Community-Driven Localization: What You Need To Know

There has been a proliferation of new ways of releasing and distributing games, particularly in the PC space where early access and open betas have blurred the lines between the different phases of development and release stages. Thanks to Discord communities and other fan-led social media channels, we are now seeing a myriad of projects reach new regions with the help of community-driven localization.

What is Community-Driven Localization?

Typically, by setting up the game’s text database in a cloud-based shareable environment, players can sign up and contribute – based on their individual interest, capacity, and availability – to the translations for each of the game’s strings or segments. Later, this is either moderated by appointed members of the community, or on occasions, taken over by a professional team at future stages of the project.

What are the advantages?

This is often a very appealing solution for developers, given the entry cost is usually limited to the required software, and often the contributors are happy to work for crediting/portfolio credentials. Communities are diverse—you can find translators trying to kickstart their careers, passionate players who are literate and work in completely different fields, and pretty much anyone else you can imagine. These players are working on the project purely based on passion, they are fully immersed and not counting the hours. The community will work on the translations after having played the game in depth for pleasure, and they will have a deep understanding of its lore and mechanics.

Aside from the budgeting and financial incentive, this solution has been seen to foster higher community engagement as well.

Additionally, when the community localization is distributed in early access/open beta forms, players will not react to issues or shortcomings in the same way as when a product is released in a supposedly finished state. Here they can directly report and fix the issues they encounter.

What about the disadvantages?

If the above all sounds too good to be true, then why aren’t all studios opting for a fully community-driven localization process?

There are several risks and counterarguments to recognize when considering the ‘crowdsourced’ variant of the community translation approach, namely:

– If translations can be submitted by any player with time and interest, there will be issues with quality control and consistency. You will need a solid moderation system, ideally based on some combination of credentials, skill, and qualifications. Moreover, since different people can submit, upvote and change the translations, this can lead to constant changes and confusion, and require additional time from the development resources in charge of overseeing this.

– When you have a team of volunteers, it is harder to set and deliver based on strict deadlines. We have seen developers use community processes when their game was a PC only title, and then switch to professional services once they faced submission deadlines from different console platforms, and the risk of failed submissions due to compliance issues.

– Finally, there has been some backlash on many titles released this way. This is a controversial solution, as a segment of informed and critical players will know that you got the work done for free, and if the game is returning a profit on those territories, this poses an ethical concern. There is an inherent grey area when the work generated is in the end owned and controlled by a private entity. In the context of Localization (be it community or professional) the developer/publisher will typically own all the final content, so in the context of community-driven localization this might lead to backlash from players if not carefully handled.

Post release content ownership is also an issue. Initially the community has control of submitting, changing and influencing the state of a game’s localization. Then the game is released (often after a professional service comes in to finish up the work and edit for consistency). Then, it’s either necessary to ‘lock’ the text and remove control from the community, which is often not an easy choice for developers – or allow the text to mutate further, often creating the risk for emerging and returning issues, and making it time-consuming to track and control the evolution of a game’s live localization.

Both points above can be solved through transparent agreements and rules established from the start, to avoid misunderstandings and conflict.

How to make the best of all the possibilities

– Community work can be an interesting option for studios that do not have the budget or market insight on their title to invest in professional localization. This can allow more players to access the game at earlier stages, build a player base, and allow players who would otherwise not be able to enjoy the title in the same way.

– However, once the game’s status becomes more ‘solidified’ and there is a clear understanding of markets and budgeting possibilities, it’s advisable to involve professional services. This will allow for thorough consistency in editing, polishing, and creating an accountable point of contact to support further updates in a way that is straightforward to control.

Consult a professional language service to discuss bespoke solutions that make sense for your game and situation in particular. We see community translations as a complex option, that can be considered and implemented in different ways, carefully weighing the balance to ensure you can get the best of both worlds. Testronic has worked with many developers and publishers on community-driven localization projects (you can read these two articles documenting one such project), so please do not hesitate to get in touch for more information.


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