How Crowdsourcing Can Help Video Game Companies With Language and Cultural Traits

FromSoftware went through a list of names before they settled on the title: Dark Souls. Image: FromSoftware

FromSoftware went through a list of names before they settled on the title: Dark Souls. Image: FromSoftware

Translations are extremely valuable prospects to video game companies that are looking to broaden their consumer base, as they make games available to entirely new audiences, audiences that may never have even considered buying the game in question had it not been translated.

Now while translations can be extremely lucrative investments when handled correctly, they are still investments, and therefore require a certain level of attention and dedication that cannot be overlooked. If a translation of a game is rushed and not given the proper amount of time and effort that it needs, then the final product will suffer, and depending on how integral text and dialogue are to the game, sales in that region will undoubtedly take a hit.

Add to that the fact that these translations are by no means cheap (especially if developers have decided to use foreign voice actors in the localized versions) and it becomes a rather intimidating endeavor. But thankfully, there are options out there that developers can utilize to their advantage for these projects.

With the advent of such sites as Kickstarter and Patreon, consumers have a certain level of involvement and investment in content creation that was previously not available to them. Because of this relatively new facet to the video game industry—combined with how easy current social media makes communication between developers and consumers, crowdsourcing has become a rather viable option that developers can turn to.

Assistance via crowdsourcing can be as surface-level as proof reading a translation and marking up errors to as involved as helping with the translation itself. There is no strict structuring to how crowdsourcing operates, so it really is what any given developer makes of it; they can decide how much input from consumers is implemented and how involved any outside help becomes involved in the translation/localization process.

As many are aware of, translating just about anything from one language to another is not a minute task that can be given to anyone. In order to have a quality game translation, there have to be people with a strong familiarity of any given language working on the project; these types of projects are not nearly as simple as plugging sentences into Google Translate and writing down what it spits out. Language is extremely complex, and it takes very knowledgeable individuals to not only translate the text of the game, but to notice cultural  or colloquial influences in the language and adjust it properly so that it can be understood by a foreign audience.

There are many small details to a language that can go unnoticed during translation, especially if the translator is not intrinsically aware of the culture that has influenced said language. An example of this can be found in Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. The antagonist of the game, Colonel Volgin, can harness the power of electricity, and a line that he has the tendency to say is “Kuwabara, Kuwabara”, which was purposely not translated for the English release of the game. The reason for this is because it literally translates to “mulberry field, mulberry field”, and there is a Japanese myth that uttering this phrase would protect one from lightening. If the phrase were to be translated, it wouldn’t be understood and would create confusion, so the choice to keep the phrase in Japanese was the correct one, since the underlying meaning of the phrase cannot be translated in so many words.

Another example of the cultural awareness that is required can be seen in the development of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls. During development when names for the game were being proposed, one of their ideas was to call the game “Dark Ring”. Thankfully though, they realized before the game was officially announced that “dark ring” is also British slang for “anus” and wisely decided to use a different name.

The pitfalls in translation are numerous, and while perhaps it may be a bit much to expect the hawk-like awareness required to identify them from amateur specialists, that shouldn’t scare developers away from the prospect of crowdsourcing for assistance.

Some amateur translators are extremely dedicated and talented, and have a lot to offer. Take for example the Something Awful forum user orenronen, who did a full translation of the game Dangan Ronpa by himself because the developers of it had not made an English translation.


While it may be a bit of a gamble at times, crowdsourcing is an option that developers should take into consideration when planning game translations.