Ever heard of fan translations for indie games?
They can be a tempting choice when your indie game budget is low but you still want to achieve a wider worldwide reach, especially when trying to get into huge gaming communities like China or Brazil.
However, before you choose whether or not fan translation might be a viable option for you, let’s go over the pros, cons, what to watch out for, and everything else you need to know!
1 - What is fan translation?
2 - Pros and cons
3 - When does fan translation make sense?
4 - What to watch out for in fan translations
5 - Fantastic fan translators and where to find them
1 - What is fan translation?
First off, you should know that some people confuse fan translation with crowdsourcing. While both have a lot in common, they are not necessarily the same thing.
Fan translation is exactly what it sounds like—a translation of your game undertaken by fans from your community, typically for free.
Crowdsourcing is a form of fan translation, since it is most often done by fans of your game. However, crowdsourcing requires a large number of people to work on the project, since it is more open-sourced and available to the public.
On the other hand, a fan translation could very well be completed by a single, very dedicated fan!
2 - Pros and cons of fan translation
Obviously, since fan translations are typically not remunerated, they will drastically cut down the cost of production for your indie game. This ensures you broaden the reach of your game across the world in more languages than you can afford with a professional localization team.
Fan translations are also an awesome opportunity to generate good PR with your community. These types of projects get your fans directly involved with the creation of your game. And, involved communities are communities who like to buy and promote your game to their friends!
You’re also giving a wonderful opportunity to aspiring translators who haven’t made it in the localization industry just yet. People who wouldn’t get experience any other way now get a professionally published game to add to their portfolio.
Last but not least, your community is usually deeply engaged with your game. If your title was in early access or released in English only for a while, chances are your potential fan translators already know everything about your game, which is an excellent point for localization.
Just like crowdsourced game translations, fan translations give you no guarantee on the completion of your project.
Fan translators are essentially doing work for free because they either enjoy the work or absolutely love your game and your community. However, several issues could get in the way of completion: they could get busy or sick, get a full-time job, or simply change their mind about working on the translation.
It’s also time-consuming to find people who will manage the localization project. Even fan translations need to be managed. In fact, they probably need more management than professional-grade localization projects, since the people behind the work are not necessarily professionals.
Even if you do manage to find people who will commit to translating every single string in your game, you cannot guarantee a sufficiently high quality of work. The more people involved in the project, the higher the chances that you’ll encounter inconsistencies.
Depending on the language, some terms or expressions may have several possible translations, but if your fans don’t work together to decide on consistent terms, you might end up with an incoherent mess. Professional translators and agencies use powerful translation tools that allow them to ensure consistency throughout the whole game.
And as mentioned above, managing a fan project like this is difficult, so communication can be a problem.
Keep in mind that if you or your own team don’t know the language that is being localized, you will have no way of knowing whether or not your game is being translated correctly. At best, this can result in some funny mistakes, but at worst, you risk offending your fans around the world.
Finally, there is a confidentiality hazard. Even if you require your fans to sign a nondisclosure agreement before they can access your files, don’t forget that you are not hiring them in a professional environment. There is still a higher risk of leaks when dealing with unpaid fans, especially if those fans don’t have career aspirations and a reputation they want to protect.
On the other hand, when you work with a professional, specialized agency, you mitigate the risk of leaks, since it’s in the best interest of these people to keep your secrets safe.
3 - When does it make sense to allow fans to translate your game?
There are some cases where fan translations aren’t a bad idea at all!
For instance, if you’re in early development and just need early localization for testing purposes, fan translations work just fine.
The same thing goes if you’re planning to test out your UI or your entire localization system before hiring a more expensive team—what you learn during a fan translation can be used later during an official localization project. This way, you’re saving money for the most important (and final) translation.
Also, if you only plan to release your game on PC only (and in just a few languages), your project may be simple enough to handle a fan translation.
Last but not least, if you have absolutely no budget for localization, always choose a fan translation over a Google Translate mess.
However, some types of projects definitely benefit from being handled by a professional localization agency.
Here’s an example: if you’re releasing your game out to consoles, you will need to pass the certification process. This process isn’t lax, and most likely won’t pass if you have a botched-up translation that lacks quality and doesn’t comply with first-party terminology.
Additionally, if your game contains a huge number of strings or if the scale of your project is large—especially if you’re localizing to several languages—you’ll have more moving pieces to manage.
Each piece adds a level of complexity to your project. But, if you decide to go through the fan translation process instead of opting for professional support, this complexity gets multiplied.
4 - Factors to watch out for in fan translations
There’s definitely a slippery slope when it comes to fan translations. The truth is, you’re asking for free work. Unfortunately, exposure doesn’t pay the bills.
If you choose to go this route, you cannot ask people for specific deadlines or complain when the translation is lackluster in quality.
Remember that your fans don’t owe you anything. Period.
Be super clear in your expectations when looking for fan translators, and be realistic. Always be upfront and transparent about what this is—an unpaid fan project—and don’t sugarcoat it by promising exposure.
5 - Where to find fan translators
If you think fan translations are for you, here are a few places where you can find potential candidates!
Look through the Steam forums, especially on games that are related to your own game’s genre or style. If your game is in early access, search your own forums. There are often fan translators who offer this type of service because they truly enjoy doing it.
Join the Indie Game Localization group on Facebook. From there, you can either search for past posts referencing fan translators or make your own post.
Finally, look through the Reddit forums — if you have your own community there already, make an announcement!
What if fan translation isn't for you?
If fan translation doesn’t sound like the right fit for your game, that’s perfectly fine!
For most games, getting a high-quality translation requires working with professional freelance game translators or a specialized team.
If you’re looking for a one-stop solution to get your project localized in several languages, get in touch today to discuss your indie game’s localization!