The objective of these posts is to share my predictions for how translators can get into video game localization in the current year. I’m a little late with my Video Game Translation in 2017 entry, but I have some ideas that I think will be very valuable for those trying to get into the localization industry this year. If you like this kind of article, or if you want to receive notifications of new posts, sign up for our email list here.
Building your Portfolio
As we’ve mentioned many, many times now, the hardest part of becoming a video game translator is finding work and experience. Luckily, this is becoming significantly easier than it ever has been. The first thing that I would suggest that any gaming translator do is sign up for LocJam. It starts in just a week, but it’s an incredibly educational and valuable experience. Being able to tell a potential client that you actually took part in a translation competition is not something that many others can say. Especially if you win. Not only do you get bragging rights, but the experience that comes from actually translating a video game like this, from start to finish, is something that will help you decide whether or not this whole ordeal of localization is worth your time and energy.
The next thing that I would recommend is that you look into translating subtitles on YouTube, especially for game development, tech, and gaming channels. Again, the goal here is to show that you know the language – both the actual language as well as the lingo – that your target audience actually uses. I’ve been playing a TON of Diablo 3 over the last couple of years and we talk about drop rates, item stats (crit. chance and damage, attack speed, and so on), character builds, and the math that goes into deciding which piece of gear or skill is better than the other. Not to mention the vast list of different items that you can pick up in-game. All of those are terms that you probably won’t use in, say, a racing game. By working on these videos, you are getting used to the lingo, the way that the players actually talk, and you’re putting your translations in front of hundreds, sometimes even millions, of players. That’s a scary thought, but if you expect to translate for any major developer, and even many small and mid-sized developers, that’s something that you’re going to have to get comfortable with. The other nice thing about translating these YouTube videos is that you have something to add to your portfolio. It’s something that a client can easily find online and when they see those numbers, your skills start looking more valuable. Did I mention that larger channels pay their translators? I haven’t been able to get $0.30 per word, but you can supplement your normal income with these projects. I’ve noticed smaller channels that want to get their content translated as well since it helps them to reach larger audiences.
I would also recommend that you look into blogging. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but if you follow any gaming news site, you can take articles that interest you and translate/rewrite them (we want to avoid any copyright issues, so make sure to give them your own voice), and post them online. Being a published translator is another great thing to have on your portfolio and website. We are currently working on a project that would allow translators and bloggers to share content to a website specifically for this purpose. Think of it like theopenmic.co for gaming. I just need to find the time to build that site and get some content on there. I’ll keep you guys updated on it as new news comes in. It may be a bit much for many translators, we tend to have trouble with being outgoing, but if you’re able to do it, look into starting a translator vlog on a platform like YouTube. There’s more interest in the subject matter than you’d think and it’s an easy way to show that you know what you’re talking about. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, talk about the learning process. You would be surprised how much confidence that kind of content can generate in your client. Plus, you’d be famous!
Aside from all of that, I still recommend the things that I’ve mentioned in previous years. Go to Steam and look for indie games that need localization and do whatever you’re comfortable with (like translating games for free in exchange for credit/portfolio fodder). Also, go to Curseforge and translate addons and mods for popular games. That was how I found my first client. I translated a bunch of addons for World of Warcraft and then sent links to them in a proposal. They were so impressed, that I not only landed the job but I worked with the company for many years and on many large projects – including game development software. Imagine talking to a developer and they ask if you know anything about X platform and you reply that you translated it. It’s a great feeling.
Video Game Platforms to Focus on in 2017
While PC gaming is still strong in 2017, mobile gaming continues growing by leaps and bounds. Since that majority of projects will be coming from smaller and indie developers, and they tend to focus on those two platforms, I would familiarize myself with current trends related to them. Look at your app store and see what kind of games are at the top of the charts. You can bet that there will be a dozen clones within the next month or two, so contact those developers and offer your services. Adding more languages to a game makes it available to more players and that means more money for the developer. I’ve found the clone makers to be the most open to translation. They’re primarily there to make money and know how important reach is.
Consoles continue to be a challenge for most developers. That’s not to say that there isn’t any work there, but it will be more difficult to find it. It’s simply a smaller pool. To date, I don’t recall ever translating a console game.
Finding Video Game Translation Work in 2017
I have seen more and more developers moving to freelance platforms to find translators. The problem with working on those platforms is that the rates are usually garbage. One approach is to offer a special price for first-time clients on those platforms and then charge a normal rate for any follow-up work with that client. It’s not ideal, but if you’re just getting started and you’re still building up a client base, it’s a quick and easy way to start making contacts in the gaming industry.
One resource that not enough translators are taking advantage of are their clients. What we would do is send out a customer satisfaction survey after our first project with a client. Obviously, we asked if they were satisfied, but we also asked if they would recommend us to other developers. We found that if we asked that question, they would actually recommend us afterward! The same worked across all the industries that we translated in, but it was very consistent. We would get maybe one or two referrals every six months from clients, but when they confirmed that they would recommend us, we received referrals every month. You can, and should, directly ask them if they know anyone else that might need help with localization. Developers talk to and spend time with other developers. Just like how translators spend time with and talk to other translators. So, if you ask me if I know a good English to French video game translator, you bet your cola that I know one and would be happy to recommend her.
Another thing that we did, which was very helpful in keeping us busy, was to email all our clients at the beginning of the week and let them know what days we were available for work. We did this with Mailchimp. We would book 2-3 projects every time we sent out that email. Each job was worth a couple hundred dollars – from projects that we just simply asked for. You would be surprised how much you can receive if you just ask for it.
Aside from that, the best thing that you can do is simply put yourself out there. Build your portfolio like I talked about above. Go to events. Buy a t-shirt with your company name and something like “level 78 ES<>EN Translator” on it. Actually, that’s a great idea. I’m going to make a bunch of those and you guys can buy them! Let me know your language pairs in the comments! Build an awesome website and actually WORK to send traffic to it – we’ll talk more about that in a minute. I think that too many translators have this “if you build it, they will come” attitude towards their translation businesses. And make no mistake, you are a business owner when you’re a freelance translator. Then, when they don’t get the results that they want, they complain about how the industry is dying. Of course it’s dying for you if you’re just sitting there and won’t do anything to stay alive… ugh!
I would also recommend that you look for any game developer groups, classes, or meetups in your area and start spending time there. Learn about the problems that your clients are facing and find ways to fix those problems for them. Build relationships. Stay alive!
Translator Websites in 2017
Ok, I know that many translators aren’t super tech savvy. Sure, we can wrestle with Across and make Trados do all kinds of weird stuff, but when it comes to designing and building a website, many falter. I plan to create some tutorials for different website building platforms that are easy to use and inexpensive. I would advise that you avoid any free platforms, aside from Facebook and LinkedIn, for business profiles. You want to have control over your website and may provide bonus features that you would normally have to purchase. I personally host my domains on HostGator, which has servers all over the world so they’re usually a safe choice, and NameCheap, because they’re cheap. To actually build my websites, I’m becoming more open to WordPress. You’ll also have success with Weebly and Wix, both of which are very easy to use, even for novices. This particular website was made in WordPress, but if you saw the older version, it was Weebly. The website where I sell SEO and digital marketing services was made using a program called Adobe Muse. I’ll cover each of those platforms and then go over some search engine optimization techniques and tools that you can use to help get traffic to your sites organically. Organic traffic is free advertising and is awesome, it just takes work to earn it.
Your website fulfills a couple of important roles:
- It’s your face.
- It’s your portfolio.
- It’s your storefront.
- It’s your recommendations.
- It’s how people contact you.
- It’s proof that you’re a real professional
Most older translators will disagree with that last point, especially when they’ve been working without a website for 40 years; but when dealing with younger clients that are used to Googling everything, if you don’t have a website, it’s almost like you don’t exist. Your website doesn’t have to be anything crazy with parallax scrolling and flash animations, but it does need to be visually appealing and easy to navigate. If you want to hire a designer, you certain can and that’s typically a good investment.
We will go much deeper into translator websites in future posts and a few videos.
Other Tidbits of Advice
I have a few other things to mention before closing up this post:
- Marketing your business doesn’t mean placing ads on Google or hanging flyers. That’s advertising. Marketing means building relationships with people that can become your clients or that can help you find new clients. Focus on building a relationship. Talk to people, get to know them. Ask them questions. Find ways to fix their problems.
- If you have access to a mid-large developer locally, try getting an informational interview with them. Tell them that you’re working on an article for a website (like your blog!) and you want to talk to whoever is in charge of localization for half an hour. The goal here is to see what specific needs they have, what they look for in a translator, and then become the perfect candidate. Don’t go in there looking for a job, if you try to sell yourself during this interview, you will screw up your chances of working with them. IF you think that you’re a perfect fit, tell them that you might be able to help out and that you’ll email them some information after the interview. If you go in asking for information and end up asking for a job, it looks unprofessional and dishonest.
- If you see an opportunity to grow your network, business, or experience, take it.
- Imperfect action is better than waiting for perfection.
- If you intend to make video game localization your full-time career, you can’t afford to be shy or afraid. This is your life that you’re putting at risk because you’re too afraid to talk to someone. If it’s not important enough for you to put any effort into it, don’t expect others to do it for you.
This is far from an exhaustive list of what you need to do to get started in video game translation in 2017, but this should at least get you off on the right foot. I made my living off this kind of translation for nine years. I only stopped because I found a way for me to help more people – which has always been my end goal. I believe in this, and I believe in your ability to reach your dreams. But don’t expect it to be easy. The best things in life never are.