Working in the video game localization industry is a dream for many game and language lovers. However, breaking into a field that generates so much enthusiasm can be difficult. Here are a few pointers to help you get started.
Choose your destiny: In-house employee or freelancer?
First of all, you will need to determine what kind of employment you are looking for. The two basic options are working in-house for a developer/translation agency, or as a freelancer. Both have their advantages and shortcomings, and may be more or less easy to achieve depending on factors such as your location (or ability/willingness to relocate) for in-house positions or self-disciple/motivation for freelancing. Balance pluses and minuses carefully, and choose your way.
All the information you need to know about translation as a profession, the tools of the trade, rates, pitfalls, etc. is freely available online. Articles, courses, forums... a quick search can do wonders. Learn the basics, try your hand at a few projects to gain experience (more on that later) and leave beginner mistakes behind you.
Many of your potential employers/clients (this is especially true for translation agencies) will ask you to perform some sort of test before hiring you or using your services. Make sure you've done your homework and are 100% ready to perform at your best. Follow instructions carefully, double-check/proofread everything before delivering and hope for the best. You need to be as professional as possible from Day 1.
Finding work as an in-house translator
- Starting directly as a translator: Typically, offers for in-house positions will require you to have an educational background or experience in translation/languages, plus a certain amount of experience. On the educational side, more and more universities now offer audiovisual localization courses. More general linguistic and/or cultural studies will also be seen as good alternatives.
It is probably the most natural path to become a language professional, but you may still find the job hunting difficult, as most companies will expect you to already have experience and the competition is big. We will see ways to gain experience in a moment, but even then the options to directly start as a full-time in-house translator may be limited.
The great thing, though, is that there are plenty of alternative ways (or shall I say hidden passages?), even if you don’t have a background in language/translation or if there are no positions available yet at your target companies.
- Getting in the industry and working your way through: The idea is that, rather than directly landing a position as a translator, you could try to first get that decisive one foot in the industry and move your way up from there. I will share a bit of personal experience here. I started out as a web developer for a game localization agency (nothing related to linguistic in my job description), and gained translation experience as project managers would occasionally ask me to help their team of translators in their efforts. I know a lot of people who started in a similar way, for example working in testing (debugging - a high-turnover job for which a surprising lot of companies are ready to hire even if you don't have any qualifications) or working/doing an internship in a completely different role (web developers, sales/marketing people, etc.) Admittedly, this is not the most lucrative path to full-time translation and the results may be a little random, but you’ll gain experience and you will be in a much stronger position to move to a full-time translator role.
Finding your first projects as a freelance translator
There are dozens of different approaches to find freelance translation work. Here are a few general ideas to get the ball rolling:
- Contact translation agencies: There are quite a few agencies specialized in game localization almost always on the lookout for new translators to join their teams. Contact them, make it clear that you specialize in games and have at least some experience. You will probably be asked to take a test, and from there things are in your hands. Agency rates will rarely be stellar, but they can offer a regular work flow and that's how many of us started building our businesses.
- Contact developers: Although a lot of developers work with agencies and/or their internal localization teams, you may occasionally find openings for freelance translators online. To be informed of these opportunities as soon as they become available, it can be a good idea to follow those companies on social networks and regularly check their website for new postings.
- Networking: Many countries have strong communities of translators, sometimes even groups specialized in game translation. Get in touch with them, go to the informal meetings, be at conferences and let people know about your services. Experienced translators get increasingly busier with time and may have jobs to share. You can also learn a lot from their success. Plus, meeting new people and building new relationships is fun!
Even if you're living in a more isolated area, you can always join online communities and make yourself known by contributing to discussions and sharing interesting content.
Using social networks to help and interact with developers is another way to get yourself known as a specialist, which could also lead to assignments. Here again, you will find excellent guides online detailing strategies to find clients through social media.
- Most importantly... be patient: As a freelancer, you need to establish your business and grow a client base. No matter how good you are and how hard you try, things will take time. Definitely. You will need at the very least months, and most likely a couple of years until you start making as much as you would as a company employee. Patience and consistency are key to your success. Don't give up, but don't put yourself in a financially dangerous position. Many recommend keeping at least a part-time job until your freelance business generates enough income to pay the bills.
No experience? Not that big of a problem
Nowadays there are various ways for aspiring translators to hone their skills. Here are a few ideas to help you develop your portfolio:
- Help indie developers for free: SourceForge and specialized Facebook groups like this one are good places to get started. Finding small translation assignments there will allow you to learn the job on the field and to have something to show your clients. Avoid assignments larger than a few hundred words though. Being willing to help for experience doesn't make you a slave.
- The LocJAM: Every year, the IGDA LocSIG organizes a game translation contest called LocJAM. With two categories (Pro and Amateur), young and veteran translators all have a chance to shine. Having your translation picked up by industry professionals can be a real plus on your CV.
But even if you don't win a prize or if your language pair is not part of the contest, it's still a fantastic opportunity to gain experience. The texts offered for translation are freely and constantly available to everybody, and encompass the typical game localization challenges. Using the translation packages provided, you also have the possibility to see a preview of your localized games. And since everything is free and open, you have something very concrete to share with your potential clients.
Local study groups are organized around the time of the contest. There, fellow translators meet and learn/polish their skills about game localization together. It's another chance to learn and grow your network.
The video game market is bigger and more diverse than it has ever been, and there's no reason a motivated translator couldn't find work in the industry. Arm yourself with patience, be curious, be determined, listen to your more experience pairs and you will ultimately get there.