largest game award ceremony), only Baldur’s Gate 3 included translators’ names for all languages. Localization staff was left uncredited in Alan Wake 2, Marvel’s Spider Man 2, Resident Evil 4, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.

Progress Towards Translator Credits

However grim that may sound, there is cause for hope. As reported in the Video Game Localization Credits Survey, the majority of translators perceive positive changes compared to their early careers (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Crediting improvement

And according to Fares, some LSPs — including Altagram, From The Void (FtV), Local Heroes, LocPick, and Testronic — have publicly endorsed the IGDA’s Game Crediting Guidelines, either adopting them in full or using them as the basis for their own policies. Other LSPs with reportedly strong translator crediting practices include Dragonbaby, Lockit QA, Riotloc, and The Most Games. (This is a non-exhaustive list, and companies are welcome to come forward as champions of translators in the credits.)

This growing list of supportive LSPs offers encouragement for a brighter future where translators’ creative rights are championed by their employers — and there are many good reasons why LSPs would want to do so. Besides being the right thing to do, crediting translators can help raise awareness of localization as an integral part of game development, potentially enhancing the service’s perceived value. Not only that, but including translators in credits is an opportunity to attract and retain talent; credits give contributors a sense of accomplishment and improve job satisfaction, making long-term work relationships more likely.

Translator-led LSPs seem to have a stronger understanding of this. Sam Burton, Head of Localization at Dragonbaby and a linguist himself, says, “It’s a source of pride when we can celebrate the amazing wordsmiths we work with.” He added that Dragonbaby’s clients and translators “choose to work with us for what we bring to the table, not due to a lack of other options.”

Marc Eybert-Guillon, Director of FtV, highlighted the benefits proper crediting brings to LSPs, such as good public reputation. For translators, “they can trust that an FtV project will result in crediting — one less thing they have to worry about when deciding if they want to take on a project.”

The Road Ahead

So, how can the various stakeholders — game developers, translation companies, managers, and translators — ensure we keep striding towards meaningful change?

Game Publishers

At the end of the day, game studios and publishers are the clients in their relationship with LSPs. Therefore, they hold the power to establish clear requirements for vendors when signing a deal and to demand the inclusion of translators’ names when LSPs fail to provide them. They also have the final say on who gets their business and how to respond in the face of LSPs’ unwillingness to cooperate.

LSPs

LSPs are the main employers within this specialization, according to the Video Game Localization Credits Survey: 92% of the thousands of reported completed projects were for LSPs. By pooling their efforts and upholding translator name inclusion, LSPs can drive large-scale changes in crediting practices.

Despite being at a disadvantage in the power dynamics with game publishers, LSPs can still inquire about a client’s existing crediting policies and openness to featuring the full localization team in the credits. With that established, schedules should be agreed upon for the timely submission of translator names. LSPs are then responsible for tracking individual contributions. These steps minimize administrative oversight and leave game studios to focus on what they do best: creating games.

Managers

Although not decision-makers, managers can also help shape the translator crediting landscape with their organizational skills. As the professionals handling task hand-off and delivery, they are in a position to keep track of individual contributions and collect translators’ names. Managers can also educate relevant stakeholders on the topic and highlight the benefits proper crediting can bring to their companies.

Translators

Translators have spearheaded changes in the crediting landscape through social media, but this is not always a viable option due to their precarious employment position. As Leonoudakis says, “Making a negative statement about your employer while still employed by them is a surefire way to lose your job, especially as a contractor.” So, for every translator who goes public, a dozen others remain hidden, voicing their discontent anonymously or in closed circles.

Only a handful of translators are privileged enough to report credit omissions. Certainly, it was my secure position as a contractor for an indie game developer that emboldened me to publicly call out the credit omission on Baldur’s Gate 3. That job is also the safety net enabling me to write this article unafraid of retaliation. Leonoudakis agrees, stating, “Localization professionals not employed by the […] company in question are the safest. The bigger the name, the more weight they hold, and the safer they are.”

Danilov has emerged as one of those big names. She recalls how, without proper credits, her reputation during her early freelance translator career was built on “blind trust.” Danilov is especially vocal about this topic, explaining, “[My] wish is to spare industry newcomers this ordeal.” Aside from public campaigns, Danilov reaches out to studios and agencies directly, having found that “those who are actively invested in the quality of their localization have been happy to develop and implement their own crediting policies.”

No other party has a higher stake in improved crediting practices than translators, so it stands to reason that we lead the charge. Well-established names such as Danilov, Fares, Leonoudakis, Morales, and myself are in a unique position to do so. As Leonoudakis stated, it’s important for those of us who are safe from repercussions to expose miscrediting. “We need to be a voice for those who cannot speak up.”

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Conclusion

Video game translators were never meant to be ghostwriters. We thrive on providing creative solutions for cross-cultural communication and having our contribution publicly acknowledged. The certainty of credited work inspires us to go the extra mile, to everyone’s benefit. More than a report, this article is a call to action for the language industry. May we come together to establish game localization as a people-driven service that enhances engagement and connection at a global level.

DIEGO PEREZ is a freelance localization specialist providing translation, editing, LQA, project management, and content writing services for translation companies and end clients in the video game and tech industries. He champions translators as creative minds and cultural bridges.

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