Video Game Translations: Not an easy job

Germans enjoy the luxury of foreign media, such as video games, often being translated into German. However, few of them appreciate the reality that video game translators face. They have to fight not only against the complexities of the language itself, but also against deadlines.

Release Dates Put Pressure on Translators

The production plans of the game developers are usually tight knit. Even if all the texts are already in their final versions and ready to be translated, there is still much to do.

Then, someone will suddenly decide that more languages should be added into the game. At that point, game translators are also added for all of the different languages, and their responsibility is to translate all the texts in a game. But, the clock keeps ticking…

In addition to the texts spoken by the characters in the game, translators have to translate the menus too, as well as their proper names.

And here comes the tricky part.

Translating a game is not just a mere translation of a text from one language to another. The cultural context must also be adapted, a process which is referred to as localization. It means that the translation is adapted to a specific cultural context.

At the same time, translators are constantly rushed. The reason: Release dates are known at an early stage of development and must be strictly adhered to. Logically, that means often very little time is left for the translation phase.

Permanent employees vs. Freelance Translators

In particular, those translators who are employed full-time in the game development company itself, can feel the true pressure.

For example, Rockstar Games, with headquarters in New York, a number of development studios, and many more offices in London and Lincoln, is a company where employees focus exclusively on quality assurance and localization. The translation of their latest game hit Red Dead Redemption 2 was not done only overtime, but during the nights and weekends too.

Freelance translators struggle with similar challenges. For them, however, there is another peculiarity. They depend on one thing above all: precise briefings from their clients.

This is especially true if the preprogrammed game is not yet available at this time and the translator can only rely on the information from the briefing.

Therefore, game developers who are launching a new game on the market and getting a translation with the help of a translation agency, should not be stingy on project information and possibly send text templates or comparative examples.

A detailed description of the main characters is as much a must as a summary of the plot. In addition, information concerning the length of the texts is helpful, as there is usually only limited space available for written text in the game or a certain amount of time for spoken texts. Especially with translations from English into languages that tend to form longer words and sentences, radical cuts are often necessary to reach the specifications.

The Biggest Challenges in Game Translations

Movie and literature translators have to overcome the same hurdles in their work too. For example, they have to keep the same jokes and puns and make them sound funny, and they have to correctly translate terms with multiple meanings according to the context. For example, the English word “ruler” in a role-playing game could be translated “Lineal” instead of as “Herrscher”, which would cause great laughter among gamers and would not go unmentioned in any professional game review.

This challenge actually exists for all translators, regardless of whether the medium is literature or a game or something else.  A real challenge, where you have to translate statements in such a way that they are understandable in the target language.

If the original version refers to something specific, which is unknown to gamers in a specific country, the translator has to weigh up whether to translate it word-for-word or to choose an alternative formulation known in the target language that would convey the same or similar meaning.

It is not without reason to say that transcreation is more common in the gaming area rather than a mere translation, which does justice to the original and is understandable for gamers of all backgrounds.

Translated from German:

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