Gastartikel von Ott Madis “Oak” Ozolit

Den zweiten Artikel unserer Themenwoche liefert Ott Madis “Oak” Ozolit von Placeholder Gameworks mit einem Artikel auf Englisch. Er ist ein Indie-Entwickler aus Estland, dessen Perspektive für Übersetzer:innen wie Entwickler:innen vor allem deshalb wichtig ist, weil kleine Studios oft geringere (finanzielle) Möglichkeiten haben als die großen Player wie CDPR oder EA. Er gibt uns einen Einblick in die Planung eines Indie-Spiels und zeigt, dass Lokalisierung nicht nur im Spiel selber eine Rolle spielt.

Hi everyone! My name is Ott Madis Ozolit, and I’m currently working as a game developer for Placeholder Gameworks, an indie game development studio based out of Tartu, Estonia. I’ve been with Placeholder for a little over a year now and we have managed to successfully launch its debut commercial title: Death and Taxes.

I was asked by the excellent people at DVÜD to write a think piece about indie development and localization, in particular, and how they connect together. To start off, there is a very strong connection between the two topics indeed. Indies aka. independent developers, struggle the most with grabbing attention for their games. This can be an enormous challenge for people making their first, or even first few games, because it is difficult to build up communities over something that does not exist yet. I will first elaborate on what mechanics are available for game developers to get that attention and then explain how localization can help the process.

Getting attention: All about the looks?

For example, there is the possibility of appealing to a potential audience by aesthetic, meaning that attempts to get attention focus on the visuals, mostly. Creating artwork that stands out is a good way of on-boarding an audience, as that engages their own imagination. They can try and figure out how this particular piece of art could fit into the world: Does it say something about the characters in the game? Or maybe it’s even a historical re-telling of something that happened in the game world, long ago? This approach is not only limited to visual arts, however, as the same method can be used for literary works, too. A well-written short story can appeal to a different group of individuals, engaging their imaginations even more, as the only representation of the game’s world so far is “just” text, so the readers are left to fill in the blanks. These methods can be used cleverly to gauge interest and appeal, looking at the hard stats of how much of this art is connected to and engaged with.

The methods discussed before give a more immediate opportunity to start building a fanbase, without having anything substantial made for the final product, the game itself. This can, of course, create certain expectations that would have to be met once a developer starts showing off the actual game. If the dissonance is too vast, then disappointment and malcontent may arise in the fanbase, but most of the time people are ready to understand the limitations of the game’s creators and support them even when things don’t turn out exactly as they imagined. As an alternative, a prototype or mockup of how the game would look and play like in the future gives a more immediate impression. This is the norm nowadays, and developers usually create materials from the prototype itself, such as recording gameplay footage or cinematic moments in-engine and then sharing it in their social media channels and potential storefronts. Any sort of extra content, such as the aforementioned literary or graphical works, supplement the prototype. Most times, all of these showcases come with a disclaimer of: “The content of the game is subject to change”, because game development can be very unpredictable and things that seemed like a good idea in the past might not hold up well when the bigger picture is fleshed out.

Connecting the dots: Language as leverage

So, where does localization fit in with all this? If readers are keen in their attention, they might have noticed quite a few opportunities in the last two paragraphs where localization could be used as leverage. When producing a short story for teasing a game’s setting or history, people generally feel more comfortable reading about it in their mother tongue. To some, it may even come as a pleasant surprise, due to the English language being the lingua franca in the games industry in the western world. If I am able to read about a game’s development in Estonian, for instance, I would certainly be more invested in the game’s development, especially if it is a game that is not developed by Estonians or in Estonia. The same could also be said for prototypes, i.e. having the game footage recorded in another language with all in-game assets localized and also localizing graphical assets. This strategy can help developers reach a much wider audience, as the English games market is much more saturated than others, with localization offered for only for games with larger budgets. A large budget, however, need not be a requirement for localizing a game, if it is something that is taken into account at the start of development. This would entail preparing promotional materials with easily switchable localization options, and of course implementing the game with localization options in mind. If done later, rather than sooner, the cost will generally be greater, as it is more difficult to change an existing system than it is to build a system and knowingly including required functionality in its architecture. Indies who wish to leverage language-specific communities usually do so as soon as development starts and may even find success with the help of those communities, when they otherwise might not have.

I hope this article sheds some light on how game development is perceived from the eyes of a full-time developer and explains the importance of localization processes in game development specifically.

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