Millions of people through out the world play video games. Considering most games are made in Japan, a lot of those people probably have no idea of the work involved in producing them and bringing them here for U.S. consumers. That process is called localization.
Localization entails reprogramming the game system to display English words, fixing the program to be more user-friendly, translating text, and rewriting it to seem natural to native English speakers. It also entails translating audio, songs, etc and in some instances adding or editing animation scenes to make it more compelling.
Translation depends on the type of game that they are working on. “Action games can take as little as two months,” Victor Ireland, President of Working Designs said. “An RPG title takes six to 12 months, on average, to localize.”
At Working Designs it usually takes a little longer because they have several games in the process at the same time. “It depends on how much dialogue and animation,” said Ireland. “And how many songs there are, in addition to the core game and text.” More of those things add up to a longer localization time.
People working on the project have to play the same game again and again, sometimes 30 or more times, from beginning to end. “When we hire someone new,” Ireland said. “We always warn them that they will hate whatever game they are working on and they never believe us, but it’s always true.”
“They have to do the most mundane things to make sure they don’t break the game,” Ireland said. “It just gets old.”
This process goes in reverse for the programmer. “The programmer’s joy with a localization project is zero at the beginning,” Ireland said. “Because that’s where all the hard work for him lies.”
If there are voice-overs in the games, there are several ways they go about casting. There is the age-old cattle call, “Much like American Idol who think they can sing,” Ireland said. “There are a lot of really poor actors who think they can act. Auditioning them makes for a very long and depressing day.”
The criteria for choosing games to localize are quite simple. “Is it a good game, if it is we look at the graphics and marketability,” Ireland said. The quality of the core game is our first concern.”
The total cost of localization depends on the project. “Sometimes less that $100,000, many times multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Ireland said. “If there’s a lot of dialogue and animation, it takes more time, and costs more.
Obviously, Working Designs isn’t the only company that localizes games, there are many more that the masses enjoy on a regular basis. Now you know how your games get from Japan to your living room.