Evangelizing Efficient Localization at Spil Games
By: Laura van Nigtevegt (Spil Games) - Spil Games
16 October 2012
Laura van Nigtevegt outlines how a data-driven approach and strategic process changes have helped drive the localization program forward for Spil Games.
When you arrived at Spil Games, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
While Spil Games has always valued translation, the localization team was seen internally as a service provider that sat at the end of the content development process. We needed to change this perception so the team was seen as a revenue enabler, opening up markets and connecting games with users who wouldn’t otherwise be able to play them. The team needed to actively seek ways to add value to the Spil Games offering.
Although localization was seen as a crucial part of the process, the team wasn’t involved in planning or strategy, and the costs of localization weren’t taken into account in the budgets for major projects. There was no data on any aspect of the localization process when I first arrived.
Why did you think this visibility issue was so important?
It’s impossible to have a truly effective localization process without early involvement in planning for projects. I needed to understand how best to allocate our resources, and which projects to prioritize.
Because there was no data to work with, other departments didn’t understand the way their processes affected the costs of localization (and therefore, overall production). They were working with estimates because no other information was available to them. This lack of data also meant that strategic decisions were being made without a full understanding of the costs involved in implementing them, so accurate net present value (NPV) was difficult to calculate.
Due to our organization’s multilingual strategy, localization was clearly going to be a part of the development process for the foreseeable future, so it made sense that these costs first needed to be quantified, and then reduced.
How did you get started?
Data was and continues to be key in raising the profile of the localization team within our organization—particularly relevant, accurate, timely, and transparent data which is available to anyone who is interested in it. Achieving this was one of my highest priorities when I first started at Spil Games.
We created a localization database on Microsoft Access with information about every project we touched. We linked this to our company-wide data warehouse, Tableau, so that the data was available to everyone at Spil Games. It was also linked to a SharePoint site, so our external translation vendors could upload and view their data. Project managers started working directly in the database in real-time, rather than manually updating immense Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
Whenever I met with my manager, I made a point to provide hard evidence to back up any proposal I was making, be it a change in process or a request for additional resources. I demonstrated the costs of ‘business as usual’, and the benefits of making a change.
When discussing strategic or process changes with the managers of other teams, I also brought data to illustrate my points. Data turned the conversation from, “We’d like you to do this,” to, “If you do this, we can take x days off this game’s time-to-market.” In the game development industry, as in many others, reducing time-to-market significantly increases revenue, so this is a very important metric for all Spil Games departments.
What was the initial response to your ideas?
We had a lot of re-educating to do, but people at Spil Games generally understood the importance of localization. They were happy that changes were being made, because the current process wasn’t working well for anyone. While changes were sometimes difficult to implement, the instant benefits to our stakeholders really helped us gain traction internally.
How have the changes affected how Spil Games works?
Strategic changes resulted in certain titles being phased out when their true NPV was evaluated. The games that are no longer supported typically created a very high workload for the localization team, often due to very low source-text quality. Now everyone at Spil Games is aware that the licensing fee for a game is only one aspect of its cost.
What’s your next goal?
On the data side, we want to allow any user who accesses our data warehouse to be able to see all the expenses that a project incurs through localization. This includes the editing and translation of game content and all marketing and PR collateral. It’s the next step in true accountability and simplifying the NPV calculation for our games.
In terms of content development, we’re moving toward increasing awareness of the importance of culturalization—not just translating language, but ideas. Some concepts just don’t work in certain markets, or even take on meanings that aren’t present in the developer’s native culture. We’re running a series of webinars with culturalization expert Kate Edwards, who has extensive experience in the game development sphere. We’re also regularly surveying non-native English speakers to engage our team in the discussion about translation quality. Spil Games has employees from 33 different countries, so there’s a lot of expertise to tap. Improving the quality of localization is an ongoing conversation, but definitely one worth having if we want to speak to users in their language.
Laura van Nigtevegt is the head of localization and customer services at Spil Games, one of the world's larget publishers of casual games online. She ensures that engaging content is accessible to a global audience in their native languages. Laura's mission is to move beyond translation and instead position her team as a strategic business partner. The online world is her natural habitat. Before Spil Games, Laura worked for Google as a Dutch Language Specialist and as an editor for MAGIX AG.