Crowdsourcing Localization: Can it Work for You?

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When Johnnemann Nordhagen brought his team together to make Gone Home, he did it from the basement of a shared rental house with nothing more than a small savings account and a dream. That dream became one of last year’s greatest localization stories as he turned Gone Home into an award winning, multi-lingual success.

His localization budget? $0.

At GDC 2014, Nordhagen revealed the secrets to success behind the crowdsourcing translation of one of the best games of 2013. In this post we’ll cover the lessons learned from Gone Home’s localization and whether or not crowdsourcing can work for you.

Lessons from crowdsourcing Gone Home’s localization

The first, and most obvious, problem when crowdsourcing anything is forming the crowd. First and foremost, your game has to be interesting and exciting enough for people to rally around. Use Kickstarter, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, news outlets, and any other media to form a community around your game, and make sure you promote ownership of their work. Don’t forget to give credit where credit is due.

Second, if you are going the route of crowdsourcing, do it early and do it right. Make lots of documentation to help provide your translators fill in context gaps and solve technical issues. Using plain-text files (XML for subtitles) is easiest for editing. There are a number of other technical considerations you will have to make before starting as well.  For example, will you localize voice acting, or make subtitles? How will you handle baked-in text? (Gone Home solved this problem with overlays). Lay out these problems beforehand so that you won’t be surprised by them later. Some problems may not have easy fixes.

Nordhagen said that crowdsourcing localization ultimately meant a very simple dictionary where changes in the source text resulted in un-localized versions in the target. Some languages presented font difficulties and UI spacing forced translations to be shortened rather fixing the UI. Crowdsourcing also meant they didn’t have enough testing and there was no support on launch. Keep these problems in mind when you decide how you will localize your games.

Can crowdsourcing work for everyone?

The Gone Home example provides hope for developers on a budget, but in the larger picture, crowdsourcing is not likely to replace traditional models of localization. First, it requires that you build a community around your game; a community dedicated enough to take time to help you. In the PC gaming world this is much easier to create than in the mobile market, where the majority of gamers are more casual and only spend a few minutes a day on any given game. If you are going the crowdsourcing route, be prepared to put more resources – money, time, and people – into community management and foster a strong following for your game.

The technical issues presented by crowdsourcing may also present a number of problems when localizing higher budget titles where accuracy and testing are a higher stakes game. This goes double for Asian translations where font and UI become much bigger problems.

For the time being, crowdsourcing is a great option for indie devs on a shoe-string budget, but If you have the budget to pay for localization, it is an investment worth making.

What do you think about crowdsourcing translations? Can it work for everyone or is it just for indies? Leave a comment or tweet @CurtisFile. Make sure to follow us on LinkedIn to get more updates!

*To see more about the localization of Gone Home visit the GDC Vault at: http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1020097/Crowdsourcing-the-Localization-of-Gone

Lessons From GDC

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With GDC well underway, the Latis team would thought it would be a great time to share some of the lessons we have taken away from the seminars and meetings we have attended.

From Social Whales Understanding and Leveraging a New Kind of Player

  • Customer to Customer marketing involves leveraging your most loyal players as a magnet to your game.
  • C2C strategies are equally as important as B2B, and B2C. Make sure you give them some thought.
  • Focus on keeping your most loyal players happy, and they in turn will make other players in your community happy.

From A Survey of the Modern QA Department

  • External QA service providers can find value in providing usability testing and build testing

From The Future of Localization Testing

  • Give your localization service provider your assets and deliver your files in one batch to increase efficiency.
  • The majority of quality issues are implementation issues (clipped text, overlapping text, corrupted text, untranslated text, wrong language, missing audio, etc.)
  • Non-native localization testers and functional testers were equally good at picking out errors as Native localization testers (except for Asian languages). You can leverage this to keep costs down.

From A Journey to the West: A Chinese Localization Primer

  • To solve UI constraint problems, provide a UI/UX analysis before translation begins and use German as a baseline length limit.
  • If the plot doesn’t appeal to the target culture, consider re-writes using in-house game writers.
  • If you have perpetually changing in-game content, ensure that you have a nimble localization processes.

From You Own the Game but the Community Owns You

  • Don’t reveal time lines. You will probably never be right and ultimately frustrate your audience base. Only reveal when you know you are ready.
  • Use your audience to your advantage and bring them into the creative process. They can help create all manner of promotional material for you (e.g. Kerbal Space Program used a fan to create cinematic trailer for a new release)
  • If you are honest with your fan base, it will pay off in the long run.

From Kickstarting Your Company, Your Game, and Your Community

  • Kickstarter is horrible for raising money, and this should not be your main goal in using it.
  • Most people don’t understand Kickstarter and treat it like it is an amazon store.
  • People expect something in return immediately after giving money to you. Make sure you have some value to give them once they have put money up for the project.
  • Kickstarter is about creating community and buzz around your game. Be sure to engage everyone that participates in your project and find ways to bring them into the process.

We will be updating this blog as GDC continues throughout the week, so please make sure to check back.

What lessons have you learned at GDC? Share them in our comments or tweet @CurtisFile. Remember to follow us on  LinkedIn and share your ideas with us there.