How can I get a job as a video game translator or localizer?

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In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from Paulo, who asks, “In terms of the gaming industry, the topic that matters to me the most is video game localization. I’m a Brazilian translator and I would love to translate games as well. I don’t know if you have already written anything about that, but I would love to know more if possible.”

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The difference between game translation and game localization
  • Some of the biggest challenges of localization
  • How you can get started as a video game localizer

If you have a question you'd like to get answered on the podcast, leave a comment below or ask me anything here.

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Hello and welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide Podcast. This is episode number 29. I’m Jason W. Bay from gameindustrycareerguide.com and this is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing a career making video games.

This week’s question is from a Brazilian reader named Paulo. Paulo emailed to ask this, “In terms of the gaming industry, a topic that matters to me most is video game localization. I’m a Brazilian translator and I would love to translate games as well. I don’t know if you have already written anything about that but I would love to know more if possible.”

Well, I haven’t written anything about this in the past but video game localization is a booming business, now more than ever because game publishers are looking to expand the reach of their games to the largest possible international audiences. Most commercial games that are made by US publishers are localized into at least four other major languages besides English. They’ll also do French, Italian, German, and Spanish.

You’ll find those referred to as EFIGS in the game industry. But they’re oftentimes put into even more languages than just EFIGS. So that’s a minimum. The game industry is growing rapidly in China, Japan, South Korea, and other countries including Brazil, where Paulo lives. So there’s a demand for people who are fluent in those languages and those cultures to translate video games.

What does it take to be a game localizer? Well, first let’s talk about the difference between translation and localization. Translation is when you take a sentence in one language and you turn it into the equivalent phrase in a different language. Most anybody who can speak two languages can learn how to translate between them quickly and efficiently with a little practice. But what we localization is an even bigger challenge.

It involves not only the translation of the words and sentences in the game, but it also requires that you take into account all of the cultural differences between the source region and the target region that you’re translating to. And that is much more complicated than simply being able to speak both languages. Because there’s a large amount of cultural understanding that you need to know. Now that cultural understanding might include things like, what are the cultural differences and how the game characters should greet, argue, compliment and otherwise interact with each other socially. Or which words would be used by young characters differently than older characters.

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For example, in US English, adults and young people talk to each other in roughly the same way but in a country like South Korea for example, there are significant linguistic differences in the way a young person talks to an older person and vice versa. They use completely different words. So you have to do the language translation but you also need a strong understanding of the game’s characters so that you know how to do the cultural translation correctly. Even more difficult than that is when either the source or the target culture differs significantly in cultural norms.

What aspects of the game might not be allowed in the target country such as the depiction of blood, gore, or sexuality? Or if the game contains depictions of actual historic events, how might that depiction need to be changed in order to avoid confusing or offending players in the target country? Because different countries and different regions have different histories and different interpretations of history.

One of the more challenging aspects of localization is regarding the subtleties of language and context. Things like humor, jokes, sarcasm, irony, and pop culture references. Oftentimes those aspects cannot be directly translated. You have to understand the subtleties in the source culture and then come up with a suitable equivalent in the target culture. When you take all of these aspects into account, you start to understand why you need to do more than just speak both languages fluently. You also need a deep understanding of both cultures in order to do a good localization.

Okay, now that we have a basic understanding of the issues in localization, how would you go about getting a job as a localizer?

Well, as we discussed, you need to speak both languages and have a good understanding of both cultures. You probably guessed that the cultural understanding is actually the hardest part. You might need to spend time living in both countries in order to do that well. However, most of the game industry’s localization work is not done by the game studios or the publishers directly, instead, publishers usually outsource the localization process to other companies that specialize in game localization.

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So, if you’re looking for a job as a localizer, you should start by identifying and applying to those companies. One of the larger companies that my own game projects have used often in the past is called Babel Media. In the time since I’ve worked with them, though, it looks like they’ve been acquired by a company called Keywords Studios at keywordsstudios.com. They have locations in Canada, Ireland, Italy, Singapore, The US, Japan, Barcelona, Shanghai and Pune India. So, I’d suggest checking out their careers page for starters.

Paulo is in Brazil and considering that Brazil’s total revenues from video games was around $1.5 billion USD in 2015, I’d expect there to be a fair amount of work available for Brazilian Portuguese translation and localization. Search on Google for video game localization Portuguese and you’ll find several companies to consider. I can’t tell right off the bat whether those are in Brazil, but I would imagine that many of them probably are.

Well, I hope that’s a nice overview of video game translation and localization to get you pointed in the right direction and give you some context when you’re looking for jobs. If you love games and you’re fluent in two or more languages and especially if you’ve lived in a few different countries and you understand their cultures, it might be a great fit for your next career.

Thanks to Paulo for this week’s question and thank you for spending some time with me today. If you have a question that you’d like me to answer on this podcast, just stop by my website and leave a comment or send me an email. And if you liked this podcast please, please, please leave a review in iTunes or like it on social media. Because that helps other people find my podcast and it helps me stay motivated to keep providing this high-quality free content to you and the other game industry enthusiasts that are listening around the world. So I thank you very, very much for leaving your review. For more information and inspiration on getting a job and growing your career making video games, visit me at gameindustrycareerguide.com. I’m Jason W. Bay. Let’s meet up again next week right here on the Game Industry Career Guide Podcast.

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3 comments on “How can I get a job as a video game translator or localizer?
  1. Bits says:

    Great article.

  2. Jean Trindade Pereira says:

    Um, Jason, his name is “Paulo”, not “Paolo”. You might wanna fix that. 😉

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      You’re right! I had it correct in my opening paragraph, but it was incorrect in the transcription. Thanks for pointing it out. (How ironic, in a post about localization!)

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