Video games: are they translated or localised?

August 9, 2017 10:03 am

I have been playing video games for more than twenty years and have witnessed the evolution of the video game industry. While I have welcomed some changes, sometimes I find myself yearning for the simpler times. The industry has come a long way and video games aren’t just a hobby any more, since they are part of “a huge global industry” with a revenue that has “surpassed that of the international film industry” (Henchman, 2017). Therefore, translation is fundamental for video games to reach a wider audience. The more people that are able to enjoy a video game in their native language, the better. However, video games are not just translated, they are localised. But what does localisation mean?

IATE defines localisation as the “adaptation of a product to the specific characteristics of a local market, especially with regard to language and culture.” I first came across this term when reading news about video games, even though I had seen the results of localisation in dubs of some animated television series.

Translation is part of the linguistic and cultural localisation process, which “involves translating text and cultural references in such a way that the overall feel of the game remains the same, but it is still appropriate for each locale.” In the case of video games, linguistic and cultural localisation also includes, for example, marketing materials and dubbing. However, video game localisation is a much broader process than translation, since there is also the localisation of hardware, software, graphics, music and the legal aspect (Nicholson, 2014). For example, the highly successful Crash Bandicoot (1996) video game was one of the first major localisation efforts by Sony Computer Entertainment, now known as Sony Interactive Entertainment. As Andy Gavin, co-founder of renowned video game developer Naughty Dog (USA) and co-creator of the Crash Bandicoot and the Jak & Daxter series, explained:

This was one (if not the) first product for which the whole international organization was behind (…) Each Sony territory really pulled out all the stops in supporting and promoting the game as “made here.” It was highly localized, not just the game itself but each little country in Europe doing its own advertising and marketing campaign. Even the Irish filmed their own ads with Irish accented actors (Gavin, 2012).

You can find a detailed explanation of the entire localisation process by reading Andy Gavin’s articles on the European and Japanese localisations of Crash Bandicoot, “Parlez vous Crash” and “Crash goes to Japan – part 1”, respectively.

Screenshot of Crash Bandicoot - Crash is riding a wild hog

Screenshot of the level “Hog Wild” from Crash Bandicoot

This was more than two decades ago and video game localisation has become “a huge undertaking” (Henchman, 2017) and it is especially relevant today, since a large audience comes “from non-English speaking countries,” and expects a “consistent experience across multiple platforms.” Thus, “language support has increased and moved beyond the traditional, most common languages” (SDL, 2017). Personally, I have always played video games in English but lately I have been playing some Nintendo games in Portuguese. However, Portuguese was not an option until the late nineties but thanks to the efforts from Sony Portugal and the success of the PlayStation consoles in the country, Portuguese became available as a language choice (Parreira, 2015). If you have a look at the following list, you can see how the number of video games in Portuguese grew between the release of the first PlayStation console and its successor, the PlayStation 2, and by the time the PlayStation 3 was available in the market, more than 90% of its titles included the Portuguese language (Parreira, 2015). Sony Portugal promotes this with a “Jogo em Português” (Game in Portuguese) sticker, as shown below:

Portuguese cover of Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn (2017), developed by Guerrilla Games (The Netherlands)

Nowadays, many video games tell deep and complex stories, including “scripts with hours of audio” and “the quality of translation and localisation” determines their success in the international market (Henchman, 2017).  One example of a successful localisation is The Witcher 3, by Polish developer CD Projekt RED. The translation team first created the English version from the original Polish. Since English was the base translation for fifteen other languages, it had to be “as idiomatic, colourful, moving and just plain good as possible,” as translator Travis Currit explained. The translation was even more challenging due to the inclusion of songs and poems with their rhyme schemes, metres or melodies. In this case, the English version of the songs and poems should ideally convey the same information and tone of the Polish version (AYB, 2015). You can read the full interview, by clicking this link.

A video showing the languages available in Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection (PlayStation 4)
 

Nevertheless, there are still high-profile games that do not offer a good translation, as in the case of Persona 5, developed by Atlus (Japan), which was released this year in Europe. While the Japanese version was critically acclaimed, the English version contained numerous translation mistakes that caused many fans to express their discontent online (Henchman, 2017). One fan, named Connor Krammer, even created a website, Persona 5: Phantoms of Translation, which fully details all the translation mistakes of the English version.

In conclusion, video games are translated and localised with translation being part of the broader localisation process. As video games gain more importance in popular culture, localisation methods are becoming more in tune with audiences all over the world. Do you play video games in their original language or in your native language? Is localisation promoted in your country as in Portugal? Please let us know and we hope you enjoyed this article.


Written by Pedro Ramos. Translator, Social Media and Content Manager, Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg).

Sources:

  • All your Base Online (2015) Interview with CD Projekt Red’s Travis Currit. Available at: http://bit.ly/2u6M8rF (Accessed 26 July 2017)
  • Fórum PlayStation (2016) Lista Completa de Jogos PS1/PS2 em Português. Available at: http://bit.ly/2ux58lS (Accessed 26 July 2017)
  • Gavin, Andy (2012) Parlez vous Crash. Available at: http://bit.ly/2uBinA6 (Accessed 26 July 2017)
  • Gavin, Andy (2012) Crash goes to Japan – part 1. Available at: http://bit.ly/2tD3Cvn (Accessed 26 July 2017)
  • Henchman, Jonny (2017) Translation in Gaming: You Must Defeat Sheng Long. Available at: http://bit.ly/2vIGXzf (Accessed 26 July 2017)
  • Krammer, Connor (2017) Persona 5: Phantoms of Translation. Available at: http://bit.ly/2vIzzEb (Accessed 26 July 2017)
  • Nicholson, Caitlin (2014) Gaming Localization Part I: Translation vs. Localization for Gaming. Available at: http://bit.ly/2uYZKIL (Accessed 26 July 2017)
  • Parreira, Rui (2015) Glog#3 – Vamos lá falar da PlayStation em Portugal! Available at: https://youtu.be/zA3d_zmhfko (Accessed 26 July 2017)
  • SDL (n.d.) Translation technology for the gaming industry. Available at: http://bit.ly/2tYXI7l (Accessed 26 July 2017)
  • Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection (PS4) Dubbing Comparison (2015). Available at: https://youtu.be/pitzzhJFQbI (Accessed 26 July 2017)

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