Video games aren’t just entertainment. When made properly, they’re windows into worlds and lives that can be very different from our own. Just as travel can broaden our worldview, playing games from different regions can enrich your experience and provide context for the struggles and triumphs of a culture that isn’t native to yours.
The challenge, therefore, is to faithfully represent those cultures and the chosen style of localization. This is the ethos at the heart of Localization Quality Assurance for games, or LQA – also called Linguistic Quality Assurance. It’s not just making sure that the translated text of a game is correct. Good LQA isn’t about being true to the words, but to the ideas. At the end of the day, it’s about respect.
LQA is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of localization across many areas that people outside of the specialism might not even be aware of. These areas are typically checked in rounds of testing, with two being the standard for most games: one for finding localization bugs and the other to confirm they have been correctly fixed. However, if time and cost allow, multiple rounds ensure more opportunities for assessment, leading to a better game.
LQA includes different testing formats. Linguistic testing covers grammar, spelling, regional data formats and punctuation errors, and includes checking the in-game text against a glossary of proper names and terms specific to the game itself.
Aside from hunting for typos and bad grammar (see above), accuracy and consistency of terms are all-important checks to make when playing through a game. Text must be consistent everywhere – from menus to HUD elements to many, many lines of dialogue. It helps when LQA testers are also game players, since familiarity with gaming conventions and terminology can minimize confusion and aid testers in making their assessments.
Another vital aspect of linguistic testing is the process of playing the game to see the translated text in action. The comic below illustrates how a simple line of dialogue can be ambiguous without the proper context. Without being able to see the visuals and thus the context of the game, the translator could easily interpret and translate the phrase “Watch Out! Duck!” in 3 different ways:
Thus, testing a game’s translations in context is of utmost importance to avoid mistranslations that could otherwise run rampant.
There are many other types of bugs typically reported during LQA, covered by the following types of testing:
In certification testing, the focus is on the technical names and terms of the specific hardware manufacturer. This is the language used by Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, which includes details like controller buttons, peripherals, console features, online terms, etc. Adherence to these terms is critical, since non-conformance can cause a game to fail submission (a test done by a hardware manufacturer to approve a game for release on their platform).
Graphic testing concerns the on-screen appearance of text. Words must be legible, and sentences must be presented such that there are no overlaps, cut-offs and overflows outside of a text box. This is especially important when implementing translated text into a game, as the variance in number of characters from one language to another can be significant.
Finally, functional or implementation testing checks for localization problems stemming from a game’s code. Common issues include untranslated text – for example, source text appearing rather than the appropriate localized text; string IDs or placeholder text appearing in-game; special characters not appearing properly; or other language-specific issues. The most severe kind of functional issues are game blockers, where a bug such as a crash might prevent testers from accessing and checking certain sections of text. These issues must be reported immediately and fixed as a priority so that LQA testing can resume.
It’s all well and good for a game to be bug-free, but LQA goes much deeper than checking for wrong terms and graphical glitches. The true value of LQA lies in gaining your players’ trust and providing them with a seamless experience in their native language. Localized game versions must be as faithful as possible to the tone, characterization, and ideas of the original – all while ensuring it is appropriately adapted to the target region.
Below are just a few of the benefits LQA testing can provide for your game:
It’s true that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Even though digitally released games can receive Day One patches, sometimes even that is too late to prevent players from talking about a game’s issues on social media. Proper planning is needed to release a solid game, which must include time allotted for LQA testing. No one expects games to be completely free of errors these days, given the scope and complexity of modern titles, but there are acceptable levels that should be acknowledged. Paying attention to what players are saying about competitors’ releases should guide your team to understand where to place focus pre-release.
On an experiential level, the way a player is guided through the opening moments of a new game can have a lasting effect on their decision to keep playing. It's important to remember that every game is potentially someone’s first, so some handholding is required, especially on easier difficulty settings. Tutorial text and dialogue should be clear and simple while giving players enough credit for common sense. However, if text is functionally incorrect and provides faulty or confusing instructions, a player’s progression through the game may become blocked, leading to discouragement and potentially abandoning the game altogether.
It’s thus paramount to have LQA testers play through every section of a game several times, especially the beginning, to ensure clear and appropriate guidance is given at every step.
Proper translation isn’t just about picking the right words, but understanding a target language’s sentence structure, pacing, and tone. An intriguing storyline in one language might become a confusing mess if translated without the right linguistic sensitivity. Players might struggle to understand characters’ personalities with language that doesn’t fit the expected cadence or style. Successfully rewriting dialogue from one language to another relies on the creativity and insight of a conscientious translator – and this dialogue should always be checked by LQA teams in an in-game context. Translators and LQA testers alike should always be native-level speakers with the ability to understand the intent of the writers, as well as having the knowledge of slang and speaking patterns of both the originating and target cultures. Giving players memorable, believable, and relatable characters is a sure way to get them on-board for the full duration of the game.
Given that video games are now global, it’s more important than ever to pay close attention to cultural issues. Norms and taboos differ from language to language and region to region. If a game was machine translated, such nuances would almost surely not be picked up – from depictions of blood, historical events, and religious practices, to references about race and gender that have different norms across regions. Taboo terminology and expletives can upset players, leading to costly hits to a developer’s reputation and ratings. All these elements should be checked by LQA testers who are local to the target region and language. And in return for this assiduous attention to detail, game makers will be rewarded with respect and loyalty from players around the world.
One of the hobgoblins of poor translation is inconsistency. There are many examples of bad translations in video games where item names change throughout, or speech patterns from a single character differ radically from one section to the next. Names, scripts, and functional text strings should all be locked in at the beginning of a project. If a change does occur during the LQA process, the team should be notified at the earliest, and every instance of that change needs to be altered. Ultimately, this is about respecting the quality of the originating game and demonstrating to the playing public that your work is comprehensive and masterful in all languages.
In a very real sense, video games belong to the world, not just their country of origin. If you want to truly bring your game's story to the world, then all translations must be of the highest possible quality, equal to that of the original game. All text must make sense functionally within the game; it must be appropriate in the cultural context of that language and region; and it must effectively convey the unique characterization present within your game world. This is best achieved through several rounds of LQA testing with an experienced team, working hand in hand with the publisher to maximize player satisfaction and ultimately, give them the fundamental gift of respect.