QA and localisation: How to guarantee Return On Investment
Return on investment is a wonderful corporate phrase that simply means: Is it worth it?
Nobody in any walk of life likes to throw money away. Whatever we do, wherever we go, we balance the cost against the product. Whether that’s going to the cinema, or upgrading to a new phone, we want to make sure the film is good and that the new phone is worth the extra money, before parting with our cash.
In the services industry, things are often a little harder to evaluate – particularly when it comes to quality assurance. Ultimately, when anyone asks about ROI, they are asking two basic questions:
- How much will it cost?
- Is it worth the money?
QA and games testing is the hardest to quantify here. If you are building a game with the intention of long-term engagement with players, then obviously releasing a game that is broken or filled with bugs can have a severe impact on its long-term potential.
But what about a game that doesn’t plan to engage with players over a longer period? 2014’s Assassin’s Creed Unity was riddled with issues, but it still sold millions worldwide.
Well, yes. But perhaps a better gauge of whether QA is worth the investment is how well the sequel performed. 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s first week sales were the lowest for any game in the franchise… ever. Syndicate didn’t have anywhere near the level of issues that Unity had, but player trust had been lost with its predecessor.
Back in April, games industry title MCV conducted a project with European games consumer research company Ipsos over game pre-orders. The data revealed that 20 per cent of UK gamers were either pre-ordering fewer boxed games or had stopped pre-ordering altogether. Why? There were several reasons, but one of the biggest was that players were waiting to see that the game worked before putting down any money.
So does QA boost your sales? In the short-term it is hard to quantify, but the long-term impact of launching a poor game can be significant.
Things are a little easier to work out in localisation, however, it is a complicated science. If you are a working on a game and want to know more about which markets to launch it in, try talking to localisation experts – like us. Service companies – no matter what industry – live and die on their ability to make you more successful. If they make a bad suggestion just to get more money out of you in the short-term, then they risk losing you as a long-term customer. Service companies want you to come back – I know we do.
However, if you want to work out if localisation is right for you, let’s go back to those key questions.
- How much will it cost?
There is no straight answer to this. Using Google Translate just won’t work for complex games translation, so you’ll need professional support – and prices can vary. Translating a game into French does not cost the same as Chinese. The demand of the language and the number translators available will impact the overall cost.
And even then there are degrees of translation. Who is your translator? Are they a native speaker of the language you want to translate into (recommended)? Are you getting the work they do checked (again, recommended)? And if it is being checked, who by? Another native speaker?
And who is checking that the text still fits in the boxes, and that there are no double spaces or weird characters?
That is just the translation side. Is your game even suitable for the market that you are launching in? Australia and Germany, for instance, are not particularly fond of overly violent games. Will you need to make edits? Are you just going to have translated subtitles, or are you willing to re-record the voice actors as well? What about linguistic testing? Have you considered the different social media elements and marketing rules of other territories? What about how you are monetising the game? Does your title adhere to local country laws?
Some countries will require little more than just translation. A number of European markets, for instance, are very similar to the UK. And therefore translating into these territories will be comparatively cheap. But other territories can be expensive, and require more extensive localisation work. Which brings me onto the next question:
- Is it worth the money?
This is the big question. If you translate a game into German or Korean or Portuguese, will you make more money out the other side?
These are the areas you need to look at:
Do people in that country buy games, and if so, which ones?
Every territory is different, with varying tastes. Are you working on a PS4 game? Well, that console is hugely popular in most European territories (Germany in particular), but don’t even dream of releasing it in China. The PS4 install base is so small that Sony has practically given up there.
Are you working on a strategy game? Definitely check out Russia and other Eastern European markets… but in places like Ireland, it depends largely on what type of strategy game you’re talking about.
The best way to find out which games perform well in all these countries is to contact the various different data companies. In the UK, GfK Chart-Track supplies a Top 40 chart. Seek out charts in other countries. Try businesses like Euromonitor, or trade media like MCV, Develop, Gamasutra and GamesIndustry.biz. These outlets are often filled with great free information. There is a lack of accurate data in some areas of the games industry, but there are swathes of companies hoping to fill in the blanks – you just need to find them.
Of course, you could just ask your friendly QA and localisation provider.
How big is the population and do they spend money?
So you know your type of game tops the charts in Luxembourg. But is it worth translating your game for this market when the population is only 600,000?
And even if we are talking about a country with a huge population, is it an affluent country? India, for instance, has a big population but significant disposable income is extremely low. Is it worth releasing your game there? Will the high population offset the GDP?
What about piracy?
This is linked to the former point, but just because a country likes to pirate games, does not mean it’s a no-go area.
Football Manager is a popular PC game around the world and is also heavily pirated every year. The game’s developer Sports Interactive has been able to track where its games are being downloaded illegally, and rather than shun those countries, it has actually localised the game for some of those markets. The reason? The piracy rates show that gamers in those countries enjoy Football Manager, and maybe if the game wasn’t in English and was instead translated into their own language, then perhaps they would be more willing to pay for the game.
The results, according to Sports Interactive, have been pleasing.
How are you making money out of it?
China is big for mobile games. In fact, it is the most lucrative territory for smartphone and tablet projects. However, if you are releasing a paid-for download (as in a game that you pay for up-front), it is worth investigating just how well these games perform. China is a market where free-to-play games effectively began, and consumers are simply not used to paying for things up front.
Germany is an interesting country. PC games perform well in Germany and unlike in other markets, these gamers actually like buying things in physical boxes. It’s not just about downloading for them.
Make sure your business model matches the way consumers spend money. And try and be flexible, so that you can tweak your monetisation method from territory-to-territory to suit the market you are going into.
The games market is a complicated place, and finding out information can be a challenge. Most businesses will tell you that the core languages are English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. But as digital becomes more prevalent, which in turn drives down prices and gets games into countries that don’t have a particular strong retail presence, there are now opportunities around the world.
Yet ultimately, every game is unique and every country is different. Some games simply won’t work in some territories, while others might – with a bit of localisation.
The best bet is to do your research and then seek some consultancy from a known, proven localisation provider (a bit like us, for instance).
Top 8 localisation tips for indie developers
Earlier in the month we provided a list of five useful pieces of information that small and indie studios should consider before embarking on QA testing.
This week, we are looking at localisation. In particular, what to consider, what you need and – importantly – what you don’t. Here are our top 8 things to consider before translation, plus how to make the process better for you, your translation partner and – of course – your gamers.
- YES, YOU SHOULD LOCALISE
“The first big step for most small developers is doing it at all – many don’t bother and this is a mistake,” says indie development expert Steve Stopps, whose list of companies includes Kumotion, Arch Creatives and Lumo Developments.
“Half our installs come from non-English speaking countries. So translating the game literally doubles the number of people who play it. It takes a reasonable amount of work, and some up front consideration.” But, he adds, it’s definitely worth doing.
- IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE EFIGS
EFIGS stands for English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. For Western developers, these are the five core languages that are used in lucrative and affluent territories.
But that’s actually quite an out-dated way of looking at the games business. During the Interface conference last week, the head of games publisher KISS told attendees that EFIGS is an old ‘boxed market way’ of looking at games. UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain are the markets with robust distribution networks and High Street stores. But in today’s digital marketplace, there are other opportunities. Poland and Russia, for instance, have a strong PC market around Steam. China is huge with free-to-play mobile games, while Brazil also has a rapidly growing digital market.
Not all games will work in these territories, so do some research. There are plenty of free resources that will give you a top-line overview of what markets might be best for your game – the trade media often does analysis of emerging markets, so check out MCV, Develop, Gamesindustry.biz and Gamasutra.
- THINK ABOUT LOCALISATION DURING DEVELOPMENT
If you are planning to localise your game for markets such as Russia and Greece, do consider the fact that words and characters in these languages can be considerably longer than their English counterparts.
Russian and Ukrainian translator Yevgeniy Oliynyk says: “Very often we are asked to make sure the length in Russian or Ukrainian is the same or does not exceed the length in English. If we agree to this, the result is a crazy acronym no end user may understand.”
The best solution for these issues is to develop auto-scale text to fit – this saves a lot of time. And also ensure that you use a font that supports all of the character sets you are translating into (although, Chinese has a huge number of characters, which can make your game a much larger download).
Thinking about localisation from the start could save you a lot of time in the long run, explains indie developer Dan Pearce. “One thing that I wish I’d done on 10 Second Ninja, is laying the groundwork for the localised text long beforehand,” he says. “All of the text in the dialogue, button prompts, and interfaces were hard coded. This meant that a month before launch I had to go through the entire game and rewrite the code for pretty much any text that appeared on screen, so that it could assign the correct text based on the language selected.”
- THINK ABOUT THE NUMBER OF WORDS YOU ARE USING
This is a nice hint for those on a budget. If you can reduce the amount of text in a title, then it will bring the cost of localisation down. Perhaps you could use the spare funds to translate the game into even more languages.
- LEAVE IT UNTIL THE END BUT GIVE IT TIME
Ok, this might sound contradictory, but to save time during localisation, make sure the text is final (or near-final). That way it will save you having to go back and forth with your translation firm. However, make sure you give localisation plenty of time as well. Good translation is not a five-minute job.
Dan Pinchbeck of The Chinese Room puts it best: “Wait long enough so that your text and dialogue is mostly final as this saves money,” he says. “But don’t wait until the last minute either, or the quality will suffer from it.”
Localisation is about more than just translation. Does your game contain a religious element that could offend a culture from a different country? How violent is your game and will it pass the censors in Germany? Are you making a game about Christmas and does it fit into every country’s varying festive traditions?
“It is important to have complete understanding of the market that you’re localising for,” says app developer Samantha Hyde. “In the West, one can use the same – or similar – look and feel, features and narrative for a game. But when aiming to be successful in regions with very different cultures, such as China, South Korea, India and Japan, you have to cultralise. Which can mean rethinking features and narrative, alongside translating text. Too often games merely re-skin themselves and do superficial localisations, without really understanding cultural sensitivities of the market, that they are adapting for, which we feel is a risky proposition.”
- PROVIDE PLENTY OF INFORMATION
Professional translators are really the only option when it comes to decent localisation (no, Google Translate is not a viable alternative). Before submitting your work, try and provide as much context and background information as you can to the translator. Also, answer any queries (even the really odd ones). That’ll improve the quality of the translation, and potentially prevent some silly-sounding translations in the final product.
- FINALLY… TEST IT
You wouldn’t expect the big magazines and newspapers to come out without the words being checked and proofed by an editor, so why would you release a game without checking the translation? Test your game. Catch the typos, make sure the translation is right and everything fits. Remember, most game localisation is done in string tables… how that appears in the context of the game could be radically different.
Universally Speaking – TIGA Best QA Service Provider 2015
Last night’s TIGA awards were nothing short of incredible! It was a night to savour as the best of the UK games industry were brought together to celebrate the growing talent nominated for one of industry’s most prestigious awards.
Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees who all did so much to be considered for awards in their respective categories. We are very grateful ourselves to have won the award for best QA service provider a second time in three years and for this we give thanks to all those we have worked with during this time.
“Winning a TIGA award is a great honour, but doing so for the second time in the Best QA Service Provider category is truly humbling. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support and trust from our clients and our team’s dedication. This award is a big ‘thank you’ to them.” Vickie Peggs, CEO/Founder.
We would like to thank TIGA for all of their effort in acknowledging the talented hard work of all of those involved in the night. We would also like to “raise our glass” to TIGA for organizing the event and to all the finalists for making the evening a spectacular display of the UK Games Industry.
We wish all of the nominees and winners the best in your future endeavours. We look forward to the next year of growth, and maybe even another TIGA award nomination!
Universally Speaking at Interface & TIGA Awards This Week!
It’s set to be a busy week here at Universally Speaking!
This Thursday we’ll will be at Interface in London, where we will look to interact with like minded developers and publishers championing our Localisation and QA services for the games industry. Later on, we’ll be attending the TIGA awards ceremony, where we have been nominated for an award in the ‘service provider – best QA provider’ category.
Since our formation in 2005, we have provided localisation and QA services to some of the most prestigious names in the games industry. With over ten years of expert experience and a plethora of knowledge on localisation and QA processes, Interface is the perfect platform in which to meet people who want to draw from the insight that we can provide as a dedicated service provider.
Our service to the games industry has been recognised by TIGA, and the nomination of Universally Speaking at this year’s awards will be the third year in succession, receiving the award in 2013. Our continued work with TIGA has allowed us to flourish in partnership with one another, leading to a record breaking awards ceremony this year, a partnership we hope will continue into the future to the benefit of the games industry as a whole.
If you are going to Interface this week or are attending the TIGA awards then come and say hi and have a drink with us. We’ll be talking all things localisation, QA and games so get in the conversation and let us know if we can help you take your games global.
Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for more information on what we’re up to. We are Universally Speaking, are You?
Top Five QA tips for Indie Developers
Quality assurance is vital for all video games – whether you are a blockbuster like Assassin’s Creed or a small-scale effort like Shovel Knight (pictured)
Yet whereas the likes of Ubisoft, Activision and EA have large QA teams and multi-million development budgets, independent outfits don’t have anywhere near this level of resource. So how do they compete and ensure their games satisfy their fans?
QA and localisation specialists, such as ourselves, offer services to fit all size companies, and we have processes and methods to ensure your games hit the right quality bar and its deadlines.
Yet rather than this turn into a bit of self-promotion for us, we decided that we’d ask some of the larger indies about what they have discovered when it comes to testing games. Here are their Top Five Tips for Video Games QA
- Start QA early
William Pugh of The Stanley Parable fame told us that QA is ‘super important’ but said the mistake they made was ‘doing it later than we probably should have’.
He’s not alone, several of the indies we spoke to for this article expressed similar regrets for not allocating enough development time.
“I think like most indie studios, we often take QA for granted and never allocate enough time and the right kind of people to do this,” said Jon Holmes of Milky Tea Studios
”QA is a very underestimated process and we learned a lot from our last project, so the next time we roll out a new title we will do things a bit different. I’ll definitely allocate a lot more time to it.”
- Get a little help from your friends
Cost is a factor here, so before employing the help of a dedicated QA and localisation team, make sure to get feedback from friends, families and professional contacts. They will be able to highlight some of the game-breaking errors. Liverpool-based developer MilkyTea studios even invites some of their local rivals to come in and give their game a play, to see what they find.
Of course, make sure you have thick skin. Unprofessional QA can lead to some harsh feedback, with some developers reporting heavy criticism of the title that had nothing to do with bugs or technical issues.
But note, this isn’t a replacement for actual Quality Assurance support. Getting some feedback will help initially, but you should try to employ some expert help – either internally or externally – to ensure that the game hits the mark. Which brings us nicely to:
- Do get some professional support
Of course, we would say this. So take it from the views of Samantha Hyde of social games maker TrulySocial: “When we started out, we typically had the same developer coding and play testing features before uploading build,” she tells us. “Even though, we saved the cost of an extra resource, we realized that it was drain on our developer’s time.”
Barbara-ian developers Owlbear is one studio that has taken the plunge with external QA support. “The results were crucial for us to get an impression of the range of hardware compatibility and capability of running our game, something that would be incredibly difficult to get otherwise.”
- Use the right tools and services
Indie studios always need to manage constraints of time, resources and capital, meanwhile making great games requires building robust QA processes and constant testing. It’s a challenging job, so some real thought needs to be put into your internal development resource, but also make sure you can utilize and get the best out of tools and services that are available out there.
There are a number of Beta-style testing facilities out there, such as UserTesting.com and The BETA Family – but the indies we spoke to had mixed reviews of these services (and they do incur a fee). For bug tracking, Guacamelee creators DrinkBoxStudios recommends Bugzilla, which is open source and free.
Most QA companies also have their own software. Universally Speaking hosts a Mantis database, which can work with other databases, and it is included in our service and prices.
- Be clear about what you want
Whether you are utilizing internal or external QA, try and provide as much information as you can about what tests you want performing. Testers generally do a good job of finding bugs, but if there are unfinished areas that they shouldn’t worry about, say so. And if certain elements are deliberate, detail those as well. You don’t want mass bug reporting of problems that are not actually problems.
And as you supply new builds, try to inform the team about the changes you’ve made. Dan Pinchbeck of Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture developer The Chinese Room says: “Make sure you document and communicate changes and updates you’ve made to the game to your QA testers when you send them a new build.”
There is a lot more practical advice on how to get the most out of your quality assurance, so do get in touch about how to get the most out of games testing.
Next time, we will be giving some detailed advice and top tips on how smaller developers and indies can maximise their potential with video game localisation.