This post is the first post written by our team of awesome guest writers from the University of Oulu!
Translation is a very important step when making a game, but it’s not enough to just translate the words from one language to another. Even a well-translated game needs to be localised for its translations to be successful. So, how do they differ and why do they matter?
While translating focuses on words and phrases, localisation is a more involved process that looks at target-demography issues beyond language and takes into account the local culture. Even though Koukoi is a Finnish company, it develops games mainly in English since making a game only in Finnish would be illogical because of the size of the market here. At Koukoi, the games are usually developed in English, with some help from the marketing team’s language background. They also translate the games to English or Finnish, depending on which language the game was developed in. While the Finnish market might be small, the language does have a sentimental value for Koukoi, and many young players in Finland might not understand English well enough to play the English version.
Translations to other languages are mainly subcontracted to translation agencies. The target language is picked mainly according to population numbers; English and Spanish ensure a good coverage, but French, German, Italian, and Portuguese are relevant additional languages as well. Moreover, these languages are technically easier to implement than languages using different alphabets such as Russian and Chinese. Pretty much every translation coordinator on the game developer side should provide some context and guidelines to make all the different versions consistent but also to be able to trust the translators to deal with the culture-specific problems that require localisation, like puns, certain jokes, and names. These are the types of changes that need to be done for a translation to work for the new audience, which is why for instance Ally Gator is called Alli Gaattori instead, in the English version of Crashing Season. The translators are in charge of making these changes to make their versions culturally-suitable.
Furthermore, localisation may deal with problems that relate to the game code. For example, when translating a game to a language that reads from right to left, such as Arabic, the programming must be altered beyond just changing the text strings to display the text correctly. Making additional changes to the game code on top of having the text strings translated is always a task whose cost-effectiveness needs to be considered before committing to a localisation.
Localisation can also deal with illustrations instead of text. An interesting example of an oversight relating to this was the use of a small pig character in a content update to Crashing Season. The publisher for the Middle-East and North Africa region mentioned that the character might be problematic in some cultures, so it was replaced it with a deer.
This goes to show how localisation is so much more than just translating A to B, and might sometimes require significant changes to the product. The end result of good localization is a happy customer after all.
This post was guest written by Jukka Aikio, Asta Lyytinen, Henri Nivala and Magalie Richard from the University of Oulu