At Active Gaming Media, we do a little bit of everything: we handle publishing through our PLAYISM brand, keep up our web magazine AUTOMATON, and run the job-searching site IZANAU. But the pillar of our business is localization. At AGM we don’t just translate, we adapt content to fit different cultures, and offer language implementation and linguistic quality assurance for everything from anime and manga to games.
These days, it’s a given games from overseas will be imported into Japan, and vice versa. Localization is what makes that possible. So, what’s our philosophy, how do we localize content, and what do we want going forward? This time in our “Localize Talk,” we’ll be introducing our stance on localization. We hope this will give you a better understanding of Active Gaming Media.
For the first installment, our CEO Ibai Ameztoy will be talking about localization from Japanese to other languages.
Why don’t we just jump in? What are your thoughts on localization in recent years?
Ibai: I’m not the spokesperson for localization in Japan, so I can’t speak for everyone, but as a user, there are a lot of times when I’m playing the English or Spanish versions of Japanese games, and things don’t quite fit. Since many Japanese companies are selling overseas, opportunities to play Japanese games in other languages has become more common, but I feel like they’re just being translated, rather than being localized. To be brutally honest, the only titles that play really smoothly in other languages are from Nintendo. Maybe because there isn’t a lot of text in their games, but their localizations are pretty flawless. And I’m sure that’s because they put money into making it flawless.
When discussing localization as a business, I feel people don’t fully understand everything we’re offering for foreign language localization. When I say that, I mean that while of course people care about the language, focus tends to be put more on the price, and how quickly it can be done. I believe localization is a part of the development process, but it’s not unusual to see debugging given a higher priority.
I’m not the first to say this, but if you think of game development as a house, then programming is the foundation, and art is its appearance. Localization, in that context, is like the house’s mood, its atmosphere. A house with a nice atmosphere is comfortable to live in, but a bad atmosphere makes for uncomfortable living conditions. It has a very subtle, but important influence. Hardly anyone ever realizes how important localization is, until they see just how good—or bad—it can get.
To put it simply, you could say people still don’t fully understand localization.
Ibai: Definitely. And it’s not just games; I feel it’s the same in a lot of things with subtitles. I’ve encountered many Japanese works that have been translated in odd ways. For example, in Beat Takeshi’s (Kitano Takeshi) Fireworks, there’s a scene where someone eats manjū. Instead of writing manjū, the subtitles said “a sweet snack filled with boiled beans.” That movie has gotten awards in Europe, so I don’t think the entire localization was bad, but there was a lot of unnaturalness. This is a problem big name companies suffer from, too. It’s a problem that plagues the entire game world. I really feel more effort needs to be put into it. Of course, since localization is the business I’m in, it probably just sounds like I’m pushing for more clients. (chuckle)
I mean, let’s look at it this way. If you ask someone in the industry about game engines, they’ll be able to list at least Unreal Engine and Unity, some could name even more I’m sure. But it’s rare for someone to be able to name a CAT (computer assisted translation) tool. That’s the reality. It’s common knowledge in the translation industry that while TRADOS is widely used, memoQ is better for European languages. People should know that at the very least.
I do see what you mean, but on the other hand, I feel every project is limited by its budget.
Ibai: When that’s an issue, they could consider lowering the word count. Or leaving out the voice acting, if there is any. It’s better to focus on quality over quantity. The biggest priority is usually English, so developers could first focus on making the best English version possible.
Right, raise customer satisfaction for at least one language.
Ibai: Exactly. Recently, people are starting to localize into many, many different languages. Sometimes we get requests for twenty different languages or more. Of course, I’m glad for the business, but that’s when I start worrying about standards.
I can understand wanting to increase your market by increasing the number of available languages.
Ibai: Sure, but that’s not always what happens. If the localization is bad, it’s more likely people will get be unable to understand how to continue, or just quit playing.
I’ve done that a lot with Steam games, though sometimes it was better in English. As a gamer, “playable” isn’t really the standard I hope developers strive for. Cost is an issue, but part of me does wish they’d think about their players.
Ibai: There’s also a misconception that localization and LQA are lumped together and priced as one, but if you seriously invest in localization, time required for LQA goes down, and complaints go down too, so there isn’t as much customer support needed either. Even companies who do everything else in-house will happily outsource localization. We offer a lot of services for game development, and when working with publishers, localization is the only thing they don’t seem to understand or have any clear opinions about. They’re mostly concerned about cost.
There’s times when localization changes the world of the game, I feel. For me, if the font chosen for Japanese is easy to read, I’m immediately more likely to get into it.
Ibai: Yes, it’s not unusual for downloaded titles especially to use any old font from the internet. They’re never optimized, and they’re always hard to read. Picking a font that suits the world of the game is important when going from Japanese to other languages, too. Of course, whether or not the font matters depends on the game, but I want to work with companies who are picky about all aspects of localization. I don’t think it’s necessary to spend a lot of money, but investing a reasonable amount in localization and focusing on quality will make international fans happy.
It is nice having games in my own language, but it’s even better to go that extra mile with localization. And it makes the game easier to recommend to other people. Thank you for your thoughts, Mr. Ameztoy.
This is a reposting of our CEO’s interview published in AUTOMATON July 1, 2017. Read the original here.