Localization is really popular among young translators. Many of them are drawn to video game translation, which encompasses specific challenges going far beyond those encountered by a “regular” audiovisual localizer. Indeed, while working on the subtitles, lip-synching and other challenges linked to transcreation ; video game localizers need to be pragmatic and allow the player to easily connect with the virtual environment which the game offers.
As such, localizers need to become masters at choosing the right words. Even though there are a lot of articles on the topic of video game localization in French, this article will focus on the specificities of Spanish video game localization.
The main issue when it comes to localization in Spanish (whether it is in video games or cinema) lies in the many variations of the Spanish language all over the world. Besides the official languages –Castilian and Catalan– there exist numerous dialects spoken in Spain alone. If you add up all the terminological and phonetic variations across the whole of Latin America, you might start understanding how big of a challenge offering localization to the whole Spanish-speaking market can be.
Many audiovisual localization agencies work with a norm based on Spanish spoken in Latin America, mainly Mexican Spanish, in order to make the language as neutral and reach as many Spanish-speaking individuals as possible while limiting the cost of the localization process. For the majority of Castilian-speaking natives, the “LatAm” (standing for Latinoamerican) version speaks to their childhood. In fact, many cartoons have been localized in the same way for years. LatAm doesn’t faze Spanish-speaking natives, since they tend to find it more direct and informal, which fits cartoons well.
However, if you consider the struggle to identify to characters who speak with an accent and idioms which differ from yours, the need for a Castilian version for more “serious” audiovisual productions and for video games appealing to a more mature audience is understandable.
There are a couple of very good examples, such as the Spanish pronouns used when on a first name basis or not ; which can vary according to the country (“usted” is usually used in a very formal context, but in Colombia, it can be used when talking to your children). The terminological differences can also hinder your experience when playing a game. “Coger” can be used to code the action of “taking” or “picking up” an object in Spanish from Spain, but this choice might make a player from Argentina laugh, since it conveys a more sexual message in the country. They would rather use “agarrar” which means “catching” in Castilian.
The need for multiple Spanish versions when localizing a game seems obvious but in reality, it is rarely done. This year, when State of Decay 2 –a survival game in a zombie-filled post-apocalyptic world- was released, Spanish players felt as if they were considered as second class players when Microsoft chose to localize the game in Mexican Spanish only.
The frustration of these players is understandable, especially when compared to the attentive work of some companies like Sony, who makes a point of offering rich multilingual and fully-dubbed versions of its games. The video game industry is still dominated by Sony and its PlayStation 4 while the sales of Microsoft’s Xbox One are stagnating. It was the opposite during the last generation of consoles.
Among other things, Microsoft has chosen to cut corners on its localization department to mitigate the situation. However, without an effort from the American giant, Spanish players are less inclined to spend their money on Microsoft’s games and “it’s a vicious circle”. Spanish players stay away from LatAm versions and a lot of them prefer to play the original version instead, as it was the case with the Halo franchise, even though it featured a fully-dubbed version. Microsoft seems to be heading into a dead-end and the situation will not improve unless the company is willing to really listen to its customers. Since gaming remains an industry first and foremost, profitability remains a priority for the American publisher, who keeps wondering : “is it worth it ?”
Translated by Céline ECHILLEY