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What Happened to your Vendor's Localization Quality?

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There are few things more frustrating in games than unexpectedly having an annoyed player-base. Localization issues can be difficult for development teams to catch, while also being critical to player enjoyment.

A drop in quality after initial delivery, or months into an ongoing project, is one of the primary reasons publishers and developers change localization providers. But why is this such a common problem? What can you do about it?

We interviewed several Localization PMs at major publishers, in combination with our own research, to provide insights into the impact long-term relationships can have on localization quality and how to avoid issues down the line.

Has your localization quality dropped?

Before we look at solving quality issues, first we need to identify them. Firstly, it’s important to ask yourself: has my game’s localization quality actually dropped?

Here are some of the most noticeable indicators:

  • The number of issues you find during internal LQA rises with localization batches requiring re-translation regularly. This is especially important when dealing with critical issues, but an increasing number of suggested internally preferential changes can indicate that something is wrong too.
  • There were no internal changes to your localization department’s workload, but vendor turnaround times notably change without explanation.
  • The localization quality is consistent when your team is reviewing received batches with more scrutiny, but once your internal focus is shifted towards other projects the issues start to accumulate.
  • While it’s normal for queries to reduce in volume after a project’s initial stages, it isn’t normal to receive no further queries from linguists after that. This can be particularly noticeable on updates or when new localization considerations are added.
  • Worst of all, your community starts spending more time discussing localization issues than actually enjoying the game.

"It's normal to receive fewer queries after the initial stages of a project,
when linguists have received more references and developers
have understood what information needs to be added.
But, if there are initially numerous questions around certain details,
which subsequently reduce to zero, this can be a warning sign."

Svetlana Panova, Localization Project Manager at FluytStudio

When can quality drops happen and how obvious are they?

We’re often told that there’s typically a drop in localization quality after around 6 months of working together.

If this quality drop occurs on an ongoing project, like a live-service game, issues may be noticed quickly by players or the development team. But, if it’s a new project that hasn’t gone live yet it can take longer, even to release, before issues are noticed.

"This seems quite typical: initially, the salespeople and sometimes even senior management
promise all sorts of nonsense just to get a client. Over time, they realize that it's not
particularly interesting in the long run and all hopes that things will improve for them
financially after we get hooked are just naïve dreams.
And then the cost-cutting begins."

Alexander Bukhonov, Localization Lead at Coffee Stain Publishing

So, that answers the initial questions of what issues occur and when, but what about the big question – why?

Why Has Your Localization Quality Dropped?


Vendors want to win every project. Clients want to receive the most cost-efficient rates.

"'Buy nice or buy twice'. If you're pursuing the lowest rates
there’s a high chance that you’ll need to retranslate
or proofread your localization with another partner in the future."

Lisa Sidorova, Localization Lead at tinyBuild GAMES

Vendors know that and will go above-and-beyond to win a new partnership, going as far as providing rates they know they can’t fully maintain while using high-quality linguists. Sometimes they’ll even switch teams out for alternative ‘cheaper’ linguists to ensure they can maintain their margin. This can lead to requiring re-translations or third-party proofreading, costing you time and money.

"A standard rate may be based on the average linguists rate and sustainable processes.
For tests and initial tasks, though, you'd get the most experienced, and generally
more expensive, translators, plus full attention of PMs and editors."

Alexander Bukhonov, Localization Lead at Coffee Stain Publishing

Are your expectations realistic?

It’s important to remember that going for the lowest rate vendor won’t guarantee the same level of quality as others. This is especially true if cost is your deciding factor, taking precedence over quality, communication, and other areas of vendor management. Pursuing the lowest costs can lead to vendors promising add-ons, such as free LQA or Rush jobs, that may not be sustainable in the long-term. It’s important to remember that lower rates for linguists often means they have to take on more work, meaning less time dedicated to your localization.

Make sure your team understands everything the rates include, whether that’s different levels of proofreading, editing, or project management. Ensure that every element of the agreement, including free add-ons or short turnaround times, is clearly stated and it’s understood if and how these will be maintained throughout the vendor partnership.

Translation Team & Training

Composition of translation teams can change across projects, even for the same client and sometimes even on the same project. Disruption from availability changes across long-term projects can lead to quality issues if a vendor is unprepared.

"There's always the risk of receiving tens or thousands of words seemingly out of nowhere,
even for an ongoing project with well-organized processes and clear communication.
The deadline may be reasonable, but if the regular team is busy at that moment,
vendors have to bring in people from the reserve, and there's no guarantee of quality there."

Svetlana Panova, Localization Project Manager at FluytStudio

Ongoing training is critical to onboarding new linguists. Unprepared vendors may reduce or ignore new linguist training if they haven’t planned for a lack of availability from an outgoing linguist. This will always cause issues as the new linguist learns the project while translating it. They may also not appreciate the importance of training, assuming the linguist can simply “get up to speed” as they go.

The quality of training is also highly dependent on the assets linguists have to train from.

Localization Asset Management

Neglect of localization assets is an all-too-common cause of poor training and ineffective knowledge sharing.

"It is important to set up clear expectations for assets from the beginning.
The better you prepare and manage it at the start, the easier it will be
to maintain them later. Without doing this, it would be almost impossible
to find any piece of information in the later stages of the project."

Lisa Sidorova, Localization Lead at tinyBuild GAMES

It is integral to any ongoing project that style guides, term bases, glossaries, and other documentation, are updated regularly. When these documents are outdated, so is the localization team’s understanding of the project.

"We receive jobs that contain tons of outdated instructions and links
 to files (often many pages long), that may not be relevant at all to the project.
It is extremely demotivating for a translator to spend time reading through these documents
only to realize that they were wasting their time"

Mads Johannes Nielsen, Project Manager at ECI Games

Project Management

As with every business, you need organized, professional managers to ensure everything continues as expected. The first issue that often occurs with project management is a lack of bandwidth.

As with linguists, vendors can move their more experienced PMs onto projects they view as “high priority”. Those moves cause many issues on the now vacant projects, where inexperienced managers may lack a common understanding with the client, or their own team. This issue is compounded when there’s a lack of updated documentation and ongoing training.

What can you do to avoid quality drops?

How do I avoid a vendor offering competitive rates they can’t maintain?

This is one of the most difficult issues to avoid as the vendor manages the linguists, providing little-to-no transparency of the resources employed. The best way to avoid this is to ask questions and understand everything you’re getting for the price:

  • Can you guarantee experienced translators for every project?
  • How many linguists per language will be working on the localization?
  • How will the vendor maintain quality across projects with the rates currently offered?
  • Do you provide free re-localization if there are quality issues detected in the final delivery?
  • Do you have any client references with long-term clients?

Ensure that you know what you’re getting for the price and what steps your vendor will take to maintain quality and rectify problems. It’s best to be cautious with vendors who provide rates far below the market standard. This is especially important if these costs are notably inconsistent with quotes you’ve received from other vendors for the same project.

You can also test new vendors with small localization tasks, allowing you to evaluate their quality, communication, and delivery. This provides a more realistic view of the vendors results, as opposed to “tests” where vendors often have extra time to prepare. While this won’t exactly show you what it’ll be like 6 months into the partnership, it should help you evaluate if you’re getting the quality and service you expect.

How do I avoid changes in the localization team causing quality issues?

When approaching any new vendor, you can ask some simple questions about their training and onboarding.

  • Do they provide ongoing training to linguists throughout the project and their employment?
  • Do they provide robust training for any linguists new to the project?

This is something you can ask the vendor immediately. Any professional vendor should be able to provide a thorough explanation of the training provided to their teams.

How do I make sure that localization assets are maintained?

The best way to avoid documentation causing problems is to regularly check they are accurate, updated, and understood by the localization team.

  • Ensure that everyone involved has the same understanding of what assets are required and how regularly they must be updated.
  • It’s always worth informing project managers of any changes to the localization assets, guaranteeing no details are missed.
  • If updating documentation takes time you don’t have, it’s worth asking your vendor if additional asset management is a service they can provide.

How do I avoid changes in Project Management causing quality issues?

Ensuring your vendor maintains your project management is, in some ways, easier than guaranteeing the same linguists. This is simply as one of your direct points of contact at the vendor will likely be the PM, making it harder to change without your knowledge.

  • Ask any new vendor you approach if they maintain project managers across entire projects, and if possible, across all projects you bring to them.
  • Regular meetings with your vendor and project managers can also help avoid issues of miscommunication with management, while building a stronger dynamic between PMs and your internal team.
  • Alternatively, if you’re not satisfied with your project manager, don’t hesitate to provide feedback to the vendor and clearly communicate the issues you’ve observed.

Overall, what should you look for in a vendor to avoid quality issues in the future?

  • Regular, Continuous Linguist Training: Look for a vendor that commits to providing continuous training for their linguists, allowing them to stay on top of the latest industry developments and process improvements.
  • Experienced Project Managers: Project Managers should be experts in their field with a deep understanding of game localization workflows.
  • Consistent Localization Asset Management: While assets typically do need to be updated by the development team or internal localization team, look for a vendor that can help with these processes and the management of assets. Additionally, look for a vendor who will raise asset problems, allowing them to be rectified before causing issues on the project.
  • End-to-End Quality Commitments: Good vendors consider every stage of a project as critical. There’s no place for low quality localization in the games industry, so look for a vendor that will guarantee a consistent level of quality and commitment from kick-off to delivery.
  • A Consultative Approach to Information Sharing and Scheduling: Vendors committed to providing the best quality localization will ask for the best resources and query responses to work from. These Vendors will also raise potential risks early in the project, with suggestions for fixes and workarounds.
  • Direct Linguists Management: Vendors should have an extensive talent pool of translators, editors, and proof-readers with the ability to ramp-up where required, for any project, without subcontracting.
  • Stable Team Structure: Look for vendors that can offer properly matched linguists for your projects, with that team maintained for the full project life cycle. If that isn’t possible, as linguists may unexpectedly be unavailable, ensure you vendor has additional linguists with similar expertise to maintain project progress and localization quality.
  • Third Party Reviews: While not required in every instance, vendors should be able to provide other linguists or third-party options to review localizations if quality issues are noticed. Thorough vendors additionally conduct certain checks proactively, validating quality on an ongoing basis and raising observed issues immediately.

Thank You to Our Contributors!

A huge thanks from ECI Games for the insightful contributions from Alexander Bukhonov, Lisa Sidorova, Svetlana Panova, and Irina Feschenko. Additionally, thanks to our internal contributors Mads Johannes Nielsen, Lincoln Gong, Spencer Xie, and Aida Sozonkina.

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