MCV sits down with U-Trax president Richard van der Giessen about the state of the localisation and quality assurance sector.
How have publisher attitudes towards the sector changed in the past year?
There's no way to make a general statement about this for all publishers. Some of them really get it, others who had constantly been at the forefront of localisation and quality assurance for the past ten years or so, have completely lost it. They know who they are and I think it's wisest if I don't get more specific than this.
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?
Totally. The problem is that there is a huge gap between what is desirable and what could be done in practice. The fact is that development studios usually work with milestones and not making one of them could cost them and the publisher millions of dollars. So who cares if you could save hundreds of thousands of dollars by being smarter early in the design process, so that the localisation and QA will eventually will be much smoother and faster? And who can blame them? It doesn't make a lot of sense to keep bringing it up, because they know it perfectly well and would like to change it too. It's just that their hands are tied and they can't just change it overnight.
So our position is that as a localisation and QA service provider, you should do everything you can to help your client solve that chaos the sometimes can be the result of decisions made early in production. It will take time and it's actually very slowly starting to change. But not because us providers keep bringing it up, we're mostly preaching to the converted anyway, but because deep inside these huge organisations people are starting to realise and are able to change little things.
And when you see those organisations are starting to take their own internal localisation people seriously, then you know change is coming. This is what is happening right now with one of our clients – one of the top five publishers – and the results are very encouraging.
Do you think more attention needs to be given to QA and localisation in general? Why, and how are you raising awareness of the sector?
Yes, of course. Good quality localisation and QA are vital for an optimal game experience. We never cease to talk to industry professionals and the press about QA and as such ‘evangelise' a lot, as Gordon Walton put it in his keynote speech at the GDC Loc Summit in March.
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?
Being a Dutch company originally, it comes naturally to us to focus on languages like Dutch, Nordic, Polish and Portuguese. In the past 18 months we have localised over 13 million words into Dutch and Nordic and 2.5 million words into Portuguese alone. We also recorded hundreds of hours worth of voices and have thousands of testing hours in these languages under our belt.
Our philosophy is that the only way to offer our clients the best possible translation and voice-dubbing quality is by having actual local offices and studios in each territory. We currently have offices in Holland, Denmark and Sweden, but do expect a few more to follow soon. So I'm not telling you for which regions we have seen an increased demand, just wait and see where our next offices will open in the coming twelve months. But what I can tell you is that Montreal won't be one of our new locations, as all of our QA competition seems to be there nowadays, so we have no business being there.
Is user-testing important in an age of 3D and motion gaming? Do you cater for this?
It's always been important but 3D and motion gaming has made it slightly more important. Like any skill-based activity, user-testing requires specialists and we work with a specialised partner to offer this service to our clients.
Do you believe there is a need for standardisation in QA and localisation practises? Why?
I don't believe in these things, they feel like just a way to make money for people who like to approach games localisation and QA way too seriously. Hello, it's game localisation guys, it's supposed to be fun! Too much standardisation could risk killing the fun and creativity that are so essential to our trade.
And also different games, different platforms, different target languages and territories usually require a different approach, so standardisation can only be reached to a certain level.
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?
U-Trax has been working on hundreds of casual games since 2004. In recent years social and mobile games were seamlessly added to our mix, since the skills needed for these games proved to be very similar to those needed for casual games.
Last year we even introduced a new brand called Big Fat Games Translations, to cater specifically for the needs of the social/casual/mobile/MMO games industry. This brand is very successful, so I guess you could say that for us it's just business as usual, but even more than before.
How do you expect the sector to change in 2012?
It's constantly expanding in all directions. In terms of emerging markets and languages, and I only expect that process to continue and pick up even more speed in 2012. I suppose you will need an entire MCV worth of space to reflect on where our sector will be going, but let me single out two trends that I foresee.
Firstly, clients will increasingly look for a global solution, but with a local quality, and that's exactly what U-Trax will be able to offer them by establishing offices all over the world.
Secondly, clients are asking for broader and more integrated services, with localisation and QA being at the core of that package. Think of PR and marketing support, localised customer support, functionality and user-testing across all platforms and for many regions across the globe. U-Trax is working very hard to become such a centipede, by adding more services and more languages. We like to say we're a service provider extraordinaire.