April 4, 2024

Press Start to Video Game Localization with Marina Ilari

By Yashita Thota

The MS in Translation and Interpreting program invited Marina Ilari, an ATA-certified translator and CEO of Terra Translations, to share about the timely topic of video game localization. Marina has almost twenty years of experience in the translation industry, and her leadership has propelled Terra to receive accolades like the 2017 Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's Rising Star Award and the 2020 Enterprising Women of the Year Award. Passionate about gaming and languages, Marina also co-hosts the translation podcast, En Pantuflas. Originally from Argentina, she zoomed in from Wisconsin to speak with our program’s online community. 

Video game development is a vast industry, bigger than the movie and music industries combined, that is also very global in nature. Within this industry, Marina explained that internationally consumable games are drivers of growth due to the majority of sales being based internationally (55% of gamers live in the Asia-Pacific region!) and growing online gaming communities and relationships. She stressed that “games should be catered to each player's cultural backgrounds, needs and language,” to highlight the importance of localization in the video game industry. 

Marina explained that localization transcends simple translation in that it is user-oriented, requires non-language adaptations, and seeks to resonate with the audience. Cultural adaptation is the adjustment of a game’s features to the target audience through modifying both the macro (overarching) and micro (specific) pieces. Marina emphasized the importance of game localization as each culture differs in what they are attracted to and this attraction should be honored to protect the gamer’s immersion in their entertainment experience.  

Marina outlined several attributes that make up a good localizer: 

  1. Technology Expertise: As your most valuable asset, technology is the Robin to the translator’s Batman. 

  2. Versatility: You must be comfortable translating varieties of different texts using differing relevant software (in-game text is usually translated using script/UI while marketing content uses web/subtitle software). 

  3. Creativity: All roles in the video game industry reflect a need for creativity!

  4. Communication Skills: Translators need to effectively communicate with clients so they have all the information necessary to create a satisfactory product.

  5. Resourcefulness: Research is an integral part of every project (hint: gamers are your best source of information and feedback)!

  6. Gaming Experience: It is useful to know the gamer’s perspective so you can cater to it.

  7. Encouraged by Challenges: Every game is different and requires different types of approaches and work. Working on solutions is fun when you are excited about the challenge!

In terms of challenges, Marina described several common ones faced by localizers and also shared possible solutions.

  1. Absence of Context: You might not always get all the information you feel you need for a project.

    Solution: Use your imagination and ask the client! They are your best resource.

  2. Character Limitations: Often you run into character restrictions (which should always be honored).

    Solution: Familiarize yourself with video game abbreviations in your target language so you can implement them!

  3. Handling Tags: Tags are chunks of code that instruct the game engine and can be cumbersome. 

    Solution: Understand how the software you are using can filter them. Work with your project manager to ensure the tags are working properly. Above all, be careful! Messing with tags leads to serious issues. 

  4. Handling Variables: Variables are sections that will be filled in through play and it is difficult to know exactly what/who might fill them.

    Solution: Try to make everything gender-neutral!

Marina ended the talk by sharing that video game localization is a wonderful industry to work in and there are many different types of roles available. Depending on which aspect of the gaming experience you wish to work in, there are many places to join ranging from linguists to vendors to clients. In terms of getting started, Marina recommends utilizing tools such as translators and industry associations, ProZ.com, and LinkedIn to foster and maintain relationships that will help you further your career in the field. Most importantly, it is important to build your skill set and present yourself to best highlight your value!


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