- Damien Yoccoz
How Much Does Game Localization Cost?
Proper localization is key to reaching a wider audience with your game - but how much does all this cost?
When it comes to costing out game localization, prices vary widely - but so too does the quality of what you get for your money. Here is everything you need to know about what’s available.
1 - Free game localization
2 - Fan translation and crowdsourcing
3 - Low-cost generalist translation agencies
4 - Freelance game translators
5 - Specialized game localization teams
BONUS - Tips to reduce costs for indie game localization
Localizing Your Game for Free
If your budget’s tight or you’re looking to prototype the first version of your localization, there are some pretty impressive (and not so impressive) options available to you.
1. Custom software with Google Translate
Let’s make this clear - this is probably the worst option you can pick. But it’s an option that people have tried in the past to get the first pass on their translated text.
This technique involves the use of software to plug Google Translate into your game engine and generate localized text from there.
For example, famous Japanese to English translator Clyde Mandelin had some fun writing custom software to extract text from the Japanese version of Final Fantasy IV and replug a Google Translate English version back into the game. The results are, well … less than ideal.
As you can see, Google’s AI has a lot of trouble understanding context, which means it can make terrible choices in wording and sentence structure. Typically, the results you’ll get from Google Translate are barely even ideal for placeholders.
2. Common Game Translations
This is an open-source initiative incorporating almost 1,300 terms that are localized in 25 languages at present. It’s pretty basic - just a simple spreadsheet with common words you’ll find in games.
Despite the fact that Common Game Translations is not professional, its quality is still surprisingly decent in some languages (less in some others). Nevertheless, this option should be used with caution.
Polyglot is another open-source spreadsheet project and it’s the closest to professional-quality video game localization you can get without paying a dime.
Polyglot also comes with a Unity tool to make implementation easier. Moreover, this free tool is extremely useful as it provides context for each game string, which is the most crucial parameter of any localization project.
This is suitable for very basic games and is the perfect tool for getting a free localization pass done before handing it over to a professional localization agency - thereby reducing the cost of your project.
Fan Translation and Crowdsourcing
If you have a large fan base in several languages, this may be an option for you. Following this route requires you to gather a group of people in your community to translate your game for you.
Some online translation platforms like Crowdin are actually tailor-made for such projects. Upload your files, invite translators, et voilà!
Keep in mind the risks associated with crowdsourcing and note that you alone will be responsible for each aspect of localization and language quality assurance. There's also no getting away from the fact that fan translators are under no obligation to finish a project, or to check their work for quality.
For instance, German game translator Thomas Faust, who worked on Reus, wrote about a bunch of translators who jumped ship after only 56 percent of the job had been completed. What’s more, in Cross of the Dutchman, another game he worked on, he was faced with style inconsistencies:
“We have three forms of address here that apply: “you” can be translated as “du”, “Sie”, and the old-fashioned “Ihr.”
Now the translation kept switching between those words – sometimes three subsequent sentences in a dialogue had all three in them.”
That’s what happens when too many people work on the same project without communicating properly among themselves, so it’s best to plan your editing and proofreading strategy from the start.
When crowdsourcing your game’s localization, it’s also important to remember that speaking two languages doesn’t automatically make someone a linguist - and in many cases, the fans who contribute to these projects are not linguists at all. And it shows.
In order to get as close to professional quality as possible, crowdsourcing will require appropriate editing and will thus result in some costs regardless.
Low-cost Generalist Translation Agencies
A typical agency will use translators, proofreaders, and a project manager. When it comes to professional localization methods, a low-cost generalist translation agency is the cheapest you’ll be able to get.
However, these agencies are not the best option for your game, since they often compromise on quality. Big translation agencies have to manage a huge number of translators - translators who sometimes have no relevant experience in game localization.
Typically, they force their own terrible rates on translators and ask for impossibly tight deadlines, resulting in poor working conditions and the hazardous translation quality that comes with it. Jennifer O’Donnell has written a great blog post outlining the terrible working conditions that are out there for translators to watch out for.
To make matters worse, translators usually don’t get the opportunity to ask questions to understand the context of the strings, or get access to reference materials - which is a big no-go, unless you like gambling.
Project management can also be quite impersonal. Such agencies don’t hesitate to put more translators than necessary on a project to get it translated as quickly as possible. So you may end up with little-to-no consistency in terms of style and quality.
As a result, localization is quite often of poor quality and may even cost you more if you have to have some of the work redone.
So… perhaps not such a cheap option in the end.
Freelance Game Translators
Professional freelance game translators usually work on their own without an editor. They specialize in game localization and offer translation in almost all language pairs.
These solo contractors also produce a higher quality of work than large agencies, since they're specialists and one person handles the entire project. They’re also usually cheaper.
Great game translators are passionate about their work and won’t be afraid to ask you questions for context and require you give them the necessary references for them to achieve great work.
Where to find freelance translators:
The Open Mic - lots of game translators on this free platform
ProZ - a reference for all freelance translators
TranslatorsCafé - getting old, but also a reference for freelancers
Indie Game Localization - a Facebook group with lots of newbies looking to grind their teeth, but also a handful of game localization veterans
Keep in mind, though, that it can be time-consuming to find appropriate translators and coordinate with them on a project. This is especially true if you are translating into many languages!
Specialized Game Localization Teams
Because these teams are specialized and have niche experience related to the gaming industry, you get a quality one-stop-shop for all of your language needs - whether you need localization in a single language or in ten (we currently translate in 27).
This is how you’ll get the best possible quality in translation. It’s the most expensive option of the bunch, but luckily it’s still possible to find reasonable rates, even for solo developers:
We at Level Up Translation strike a balance between offering fair rates to our translators and giving affordable options to indie developers. For some of the most common languages - English to French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese - you can expect a price per word from 9 to 12 EUR cents.