AGM’s Chinese Staff Discuss the Current Game Market in China

The current game market in China is said to be worth as much as 3 or 4 trillion yen. In order to break into that market, we at Active Gaming Media have Chinese staff set up in Shanghai. A few days ago, they came to Japan and gave a presentation about what’s going on in the market that everyone’s watching.

The Shanghai team giving their presentation

The presentation was filled with interesting information, both believable and a little surprising. The Shanghai team originally had an idol, a lawyer, and someone whose been in the Chinese game industry a long time, but now there’s an even more unique composition, as the idol is now a social media influencer. Hearing the thoughts of people from those various specialized fields was an experience that has to be shared.

Here are a few topics about the Chinese game market introduced in that presentation.

The Rise of Pearl River Delta

These days, there are over 5,000 game-related companies in China. Over 200 of those are huge, with over 500 employees. Until 15 years ago, 90% of the game market was made up of Shanghai companies, but now, apparently they only make up about 10%. Some leading cities in the market today include Shanghai, Beijing, and Chengdu. Pearl River Delta, home of Tencent and NetEase, has an especially big influence, according to our Shanghai team.

What is Pearl River Delta?

It’s the name of the region in the heart of the triangular-shaped expanse at the mouth of the Pearl River in China that connects Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Dongguan, and Macau. 


There are no ratings in China

It’s just as the header says. So does that mean that any old game can get released in China? The answer is: no. Every game in China has to be suitable for all ages. The rules in China are very strict, and heavily restrict violence, nudity, as well as the rules you’d normally see in Japan, like rules against discrimination. What was interesting was they specify bones can’t be shown. Take for example a game that features zombies with missing limbs. Zombies themselves are fine, but showing the bone where the limb is gone isn’t allowed. There are a ton of these rules, but they’re also continuously changing, so a certain amount of care is required. (Apparently, there was a change to the rules just a few days before our team gave their presentation.)

Games for girls are taking off

Games targeting girls have seen rapid growth over the past two years in China. There are a fair few of these games, but right now it seems like two are very popular. They’re both simulation games, one in the romance genre, the other involving fashion. Sales don’t lie, and these sales seem to be drastically rising. Our staff says this is because it’s become a huge market, and there still aren’t a ton of these types of games.

For those who want to try and enter the Chinese game market, you can ask us questions at [email protected]

Shaoxingjiu, a souvenir from the Shanghai team (It’s huge!)

Bad Customer Support

All About Customer Support, Episode 1

Gaming platforms have gone through rapid development in recent years. These days it’s a piece of cake for even independent developers to bring games that succeeded in their native language over to Japan; but this doesn’t come without its share of problems: Adjusting advertising for Japan, trying to succeed across various media platforms, localization, support systems…the list goes on.

In this first edition of “All About Customer Support,” out of the many things necessary for expanding into Japan, we’ve chosen to discuss a few things to remember about “customer support.”

To start, when you hear “Customer Support,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

For most it’s probably: “A channel of communication that allows users to make inquiries.”

So what sort of communication channels might a game have?

Customer Support Examples (excluding phones)

Contact forms and the like are probably fairly obvious.

There are also many other channels of communication: DMs (direct messages) on social media like Facebook and Twitter, replying to official posts, using the e-mail address(es) posted on the app store, or talking to representative companies who aren’t directly related to the game.

How much support can be given and whether or not there will be a team set aside for each various method will change with each company’s desired management system, but if there is no prior planning for customer support aside from simply having it, there WILL be problems.

Here we’re going to introduce two examples of problems that could pop up bringing games into Japan from overseas.

1. Different channels with no method of coordination

A. Japan’s Customer Support Center

  • Outsourced communication channel for Japanese users

B. Original Customer Support Center

  • Communication channel for Japanese users run by the head office
  • Goes through inquiries and sends a request to A

C. Japanese Branch

  • Updates social media, handles DMs and replies
  • Sends all issues to A

D. Original Development Team

  • Handles e-mails sent to the address listed on the app store
  • Ignores Japanese inquiries

E. Head Office (Administration, general affairs)

  • Ignores Japanese inquiries

What happens?

It’s set up to fail from the start.

Like B sending inquiries to A, the user is forced to reach out to different channels when rejected from the one they chose.

You’ll hear things like: “I tried talking to so and so, but was told to check here instead,” and “I already talked to someone, but they transferred me here.”

The problem requires multiple correspondences to be solved:

Explaining all the details of the issue to each channel could cause significant delays, sometimes stretching the process out for days.

Sometimes the issue can’t be indentified the first time, and the user is forced to try again.

It takes two or three attempts before the problem can even start to be solved.

2 Lack of information means users don’t know who to contact

What happens?

No one can identify the correct communication channel, and their problem doesn’t get solved during the first correspondence.

You’ll hear things like: “This doesn’t make any sense!” and “What does this mean?”

The above two examples could result in:

1. A significant loss in users

2. At the same time, the issues get spread around on social media

3. So, the number of new users decreases

Sales drop, and the overall lifespan of the product is shortened.

We definitely don’t want that to happen.

Companies need to have a point of contact for users to be able to freely choose their channel of communication. If some sort of strategy isn’t applied, it’s almost certain problems will arise.

To entirely cover all bases so that users can get the help they need is definitely challenging, but that’s customer support. The moral of the story is: Good customer support means satisfied customers, and that means your content will continue to be happily enjoyed.

Our company helps to fill gaps in customer support, carefully considering the issues above and how to approach them.

We’re able to back up your company using various methods, including communication channels, collecting user voices, and monitoring and managing social media. If you’re interested, please feel free to contact us here: [email protected]

Casino’s in Japan: The English Problem

This is a reposting of the February 25, 2019 article from our CEO Ibai Ameztoy on IZANAU. Read the original here.

These days, there’s been a flurry of mixed reviews about Japan’s casino law, which will allow up to three casino resorts to be built in Japan. There seem to be a lot of people harboring negative feelings about this news, worrying about gambling addictions, strangers making areas unsafe, and the risk of money laundering.

Incidentally, I was raised in a casino household. My father ran a casino in Spain, and has years and years of experience working the tables and other floor positions.

In Japan now there are rumors about whether an IR (integrated resort) will be developed in Tokyo or Osaka, but recently most have come to think it’ll be in Osaka.

In the midst of this, I’ve heard casino schools to train staff are popping up all over the place.

Obviously the students of those schools will be Japanese; but if there is a casino built in Japan, we can anticipate at least 50% of the customers will be foreigners.

You’re probably aware that many of those foreigners will be people seriously playing to win.

I want to explain just how important communication is between management and those customers.

1. Dealers and floor staff WILL need English.

For example, for someone who deliberately goes to an overseas casino in Japan to spend their money, what language do you think the dealer needs to give instructions in?

Clearly: English.

The customers have to be able to understand the dealers, but there are no Japanese people who can accommodate this, even if they scored a 990 on the TOEIC test and went to a casino school.

No foreign customer, who’s come a long way to gamble big, is going to be understanding about the  broken English of a dealer who doesn’t understand the nuances of what they’re saying.

I can easily imagine a fight breaking out, like you’d see in a movie.

Therefore, casinos will have to hire foreign employees.

Training schools for Japanese people are all well and good, but how well can they train their English ability there? At a Japanese casino, where both technical terminology and natural English is required, subpar language skills aren’t going to cut it; because they’re up against foreigners who’ve come to gamble.

Gathering foreigners with experience in casinos (or the gambling world) is the first priority.

2. People who spend big money at casinos leave it at the casino.

A long time ago, casinos could decide their own rules to a certain extent, but these days they’re under strict supervision.

There will be a lot of supervisors and security cameras watched carefully by police with specialized training.

I’m sure Japan will also have to follow these sorts of rules.

One of the reasons they need to be so strict is that overseas, people who gamble large amounts of money at the casino leave it at the casino. For example, customers might deposit 100,000,000 yen at the casino and gamble 10,000,000 of it the next time they come.

That’s the norm outside of Japan.

There are many reasons for this. If someone won 500,000,000 yen and carried that all back with them, they’d be immediately targeted for all sorts of crimes, so it’s very common to leave money at the casino and then use it later.

This is normal overseas. If Japan uses the same system, it can’t be handled with broken English.

That would undoubtedly cause problems. The casino would lose trust, and I could easily see the IR becoming little more than a vacant lot.

The framework of the IR is important, but we have to think about how to manage it after the fact as well.

Right now, some might say it’s too early to have this conversation, as who’s going to be working on this has yet to be decided; but my point is this: Casino schools are all well and fine, but as stated above, running a casino will be very difficult unless least half of the floor staff is foreign.

Simply because Japanese people cannot speak English.

Handling problem customers at a casino is on an entirely different level from handling them at a hotel.

If done improperly, that person’s life could be affected.

Right now Japan is worried about things like gambling addictions, suspicious strangers, and money laundering, but first and foremost, we need to focus on the English problem.

The Type of Localization: Not Just Translation, but Going Further into Implementation

This is a reposting of the interview of Active Gaming Media’s Ibai Ameztoy and Masatoshi Higuchi, published on AUTOMATON on February 8, 2019. Read the original here.

Masatoshi Higuchi

Active Gaming Media’s main business is localizing entertainment content. While we are a Japanese company, over 60% of our staff is from outside of Japan. We have a proud reputation of being able to localize from other languages into Japanese, and vice versa. However, in our industry, the quality of localization is on a gradual rise.

So how does Active Gaming Media set itself apart from its competitors? One answer is: implementation. At our company, we specialize in not only translation and *LQA, but also implementing the localized text. Why do we so actively promote this process? What merits does it have? We’ve had our CEO, Ibai Ameztoy, and our localization director, Masatoshi Higuchi, speak about the importance of implementation, and our enthusiasm about it.

*Linguistic Quality Assurance is the process of checking to make sure there are no mistakes in the localization, also referred to as language quality assurance.

-Today we’re doing some self promotion and speaking again about the localization department at Active Gaming Media (AGM). Mr. Higuchi, thank you for your time.

Higuchi:  Thank you.

-Please introduce yourself one more time.

Higuchi: My name is Masatoshi Higuchi, I’m the localization director of the service department. I supervise the localizations. AGM is actually my 7th place of employment. I started at a Japanese game company called Data East, where I did overseas sales. That’s where I had my first brush with localization. Back then, “localize” wasn’t even a word. First it was just people able to translate games. After I left there, I worked as a localization manager for a Japanese overseas publishing corporation. I’ve never counted, but I think I’ve supervised the localization of over 1000 game titles.

Masatoshi Higuchi

-You could say you’re a veteran of the industry.

Higuchi: You could.

Japanese into Other Languages

-AGM is known as a localization company, can you give us an overview of your portfolio of localized titles and the languages you coordinate?

Higuchi: When we were first established, we had a lot of European members, so let’s start there. We’ve been doing this for about 11 years. Ten years ago, we mostly localized console games. At that time, there was a lot of “EFIGS” localization, which is Japanese to European languages and English. Recently, the number of PC and smart phone games has increased. As far as languages go, the number of games in Asian languages like Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese Mandarin, and Simplified Chinese has really gone up.

We’re seeing more Russian and Brazilian Portuguese too. Of our recently localized titles, Level-5’s “NI NO KUNI II: Revenant Kingdom” went into a lot of different languages. There were 6 languages starting with English, and seven for LQA including English. At first we were told there would be 700,000 words to translate, but due to rewrites that climbed to 1,000,000. That’s the highest word count and the most languages we’ve had in any recent title. We were thrilled to see the Spanish media chose it as one of top 5 best Spanish localization titles. I was really happy about that.

-You’re localizing a variety of projects in a variety of languages then, small and large.

Higuchi: Yes. It’s not just translation, we also do recording for the voices used inside the game. After translating what they’re saying in English and Japanese, we coordinate voice actors who are native language speakers to record. After implementing the text and voices in the game, we’re expanding our LQA operations by playing from a user perspective to pick up any errors. When translating, there is a lot of take into consideration beyond excel files and other data, so there are a lot of times where it’s hard to understand who’s saying what, and what sort of scene they’re in. That’s another reason why I believe LQA is important. Sometimes the text gets corrupted, or doesn’t fit in the textbox. We’ve even had times when a man would be speaking with female speech patterns. If you don’t do LQA, these things don’t get found, so I think it’s a very important step.

And, what I want to emphasize is, we’re not just having the language translated by someone who understands it. As an example, there are times when even an American can’t accurately translate the “native culture,” because they’ve been in Japan so long. We’re very careful about scrutinizing the place, genre, and culture from many sides when localizing into multiple languages.

Ibai: All too often people assume that because someone can speak a language, they can do translation and localization well. If 16 people are doing LQA, that doesn’t mean they’re all at the same level. There are times when people will try to “fix” a good translation and end up ruining it.

Ibai Ameztoy

-Right now we’re in an age where you can’t just localize send it off; you have to thoroughly check the quality.

Higuchi: It’s an absolute necessity.

-Can clients choose to have just translation or just LQA done?

Higuchi: Of course. There are times where we perform LQA on translated texts already implemented by other companies, and vice versa.

Native Language Speakers Supervise Implementation

-What would you say is the biggest reason to choose AGM over its competitors?

Higuchi: We have a lot of translators with very high Japanese language ability.

-Yes, you mentioned AGM has a lot of non-Japanese staff.

Higuchi: Yes. At your average translation company, they’ll translate the Japanese text into English, and then the English into various European languages, but, as our European translators speak Japanese, the time required for delivery is cut in half. When you translate into first English, then other languages, there’s an “English filter,” and usually, the nuance from the original Japanese is lost. If you can translate from Japanese into the target language directly, it stays more natural and the nuance is transferred to the European language. I believe that’s our biggest strength.

-Thank you very much. All right, let’s get to our main topic. You’re putting a lot of effort into the implementation of localized languages into games. Please tell us a bit about that. What processes in game development are included in implementation? What is the end result?

Higuchi: Implementing localized content into games is my and the localizing staff’s dream. It’s very efficient to do translation and LQA together, and I believe it raises the quality as well. Production-wise, it comes in between translation and LQA. They happen one right after the other. Once the translation is done, it’s handed to the programmer handling implementation, then that’s sent to LQA. That’s the cycle.

Until now, once translation was done, it was sent to the client, who put it in the game then sent a build back, and then we started LQA. That has a tendency to really stretch out the schedule, no matter what. However, if, as I said before, we implement the translation and send it straight to LQA, the man hours go down, the deliverable can be sent sooner, and overall cost goes down, so I feel there’s a lot of merit in it for our clients as well.

And, since it’s impossible to check what the final product looks like without implementation, it’s a lot easier to test and fix if we do it ourselves. That’s one more reason LQA is so necessary. If we’re not sure where the text is used in the game, we can implement it to test it out. That way we can see whether it’s too long, or too short. We update the translation, implement it again, and quickly check the results. It raises both the quality and the efficiency of the LQA.  

Masatoshi Higuchi

-So by getting translation, LQA, and implementation all in one place, your clients can rely on you for just about everything.

Higuchi: We do need a couple of things from the client first. We need to get the source code, properly analyzed, and information on how the text should be implemented in the programming. But since they can leave everything after that to us, I still think it’s a lot easier for them.

Ibai: That was what drove us to add a development department to AGM. We wanted to be able to create higher quality localizations through implementation. Of course, we do have language experts; I think any place that offers localization does. But we take that one step farther at our company, and offer implementation. Doing implementation not only raises the quality, but it also reduces the amount of work needed. Since you’re cutting out all the sending back and forth, the process goes faster. Investment in LQA might not be cut in half, but I’d say it goes down by at least 20 or 30%. And, our language experts are fully involved in the implementation process.

 -I see, they’re able to supervise the localization process all the way to implementation.

Ibai: That’s right. Right now in the development department we have staff from 8 different countries. And it’s not really supervision; they can check the implementation while doing it themselves. This sort of system is completely normal in North American or European countries. Japan and China are the only countries who, in game development use natives (Japanese and Chinese) who implement and check text even though they don’t understand the language. I really think it’s important to have people who are knowledgeable in that language supervising implementation.

-And that’s what AGM is putting their efforts into (at this stage)?

Higuchi: We’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but it’s finally become a reality.

-Many companies want to reduce localization costs, but what are the merits of choosing a package that includes implementation?

Higuchi: Outsourcing implementation together with localization frees up the development side for other things, like preparing for the next project. That’s one merit. However, there are many companies who still don’t know a lot about localization as a work process, so we want to help with educating our clients as well, if we can.

-This will really make it possible to do more comprehensive localizations. Thank you very much.

Ibai Ameztoy

Active Gaming Media’s localization service

Localization portfolio

What Happens when you Hire Non-Japanese Programmers at a Japanese game company

This is a reposting of an IZANAU article published by our CEO on February 6, 2019.

Game development sites are creative environments where experts that can be called “artists” work side by side.

Illustrators, animators, modelers, writers, game quality assessment professionals….

Even for creative environments, game development in particular is steeped with innovation and originality.

In a time where IT companies have started freely throwing around the word “globalization,” Japanese game companies seem to be at constant war with their overseas counterparts.

Japanese games vs. Western games, RPGs vs. JRPGs, the art that’s popular in Japan vs. 2D animation…

The island nation of Japan has a unique, singular culture even in the game world.

The reality of a severe lack of skilled workers in Japan is affecting game companies as well, and companies have different strategies for how to deal with it depending on their capacity and scale.

For example, there are companies outsourcing within Japan, companies using studios from overseas, or subcontracting just one part of development (for example, illustration).

The method changes based on the companies’ financial capabilities and philosophy, but the point is, the game industry is a pretty flexible one.

In all this, there are companies who are fighting against the skilled worker shortage in ways none have before.

These are the companies who are embracing this era of globalization and employing skilled professionals from other countries. It sounds like good, progressive thinking.

“If we employ foreigners, we’ll be able to develop games the whole world will love.”

“Let’s bring in someone who can communicate in English and bring a new feel to the company.”

I’m sure there are company managers who really feel this way.

The intention is wonderful, but there are various problems that arise when bringing foreigners into Japanese game development companies.

I’d like to introduce nine points about this topic picked carefully from personal experiences.

  1. Inability to read Japanese GDD
  2. Disinterest in casual games
  3. Easily poached by competitors, or quick to change jobs
  4. Taking long leave for familial issues
  5. Unfamiliar with programs and applications used in Japan
  6. Many artists have styles not found in Japan
  7. Unconventional thinking
  8. Low competition
  9. Hidden gems in plain sight

1. Inability to read Japanese GDD

Some might ask: “Then why not just translate the GDD into English?”

A GDD is constantly being updated, it would be impossible for the translations to keep up. And, language isn’t the only problem.

The structure of a GDD is different in Japan, so the development schedule, code comments, etc, are also different. Putting in one person who doesn’t know how to read that adds unnecessary work for the development team, or at the very least for the director and lead programmer.

It might sound like an exaggeration, but because everything is different, down to each individual meeting, I’ve burned a needless amount of calories.

2. Disinterest in Casual Games

The average salary in the game industry is low compared to most developed countries. (Especially compared to the US and Europe.)

So, most developers have a special reason to throw away a more promising opportunity for a job here:

They have a simple desire to work in Japan.

Yes. There are many people who fell in love with Japanese RPGs and fighting games when they were teens, or people who’ve idolized all things Japan since they were around five years old.

This is one advantage the Japanese game industry—no, Japan itself—has over others.

There are some people whose hands tremble with excitement when they finally get their foot in the door of the Japanese game industry. I know mine did.

However, most foreigners want to work with the titles they’ve come to love, not phone apps or FTP (free to play) games. So when a job like that comes in, complaints are common.

I won’t say it’s happened hundreds of times, but when working on those types of games I often hear things like “this isn’t the reason I came to Japan” from foreign programmers.

The excitement about working in the Japanese game development world fades after a few weeks.

3. Easily poached, or quick to change jobs

This is something that can’t be helped.

This is a much bigger problem than the two stated above.

Unless your company is a well established game publisher, or a big name brand, skilled workers will slip through your fingers, even if they aren’t lead away by a competitor.

(If you ask “what is a big name game development company,” we foreigners tend to think of PlatinumGames and Ark System WorksIf they’ve got a prestigious job like that they probably won’t be poached unless they get an offer from someplace like Nintendo, Square Enix, or Capcom.)

4. Taking Long Leave for Familial Issues

This can’t be helped either.

But the reality is, if, say, the lead programmer suddenly takes 10 days off, that could be fatal for a project in development.

5 Unfamiliar with Programs and Applications used in Japan

This problem has been largely improved by the establishment of middleware, and there are many programs in use that started overseas, like Unity and Unreal Engine.

But, when it comes to other tools, there are still some that are different than what’s used in Japan.

(For example, project management software, etc.)

The truth is many foreigners have a very weak grasp of management in general.

So, you might ask, why do we have foreigner developers from 11 different countries here at Active Gaming Media? The answer is simple.

Naturally, foreigners have strengths as well.

6 Many Artists Have Styles not Found in Japan

Japanese people carry the heavy burden that is “manga” and “anime” on their shoulders.

Foreigners don’t have such strict rules about character design, and exhibit a more free way of thinking. 

Taking that example, the difference between Japanese indie games and indie games from overseas is blatantly obvious.

If you think “independent ideas,” you think overseas.

7. Unconventional Thinking

Though the style and process is unconventional, foreigners have a result-oriented mindset that can be truly exceptional.

And, compared to Japan’s creators, who tend to focus on what will sell, foreigners focus on creating something that will truly express an artist’s character.

8. Low Competition

Because foreigners looking for jobs in Japan are off the radar for most other Japanese companies, there’s not as much competition.

Take for example, a Japanese 3D modeler. Let’s call him Polygon Taro.

Most likely, he’s interviewing for three or four other companies at the same time as yours. You might have to sweeten the deal to get Taro to choose your company.

In comparison, foreigners don’t have as many options.

So if you meet someone with the skills you’re looking for, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to add their talent to your company.

9. Hidden Gems in Plain Sight

Here’s one example from many.

The other day (January 2019), an incredibly skilled 3D animator from America interviewed in Osaka.
Their portfolio alone was spectacular, but upon asking for an example, they went through the trouble of improving the 3D model and had two additional patterns of animation apart from what was requested.

Not only was he an animator, he could do modeling too. When asked why apply to a company like them with less than 200 employees, the animator said he’d applied to about 10 other companies, but—probably because he applied in English—he didn’t even receive a response.

Apparently, this person unfortunately ended up returning to their home country after some indecision about whether their lack of Japanese ability would work out, but there are a lot of foreigners who, despite being unable to write Japanese, are extremely skilled professionals.

The website IZANAU was created in order to find people like this and connect them with great Japanese game companies.

If you’re someone in the game industry having trouble obtaining skilled professionals, feel free to email us anytime at: [email protected]

Active Gaming Media’s Game Development Service

Why do localizations end up so bad? The Cause: The Butterfly Effect

This is a reposting of an article published on AUTOMATON on July 15, 2018. Read the original here.

This is our “Localize Talk,” where we try to build understanding about our staff and what we do here at Active Gaming Media. For the second edition, we’re posting the lecture about the “butterfly effect of localization” given by Romain Bovery at the May overseas development seminar held in Kyoto. The pictures for this article were taken after the fact.

Hello everyone, I’m Romain Bovery.  My native country is France, and I’m 31 years old.  In France, I worked at the game company Ubisoft, and I came to Japan three years ago. Now I’m working as a localization project manager at Active Gaming Media. Basically, I’m a fan of games, and I’ve been playing them since I was a little kid. Back then, sometimes I’d play and think to myself “what’s up with this French? The translators need to step up their game.” Playing as a user, I’d get frustrated with the quality of localization, but now that I’m working in the industry, I’ve come to understand. Today I’d like to talk about what I think is the number one reason localizations get so bad.

The Butterfly Effect of Localization

A butterfly effect is, to put it simply, when an unexpected change happens from something that seems insignificant: a chain reaction from something trivial, like a butterfly flapping its wings. So how does this tie into localization?

Localization is the final step in a long development process. To break it down, game development comes first. Let’s include design, story, programming, etc, in that one term. Game development is influenced by the publisher. As a rule, the publisher has most of the power. They decide the budget, the length of development, things like that. Of course the publisher wants quality, but the highest priorities are two things: not going over budget, and releasing the game on time. Localization comes after that. That’s where localization makes its debut.

Localization isn’t usually done by the developer or publisher. That’s the sort of work our localization department at Active Gaming Media does. Localization companies take translation requests from developers and publishers. The localization process has two steps: Translation, an LQA. LQA is linguistic quality assurance. That’s when you check the translated text in the game itself to make sure there aren’t any issues, like display errors and such. Both translation and LQA are important. It generally takes us about two to three months to complete this process—much shorter than development, yes? When translation and LQA are complete, we deliver the finished product.  

After that, the games are tested for consoles. Console companies, as I’m sure you know, are companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. After the console company has tested the game, if there aren’t any issues, it’s ready to be released. That makes the publisher happy. But during this whole process, if there are issues in the early stages of development, that has an effect on localization too.

As an example, let’s talk about what influence a delay in development can have on localization. Generally, development is expected to take anywhere from two to three years. Say there’s a one month delay caused by problems implementing some feature. Everyone knows delays in development are very common. It is a problem for the publisher, but many will accept the delay if it will perfect a game they’ve devoted three years to, even with the increased cost.  

Results of a one Month Delay

However, even if development is stretched out another month, publishers still don’t want to miss the release date. If you can’t postpone the schedule without adding to the budget, somewhere, concessions have to be made. That’s usually localization. The localization process will begin with one month cut out of the allotted time, and the same deadline. That means the only way to get it done is to increase the number of people working on the project. In localization, adding more people into the mix does not always raise the quality. You’ll meet the deadline, but through sloppy work the quality goes way down.

Delaying development doesn’t just shorten the time we have to work; the necessary preparation just isn’t there. We need glossaries, character descriptions, style guides, displays, and we get none of them. We’ll get source texts (in excel files) without any other explanation. Because we have no idea what’s going on in the scene, and who’s talking to who, it’s really hard to figure out the nuances needed for a good localization. All we can do is translate while desperately trying to imagine what’s happening.

Games have text boxes, so if we don’t have preparation time, we don’t know how the translated language fits into the boxes. We have to try to cram long French or German sentences by somehow making them shorter, which makes things sound unnatural. Sometimes there’s code in the text, but if there isn’t any explanation of what the code does, we can only guess. More time guessing means less time translating. 

After somehow managing to finish translation, next is LQA. But due to the delays there’s not much time for that, either. Since LQA means checking the entire game, it takes time. And due to the delay, there isn’t much. We have to focus on the big problems, and just pray that there aren’t a lot of small ones. In the end, even though we’ve done everything we could, we end up with a final product of dubious quality.

As a result, it can’t meet the requirements of the console companies, and ends up needing to be submit again. So the game ends up postponing its release anyway, despite all the pains taken to avoid that. Even if it gets lucky and passes the tests, the trouble doesn’t end there. Since we’re in an era where most people have easy access to social media, complaints about the game get shared, throwing the problems into the spotlight. Then the publisher has to apologize and release an update patch. That means more money put into the project. Not to mention our reputation as a localization company is tarnished. In the end, no one is happy.

A simple one month delay can have a widespread influence. I think, therefore, “the butterfly effect” is a fitting name. The publishers focus on the budget and deadline, the developers and localizers focus on quality. Trying to achieve them all at the same time decreases the chances of success.  I don’t think it’s an individual problem, but rather everyone’s problem. If everyone understood the situation and took measures to prevent them things would turn out different. Everyone who’s working on a project should always be aware of the full state of affairs. I know that obvious, but it’s very important. If we keep this in mind, we can release high quality games everyone will love. Thank you for listening. 

Gamers and Businessmen Alike Feel More Needs to be Invested in Localization

This is a reposting of our CEO’s interview published in AUTOMATON July 1, 2017. Read the original  here.

At Active Gaming Media, we do a little bit of everything: we handle publishing through our PLAYISM brand, keep up our web magazine AUTOMATON, and run the job-searching site IZANAU. But the pillar of our business is localization. At AGM we don’t just translate, we adapt content to fit different cultures, and offer language implementation and linguistic quality assurance for everything from anime and manga to games.

These days, it’s a given games from overseas will be imported into Japan, and vice versa. Localization is what makes that possible. So, what’s our philosophy, how do we localize content, and what do we want going forward? This time in our “Localize Talk,” we’ll be introducing our stance on localization. We hope this will give you a better understanding of Active Gaming Media.

For the first installment, our CEO Ibai Ameztoy will be talking about localization from Japanese to other languages.

Why don’t we just jump in? What are your thoughts on localization in recent years?

Ibai: I’m not the spokesperson for localization in Japan, so I can’t speak for everyone, but as a user, there are a lot of times when I’m playing the English or Spanish versions of Japanese games, and things don’t quite fit. Since many Japanese companies are selling overseas, opportunities to play Japanese games in other languages has become more common, but I feel like they’re just being translated, rather than being localized. To be brutally honest, the only titles that play really smoothly in other languages are from Nintendo. Maybe because there isn’t a lot of text in their games, but their localizations are pretty flawless. And I’m sure that’s because they put money into making it flawless.

When discussing localization as a business, I feel people don’t fully understand everything we’re offering for foreign language localization. When I say that, I mean that while of course people care about the language, focus tends to be put more on the price, and how quickly it can be done. I believe localization is a part of the development process, but it’s not unusual to see debugging given a higher priority.

I’m not the first to say this, but if you think of game development as a house, then programming is the foundation, and art is its appearance. Localization, in that context, is like the house’s mood, its atmosphere. A house with a nice atmosphere is comfortable to live in, but a bad atmosphere makes for uncomfortable living conditions. It has a very subtle, but important influence. Hardly anyone ever realizes how important localization is, until they see just how good—or bad—it can get.

To put it simply, you could say people still don’t fully understand localization.

Ibai: Definitely. And it’s not just games; I feel it’s the same in a lot of things with subtitles. I’ve encountered many Japanese works that have been translated in odd ways. For example, in Beat Takeshi’s (Kitano Takeshi) Fireworks, there’s a scene where someone eats manjū. Instead of writing manjū, the subtitles said “a sweet snack filled with boiled beans.” That movie has gotten awards in Europe, so I don’t think the entire localization was bad, but there was a lot of unnaturalness.  This is a problem big name companies suffer from, too. It’s a problem that plagues the entire game world. I really feel more effort needs to be put into it. Of course, since localization is the business I’m in, it probably just sounds like I’m pushing for more clients. (chuckle)

I mean, let’s look at it this way. If you ask someone in the industry about game engines, they’ll be able to list at least Unreal Engine and Unity, some could name even more I’m sure. But it’s rare for someone to be able to name a CAT (computer assisted translation) tool. That’s the reality. It’s common knowledge in the translation industry that while TRADOS is widely used, memoQ is better for European languages. People should know that at the very least.

I do see what you mean, but on the other hand, I feel every project is limited by its budget.

Ibai: When that’s an issue, they could consider lowering the word count. Or leaving out the voice acting, if there is any. It’s better to focus on quality over quantity. The biggest priority is usually English, so developers could first focus on making the best English version possible.

Right, raise customer satisfaction for at least one language.

Ibai: Exactly. Recently, people are starting to localize into many, many different languages. Sometimes we get requests for twenty different languages or more. Of course, I’m glad for the business, but that’s when I start worrying about standards.

I can understand wanting to increase your market by increasing the number of available languages.

Ibai: Sure, but that’s not always what happens. If the localization is bad, it’s more likely people will get be unable to understand how to continue, or just quit playing.

I’ve done that a lot with Steam games, though sometimes it was better in English. As a gamer, “playable” isn’t really the standard I hope developers strive for. Cost is an issue, but part of me does wish they’d think about their players.

Ibai: There’s also a misconception that localization and LQA are lumped together and priced as one, but if you seriously invest in localization, time required for LQA goes down, and complaints go down too, so there isn’t as much customer support needed either. Even companies who do everything else in-house will happily outsource localization. We offer a lot of services for game development, and when working with publishers, localization is the only thing they don’t seem to understand or have any clear opinions about. They’re mostly concerned about cost.

There’s times when localization changes the world of the game, I feel. For me, if the font chosen for Japanese is easy to read, I’m immediately more likely to get into it.

Ibai: Yes, it’s not unusual for downloaded titles especially to use any old font from the internet. They’re never optimized, and they’re always hard to read. Picking a font that suits the world of the game is important when going from Japanese to other languages, too. Of course, whether or not the font matters depends on the game, but I want to work with companies who are picky about all aspects of localization. I don’t think it’s necessary to spend a lot of money, but investing a reasonable amount in localization and focusing on quality will make international fans happy.

It is nice having games in my own language, but it’s even better to go that extra mile with localization. And it makes the game easier to recommend to other people. Thank you for your thoughts, Mr. Ameztoy.

Active Gaming Media’s Localization Service

Localization Portfolio

Tips and Tricks to Localize Your Video Game To Japanese

Any gamer older than 15 years or so, would be familiar with the hundreds of screenshots that show how terrible the localization of Japanese games into English has been since the inception of the video game industry.

Yes, we are referring to gems such as:

– All your base are belong to us

Zero Wing. Taito Corporation

– A winner is you

Nintendo Pro-Wrestling

– This is not enough Golds

Faxanadu. Hudson Soft

We’ll leave it here because there are many more examples. However, as a video game developers and publishers, we feel it’s sad that this broken English infamy doesn’t come from indie developers, who cannot afford costly localization, but from publicly listed companies that in some cases have hundreds of millions in cash.

With that said, while the Western media and internet has always made fun, and even adopted, such poor video game localization examples, we have never been aware of how chucklesome Western games be when played in Japanese… And this is also something which more often happens in big-budgeted games, rather than indies (which often are localized into Japanese by fans who love the video game, or localization agencies like ourselves).

We’ll just leave a tiny gem that is still available on PlayStation 4 today:

-If you’re gonna drive, take a Shinagawa number car… Wait… Shinagawa!?

Destroy All Humans!

So yes… the Japanese internet also has good reason to make fun of youge (洋ゲー), as they like to call the Western games.

And now, let’s get straight to the point. In case your company doesn’t have a team of Japanese experts to localize your game, what steps should you follow in order to guarantee your game is going to be fully enjoyable by a Japanese player?

1. Start with the localization

Generally, game publishers tend to subject localization to a successful release in the main target country. Thus, if the game has made enough money in the United States or Europe, part of these funds will be used to launch a localized version. Another scenario is the opposite: when the game doesn’t make enough money in the target market and the company says, “hey, let’s localize into Japanese and see if we can recoup the investment there” …

In either case, localization starts after the game has been already published, and this is one of the main errors, for localization is better, faster and cheaper when planned for from the beginning. The reasoning behind this is that a scrupulous preparation of the text files is key to guarantee, if not a flavored localization (thing quality bar is usually set by the linguistic skills of the main translator working on the project), a good preparation of the files means the game will have higher chances to be glossary consistent.

Unfortunately, having three different terms for one single item (pistol, revolver and gun for the same weapon in Unchart… well, in an extremely famous game) is just an example of how basic mistakes can make the player feel absolutely lost and confused when playing poorly localized games.

The translations involved might be great, but poor preparation of files and assets can bring everything down.

2.  Understand and embrace the particularities of Japanese

“A successful localization”, usually means the player doesn’t even feel the game has been localized. No matter how good the base translation is, there are two points which are absolutely critical to making the game feel natural: the chosen font and the graphic text.

These two features absolutely need to be chosen (font) and designed (graphic) by a Japanese specialist.

Choices between different alphabets (Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana) can make a single sentence imply different meanings, so this must be always decided by a Japanese expert.

3.  Culturalize the game…but not too much

Culturalization is a mantra most of the localization gurus repeat, however selling a video game is not the same as selling a washing machine. It has to feel natural and unforced. Thus, unlike in the example above with Destroy All Humans!, geographical names or proper names should never be localized, and they should always remain in their original form.

The point we always recommend in culturalization is the use of slang or dialects. If one of the characters in the game talks in a peculiar way or uses slang, it’s always interesting to translate it into one of the many Japanese localisms. Most of the publishers like to introduce some Kansai dialect when necessary into their games, but there are many more options. Games localized to Japanese in the West still don’t fully utilize the current Japanese slang, which is so rich, and evolves at a faster pace due to the possibilities with the Katakana alphabet.

4.  Rely on a company which can handle the implementation of the Japanese into the source code

This is one of the most common mistakes: Western companies often expect non-Japanese speakers to implement Japanese text files into their games. At Active Gaming Media we’ve made similar mistakes in the past, but fortunately now we can do all the text implementation by experts that understand Japanese.

This means the staff implementing the Japanese text into the game can see if there are any major problems (overflows, garble characters, terminology inconsistencies…) in a glance.

5. UI matters!

Japan follows a different doctrine of aesthetics in almost any imaginable design field, but still video game is one of the most rigid genres when it comes to user interface. Japanese gamers simply won’t accept a UI they’re not used to. This is something which can’t be stressed enough, and we would even include the Tutorial system in here, but adapting the tutorial might be too costly for low-budget projects, so let’s just focus on the UI.

As much as Japanese players accept motley texts and crowded menus, they get stressed easily when the content of each menu is different from what they are acclimated to. Compare the inventory system of Dark Souls to that of Far Cry 3 and the difference is clear.

Indeed, the use of kanji characters will save us plenty of space in comparison to the English menu, so in some cases it’s worth blending menus and showing more in less space.

This is an important decision, which should always be made by a Japanese expert.

6. Tools matter too!

Do rely on translation technology in order to assure the terminology is consistent.

At Active Gaming Media we like to work with different versions of Trados, MemoQ, as well as in-house developed tools, however other localization companies have other preferences and all are acceptable… if they provide you to access to tools and glossary databases!

A translator is a craftsman, but the result of her job must be handled by technicians and secured by technology.

If you rely on technology from the beginning, all the text and game updates will be done safely, even as the staff working on the game changes.

7. Ask a Japan-based company to help with the Quality Assurance

Linguistic QA is the ultimate barrier which ensures high quality work. There are many QA and testing companies doing Japanese QA overseas, but you have to work with a company which puts Japan first, or a company which is based in Japan.

This can be extrapolated to any other market, and the reason for it is quite straightforward: The best Japanese QA testers are in Japan.

8. Give the boys a chance to familiarize

Being the last link in the video game development chain, localization often takes responsibility and bears the burden of the delays at other stages, such as development. Rather than delaying a release, any publisher will likely choose to shorten the localization schedule in an attempt to meet its deadline.

But the fact is, the same way a translator needs to read a novel until the end before attempting to translate it, the localization staff needs to clear the game they intend to localize. They need to know where every single hidden item is, as well as the background story and the characters. All the time spent in the familiarization process (3 or 4 days), will be saved during localization, and it is likely that the quality of the work will also be more satisfactory.

The above is not a guide to localize video games into Japanese, but as a video game localization vendor and game publisher, we feel these important tips are often ignored, and have big impacts on the final result.

For more information on video game localization, visit our website or send us an email!

[email protected]

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