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LQA in mobile game development

“The only constant thing is change”—this saying couldn’t be truer for the mobile gaming business. It is highly dynamic on many levels, with the trends and market conditions shifting fast and often unexpectedly. This rapidly transforming environment impacts all the production and marketing stakeholders, including the participants of the localisation process: the internal localisation teams, production teams, and external LSPs. In this article, I would like to describe the challenges you might face when managing the localisation quality assurance processes in mobile game development, and show you how they can be approached and tackled most efficiently.

Why is it important?

To understand why LQA is a crucial part of the localisation process, we should grasp the basic dynamics of the mobile game market. In mobile gaming, especially the free-to-play model, what really matters is winning the players’ trust, loyalty and interest at the very beginning. It takes only a few seconds to uninstall a game, and it’s really easy to lose players when the quality of our product is disappointing. For this reason, we should focus on keeping the quality consistently high across all game elements—including localisation.

LQA, or localisation quality assurance, encompasses activities that lead to enhancing localisation quality (linguistically, visually, and culturally):

  • terminology management;
  • people management;
  • localisation audits, proofreading;
  • localisation testing.

LQA enables you to eliminate all kinds of localisation issues: linguistic errors occurring in context, unnatural phrasing, wrong time and date formats, visual bugs (such as missing localised texts, text truncation errors, incorrect line breaks), culturally inappropriate content, as well as functional issues.

In this article, I will focus on the last point on the list, namely linguistic testing, since it’s usually the most challenging (and thus neglected) area of LQA in mobile game development. It should be noted, however, that all the above aspects are crucial parts of the LQA process and the solutions I will suggest below are valid for any issues related to localisation quality management.

Why is it so hard?

While most triple-A production studios consider LQA an essential part of their processes, many mobile game developers still skip this stage (at least occasionally). They do so chiefly due to insufficient time or technical issues related to dynamic content quality management, and sometimes because they don’t consider linguistic testing a crucial part of the production flow, or they underestimate its value from the business perspective.

Where do we start?

Let’s start with the process of mobile game publication, which is not a simple flow composed of the design and production stages, followed by the game release. The process usually consists of several phases (beta, technical release, soft launch, etc.) and involves dynamic changes depending on the market situation and players’ needs. And, very often, localisation and LQA processes are postponed until later production stages.

Prevention is better than cure

The first LQA challenge is taking localisation quality into consideration in the early production stages. Why? Because prevention is better than cure. Early localisation consultations and LQA testing prevent you from pursuing inefficient solutions and allow you to anticipate potential localisation problems. You need to think of your game as of a global product from the very beginning.

What will you gain?

  • The size and shape of visual elements will be adapted to the chosen languages’ specificity (including the expected length of texts). In some languages, words are usually longer than in others, and implementing LQA in the early production stages will save you a lot of time and resources that otherwise would have to be used later to change the designs.
  • The selection of fonts will be thought out in terms of respective writing systems.
  • If you plan to enter markets using RTL languages, you will be able to adapt the interface accordingly, which should be done as early as possible.
  • You will be able to make an informed decision on whether you want to include elements culturally incompatible with some of your target markets (e.g., gore, nudity, alcohol, or certain animals) and then change or remove them to meet the standards of a given region. You won’t be surprised by cultural differences and limitations, and you will be prepared to tackle them properly and most efficiently.

Players expect you to localise, so do it right

So, what can you do to prioritize the localisation issues and LQA from the very beginning of the production process? You need to understand the business value of high-quality localisation, and to do that, you should focus on data. In the 2022 Google Mobile Insights survey, mobile players were asked how important it is to them that a game’s content is localised to their country or region. 58% of the respondents replied that it is either extremely important (26%) or very important (32%), and a further 25% assessed it as moderately important (source). From the global perspective, most mobile game players prefer to play in their native languages, and by taking care of good localisation quality, you will make your game more accessible and attractive to users in the competitive mobile gaming market.

Sharing (knowledge of the localisation quality importance) is caring

You already know that localisation is what potential users of your game all around the world expect. But not everyone involved in game development knows the value of localisation and its quality. What can you do about that? You could start with sharing your knowledge—it’s advisable to promote good practices and benefits they bring to your business. If you’re a member of an internal localisation team, it’s a good idea to organize company-wide talks on localisation issues and spread the news of your team’s achievements on a regular basis. If you work for an LSP cooperating with a mobile game developer, don’t hesitate to educate your client and show them what profits can be made from managing the localisation quality efficiently.

A never-ending mobile game development story

Another challenge in the mobile game dev environment is the continuous delivery model, including in-game live operations (aka “live ops”). When it comes to mobile games, more often than not, the work does not end after the game has been published. After the publication, production teams keep on creating new features or modifying the existing game elements. And as if that wasn’t dynamic enough, a whole new type of content, called live operations, is being created: in-game events, live competitions, and special deals—designed on an ongoing basis and often in response to current real-life events. All this content needs to be properly localised—and we have to maintain the desired quality and consistency with the existing solutions. To make sure the quality of localisation does not fall short of perfection, we should follow all the good practices of localisation quality management, including the LQA testing step. But as you can imagine, this can be extremely challenging.

The lack of time

The first problem is the lack of time. Very often, content is created not only with high frequency, but also spontaneously and off schedule. You have to be ready to deal with unexpected situations. Imagine you have to localise and linguistically test an unplanned event in, let’s say, 20 languages in just a few days. It’s a huge organizational effort. What can you do to make your work easier and more effective?

The art of communication

My experience has shown that the key is good communication between the localisation team (internal or external) and the game production teams. Thanks to the efficient flow of information between all the stakeholders, you can, firstly, plan your processes well and, secondly, react quickly in case of an unexpected turn of events. The advice to communicate better might sound like a cliché, but following a few simple steps does make a big difference. Among the activities that have proven effective in my case are regular cross-team meetings (as brief and matter-of-fact as possible) and setting up common communication channels dedicated to localisation issues.

Lack of time or lack of priorities?

You are already great at communicating, and everyone is in the loop—what can go wrong? Sometimes, there is still not enough time to deal with sudden changes, and more often than not, you have budget limitations. In that case, a helpful strategy would be prioritizing languages by using a tier system based on your game metrics or marketing plans. To prioritize individual languages and monitor the quality of localisation, you can also conduct periodic language quality surveys. This will help you measure the quality of localisation in an objective way.

Technical challenges

Among other problems hindering LQA efforts are technical aspects. There are numerous technical reasons why it’s hard to include an additional step in the QA process—for instance, the diverse nature of the content (new features, live ops, notifications) and the variety of tools that are being used in the localisation process (generators, automation, notification tools, etc.). If we add tight deadlines into the mix, we can see that it really is a big challenge to prepare materials for LQA specialists (builds, screenshots, videos).

Technology is here to stay—use it to your advantage

A strategy that, in my experience, has proven very helpful is expanding the technical competence of the localisation team members and using tools (such as a good translation management system, task management tools, or new QA solutions) to automate as many activities as possible. Technical knowledge is necessary in dynamically changing conditions, so investing time in implementing new technology and technical training really pays off.

Keep your eyes on the prize

Summing up, there are multiple effective ways to embrace change and harness the dynamic industry of mobile game localisation that render delivering high-quality localised content so much easier. Ensure that all the stakeholders understand the value of high-quality localisation and that everybody strives for better communication. Think strategically and focus on prioritizing based on data. Don’t be afraid to make new localisation technology your best friend. And, most importantly, keep your eyes on the prize: happy users who feel you designed the game just for them, no matter what language they speak.

Author Maja Kosioł