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LARA: Hi, everyone! Welcome to another episode of Open World. Hi, Ale. Hi, Meli. Today we have a special guest with us, Olga Petrova. Hi, Olga! It’s so nice to see you here with us. Thank you for joining us.
OLGA: Hi! Thank you for having me.
LARA: It’s a real pleasure. Like, we are really excited to have you.
MELISA: Yes, thank you so much for joining us, Olga.
ALEXIS: Olga, for everyone that’s watching us, can you please introduce yourself, provide some background on your experience on video games localization, and a little bit about your journey?
OLGA: Yeah, sure. Once again, thank you for having me. I’m super excited to be here and share a little bit about what I know about localization and what keeps me going, for more than 15 years already, going on 20, I think. Yeah. I’m mostly in project management throughout my career, managing teams and projects and video games localization. I have participated in localization of over 200 games, roughly. Triple A titles, MMORPGs, mobile games. So when I started, I was just a freelance translator, so I actually took the full path from being a freelance translator to being a professional. And I was lucky to have worked on some of the most successful projects in the gaming industry from…
ALEXIS: I was gonna ask you if there was any OP that you’re most proud of or that was very successful.
OLGA: So big companies like Activision, 2K, Capcom, Bethesda, Rockstar, I did projects for those.
MELISA: Dropping names.
OLGA: Yeah, I know. And then, yeah, so I used to work for a big… for the largest original publisher in Russia, and that’s when I got acquainted with big names. And then I moved on to work in the development studios, where I was able to do some influence on the development process and become a localization advocate and evangelist. Yeah.
ALEXIS: Yeah, it’s needed. It’s needed. Especially in indie studios. I started…
LARA: Not only in indie studios, but yeah. It’s just like…
ALEXIS: Everywhere. I remember one of my first steps in the video game industry was to be a localization something, you know, advocate, consultant or whatever in an indie dev studio.
LARA: Yeah. Yeah, it’s really needed. And you can tell when someone puts into the game localization early in the stages because you can tell that everything runs smooth, the localization is perfect, all the cultural aspects are taken into account. So, yeah. That’s awesome.
ALEXIS: Sorry I interrupted you, Olga.
OLGA: Oh, that’s okay. I couldn’t agree more to everything you guys are saying. Yes, it’s extremely important. And I’m, like, I’m still… It’s hard to believe that in 2023, we’re still talking about why we need localization to be a part of the game development, right?
LARA: Oh, my God. Yeah.
MELISA: Absolutely. That’s why I think it’s so important what you were saying. And since we’re already talking about this, I hope it’s okay, I’ll ask you the next question, which is very related. And that’s, what are some common challenges that arise when localization is brought in too late in the development process? And how can these challenges be mitigated?
OLGA: Yeah. Where do I start?
MELISA: A lot to say about this.
OLGA: Yeah. I sometimes call localization a Cinderella of the game development. We rarely get invited to the ball.
LARA: I love it!
MELISA: I love it. That’s so funny!
ALEXIS: Can I use that? I’m using that. I’m sorry, I’m using that.
OLGA: It is true. For a lot of companies, we are the least favorite stepchild, and it is what it is, right?
LARA: And we are so important. Like, come on. How? How can this happen? We’re like… We’re like Cinderella, you know? And you’re inviting us like… No, there’s no way.
MELISA: If you invite us, we’re gonna make an impact. Just saying.
OLGA: Yeah. Maybe drop a shoe or two. But yeah, in all seriousness, just, I think, for the most part, it’s never intentional. It’s just because the developers don’t know better and they just don’t think about it when they start their journey. So… bringing us late in the process essentially cost you. And you end up doing a lot of reworks, a lot of changes or just accepting a quality in localization that is… that is lower than what you have in English or whatever original language your game is created in. So you might be telling a joke that, when it is translated, will not get understood by most of the players who don’t speak English. You might have a puzzle in your game that a person who doesn’t speak English won’t make any sense and will leave them confused. Um… Your user interface might not support text expansion and it will just end up playing font size Tetris when you try to put in the translated text in that small box. What else?
MELISA: These are great examples. They’re very practical, like, very to-the-point ways to know how, like…
OLGA: It’s like, I am a manager, but I’m always very close to what I’m working on. So that’s also one of the things why you have to have localization people on your team. They will spend time, they will invest and make an effort to get your game. They will be on your side. They will be protective of the product that you as a developer are creating, and they will try to make it as good in other language as it is in the language that you used to conceive it. So yeah.
LARA: Yeah. I mean, when you were mentioning…
OLGA: And we haven’t even mentioned the cost here, right? So all that comes up when you bring in localization late, that means more money is gonna be spent on the work that can be done early in the process and therefore be cheaper.
LARA: Yeah. So when you were mentioning the challenges, I could easily like recall games that had those problems that I already played, you know? And I was like, oh my God, this could have been such an easy fix from the early stages, but here I am, playing this game, facing these challenges, and it’s like, Oh, this joke is not even funny in my language. So I totally agree. Um, I have the other question now. From your experience, what are the benefits of having a localization expert collaborate with the development team from the early stages?
OLGA: It’s a really good question, and I think we touched a little bit on that already, but let me just expand and see what else comes to mind when I think about the benefits for the developer. Well, let’s start with money. Because I think that proverbial return on investment from localization that everyone expects is one of the things that you can really justify and can really separate what exactly was the localization role apart from the marketing or user acquisition campaign or the game itself. Maybe the game is so genius that it doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles that localization brings into. But the money is just, you keep the costs down. You… You avoid the expensive do-overs because you get it right the first time. So one of the games in my last workplace turned out to be extremely successful, but it was not created with localization in mind. They had it in English for the longest time. At the same time, the management realized that they’re leaving a lot of money on the table because, well, there are players who don’t speak English all over the world that could be enjoying the game and bringing in money, the revenue. So that need, it was there, so the decision was made to actually finally have the localization in the game. So without like even any numbers, I’m just gonna tell you that it took nine months of work for two engineers revamping the code and making the localization possible.
LARA: Oh, my God. Like the amount of money, time and effort. Oh, my God!
OLGA: The translation itself didn’t take that much time.
LARA: I imagine. Oh, my God, it’s insane. I get, like, goosebumps. It’s insane.
OLGA: It can be really expensive. It can be, like, it can save you a lot of money if you think about internationalization. If you have the right people in the team who can guide the developer and tell them that there are certain things that are better avoided or there are certain things that need to be done from day one that, even if you don’t launch with multiple languages, even if you only launch in English, by the time that you make a decision to localize, it’s not exactly going like that, but very similar. And it does save you a lot of money and time to make it happen.
LARA: Money and time, two things that we could all have more of.
OLGA: And that’s the famous triangle, right? Money, time and quality.
OLGA: At least you hit two of those. And then quality is up to the professionalism of the localization people that you have.
ALEXIS: Olga, you’re talking about the quality, the professionalism that translation, localization, when taken in the right time and place of the development process, saves you money, saves you time. But I want to go back to the professionalism aspect and the cultural considerations that come with the localization process. Do you think that there are any cultural considerations, like in a broad aspect, that are particularly important for game developers to be aware of when creating content for different markets?
OLGA: Absolutely, Alex. It’s a very good question. Again, like it’s very relevant to the daily work that localization teams are doing around the world, right? We are bridging the cultural gaps. We’re doing it every single day. And we help because we’re bringing players together, and making us all a little bit closer to each other. So there are linguistic considerations. So language and humor, you don’t want to have any puns and jokes that might not translate well. It’s like, if you tell a joke that only makes sense in one language and you hear crickets from the audience, right? So you don’t want to run into this. And don’t get me started on geopolitical sensitivities. I can give you two very fresh examples and one not so fresh one.
ALEXIS: I was gonna ask for examples. Please, go ahead.
OLGA: Oh, that’s fine because I do have it. Say that Spider-Man game that was just released and the flag SNAFU with mixing up Cuban and Puerto Rican flags.
ALEXIS: Yes. I saw that.
OLGA: If they had a culturalization expert on the team or if they paid maybe more attention, they could’ve easily…
LARA: Oh, my God. Yeah.
OLGA: And that was…
LARA: It was so simple.
ALEXIS: It’s simple. We’re doing the same expression, Lali. We’re both like…
LARA: It’s just like, oh, my God. Yes, I saw it, and it was like, no way.
OLGA: It takes a certain like… It takes some skills, right? It takes a certain… Um… You need to be attuned to certain things in a game or in a movie or in a book to be able to catch up on these things. And that’s why you need people who can help you with that. The same thing with the Barbie movie that was banned in Vietnam because of the nine-dash line and that map that they were referring to, it didn’t even look like a map, but it was significant for Vietnamese people, right? And it was a big issue for them, so it was justified in their eyes. From my own experience, I can tell you that we had really big problems with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 that was released in Russia with the level that Activision actually took away from the Russian edition with the terrorists killing civilians in the airport.
ALEXIS: Yes, that famous/infamous level.
LARA: Oh, my God, yeah.
OLGA: But we had quite a big backlash from inside the country that was pointed at the company at that time, the publisher. So they blamed us for neglecting this particular sensitivity in this particular case, even like considering releasing the game in the country. So just like, you know, like three quite bright examples, but there are so many more and they happen all the time. I actually, myself, I have a collection of the movies that make some funny things with the Russian language just because they sort of entertain me, and I find it interesting that, with the amount of money and the budgets that Hollywood has, they just neglect double checking so many things.
MELISA: I would love to see that collection.
OLGA: Well, the movies that have actually Spanish speakers in them, you probably, like, you can totally relate.
ALEXIS: We can do the same with the Spanish. It’s a horror.
MELISA: Yeah. But I think the point that you were making about the movie and why this, like, those are great examples. And it’s so painful, there’s a lot of effort and money and people working for years sometimes in some of these games, and just, you know, to get ruined or banned completely for a completely full audience like of several countries and stuff like that just for these tiny mistakes that, you know, can be avoided. That’s like how important I think this message that we are here trying to spread thanks to Olga. It’s like… You know, I think that’s a great proof of our point.
OLGA: And it’s heartbreaking for the teams because, like you said, they’re working so hard, they’re putting their heart and soul in the game and then they’re being criticized for something that could be easily corrected or avoided at all. So, yeah, those were my examples.
MELISA: Yeah, those are a great examples.
LARA: Great examples.
ALEXIS: Thank you for those great examples.
MELISA: And related to what I just said, can you share some advice for those game developers who may be listening to this episode and may need to become more familiar with the importance of early localization involvement?
OLGA: Yeah, let me try. So, I would tell that they need to be curious, because a lot of times, the developers speak only one language. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You can’t expect everyone to be bilingual or be interested in learning something about the different culture. But it pays off when you try and do that. So just be curious. Try to understand and embrace the landscapes of different cultures and languages. Do the research, ask questions. I think not being guilty to ask questions, and not be afraid to ask them is one of the most important things that a person can actually have in them. I think that the ability to ask questions and to show curiosity is actually showing that people are not indifferent and they’re passionate about what they’re doing. And that’s really important. And it usually shows in the results. What else? So besides curiosity and asking questions, building a diverse team.
LARA: Oh, my God, yeah.
MELISA: I love this.
OLGA: Different backgrounds from different countries speaking different languages. That usually helps. My biggest release so far was a game that was published on Netflix platform, and we launched in 15 languages and we ended up having 33. Obviously, I don’t speak 33 languages, but we had a lot of team members who were able to help out with a lot of them. And that did help. And because, again, like having people on the team who were able to give you advice about their culture, who can tell you what’s acceptable and what’s not, what is… what aligns with customs of the country and what doesn’t, and sometimes are able to tell you the peculiarities of the language. And, if you have a problem with, say, Hindi, which we didn’t know that Unity had, but we had some Hindi speaking people on the team and we were trying to assess how serious this issue is, can we actually release the game with this issue or do we need to change all the words in the game that have this particular glyph or this particular character in it to something else and try that approach instead? Right, so, there are those small things, but they add up to being very important and the quality, never going down. So, yeah, that’s… Definitely brings a unique flavor to the table, for sure.
MELISA: This is some great advice. Thank you, Olga, that was…
OLGA: In fact, with the Netflix release, there was… My mom was actually… Well, I was bragging on my social media, and she was seeing that and was asking, “But how do you translate in 33 languages?” Like, “Mom, it’s okay…”
LARA: I love that!
ALEXIS: I love that. It’s a constant that I found in many people working in the localization industry, that moms usually don’t quite grasp what we do.
OLGA: And that was after 15 years that I’ve been doing that, she was still very naive.
ALEXIS: “My daughter is a translator.” Right?
LARA: Yeah, that’s what my mom says, like, “Yeah, my daughter works translating video games.” She doesn’t even have a clue what goes into it.
OLGA: And I think that’s actually a common misconception that we also have to fight, because for… A lot of times for the management, we are just glorified translators, for some reason, who earn more than they deserve. But that’s not the case. Like a lot of work that we as localization professionals do is language agnostic. It needs to be done in your product no matter how many languages you support. You need to have your conversation with the Game Designer to find out what was put behind each and every player phrase and string in the game, you need to have it documented and you need to know the context for that game because the translators, they’re gonna ask you. And if not the first time, then maybe the second time around. And you need to have that localization Bible like I call it, like it’s usually based off on game design document, but it’s so much more, right? So you build up on that and you use the questions that are asked by the translation team, you add on to that and then, when it’s time to launch in a new language, you have it already and a lot of questions are already answered. So yeah, it’s so much more than just translation and just sending files back and forth. You have to think about so many things besides just having the text translated, starting from, I don’t know, choosing the right font, making sure that all the characters are there, like I said. When I started in localization, I was translating into a language that was not part of EFIGS. So very rarely the developers had an idea that there are certain sets of characters that will be used for displaying the text in the game. So a lot of times, we were receiving a localized version, no characters were seen or, the best case, we had like the tofu squares.
ALEXIS: Yeah, I remember those squares.
OLGA: I can’t count the times I had to get back to the developers and ask them, “Where’s my Cyrillic font? Why don’t they have a Cyrillic font?” So, it’s better now for sure. And a lot of phones have like a full set of characters for alphabetized languages, but it’s still, like, for a lot of them, it’s still a work in progress. And usually, the… the game designers, the UX, UI people, they like to work with the fonts that are pretty, that create a certain atmosphere. Like, imagine something like Bioshock, with its art deco vibes, right? So those fonts, they rarely have support for all the glyphs. So you need to think about that because your engineers, game designers, even your UI, UX people might not, and you need to help them. So, yeah, it’s part of the job. Very exciting, actually.
LARA: Yeah. Yeah, I love that. I love that. I mean, we in Spanish, we have special characters all the time too. And it’s actually funny because the tofu squares that, like you mentioned, I find them always, all the time, and it’s just like, oh, it was just as simple as changing the font. But yeah, there you have it. It happens.
OLGA: Yes. Or just testing, right? So just bring the pangram, use the pangram and you will be able to tell right away if any of the characters are missing. But it’s just because engineers are not trained and the game developers rarely think about it from the start, especially Hindi, right? Like they’re thinking about creating something so special, so new, so exciting that they just don’t have time to think about all the intricacies that might come with actually making a global release. So it’s just the nature of the work. And that’s why localization exists as a discipline and that’s why we need it.
LARA: I love it. I love it. This episode has been one of my favorites. Like, thank you so much, Olga, for your time. This has been amazing. Guys, I don’t know if you want to say anything else.
MELISA: Olga, everything you said was so on point. I think everyone listening, like, it’s just great, great advice, great examples. So thank you so much for joining us.
OLGA: Oh, thank you for having me. I really… I love my job. I really like what I do.
LARA: We can tell. We can tell, we can see the passion that you have.
ALEXIS: Thank you for sharing your own personal stories as well. That’s very important.
OLGA: I find it that some people usually want to hear something personal rather than just very abstract…
ALEXIS: We do it, too.
LARA: Yeah, 100%. We really appreciate it. Thank you so much, everyone. You that you are listening or hearing or watching this episode on YouTube or wherever you are listening this, too, thank you so much for joining us today. We will see you again in another episode. Bye-bye!
MELISA: Bye, everyone.