How do you build the right website for a videogame translator? (UPDATE)

"In Italy there's always an accursed moment where reactions turn from 'here's a promising fella' to 'not this shmuck again'. Only a lucky few then age into a more dignified 'always a pleasure, dear master'" - Alberto Arbasino

This year will mark three important dates for me: four years as IGDA Localization SIG chair/co-chair, ten years as team GLOC, and forty years on this planet.

And while it's true that "An aphorism can never be the whole truth; it is either a half-truth or a truth-and-a-half" (Karl Kraus) I do feel it's time to adjust my online presence and wear some age-appropriate "shmuck" clothes. (And that's it, I do hope civilization will never reach the point where "master" is ever applied to videogame translators).

Being a freelance translator

Needless to say, I don't have the budget for a corporate-sized rebranding. On one hand, this means way more work for me. On the other, the slow process of trying, failing and iterating things myself should lead to truly personal results. And that's vital.

I feel Laura Gutierrez summed up brilliantly why this is important, but since an image is worth a thousand words, let's go with it. This is what a recent poll described as "localization professions"

Interestingly for a website called "L10N people" those... aren't my people.
Out of 11 professions listed, only three are likely to ever touch the text: "Linguistic Staff", "Technical Staff" and "Project Managers". Everything else is sales and management.

It's a sales operation, to the point that if you replace those three professions it could be any other field, from oil extraction to life insurance. Nothing wrong with that, sales are essential for any large-scale operation, but it's not my job.

And most importantly, it's not what I'm good at. I simply cannot compete with people that deploy 7 different specialists just to cover the bit where I say "That's my card and, uh, give me a shout if you need translations".

No matter how polished and studied and convincing the presentation will be, I must be myself, a freelance translator - just shaved and hair-combed.

Getting there: the website

So, let's start small and iterate

How small? A two-page site with my business pitch, an online resume answering the core questions: who I am, what I sell and how much does it cost

With time, we will will gradually review my whole presentation, both online and offline, but let's start with this first, minimal element

And let's be clear: it will not be design, at least for now. As eloquently summarized here, here and here, it should be design to serve the message, not the other way around. It took me 10 years to understand it, but that's the core reason why 10 USD template-built "professional" themes always stink: you need to start with the message (well, you need that and the time for it and a budget over 10 USD)

Where do we start? From the most basic but also the most understandable guideline I could find about building good sites: the Digital Services Playbook from the US Digital Service. Really, it might sound like a joke (how many times do I say that in a week?) but it's brilliant

"Understand what people need"

Okay, we might not be able to cover all the points in this checklist, but a few are very useful and viable. For example spending time with current and prospective users of the service. So I reached out a few industry contacts I know in order to get their views on how translators get chosen. Long story short, here are the conclusions

  • Unless an agency is very small, it's not the project manager that picks a translator, but a recruiting specialist
  • This also means that it's a proactive work: they search vendors and store them in the database in advance, they don't chase them up when a request arrives
  • In return, this means that searching on Google, LinkedIN or isn't that common: most translators get chosen because 1) they are a known commodity, mostly because they come recommended by someone and 2) because they are cheaper than others
  • Therefore 1 - It's important to state clearly the specifications of your service (for example the CAT tool/Translation-Editing-Proof/Xbench QA workflow and experience) but don't try to dazzle: at the end of the day they only want to understand the service they can expect from you - quality is something they will measure themselves
  • Therefore 2 - The keyword when judging a new translator is "guarantees": years of experience and a strong portfolio show that you are reliable, while few papers, case studies and activities show that you care enough to stay updated and specialize
  • In this perspective, the important thing is that all these elements exist. People are busy and sometimes they will stop at reading titles, but just that is enough for them to notice and appreciate
  • If you clarify that you are always reachable 24/7 through the Italian partners, living in Japan is not an issue. People in this field know that translators are often globetrotters and don't look down at them for it. Quality speaks for itself
  • Similarly, clients will not see "extra-curricular" activities as distractions. They will simply assume that 100% of your attention will be focused on them when required
  • Suggested formats: A clean, vertical site, with good text and a few recognizable logos / SNS posts that link to your content while being easily digestible on their own / A rare, non-spammy newsletter with carefully curated content

What's next? (UPDATED)

A lot! I spoke with the Marketing Guy and we started making plans.

Alas, while it would be fascinating to implement some A/B testing in order to experiment with what people prefer to see, the truth is that we don't have nearly enough visitors.

A/B testing starts to make sense with about 3000 visitors per month, we only had 441. Granted, I didn't write anything new for a while, but still.

Similarly, we don't really have the momentum for two separate sites. As much as I dislike having my promotional material together with the more knowledge oriented stuff, there's really no choice.

So we went on two main directions: making the current site more pleasant and starting building some interesting content.

On the aesthetic side, I started adding small infographic drawings to the articles, using a 40 USD tool called Simple Diagrams

I also switched to a css framework called Bulma, substantially a big collection of ready made graphical elements, so that I can mock up the site with all the cute boxes, pop-ups and buttons I want.

At a later stage I will ask someone to redo it all properly (maybe the awesome Connor Krammer?), but at least we will have an idea of what we want (currently I'm really in love with's design)

As for the content side, I've collected a few topic ideas and ran a survey on my Twitter account.

  • Improving your subtitles with movie techniques
  • The terminology of Final Fantasy 15 (and its FIGS translations)
  • How to make a style guide: step by step tutorial
  • Becoming a games translator: recommendations and pitfalls
  • The terminology of MOBA games (and potential pitfalls)
  • Translating videogames with memoQ 8: step by step tutorial
  • Improving your translations with Quality Assurance tools
  • The terminology of Zelda Breath of the Wild (and its FIGS translations)
  • Ten most common artifacts of Japanese to English translation and how to avoid them
  • The terminology of Nintendo Switch (and its FIGS translations)

To my surprise, the most popular options were rehashes of older such as "becoming a games translator" and "improving with QA tools", but it's definitely a nice roadmap.

Besides text content, I've started experimenting with video.Discussing games translations without seeing the games themselves means missing a lot of energy that could make the topic more interesting.On the other hand, busy visuals aren't usually suited to the kind of in-depth discussions we often need, so it's a difficult balancing exercise.

For that purpose, I bought a little stream recording machine, called Aver Media Live Gamer Portable. It's probably overkill, but it makes things much smoother: I plug the HDMI cable into it, I start my console and everything is saved on SD card without headaches.

So far I've run two experiments: the first was an 8 minutes pop-up commentary of Naruto: the Broken Bond (also in Italian), the second was a 45 seconds case study of Ken's Rage 2.

The first was an understandable flop. I thought that taking the intro as is and annotating it like in the old "Pop Up Videos" from MTV would be enough, but it's far too long and empty.

The second was a reasonable success, with about 40 views and a couple of retweets. It was made by recording two hours of footage and then condensing the very best in less than one minute.

It feels vastly superior but, being so condensed makes the promotional elements much more prominent, which in turns limits its circulation (no-one wants to share promos for free). I'll see if I can strike a more informative tone for the future, and at the very least these can become good case studies for this site.

(On that regard, I definitely plan to hand over the mass of raw footage to a video house like Hive Division in order to make a truly compelling showreel for the homepage)

Finally, the newsletter: I've bought a Social pilot subscription and I've scheduled a few "oldies but goldies" link-shares over the next months, once a month.

Results are mixed: Linkedin and the IGDA LocSIG group seem to like them, but they get very little interaction (and even a few unfollows) on Twitter. Maybe people prefer to hear my non-marketing voice over there?

All in all, I'd say we've made some solid progress. Next steps :)

  • Finalize the design of the newsletter and prepare content for the August launch (with a mix of current news and classic papers)
  • Prepare more video case-studies. The plan is to have licenses (Naruto and Kenshiro), RPG (Silmeria and Last Remnant), sport (PES e Project Cars), indies (Papers Please, Gunvolt and Super Rude Bear) plus maybe something about my testing past (San Andreas, Manhunt, Max Payne 2). Maybe I could do one by area to keep things interesting
  • Prepare the video for "Ten most common artifacts of Japanese to English translation and how to avoid them". I already have the support of the great RisingFunGaming for this, I just need to record the footage and draft a storyboard
  • As soon as the site is more solid, get another round of feedback. Do you remember what the Digital Service Playbook said? )Iterate with your audience (you big dummy)!
  • Whenever I can, I should write an autorewrite plugin for PicoCMS, so that images are automatically framed as needed and external links are sent to new tabs

(Also happy how we're moving away from the Patrick McKenzie inspiration. I doubt that he struggles to get 3000 visitors per month, but still...)