We all watched while Bioware gave us the in’s and out’s of how they handle large RPG localization. Two titles in one year with a total of just less than 1.5 million words. Wow! And they did a great job.
(A Japanese version of the presentation is available here.)
Now, let’s switch gears. Imagine you have an MMO on your project list. These are big. The smallest one that Apogee has bid on was just over 500,000 words. And they have to be geared for on-the-fly changes with player characters, NPC’s, weapons/items, locations, quests … Dang, that’s a big job.
Now let’s up the ante. Let’s make it not one MMO, but SEVEN. Welcome to Sony Online Entertainment. Scroll down and take a good look at the first slide of David Kim’s presentation. Seven MMO titles (plus unannounced projects), the main SOE user website, two trading card games, ~2.0 million words every year of English just in updates … Everquest 2 alone boasts over 9 million words in its current iteration. This is a massive undertaking.
David, SOE’s Localization Producer, gave the presentation at GDC in San Francisco. A few days later I had the opportunity to visit their offices in San Diego. There I met David, Raymond Nguyen (Operations Manager) and the head of International Operations, Bob McEntee. Any mistakes in this summary are mine, not theirs.
Given the crushing weight of these wordcounts, the first impression visiting their offices is, “Where is everybody?” I’ve worked for operations that handle less than 10% of SOE’s annual wordcount with much larger localization staffs. The two dozen souls at SOE take up only a part of one floor. They’re even more impressive when you realize that they also handle the actual operation of SOE’s international servers, a responsibility not normally burdened on localization teams.
Brutal, complete organization is the answer. Ad hoc translation techniques and workflows would only cause delay and inevitable quality problems, overloading the small staff.
-> Data is standardized for both content and context.
-> Translation memory at SOE holds more than 60 million words, separated by title.
-> A translation engine is completely integrated into the game.
-> English strings are assigned persistent and unique ID’s.
-> Changes to English text are automatically tracked in the system.
-> A feedback loop is installed, allowing the team to improve with time.
-> The team at SOE holds a patent in on-the-fly translation methods.
Some 40% of all translation can be handled internally using the tools developed here, improving quality and saving Sony hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in external translation costs.
One downfall with having so large a workload is the language basket and geographic availability for their titles remains small. SOE titles are translated into French, German and Japanese with only a few new expansion languages. Taking older titles into a new language (see reference above for Everquest 2′s nine million words) is a massive undertaking.
As the videogame industry evolves, publishers will begin to look more and more like the streamlined operation at SOE. Localization tools will be integrated at the very beginning of game development, automated tool sets will allow easy import and export of text and other assets, English (or other first language) changes will automatically be flagged. The penalty for not doing so is losing your non-English (or Japanese) speaking customer base. That non-E, non-J base is significant now (see here), and will only grow with time.
David’s presentation slides are below. Click on them for a full-size version. Japanese localized version is at the end.