Outsourcing Banana Skins

…How to avoid slip-ups when working with a localisation service provider

There are numerous reasons to outsource your localisation, not least the specialist knowledge of a localisation service provider (LSP). But getting a great workflow in place with an external company can be challenging.

We look at the major banana skins that are likely to take you unawares, and how to avoid them.

Getting the jargon wrong

Modern LSPs don’t just translate, as we all know. As the global market has caused an increase in localisation requirements, the services provided have grown in number and complexity.  The problem lies in understanding the difference between the various offerings. If you don’t know what firms are offering, it can be tough to ask for what you actually want.

It may be that you want a creative translation of something, and you know about transcreation and enquire about that. But what if what you actually need is a piece of marketing content that has to be completely rewritten for the target market? You might actually want to ask for multilingual copywriting, and give the writers a brief to create something that works for a new culture. Or at the other end of the spectrum, you might believe that you need something transcreated when actually, you need it creatively copyedited after translation to inject real style and flow. A monolingual, specialist writer will give you a much better result, because writing well is their trade. So if you want awesome game dialogue, creative copyediting might just be the answer.

Taking a good look at the services provided and asking a lot of questions is key to getting the service that you need. If it saves you a lot of money in the long run, taking the time to ask questions is a no-brainer.

Failing to provide a full brief

When deadlines are tight, it can be tempting to start the localisation process off as quickly as possible, before a full briefing has been arranged. But, particularly in game translation, that rushed decision can have a severe impact on the quality of the final product. Even if issues such as desired capitalisation are picked up on and corrected in a feedback phase, that is time wasted that could have been better spent elsewhere.

The best possible translation of a game comes out of knowing: 1) the final style and tone you want (is it colloquial or formal in the target language? Are we aiming for a historical tone, or are we inventing new slang words for a new world?); 2) how the world works (what the cities are, and are our main characters military, or are they civilians? Do they speak with regional accents? Are there definite good guys and bad guys? If there is a planet full of people, what would you like the name of the people to be translated as?); and 3) what battle, ability, purchase systems, etc. the game uses.

Armed with a full brief, your translation will be not only accurate, but also fitting, and take into account the extent to which you want to adapt culturally.

Not having a good querying process

Querying is the way that LSPs turn reasonable translation into great content. Translators should be specialists in their field, but there is nobody who knows a game like its creators. When a translation could go one of two ways, with different implications each way, querying the client is vital to getting the right version.

Online query logs are the easiest way of keeping track, and for multiple translators or copywriters to be on the same page. But when turnaround times are swift, it can be more useful to set up Skype or equivalent communication. And the advantage of instant querying is that it often saves the translator time when the same issue comes up later.

A good LSP should have their own suggestions on the process, but you might want to adapt them to suit your working style.  And if you aren’t being asked questions about your game during the translation process, then it should set some alarm-bells ringing.

Not factoring in consistency

LSPs work in a range of ways. Some will have specific translators booked for when needed. Others will use a pool of translators and choose whoever is free. It’s important to know which of these you are getting. Most game content will be ready for localisation in batches, and if two different translators are handling batches 1 and 2, there are inevitable issues over consistency, even with translation tools at an LSP’s disposal.

Asking the localisation provider how the work will be allocated is useful. If you get the names of the translators, you will know when there are likely to be variations. Many LSPs will have systems in place for ensuring that the quality does not vary from translator to translator (for example, a single reviewer who goes through all the material), and some even use purely in-house translators who will be on the project from start to finish. But knowing what the strategy is will save you from unwelcome surprises, and your players from an experience that is anything less than excellent.

Failing to learn from mistakes

This is something that you and the LSP should both be taking on board. Any feedback that occurs during translation has to make its way into the process for later, and any mistakes in the process that have led to issues or time-wasting need to be flagged up and dealt with.  These can be errors created by either party, and the issue of blame shouldn’t enter into it, or you will produce a culture where mistakes are deliberately hidden.

Good LSPs are honest ones, so you should have a good idea of where they feel they could synch better with your workflow. If you aren’t getting that feedback, then raise it yourself, and make suggestions (but be willing to listen to suggestions, too.) By the same measure, good clients are honest ones, too. You may, for example, have wanted to save money by reviewing in-house, but then failed to brief your in-house reviewers in full. That means your translators’ work may come back with agreed terminology changed. If that happens, holding your hands up and improving the workflow the next time round is the right answer.

The final outcome

There are many other pitfalls in outsourcing your localisation work, but the benefits should outweigh the disadvantages if the process is managed correctly. If that means a little more work on your part during the translation process, then that should be an acceptable sacrifice in order to get the best possible product at the end of it. Keep your eye on the prize, and level up your localisation process until you get there.

Francesca Sorrentino (Program Manager – Games) and Felippe Montez (Localisation Project Manager – Games) will be attending the XDS event in Vancouver from 6 September – 8 September. If you’re there, do stop by to say hello – they’d love to chat with you!