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August 8, 2020
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The Translation of Video Games Requires ‘Playability’

by Evelyn Lin on 02/18/19 02:16:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


All games are developed from a cultural context. Translation of video games is about customizing that context to different specific market. In other words, translation is an effective way for a video game to attain a global reach, grow their market, and reach more gamers. Gamers will not download a particular game unless it is in their native language. Translation builds credibility worldwide; however, it requires ‘playability.’ Playability is defined as a set of properties describing the player experience using a game system whose primary goal is to provide amusement and pleasure, by being satisfying and reliable. It is characterized by different properties and attributes to measure the player experience.

Why playability matters in game localization

Playability is the ease by which a game can be played or in other words, the duration or quantity that a game can be played. Playability is used to measure the quality of the gameplay; hence, it is taken into account when considering localization. This is just because of the fact that depending on the “quality of localization,” the players’ interaction with the game can be either noticeably diminished or significantly enhanced. 

The relationship between playability and translation

Although localization isn’t just about translating the game content to a particular locale for sale in that region, its purpose is to ensure that the game works flawlessly in the translated language, offering an enjoyable and smooth gaming experience.

The translation of video games is a critical element in order to allow more users to enjoy a game in their own language. However, the playability of the game may suffer because of poor voice acting, unclear menus, confusing instructions, bad translation, and a long list of localization bugs. Thus, playability is a crucial aspect for the localization of the video games because while the main mechanical functionality of a translated game may be the same as its original version, the final feel of the product along with the players’ actual enjoyment of the game experience can be affected.

However, the adaptation of video games into different cultures is not a straightforward process. In order to keep the ‘look and feel’ and the game experience into the target locale, video game translation must serve the purpose of making the game as immersive as the original to retain the playability factor. 

Advancements in technology and the introduction of multimedia features such as spoken dialogue and cut-scenes make video games an engaging area for audio-visual translation; thus placing them in the framework of controlled translation. In contrast, the manifold technical challenges and cultural references to be faced propose that video games have to be on the radar screen of localization.  

Usually, video game translations are very complex, and therefore, the quality of localization entirely depends on the translator.

Translator matters to maintain the playability of a game as its original

The primary tasks of a game translator are the initial preparation and the localization itself, including all the various contents that need to be translated. This will help them create an immersive gaming experience as the original while maintaining playability. It is difficult to translate a video game while keeping its functional and informative nature intact in order to achieve ingenuity in conformance with the spirit of the game.

Translators are provided with a brief summary of the plot along with additional information about the characters and scenery. So they are required to imagine each situation and carefully analyze the text, relying on their experience as gamers themselves. Other challenges translators are confronted with is that they need to familiarize themselves with the software programs and spend more time on creative thinking for the sake of a better quality translation.

Hence, experienced translators prepare a style guide that allows them to create a set of ‘rules’ for the project. This is because video games may require the translation of hundreds and thousands of words including the legal and technical documentation, game dialogue, and manuals. When translating the words, they need to consider the type of text as well in addition to what they may face in the project along with the platforms for which the project is developed for. The cultural and linguistic translation can be a very creative undertaking that adds to the intricacies of technical and functional adaptations. Therefore, a stress-free translation environment is crucial in delivering a successful video game translation project.

Importance of streamlined workflow and effective project management for video game localization

With thousands of texts appearing in an extensive selection of components, a simplified yet effective workflow and project management strategy is required that allows the reviewers and translators to work simultaneously. Tools and translation workflows need to be developed keeping the translators in mind. However, it is quite a task to equip the translators with the right tools, given that the workload is enormous.

Hence, it is necessary to plan the workflow before the start of the project for proper execution, so that nothing is left or forgotten in the translation process. This will ensure that consistency in style and terminology are maintained throughout the video game. Streamlined workflow becomes even more critical and complicated when the project needs to be released simultaneously in multiple languages in different target locales across the globe.        


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