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3 pillars of successful localisation, or how to win the hearts of gamers around the world

By Przemysław Kołodziej (based on presentation by Kamila Puzdrowska)

On 24 November, 2022, Localisation Best Practises Conference was held in Gdańsk, Poland, with the aim to explore the topic of game localisation. Among the esteemed speakers was our very own Kamila Puzdrowska, a Project Coordinator at Loc At Heart and a member of Games & Entertainment Team. Her presentation focused on three crucial elements of a successful localisation. Whether you had a chance to see her in person and would like to get back to the topic, or you missed out on the event but are curious about the localisation shenanigans, this article will let you delve right into it.

What is a successful localisation?

This question was posed to the selected members of the Games & Entertainment Team and linguists at Loc At Heart. The responders’ answers were very similar and could be summed up in the following statement: it is paramount that the text is clear and culturally adjusted to the target audience. It’s not enough to translate the content – you need to enhance it too.

From translating supplementary materials to enhancing content

This conclusion corresponds to the observations of Dominik Kudła from the University of Warsaw who lists different scopes of game translation and its evolution:

  • Box and docs localisation – once applied only to the game box cover and the printed elements included inside; in the digital distribution era broadened to game websites / sections on digital platforms.
  • Partial localisation – in other words, translating all the in-game text, including user interface, dialogue subtitles, and text on graphics.
  • Full localisation – including voice-acting recordings, sound effects, and sometimes music.
  • Deep localisation – otherwise known as enhanced localisation; a model that is becoming more and more prevalent in the industry. In this approach, “localizers try to set a game in the target culture as much as possible, so that the player has a feeling that the game was created specifically for their market, e.g. by adding some elements which are present exclusively in a particular language version of the game (and were even absent from the original version)” (Kudła 2021).

Pillar One – People

As in the case of every other serious business enterprise, the first and most important pillar are people. Experts assuming different roles collaborate with each other and form a tight-knit crew dedicated to delivering the best possible localisation to the satisfaction of the client (and the target audience). The two major groups building the localisation mechanism are Project Managers and various teams of different linguists.

Project Managers

They form a bridge between the client and the translator. The PM team is composed of people with a wealth of experience and with different educational backgrounds. Some hold linguistic degrees, while others are veteran business managers. The diversity of specialisations makes them complement each other and facilitates knowledge transfer. This, in turn, leads to the creation of better content, and helps the team grow individually and collectively.

You might say that they effectively become an external localisation team for the client as their involvement extends far beyond the scope of providing translation support services. The goal of the PMs is to refine the localisation, help with carrying out the project they are involved in, and, if welcome, tweak the procedures at the client’s company, which ultimately leads to improving the overall quality of the final product (also in the eyes of the customers who buy it). At this point collaboration evolves into partnership.

A step further

A good localisation team will always try to take their work a step further. Any potential errors found in the source text will be flagged and reported to the customer instead of being glossed over. If applicable, the necessity of adding or expanding a glossary will also be signalled, similarly to any key parts of the localisation process the customer might not be aware of. Translation agency’s own marketing team can also be (and in the case of Loc At Heart – is) engaged in promoting content and making sure the newly released board, mobile or VR game reaches its intended audience.


The linguists. The troopers, the artisans, the smooth operators. The backbone of any localisation effort. Co-ordinated by the ever so important Project Managers, the equally important linguists are the ones in the trenches, translating words and ideas from one language into another and making the content accessible to gamers all over the world.

Note that we use the broad term “linguists”, as this group is made of not only translators or editors but also proofreaders and many other professionals. And how do you get them to work for you? Well, you need to recruit them, that’s how. To this end, it’s good to have a separate vendor management department dedicated to this process. We’re always on the lookout for new talent and the right people. The right people – what does that mean, exactly? This vague turn of phrase refers to individuals who:

  • – have the relevant experience,
  • – have the right education,
  • – have the proper skills to pass qualification tests.

How do we pick our translators? We pay special attention to the fact that these should be people who grew up and live in the country where a given language is used. They should be immersed in its specific culture, including pop culture. This constant cultural exposure will allow them to convey any wordplays and the textual flavour of a game, which is extremely important from the perspective of gamers – they need to be able to fully understand what is being said and experience the content the way the authors intended.

Your summer might not be their summer

Recently, LAH has been working on a special game event. Custom texts created in July mentioned the upcoming summer vacation, as in Poland, the period from June to August is the right time to get a tan (and to enjoy days off from school, and if you’re lucky – from work). But a Portuguese translator from Brazil pointed out that this wouldn’t work in his home country. He replaced summer holidays with winter holidays. It was a small but significant change. And the reason for it was that Brazil lies in the Southern Hemisphere, and there, summer starts at the end of December and lasts roughly until the end of March. Though it’s still too hot to make a snowman in Rio de Janeiro in June, that part of the year, all the way through September, is their winter. Remember, your audience will always appreciate it if you pay attention to details.

Speaking of gamers – our collaborators are often very passionate about games themselves and regularly play games after work. They probably play games at work, too. But that’s what they do and what they love, which makes their job that much more enjoyable. Additionally, our contractors often send us emails with questions about the release dates of the games they have worked on, because they want to buy, download and play the finished product.

Our linguists are so enthusiastic about games that sometimes their work continues well after content delivery. Recently, our translator from Romania sent us a message because he felt he had found a perfect spot in his country to become a new location in a game he had worked on. The message included his suggestions and descriptions of the place. If that’s not passion, then what is?

Pillar Two – Tools

In the paragraphs above, we have mentioned dedicated people that are part of localisation. Now let’s cover the dedicated tools used by those people. Choosing the right tool for the right job can make the whole procedure a lot smoother and less burdensome. It’s kind of obvious if you think about it: sure, you can drive a nail with your fist, but why not just use a hammer?

When referring to the software used within the industry, you will often come upon these terms:

  • Translation Memory, or TM. A storage space for translations. A file with all the previous translations for a given game saved for a selected language pair. As time goes by, this file will gradually expand.
  • Terms Base, or TB. Sometimes called glossary or simply dictionary. It’s a separate file with exact translations of specific terms that might be accompanied by definitions or categories to provide context. At Loc At Heart, MultiTerm software is used to manage this file.
  • CAT, or Computer Assisted Translation software. That’s actually the hammer linguists use to forge, beat out and shape content. You can configure it to your liking and also upload any TMs, TBs and whatnot so it can be a very comprehensive aid. There are different products available on the market, but for us Trados seems to do the trick.

CAT in action, an example

Let’s say we get a copy for an event in English. (It’s usually sent to us in a format compatible with Excel or Word. However, files such as PDFs or IDMLs are also fine.) We create a package (a file ready for editing in Trados that can utilise all the functions of this software) for the translators.

Bearing in mind you should never translate on spec and always think all your localisation choices through, we add Translation Memory and our glossary. That way we can keep the content consistent and see to it that uniform terms and style are applied within the project.

The intended use of the content will also directly translate into specifications of the texts provided. In our example, the event will also show as a phone notification; therefore – as expected – the client sends us strict character limits. We share this information with translators and content providers, but we can also set appropriate limits in Trados. Just like we share whatever else might come in handy, e.g. other guidelines, such as DNTs – or do-not-translate lists. These contain terms that should not be rendered, such as proper names or slogans.

Additional Verification

Trados is a remarkable piece of software, but even so additional checks are necessary to verify if everything’s correct, e.g. that there are no glitches in the files or mistakes in the output texts.

For this purpose, at LAH we use the Xbench software. It’s a separate program that can, however, be linked to Trados via a plugin to keep everything in a single working environment.

Let’s get back to the imagined event copy that will show as a phone notification. Now let’s complicate everything a bit (life will do that to you). The text will be also visible in the game itself, and, additionally, a relevant description will appear in the game store. In that case, it is necessary to check the consistency between all the texts. Event names must be the same.

Fortunately, Xbench can automatically compare the files, verify if the translations remain congruous with each other and check the strings against the provided glossary. We will also get information about typos or double spaces that could be missed. It can also highlight potential numeric discrepancies between the source file and the output file.

Why bother?

That’s a question that you may find yourself asking. Configure this, configure that, upload this, create a package. Not to mention paying the licence fee for the software. Is it really worth it? In short – yes, it is. Thanks to the tools mentioned above, everything runs smoothly. You get a database of terms which can be used for many projects connected with a given game and/or client. Linguists will need less time to work on texts, and because you have all the terms in one place, there will be fewer mistakes. And that translates into better results and more effective workflows.

Pillar Three – Processes

The last but no less important pillar are the processes introduced to organise people’s work. Appropriately streamlined for linguists and adapted to projects.

You should provide translators with useful and usable guides, which means instructions should be short and sweet. Extra-long guidelines may contain a wealth of particulars and comprehensive information, but will they become a resource to aid linguists in their work or yet another challenge to overcome? If you just dump a wall of text with a big smiley on top, it might be hard for them to absorb all the details. Or even find the relevant fragments of text. That’s exactly why you should leave only the necessary bits. Make it short, concise, and clear.

For each project LAH specialists are involved in, we also provide the content creators with convenient reference files which include everything that can help our linguists: web links, pictures, dictionaries, descriptions, tutorials. Here, you shouldn’t skimp on content – share anything that you have. Even a small thing might be worth its weight in gold. Usually, some information is shared with us by the client, and on that basis the PMs prepare reference files and add any items that might be helpful or significant.

A simple video and a great help

A couple of months ago we were provided with a new text for a freshly backed game. So fresh, in fact, that we had nothing to fall back on, nor did our linguists, because there was no information available anywhere. We found ourselves in a tight spot, but fortunately, our client recorded an introductory video for us on their own. The video showed us:

  • what it looks like when the game is launched,
  • what the menu looks like,
  • how to navigate within the game and perform actions.

These basic elements allowed the text to take shape, made it meaningful, and provided context.

The Query Sheet

Before it became a trend, LAH had already benefited from remote work across 24 time zones. The very idea might seem counterproductive – what if somebody wants to clear something up with you, but while they are sipping their morning coffee, it’s midnight in Poland, and everybody from the office is fast asleep?

As a countermeasure to issues of that sort, we utilise a tool we call the Query Sheet. It’s a popular solution among localisation companies. It’s an online Excel spreadsheet, supervised by the PMs and shared with the client and the linguists working on a given project. A space for raising questions, reporting mistakes, commenting and sharing doubts.

So, for example, when our linguist from Japan writes a question, his colleague from South Korea – knowledgeable in the area of the inquiry – happens to read this question and provides the answer – thanks to this, the translation is ready long before the LAH crew arrives at the office. There’s no need for the PMs to answer the linguist or verify the issue with the client. Everything happens in real time. This way everybody can contribute, and people can help each other with the project.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective. And keep the localisation wheels turning.

The chain of success

To sum up, a project consists of people who utilise appropriate tools as a part of a deliberate process. It’s worth underlining that localisation is not a mere translation. That’s just one of the parts of the whole task.

After PMs ready the project (prepare the packages, references, guides, etc.), a translator takes over and does their part. Once they get the text ready, they send a return package. Next in line is the editor, responsible for verifying the translation and collating the output text with the source text. Then, if the forethoughtful client orders such service, the whole thing lands on a proofreader’s lap, who checks the translated content in search of grammatical, spelling or punctuation mistakes.

The procedure might also involve an LSO, which means Linguistic Sign-Off. It’s a step usually performed in the case of graphic files, e.g. board game instructions. Once the graphic designer completes the layout, the localisation agency receives a PDF file and the linguist checks if everything is where it’s supposed to be, scanning the text for errors in positioning, missing illustrations, etc. LSO gives you the chance to see the text in its final form, because, more often than not, the working file looks nothing like the final one and may resemble a continuous block of words.

Another optional step is an ICR, or In-Country Review. It’s not necessarily performed by a professional linguist, a gamer might be sufficient to “click through” e.g. a mobile game and check if everything is positioned as it should be, or if the text fits into the available space and is not broken off.

After completing all these stages, we get the final target text that we can proudly deliver to our client. And that’s that. The end. Or is it?

The situation is very dynamic.” That’s the motto whole LAH lives by. Anything can happen. And we expect the unexpected. Even with great people working on a project, armed with proper tools, and following well thought-out procedures, something may go wrong. Or everything.

One day you receive a commission for localisation. Great. A few days later the client requests two more languages for the job. Doable, right? But then you are also informed that the original source text has been modified. Apart from that, somebody finds out that something is missing from the guidelines. Oopsie. And now you get another message, this time from the client’s marketing department, with additional content. And amendments. Oh, and Christmas is just around the corner, so it would be great to speed up the process to meet the deadlines. You can manage, right?

Yes, we can. A good translation agency like ours knows how to roll with the punches. Constant adaptation is our bread and butter. There is no room for surprises. Except the good ones. Like finding a board game you’ve been working hard on behind the display window of a local shop.