Common video game misconceptions: localization testing

Localization testing is the last bastion against bad game translations. An experienced lead tester tells us more about truths and myths of this vital job

A localization tester is very much a distant cousin to a video game translator.

They both come from the same family tree, they usually live miles apart and when they are finally and unwillingly brought together for an event, there is no telling whether they’ll hit it right off or beat it off each other.

Whereas a video game translator gets to create a brand new text – albeit based on the source material – and they are usually kept as far away from the actual product as an NDA will allow a publisher to, the localization tester is very much the editor here: they have the luxury of seeing this text directly in game and from their ‘comfortable’ and very worn – especially during crunch – front-row seat they get to pick holes and amend it until the cows come home, or the game goes into submission.

Whichever comes first really, though it’s usually the latter. Despite being quite simply vital to any creative process, some ways short of a necessary evil almost, the sad truth is that no one really appreciates editors except for the editors themselves, and this much isn’t even a misconception.

The following four points, however, are:

1 – A localization tester gets to re-write the entire game, no questions asked

If the greatest misconception of a video game tester is that they will get paid to play games all day – and you do, trust me, just not the sort of play ‘style’ you’d ever expect though – a localization tester will most likely drool over the possibility of re-writing an entire game well before they sign their first part-time contract straight out of school.

Only to find out that this is indeed the greatest misconception of them all: a localization tester will never get the chance to re-shape an entire script, and it’s not because of the amount of hoops they will need to jump through and the red tape they’ll need to shallow to get even a single line of text changed, if anything it will be because most of the time they will need to catch up with the never ending text changes made to the source material – thanks, sim-ship! – and make sure that the text doesn’t contradict any of the manufacturers’ not-quite-as-specific-as-you-would-like terminology guidelines.

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo won’t really congratulate anyone for a well used conjunctive, they will however be very displeased should a localization tester not notice one of their branded names being misspelt.

Trust me, you sign that piece of paper and you will never look at a seemingly uninteresting system message about not removing stuff while saving ever again in your life.

2 – A localization tester can shorten anything

Much to the designer or coder dismay, a localization tester does not have a magic wand they can just wave to make that massively overlapping string of text suddenly shorter in German.

They can make it disappear altogether, yes, but a missing piece of text won’t go down well during submission. If anything, it’s all those designers and coders out there that could come up with a ‘spell’ to make that string of text shrink and elegantly fit in that pretentiously and stylishly tiny allocated space without any further ado.

Sadly though, that’s almost never the case. This misconception is one that hurts, and it’s especially painful when the request to just ‘abbreviate everything with a full stop’ comes from what you’d think would a stylistically inclined designer, a connoisseur of good things, clearly failing to see just how ugly this lazy solution will look on screen.

Not to mention you can’t shorten the above mentioned manufacturers’ required and/or recommended terminology anyway, so good luck going back to the drawing board one week before final submission because “periferica di memorizzazione” doesn’t quite fit your beautifully laid out UI.

3 – A localization tester knows what needs censoring for the target markets

This one is for the publishers.

Certain content in a video game will need to be censored in certain countries, a publisher will do this not out of spite towards freedom of speech – no matter how much naysayers would like that to be the case – they censor the content because otherwise the game cannot be legally sold in that specific country.

You might have heard of CERO and USK, for instance, and shrugged both of them off as not really relevant to your country (unless you’re reading this in either Japan or Germany, of course), but you’d be dead wrong.

Take Italy, for example, seemingly free from the ‘evil’ censor… except you probably wouldn’t want to translate literally and faithfully something like “Jesus f*****g Christ” or other straight-forward blasphemies, the Vatican is just around the corner after all.

Be it officially or unofficially, some countries will inevitably see content taken away or changed in the version of the video game that’s officially distributed there, to make sure it doesn’t trip over some legal mind field.

“Legal” being the keyword here, it’s a gross misconception to assume a localization tester would know what can stay or what needs to go in terms of content. That, mr publisher sir, is something your legal team needs to take care of.

4 – A localization tester knows their native language better than the translators

So yeah, I did say that a localization tester is in fact an editor to the video game translator. It should go without saying that, as editors, they need to have as strong a grasp of the language, preferably stronger in fact.

After all, how can you comfortably edit the creation of someone else if you don’t possess at the very least the same level of language skills they have? It should go without saying, but it won’t, because the entry level requirements for a localization tester are as random as they get.

You could land this job by either being the next Dante, the fastest-yet-not-so-literate thumb this side of Japan, or anywhere in the middle.

There is no telling what combination of the two will be editing the text, it will largely depend on what the possibly foreign localisation company is looking for at that moment in time, hence this fourth and final misconception.

So yeah, a localization tester will not necessarily know their native language better than a professional translator.

But here’s the good bit, even if they don’t, great things can still come out of them working in tandem with the translator, especially when the former lives and breathes the language of the source material and the latter is still very much in touch with the target language.

So if you’re a localization tester and you’re not Dante, just try your best not to start any family feuds, be the nice distant cousin.


Alain Dellepiane

Alain Dellepiane @gloc247 11 November 2013
Alain is the founder of team GLOC. Want to read more about localization? You should probably try this blog's Best of, which has a dozen of the best articles ready to read. (View all posts by Alain ➜)

Stay updated.

Receive a monthly email with the best game localization news, papers and tools.

Check out the latest issue. Free of charge, zero spam, unsubscribe any time.