QA spotlight: Universally Speaking

In a new series of interviews, MCV grills all the major players in the localisation sector, kicking off with Universally Speaking’s MD Vickie Peggs.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between publishers and QA firms? What works well and what needs improving?

We find publishers come to us from two very different positions. On the one hand are the publishers that understand the localisation and QA cycle. They are the ones who will initiate discussions about a game while it is still in Alpha or even earlier. It is at this point when our input can be the most useful and cost effective. This becomes a very honest and fluid relationship that encourages success.

On the other hand are the publishers who will only start thinking about localisation and QA right around the time when they are dropping the localised text into the game. In these cases the relationship can feel more strained, as all parties are working against the clock – and the budget – in order to get a good quality product.

The difference between these two types of relationships/attitudes can have consequences not only in the overall quality of the final product, which in turn impacts sales figures, but also on the actual schedule and budget for the game.

How have publisher attitudes towards the sector changed in the past year?

In the last year we have noticed a shift towards early discussions with publishers. This is unfortunately still not the case with all publishers, although the signs are encouraging.With the addition of new languages, which often do not use the Latin alphabet, publishers are establishing contact early on to request support and advice on how to handle these more exotic” languages. This is having a very positive effect and will hopefully extend to all games and not just those catering to "new" territories.

Last time we talked, some of the QA and localisation firms we spoke to called for publishers to bring them into the production process earlier in order to improve the service you provide. Do you agree? What are you doing to encourage publishers to bring you in earlier?

A number of issues could be avoided if the localisation and QA process was implemented earlier within the products development cycle. Certain things that work in English do not always work for the other languages, for example, some titles pull multiple text strings together in order to create one larger string. Due to different grammar rules, this won’t work in all languages.

No-one during development finds problems with it and this only becomes an issue when the title comes into QA for evaluation and a large amount of work is then needed to correct the issue. If the QA/localisation process had started much earlier in the development cycle, issues like this could have been completely avoided within the crunch time of the project.

One way of encouraging this is to request a build of the game before or during the translations to ensure everyone can see the context of the game, and how the strings are being used. At Universally Speaking we are very lucky that we have a very close relationship with our clients, who involve us in the development cycle more and more. This means we can provide advice of file format, string format, etc, before changes become costly.

Do you think more attention needs to be given to QA and localisation in general?

Yes. QA and localisation still seems to be left quite late in the development cycle. We all know that the deadlines and schedules are tight but if more time was made available earlier, better quality and planning can be provided.

Crunch time increases the amount of human error and rush in a project whilst using the same amount of test hours over a longer period of time ensures that everyone is working at their best.In essence, early planning with some slack built into it, coupled with good communication with your chosen localisation/QA vendor will result in better quality for the same or even less money.

Which regions around the world have seen increased demand for localisation or special QA needs in the last year, and how have you catered for this?

Due to the sharp rise of social and casual games, we have seen an increase in titles localised into South American and Asian languages; Turkish, Arabic, Malaysian, Thai and Hindi have become standard for many of our clients. With this bigger focus in additional languages we have had to increase our fulltime teams to accommodate this substantial boost in demand compared to this time last year.

Is user-testing important in an age of 3D and motion gaming? Do you cater for this?

This is an increasingly important area of testing that has seen us re-evaluate the floor-plans in our testing facilities to accommodate the bigger areas needed for motion controlled games. You don’t want a game that exhausts your user unless it is a fitness title and seeing how a user interacts with a motion title is very important. But again, if this formed part of the development process earlier in the cycle, improvements to the game could be seen utilising the data from these results to help inform and guide the dev teams of what works and what doesn’t.

Do you believe there is a need for standardisation in QA and localisation practises? Why?

Whilst there are parts of the QA and localisation process that are standardised, we pride ourselves on our emphasis on building tailor-made test plans and localisation schedules, as it really isn’t one size fits all. The sheer number of current platforms and game genres doesn’t lend itself to too much standardisation, but developers knowing the basics and also how valuable a service we offer helps tremendously.

How has the rise of digital, casual and social games affected your business? Are you having to complete different projects, or have you had less demand for your services?

The dramatic rise of casual and social games has increased the overall number of projects that we work on at any one time. The throughput of the traditional larger projects is still an ongoing part of our workload but we now have additional teams dedicated to managing the smaller titles, sicj as those on iOS, Android and other casual platforms, where work is a lot more frequent albeit on a smaller scale per project.

How do you expect the sector to change in 2012?

The industry is still transitioning and with the onset of the next big console revisions we are yet to see how the console will continue to fare against the huge market of smartphones and handheld devices.

Each year sees additional territories added to the roster for language support and localisation, with an ever-increasing array of new devices on traditional and emerging platforms. We expect our services to become even more integral to the dev process than it has ever been.

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