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The Ins and Outs of Video Game Localization with Dmitry Kornyukhov

The video game industry is one of the fastest growing sectors globally and there are no signs of it slowing down. With global franchises including Call of Duty, FIFA and Destiny selling in record numbers, video game localization could be an exciting area for you to specialize in.

We caught up with Dmitry Kornyukhov, an English-Russian video game localization expert, to ask him how he got into the industry, some of the exciting projects he has worked on and what challenges he has faced. Let’s get started…

Why did you decide to become a translator?

That’s an interesting question! Well, according to my parents, I showed an interest in languages ever since I was a kid. One day, after watching an education TV show about languages, I told my parents that I wanted to learn English. I was 6 years old.

My love for languages grew stronger after they hired me a tutor. Pretty much by the time I was 14 I already had a career path in mind. I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I was quite sure it will be somehow connected with languages. Of all the available options, translation seemed like a very interesting field of study, so I never really hesitated.

Why did you decide to specialize in video game localization and how did you get into it?

Ha! I’d say that: “You don’t get into video game localization, video game localization gets into you!" ????

On a more serious note, though, I’ve been playing video games for 23 years and yes, it does sound crazy when you say it out loud. Games have been a huge part of my life ever since I was a kid and I consider myself very lucky that I got to witness the rise of the video game industry.

Every time I think about video games it blows my mind how far we’ve come. Today you have games that can compete with some other types of entertainment in terms of budgets and production value. Millions and millions of people play video games every day. What I find even more amusing is that games moved away from the initial “just for entertainment" format and turned into something that is much more than that.

Video games are the art of the 21st century. They inspire, they educate, they tell stories, they share the emotion and knowledge and move hearts and minds of millions of people around the world.

So, yeah, as you can see I’m quite passionate about video games and I thought that aligning my 2 passions (languages and video games) would be the most logical step. I can’t say that I’m THE Russian translator all video game developers go to, but I have my fair share of clients (localization companies and game studios alike) who love building something awesome for the players and I love helping them bring their games to the Russian-speaking gaming community.

As far as getting clients and “making it" in this field, I think it’s all about perseverance, loving what you do and, of course, being a gamer at heart.

What does a typical video game localization project include?

Well, it’s hard to define what’s typical, because the process will largely depend on the developer and how familiar they’re with the localization process.

Truth be told, video game localization should be something that all developers should be thinking about early on. The sooner you understand the importance of building the localization-ready game, the easier it will be. There’s been a countless number of articles written about mistakes developers make that make it harder to localize their games.

That’s why the first thing they need to do is to make sure their game is localization ready. I think IGDA has developed a terrific guide that explains the process really well.

Once you’re ready for localization the process would probably vary, depending on how you choose to proceed: working with a localization company, hiring a team of freelancers like myself or going down the crowdsourcing path.

Each of those options has its own pros and cons, but at a bare minimum I think game developers should work with someone who loves games, has a degree in translation and understands the nuances of the localization process and is willing to go an extra mile to make sure that the game is properly localized. Ideally, you want to have a combo of a translator + reviewer + tester for the best possible result and the best possible ROI.

How important is translation technology, such as CAT tools, for video game localization?

It depends on the project. Due to the creative nature of game localization projects, CAT tools probably wouldn’t save you lots of time. However, they can be quite useful for consistency and QA.

Some games are packed with terminology and a CAT tool can make it easier for you to make sure that everything is translated consistently. QA checks in CAT tools can also help you catch mistakes that are easy to miss.

But in terms of productivity, I think gains are not that noticeable (unless you have a game where the texts are ripe with repetitions, which doesn’t happen very often in games I work with).

From a personal point of view, what is the most exciting video game localization project you have worked on?

Trick question! Aren’t they all exciting? ???? Over the course of the past few years I worked on more than 100 games either directly or through localization companies and translation agencies.

It’s hard to pick a favourite one, really, but I can tell you this: everything narrative-driven is my cup of tea. I love falling in love with characters, exploring, adopting and translating their personalities and little quirks. I love it because it pushes my limits as a translator.

I also love when games don’t take themselves too seriously and allow themselves to have some fun with the lore, the narrative, the characters and dialogues. Working with projects like these is probably the most rewarding part of my job.

What do you like best about being a video game translator?

A video game translator is a bridge that connects two worlds. But you’re also much more than just a bridge. You help build universes and bring life to characters that developers spent so much time creating.

It’s a very challenging and demanding job. Among other things, your translation skills must be outstanding. Gamers don’t like mediocrity, so you need to understand what they want. You need to understand the developer’s vision for their worlds and characters and you must love your own language. You must know how to use it as an ultimate tool that will help millions and millions of people fall in love with the game that you’ve localized.

All that fills my heart with excitement. Every new project is like a quest, with its own goals, adventures and hopefully a happy ending. But the best part is: every single project is different. So every new day brings something new and exciting.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a video game translator?

Well, there are plenty of challenges, but the biggest one is communication. The video game industry is relatively young and the same goes for the video game localization industry. I think there’s a lot we can do in terms of improving the way developers approach localization.

We need to make sure that localization is not an afterthought, that developers understand the value, the benefits and see the ROI. And to achieve that we need to have an open dialogue. Not for the sake of getting a sale, but rather for the sake of improving the localization process, and helping developers adopt better localization practices.

We need to show developers that we’re on their team, that we’re there to help them make their game better. Educating clients is a challenging task, but I believe it can help us improve and streamline the localization process as a whole.

What advice would you give to somebody looking to become a video game translator?

Be a gamer! Play the games! Seriously, though, it takes a gamer to appreciate and understand all the nuances and the hard work that goes into making a game.

I would also recommend you to pick up some writing courses in your native language. All games tell stories, so you must be an excellent storyteller in order to improve your translation skills and help your clients stand out and create a memorable experience for the players. Write like a human, play the games in your native language so you could understand the quality standards and learn the frequently used terminology.

Video game localization is a very demanding and challenging field. It’s one of those fields where you have to be ready for anything and every single project is completely unique. Invest some time into learning and understanding the process of localization. Work closely with the devs and ask a lot of questions – this shows that you care and it also helps the developers understand our work and what challenges we face.

Also, be open and transparent about your work. Tell the world what you do, show the world how you do it. It might seem obvious, but trust me, there are many clients out there who have no idea what localization is and how to approach it. You’re not just a translator for them, you’re their guide and language consultant. Help them. Support them. Learn how they do things and show them how they can improve and streamline the localization process.

What is your favorite video game of all time?

Another trick question! Are you trying to start a war or something? 😀 Everyone knows that the easiest way to start a war among gamers is to ask them to pick their favourite game.

As a veteran gamer with 23 years of gaming experience, I’ve learned to appreciate video games for what they truly are – little pieces of art that reflect the love, dedication, hard work and emotion of the people behind it.

I know that video game industry can be brutal sometimes. People work crazy hours, sacrifice their family time so we (players) could enjoy the games they build for us. It’s insane how much work and passion goes into building even the tiniest of games (let alone AAA projects). So I have nothing but the utmost respect for people who sacrifice everything just so we could have some fun.

So, to answer your question: every game I played has a very special place in my heart. I’m one of those people who always finds a way to fall in love with the game even if it’s flawed. But if I had to pick one favourite under a gunpoint I’d probably say The Last of Us. This game is just brilliant and unearthed some raw primal emotions in me that I never knew existed. Naughty Dog did themselves proud (like they always do).

And finally, what do you enjoy doing when you are not translating?

Well, apart from baby-proofing the apartment and getting ready to be the world’s best dad for my future best bud (coming to your Instagram feeds in January 2018). I’m also hosting free webinars with my colleague Elena Tereshchenkova in our weekly talk show called Translators On Air. We interview interesting people of our industry and discuss a variety of topics including sales, working with clients, marketing, social media, different types of translation and much more. We’ve recorded 4 seasons with more than 60 episodes.

When I’m between projects I also work as a lead developer of a blogging community and a social network for translators and for people who are looking for professional translators called The Open Mic. It’s a fun little community of professional freelance translators who believe in the power of knowledge-sharing. Its primary goal is to promote knowledge-sharing in the translation community, educate our clients and newcomers to our profession and to help clients connect with freelance translators.

It’s was launched in 2015, has more than 3,000 registered members, and won 2 Proz.com Community Choice Awards as the best website for translators (which makes me very proud because a lot of love and hard work went into building it).

I’ve also launched a new interview series for startups and developers interested in localization. It’s called #LocalizationMatters and in this interview series my colleague Eleonora Angelici and I invite various companies from startup world to share their localization journey with us. We talk about localization process and learn how they tackle it, what strategies they use, what content they localize first and how localization affects their metrics.

The goal of this interview series is to show the benefits of localization and inspire other companies and developers to consider localizing their products and apps so they could serve their global customers better. It offers a unique insight into the localization process from the point of view of companies who have successfully implemented localization in their products and saw clear benefits of localization.

Dmitry Kornyukhovis an English-Russian translator and video game localization specialist from Toronto. He helps game publishers and game developers bring their video games to the Russian-speaking gaming community.

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