Reading Time: 30 Minutes
We interviewed Miguel Sepulveda, Global Localization Manager at King (Candy Crush Saga). Our business developer, Levon, spoke with Miguel on topics from his blog yolocalizo.com, about when localization may be unnecessary, what differences there are between the localization processes at EA and King, and much, much more.
This is an in-depth interview. We are sharing it with everyone who wants to know how a localization expert who’s been in the business 25 years sees things. But if you’re not in the mood for a long-read, you can listen to the conversation on SoundCloud or watch the video on YouTube. Enjoy!
On game industry recognizing importance of localization
Levon: Let’s start, the first question I have is a bit general. You do a lot to make sure that the importance of the work put into localization is globally recognized. You are a localization evangelist. Do you somehow reap the fruits of that labor? Maybe you’ve noticed that negotiating about localization has become easier over the last years, or maybe people come to you at conferences and thank you? Are there any results you can share?
Miguel: I believe the biggest reward is starting to see that, for some people, localization is not an afterthought anymore. Which was not easy to achieve. Clearly, when we are working on a company level, we often see that kind of shared services such as quality assurance or teams like us tend to be at the end of the workflow. This is one of the results that I have seen now working at my current company, King. Because now we have a seat at the table from the beginning.
So when I start talking about the benefits of internationalization or culturalization, which people don’t know, let’s be honest. Because everything is translation, they don’t even know the concept of internationalization; they might call it something else. But what I’ve seen is that people don’t even think about that as a step. Things happen little by little, but it requires a lot of insistence. You hear some voices saying, “Oh, shouldn’t we involve these guys, or maybe we should talk to get some feedback about the look and feel of the UI, or, you know, in our case now, about the characters of video games just to ensure that we are inclusive and diverse. These are the things we are going to start seeing. We are going to start seeing some awareness about moving away from the words. Moving away from just putting the source into the target language and just pure translation to start having more questions about how the text might be perceived in China, in Russia, or in Korea. This is something that is changing. Then, definitely, sure at a personal level when I’m at some events, or by email, I have some people that approach me.
So, you know, more or less the effort is having an effect. I want to mention that this is like a marathon. It’s very difficult to make people really, truly understand what we do.
It requires continuous education. It takes a lot of resilience.
Certainly. Would you say, things have changed for the better in terms of localization? Like people are starting to recognize what culturalization is, right?
I’ve been in this industry for almost 25 years. Next year is my 25th anniversary. Definitely, it’s nothing to do now. When I compare it to the, I mean obviously we have some challenges, sure, but it’s totally different when I compare it to the late 90s or mid-2000s, it’s very different. And now there is more education, more media. There are many tools now that, in the past, it was not even possible to think that you could study things like localization, and now we can see that there are some universities that actually have course of studies with localization. I just came last week from Milan, from one of these events in the Technical Translation School where they have a Master’s degree. So things are getting better, the reality is that it still needs to gain more impact. I guess that eventually, we will reach that. But, when you think about it, as an industry we are still kind of young.
When you compare us to other industries, they have many many many more years. And we are closing the gap, but there is still a gap. But I think, definitely, things are much better.
What do you think, I’ve actually had a question about this, what do you think is the source of this, not misconception, but the way people see localization? Like, every game developer… they know that the graphics are important. They know that the gameplay loop is important. It’s recognized overall in the industry. Why is localization… It’s just starting… They’re starting to understand the importance of it. After all, games have been multinational, they have been published everywhere in the world for the longest time. It’s not a new thing.
In my opinion, I think there might be a couple of components—the first one might be a clear understanding of return on investment. Because the reality is that if for one game, if you localize it, you will get a number of gross bookings, and some revenue if you localize. If you don’t localize you will still get some revenue and some gross bookings. What is difficult to measure is what is the gap. And that is something I’m working on at King, to find a way to make this A/B test. But the reality is the setting of this A/B test and comparing one game with only English and another one with some localized languages… It’s not always that easy because it requires, basically, commitment at different levels. So that may be one of the first reasons. It’s not clear how much localization is contributing to the success. We have many statistics in the industry. What I found is that employers, since they take a kind of generalist approach to statistics, they don’t really attach importance to those ones, and they want to know how that’s applicable to the company. So, if we say, okay there are studies saying X% won’t buy (the game) if they don’t understand—sure they will hear that, but they want to know how that’s translated for us, if we are releasing in English instead of Vietnamese in Vietnam, what’s the impact we are having.
So that’s, in my opinion, the first constraint. It’s not easy to measure the value of localization.
The second one, I believe, is an oversimplification. And it’s related to people being native in one language—you think you are a professional, just because you speak the language. I speak Spanish, actually I’m not a linguist, but yeah, sure I could translate something. But there are many translators that can produce much better results than me. But, I can challenge one translator and say “Hey, I don’t think this translation is good. I would say the same thing like that…” And that’s opening one door that when you think about it doesn’t happen in other industries. If I go to see my doctor and he says something I just believe him, right? Because he is the doctor and I am not. But here if you spoke with someone, you are Russian and then another Russian, who’s right? Well, it does depend on many many factors. And that does not happen in other industries. If you are a Java developer, I cannot challenge a Java developer. But if he is a Java developer and Spanish, he could challenge my translated files.
So that also creates an interesting relationship. Because everyone can judge the work that everyone in this industry does, and that’s something of a disadvantage. So, yeah, perhaps there are more reasons, but these two are coming to my head. I would say a clear ROI and how much we are contributing. Plus everyone being native and thinking they can judge everything. Those are two patterns that I see quite often.
Yeah, I probably, I agree, everybody thinks they are an expert because they are in a sense, they are native speakers.
Yeah, and actually it’s a fair assessment because you cannot say “you don’t know cause you’re not a linguist.” Okay, it’s true, maybe this person, he or she didn’t study languages, but still, it’s the final user, the final player. So, somehow we need to find a way to get this feedback and incorporate this feedback. Because it’s not that it’s totally wrong, but it’s what creates a lot of noise in this relationship in my opinion.
On consequences of poor localization
Yeah. Well, related to the localization part, in one of your older posts, and, unfortunately, I don’t have the name or the date, but you mentioned that poor quality can ruin, well, not your career, but your reputation as a game company. And I certainly agree with that, because I work in a game localization studio and we’ve seen some cases. But do you have any examples you’ve seen personally when a poor localization or a bad translation affected a company’s reputation?
Well, actually, in our parent company — in Activision, we have. We do not manage those titles directly, but actually, there was some an issue with one of the titles, because one of the characters had a flag on their arm, and that flag, which was totally unintentional, was very similar to a Nazi flag. So it became viral on Twitter super-fast saying, “Okay this game from this company is promoting Nazism and is promoting Nazi values.” So, obviously that’s not true—it was totally unintentional. But the reality is, just by pure chance, it was similar. I mean, when you see the flag in the game, and you see the flag of this group, okay, true. I mean, it’s a coincidence, but it is problematic.
There is a problem there, and nowadays anything can go viral very fast, and some people will not believe that it was totally unintentional. Some people will say sure, I don’t believe you, you are promoting values because that game is about battling and fighting and shooting. So those kind of things are not really helping, which in the end, things like our teams or vendors, language partners and studios we can work all together to have all these culturalization assessments and try to catch problems before they reach the market. Also, I’ve seen some, not in our industry, but in the marketing industry, probably you know some of these. There are many problems with some product names. In the car industry, there are cases when the brand name of a car means something offensive in another culture. And that has a huge impact because if you have Nissan Whatever, Renault Whatever, Audi Whatever, and it turns out that that word is very offensive in one of the countries you are selling in—you have a problem there.
There have been many cases in history when we can see unfortunate naming of products or slogan translations. All we have to do is google something like “lost in translation” to see McDonalds failing, KFC failing with a promotion in China, so yeah, it has a cost, and not only an economic cost, a company’s reputation also suffers. Because by having a wrong name for a car in one specific country you are limiting your profit in that specific market. So, those are the kind of things that quite often people not in the industry would not really realize it have a huge impact.
But in the end, everything is related to building an emotional connection with the consumer. And if that emotional connection is coming from poor wording—that’s a failure.
Would you say, our job as localizers, as people who work in localization industry, is to try to predict and prevent such happenings like, in your example with Activision and the flag, I’m not sure… Unless some very focused and experienced editor sees it and predicts it happening, I’m not sure it’s possible to solve that issue beforehand, before it really happens.
Yeah, that’s true, but I still think that audits are necessary, I mean, we don’t have a guarantee that even one person will see it, but at least we are increasing the chances. In the case of games, there’s at least one mandatory step—doing a cultural check of the name of the game in different countries. So you just talk to your language partner and say “Hey, can you check in these 22 markets to ensure that, phonetically, it does not sound weird.” That’s something we can and must do. And the same with the character names because if it’s a wrong character name in Brazilian Portuguese, but it sounds cool in other languages, we are going to have a lot of memes and problems in that specific country. So you are right, audits won’t solve the problem 100%, but at least they increase the chances, and, in the end, if we miss something all we can do is just apologize, fix it, and move forward.
Yeah, fix it as soon as possible.
On different approaches to localization at King and EA
So, you’ve mentioned… About your parent company Activision and the way they sometimes have issues with localization, and if I’m not mistaken, you worked at EA before King. Could you tell us, how does work, particularly in the localization department, differ in a company like King, from classic AAA-studios? Is there any difference at all?
There are many differences. Because we are comparing games of half-million words with one game of 5 thousand words. And we are comparing games with voiceover and audio with games that have music and that’s pretty much it. So, the cinematics and everything in the consoles they are there and in mobile as of today — no. Although in the future I guess we’ll have them. Because the phones are getting bigger and better; they are like small consoles. But the reality is that big publishers working in traditional environments still tend to use this Waterfall approach. So everything would be more like we quote and translate and QA, the typical Waterfall model. While with mobile, everything shifts into agile and continuous localization.
So, it’s totally different because the moment you want to be agile you just need to ensure that you are scaling yourself to release content every two weeks, and that requires a totally different setup from when you need to ship one FIFA or one NHL every year. It’s like having multiple iterations in two weeks instead of one year. The types of tools we have to use are very different because when we are working in a mobile environment we need to be more connected to the vendors. That reduces the number of steps from the developer creating content, creating assets and the translators getting access to those assets. The role of the middle man needs to be minimized. Because otherwise, we don’t really have time to compile everything in the agile mindset. So, I think… And the volume, of course. I mean, when we are working with titles such as World of Warcraft—that’s one million words. The setup when you have to handle one million words in terms of relationship with the vendors, in terms of QA checks—is very different.
So, the basics in a way, they are the same, but when it comes to mobile, everything has to be much much faster. And the mindset needs to be “We deliver this now, it does not matter if it’s not perfect because we will fix it in the next Sprint cycle.
And that’s okay. It’s more about continuous improvement than the more traditional mindset of working many months to release something that needs to be pretty much perfect. Of course, even in that mindset, there will be some patches, but the pressure-level is totally different compared to agile methodologies.
On Games as a Service becoming popular with AAA titles
Do you think that things would change with traditional AAA games because games as a service is becoming more and more popular? Essentially, big games are becoming more and more like mobile games with continuous updates.
Yeah, I think it will change, it’s just at this point we are not sure which is the model, because at this moment we have two new players—Apple and Google—and they have released this subscription model. When you think about it, you have the traditional model—you buy one game, it might be expensive 50-60-70 Euros depending on the game. Then you have mobile games with two approaches. Either you buy the game, which is kind of cheap compared with 60 Euros. You buy something for 2-3-4-5 Euros, whatever. And then you have the freemium model, so you just pay to have some nice little helpers. Like we do at King, you play for free, you don’t have advertisements, but there is also a way to progress faster if you invest some money. And now we have another model, which is you pay 5 Euros in a subscription model for video games as we do in Netflix or all these services and you just play the games. And I’m not sure which one of three possibilities…
I think that the console model is the most difficult one to sustain because actually, we see that it takes many years to have a new console and it’s very difficult for publishers to get powerful new titles. So when you see the blockbusters, usually they are pretty much the same (titles) in the last five-ten years you’ll see always there the usual suspects and every now and then you’ll see one new game that is making through. But the success rate is very small, so companies are trying to diversify and move to the mobile model.
But the reality is that console titles are very expensive to produce and that’s leaving these companies in a very difficult position.
Because the mindset of consumers is changing. In the past, it was totally normal to spend 50-60 Euros to buy a videogame. And that’s not the case anymore.
Still, I do, I buy some games, but it has to be a special game in a special situation. Or maybe for Christmas or a gift and things like that, while in the past it was not like that. So I guess this is also how a fact that might make things challenging for traditional gaming companies. Mobile is you just download something, you just play it, and if you like it, you keep investing. So in that sense, I think it’s a more mature and promising (model). So I’m curious to see what this subscription model from Google and Apple will bring into the industry because right now it’s a big question mark.
Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, you probably remember all the streaming, gaming streaming services that were like… there was one that was made by Playstation, by Sony. Yeah, like 10 years ago I thought everybody would just stream games, AAA projects, but it didn’t really turn out that way. So, we’ll see.
Yeah, and also many many players are hardcore players, who do really like playing on traditional PCs. That niche, those guys are very loyal, so it’s very unlikely that they will move to mobile. But the reality is there are more mobile players than PC or traditional players because you can play while you are waiting in line at the supermarket or while waiting for the bus, so there is a competitive advantage for the publishers that are operating in these environments.
You’ve mentioned that you sometimes buy games nowadays. What is your platform of choice?
Which game was your favorite last year or this year?
I really liked playing FIFA.
Oh, FIFA, of course. I mean, FIFA is really popular.
I really like it, because I like football and it’s really well done. And when I play with some friends or with my kids, actually when we play against each other, or online it’s an amazing experience. I think when I don’t have much time that’s my go-to game. Like, okay, we’ve got 40 minutes, let’s play a couple of matches of Champions League. These two teams, let’s play, let’s have a rematch. I like everything about that game. The music is very good. The design of the stadiums and everything is amazing, the broadcasters… I am a big fan of FIFA.
Actually, when it comes to sports games and localization, I remember, it was really huge when the localizers, I don’t remember the company, they brought in Russian broadcasters, that broadcast.. that does the color commentary on TV and they brought them into the localization (of the game). For football fans, it was a huge thing. They were really excited that they could play the game and hear the voices they hear on TV.
Yeah, in FIFA in the Spanish version it’s like that because you have the two guys, they are the same that you have on the radio and TV. And that’s why because the game gets better year after year. You listen to them, and it’s like, wow, it does really look like a football match, a real one. Because of the environments and the fans singing and the broadcasters, so in that sense, EA puts a lot of effort in the audio to do what you just described. And in the end, in my opinion, that’s working, because you build this connection with the player. You are immersed and it’s part of the gaming experience. I like that.
Yeah, that’s really cool. Does it ever happen to you as a localization expert, when you play a game and suddenly you start to pay attention to the details, you notice that “oh this was localized poorly” or “oh, the part of the text is not in the UI” Does that bother you when you play something for enjoyment, outside of work.
Unfortunately, yes, and that’s a problem because you cannot turn off your brain, once you are in this industry. You just read and analyze everything, so yeah, that’s the case.
Sometimes you see some localization that is like “Oh my god, I will take a screenshot here and I will save it in my EverNote for my stack of legendary mistakes.
Send it to your colleagues to laugh.
Yeah, I’m one of those (people), I cannot turn it off. On the other hand, when I see some good localization, it’s something that I recognize and appreciate so yeah. It goes in both ways.
On why you need to update style guides and invite translators to your office
Let’s get back to your blog. One of the things you’ve mentioned and you’ve covered the importance of style guides and glossaries. But could you maybe give us some other ways game companies could prepare their projects for freelancers or in-house localization departments? How can game developers make localizers’ lives easier and get a better end product?
When you mention the style guide, one of the important things to mention there is to change the mindset and understand that it’s a living document and that it requires continuous updates. Because quite often what I’ve seen is that you create one at the beginning and that’s it. And then it’s there for as long as the project lasts. And that’s a problem because you need to update it with what you learn, especially if you are working in an agile environment. If we ship content every two weeks, and we are monitoring relations with the players, we need to update the style guide based on what we learn. So, that’s something that I don’t see done very often. Many people create a style guide and it stays the same almost forever.
So, we need to ensure that the style guide is regularly updated, cleaned, and maintained. It is crucial. It’s also very important to give the translators or the language partners the opportunity to have builds or betas or access to play the games. Because otherwise, they are blind. Even when we have a very detailed, good context, the reality is it’s not enough. So finding a way to give them access to the builds in the early phases so they can touch the game is very important.
Something that we do that I think is a good practice is we invite the translators to the office for one day for a workshop. While we are there all together, we show what we have at the moment. The beta, the playtest (version). Whatever we have, we share. But we also have a conversation about the expectations from the client side, and we ensure that everyone in the room understands those expectations. And that’s super important when it comes to the tone of voice that we use in the game, cause it needs to change from game to game. And ensuring that everyone in the room understands “Okay this is how this character will speak” we want that the personality and the attributes and the adjectives used are this, this, and that.
Everything that is related to giving translators the opportunity to be a little bit more involved, having the ability to ask questions, having the ability to play the build on early phases, having the ability to use one document that they know is fresh and up-to-date, I think those steps are crucial to guarantee that the translators can do a good job, because the reality is that they are far away and they need this kind of engagement, otherwise they don’t produce the nice, stylistic approach we want.
Yeah, it’s probably even more important when it comes to voiceover. Inviting people in, giving context, and explaining your expectations.
Yeah, that alignment needs to happen at the beginning of each project. Which brings me to the importance of having a checklist of things we need to have in place before starting game development. So obviously, each company and each vendor or client will have different ones. But it’s very important to say “Okay, at this phase, we need to discuss internationalization; here we need to discuss platform support; we need to discuss this, this, this, and that.” And include those requirements in one localization kit at the very beginning. That way, everyone understands each other’s expectations. Quite often, I’ve seen that not done, and it always became a problem at some point. Because if we are not taking the time to understand each party’s meaning of “good” then it’s going to be very difficult to actually agree on anything.
On how to avoid clichés in culturalization
I think, in one of your posts, I also read that game developers should keep in mind game localization even when writing the game. For example, if narrative designers are writing the game, they should keep in mind that the game will be localized in different languages. And I agree with that part, but do you think it could hinder the quality of the project? Let’s say some movie director like Quentin Tarantino had to think about all the languages his movies are about to be translated into before writing the scripts. I think it would hinder the source. Do you think that happens in video games? Ideally, it should happen, but is there a solution to this?
I think there is a risk of going over the top and doing too much culturalization, to the point where we might lose the flavor. So, obviously, it’s wise to strike a balance, because otherwise, we play to all the clichés in specific cultures, and we need to avoid that. And in order to prevent that we need true professionals and content creators that know when it’s too much and when it’s too little.
I think we can use, as mirror, Dreamworks or Pixar. They find a way of doing it: Their movies are culturalized to some level, but they are not over culturalized. And one of my favorite examples is actually one of my favorite movies—Inside Out, I don’t know if you’ve seen it.
I’ve seen it, yeah.
I really like that movie. I don’t know if you remember, but there is one situation with the feeling of disgust toward broccoli. They have broccoli and pizza… And they have the little girl and her father is trying to feed her broccoli, but she doesn’t want it. That we got that version in Spain, and I don’t know if it was the same in Russia, but in that one, the association was crystal clear: Broccoli is bad. And what’s interesting is how they approached it in Japan. Because in Japan it’s the other way around. Broccoli is every kid’s favorite food. They love broccoli—they don’t hate it. So, when you think about it, and you can google it, to see both images, because you’ll get the European and Asian versions. You can see that in Japan what they did is said
“What is the equivalent to broccoli for Japanese kids, because if they love broccoli, what don’t they like?”
And it was this kind of green beans. So they changed those scenes and they basically had to redo those scenes and now you have multiple versions of the same movie. When you think about this, it’s amazing. Because if I am at the movie and the writers want to trigger a feeling of disgust. And then I see the favorite food of an entire nation, that’s not working. So, you have one thing for Americans or Europeans and you start to put out different labels.
So, Dreamworks, Pixar, Disney, they do that really really well and I think they are the example we in the gaming industry can look into because in my opinion, they do it in a very subtle way. Another good example of their talent for this is Star Wars. The new Star Wars is very different from the old ones, you have main characters who are women, you have Asian people in the movie (in the leading roles), you have a lot of diversity included there—they found a way to be culturally relevant without falling into clichés. I think we need to find a way of doing the same. It’s not easy, but that’s the right direction.
Yeah, movies are much more inclusive nowadays, and the gaming industry is still behind on that front.
Yeah, and this is related to what I mentioned at the beginning, that our industry and the gaming industry when you compare them to the movie industry, it’s just very young. We are comparing something 30 years old with something maybe 150 years old. I don’t know how old the movie industry is, but obviously, we are comparing different things. That’s why I said before when you asked if I was optimistic and if I saw changes, yes, I’ve seen them, but the reality is that probably it’s still changing, and it will change quickly.
On when you don’t need localization
I actually don’t know if you can answer this, we’ve been talking about the importance of localization. But, do you know any examples in gaming industry, when it’s not as important. When it’s like “Eh, we can neglect this, we can keep it, we can start working on it after the beta” like many developers say “the game is not ready yet, we’ll think about localization later.” Do you have any examples when it’s a relevant, valid point to have? If I am a game developer, when can I neglect localization?
I think when you have games with very easy dynamics, where you don’t have a lot of tutorials. Then, that may be one possibility. If you have a shooter, and actually, for example, Fortnite, I’m not sure if it’s translated at all, I need to double check, but I think Fortnite on iOS is in English, I don’t have it in Spanish, I’ll check that later, but a shooter is basically a game where you shoot. So, more or less, the dynamics and the basics are going to be easy. You kill people, and you somehow discover more powerful weapons. So, it’s not ideal, cause you cannot bring in a narrative connection, but in terms of gameplay, there are some games that are kind of easy to pick up without a lot of text to help you.
In those cases, if a publisher believes that they don’t have the time or the budget to bring them to different markets they can just go with English and it might work. I do really believe it depends on the game genre, because then for other games, if you have a lot of tutorials like all those games related to building something, whatever, a farm, a hotel, a village, an empire. In all those builders, you have a lot of tutorials. In Clash of Clans, for example, you build some stuff, but there is a lot of text that you need to read to understand how different things work. If you don’t take the time to translate that, you are going to be in many situations when you are in target countries with fewer English speakers. You might do okay in Sweden, or Denmark, or the Netherlands, where they speak very good English, but in other countries where that level is medium or low, players simply will not understand what they have to do. Naturally, that’s going to make it difficult to keep them engaged. It will always depend on how much time a player who doesn’t speak English is willing to spend thinking “Okay, what do I need to do here? I understand this word and that one, but I don’t understand this one.” But that doesn’t really work cause that turns it into work, something you don’t enjoy. So, it does really depend on the game genre and the level of English in a given country.
Yeah, because, I think, in Russia, where I am right now, even hyper-casual games would not be as popular if they are not translated. Because people just don’t speak English and that is a big mental barrier for them.
Exactly. You might have this, you remember Flappy Bird. So, obviously for that kind of game, you just move the bird and that’s it.
But for other games, you won’t understand it. When you connect with one game, that’s because you build a deeper emotional connection. And that happens through the combination of language, music, art, and the look and feel of the characters. Language is critical to creating this emotional connection.
Probably language is the most human thing, right?
If we wanted to build this connection without the language… I’m not sure, I’m not sure. The game would have to be super amazing so that you can forget the language and somehow fill the gap.
Yeah, true. One of my friends actually said recently that localization and graphics are the two first things you see in the game. You may not even understand the story or the gameplay yet, but you already see the language it’s in.
That’s true, also they say you only get one chance to make a first impression. So imagine all the games, applications, software, and websites that you interact with, where you see something you don’t like, and then you see something else you don’t like. If I am on one of those webpages, and I am browsing in my native language it’s gonna be very difficult for me to buy something if I feel like that. And the same goes for applications. If it’s free—okay. But if it’s one of those apps or games you try and then decide if you want to buy it or not, I don’t think I’d buy it. If the graphics are bad or the language is poor, it looks like a broken product to me, so I wouldn’t go for it.
I agree. One more question about localization in particular and then a few about your personal experience. Do you know any examples when the localization turned out to be better than the source, than the original? Maybe not in games, maybe in cinema. I have a personal example. I really love the Russian localization and dubbing of David Fincher’s Fight Club. So maybe you remember something like that in Spanish?
Now that you mention movies. I really like Shrek. You remember Shrek? It’s amazing in Spanish. And I’ve seen it both in English and Spanish. And it’s amazing how they did it in Spanish with Puss in the Boots who is actually Antonio Banderas in the original version and how they do it in the Spanish one. I tend to watch movies in English. But with that one, I went to the movie theater to see it the first time, and it was not playing in English. I watched it in Spanish and then when it came on Netflix, I rewatched it in English, and actually, I think that the Spanish version is better.
And in video games, for example, I play quite a lot of our competitors’ games. I play a lot of Supercell games, and when I play Clash Royale, I really like the Spanish translation. I’m not sure if it’s better than the English, because that’s subjective. Sometimes I play in English, sometimes I play in Spanish. I just find the description of different cards very fun and very accurate. I think the Supercell guys did a great job in transcreation because clearly, I can see that it’s not just translation. When they describe the skills of the Wizard, when they describe the skills of the Pekka and all the different cards, it’s very well done, so kudos to them. They did a great job.
On career journey
A question about your personal experience in the field. How did you become what you are right now? How did you get from being a localization tester at Microsoft to Global Localization Manager at King? Was that a long journey? Did you ever envision yourself as a localization manager when you were starting out?
No, haha, absolutely not. Maybe now it’s a little bit easier, because as I said earlier, now there are courses, more or less you could take some classes in localization. When I started in the mid-90s, it was just a combination of me being into tech, speaking English, and speaking Spanish. So when they said, “We are looking for localization QA testers for Excel” I leaped at the chance. I knew how to create macros in Excel and VBA, so back in those days, my background, because I studied computer engineering, was closer to programming. It turned out that to be a good QA tester it was enough to be able to code, create macros, and speak a couple of languages. That is probably not the case anymore, we need more skills, but back in the day, when I worked for Microsoft, doing Windows 95, Excel 95, 97. Those were all the requirements. They needed people who were able to explain bugs in English and speak one of the languages they were working on. So I started with that.
And then one thing led to another because I had to ask myself, “What options I have in the industry?” Basically, there comes a point in your career when you have to make a decision: Do you go for, let’s say, product management, producer, or portfolio management, all these kind of roles that are more like covering all the different software development phases. So do I go in that direction or do I keep investing time in the language aspect and see what’s going to happen with the language thing? So at that point, I decided okay let’s keep moving forward in this language stuff and let’s keep learning more about cultures and markets and what’s required to create something in another language.
So the more you explore, if things go reasonably well, at some point you become the Team Lead, so instead of repeating cases, you now have a small team of 3-4 people.
And eventually, if things go well, instead of 4 people it’s 10 people. So, you need to make a decision at that point “Inside the localization field do I want to keep being technical, or do I want to invest in getting better at people management?” because that’s a crucial decision…
What did you decide?
I decided to move forward with people management skills, so now I don’t know how to code anymore, no idea because I cannot keep up with both tracks. Either I try to decode humans, or I try to decode machines. Both things are involved in the work.
So I said, okay I want to become a team leader. So, what are the skills I need to become a team leader? Because with the localization I am fine. I don’t need to know how every little thing of the internationalization is done. I’m fine with the broad overview. So I don’t need to know all the tools that we use in the industry. I just need to know what I can do with the tools, but then there are so many tools. I need to know what they are able to do, but I don’t need to know all ins and outs of one tool. So I said, “Okay with what I do, I’m fine with localization knowledge, but I need to get better in terms of how to coach people, how to lead people, how to bring people to the right level of performance.” So that’s the decision I made. I want to still work in the localization industry, I like this industry, but I also like leading teams and finding ways to make teams productive and help them to produce quality work. And that’s how I was, little by little studying more, trying to get better at these so-called soft skills, trying to get better at presenting and selling my ideas, at persuading people. In the end, it was my choice. I bet on those skills and decided to keep investing in my education in that area. One thing led to the other. The more you do this if things go well and you do a good job, the more responsibilities you get, and the more people to manage, and the bigger the challenges. So that’s how I got where I am today.
That’s very interesting—that’s a long journey.
It has been, but it’s been a good one.
It is a good one, as long as you enjoy doing what you are doing.
Yeah, in the long run, yeah. Of course, some days are difficult and tough and you wonder why human beings are so complex. I still sometimes ask myself why am I not back programming. By now I could have been a developer or something, but I am happy here.
On resources Miguel recommends
That’s great. Two more things I will ask you before I let you go do your job. As a localization expert, are there any websites or magazines you recommend? How do you stay up-to-date updated on the things happening in the localization world? Apart from your blog, which is a useful tool, how can I stay in the loop?
What I do is, I listen to a couple of podcasts, maybe you know them. Globally Speaking and the Worldly Marketer. So, generally, I listen to a lot of podcasts on all kinds of topics that interest me. Specifically for our industry, those two are good ones because they interview people from different backgrounds. All of them are related to the industry. Some of them are like a monograph about how to do something that someone else is doing. So it’s really good to know how other people in the industry approach different challenges because we share so many similar challenges. It doesn’t really matter if I am a buyer of translation services or another company is offering the services. So, these two podcasts give me a lot of ideas and a lot of food for thought.
And then Multilingual Magazine. I read every issue. Every time it shows up in my inbox, I read it. I am also a member of Gala. I attend their weekly webinars about different topics. I try to watch all of them.
Are they online?
Yeah, they have recordings, so you can join, or then they have the backlog of all the topics and Gala is a good thing in general.
And then a couple of blogs. Moravia, I like their website. They have good content. So, I guess those are my sources. It’s a combination of podcasts, plus Multilingual Magazine, plus Gala.
I also try to go to workshops and events when I have the opportunity. I like going to Localization World because it’s good to attend presentations in person or to be there connecting and talking to people. So those are the different sources that I use.
On personal stuff: if not localization than what?
My final question to you today. If you were to work in any other field than localization. What would it be? Programming? What would you choose?
A totally different industry?
Yeah, anything apart from localization.
Music. I’d play an instrument or something.
Something? Do you play anything? A piano, guitar?
I used to, but actually, that’s what I would like to do. I love the piano, but it’s just too difficult. But quite often I think it would be nice… Piano… But also, I like the guitar. Or I’d be a DJ, I don’t know. I think it would be something related to music. I really like the atmosphere an artist can have at a concert and how they are building a connection with their audience. I really like that. So probably it would be something music-related. Not sure to what degree, I guess it would depend on my talent.
Interesting. Maybe you could incorporate a little bit of practice into your daily routine.
Yeah, so far I just listen to music.
That’s great. Maybe in 20 years, I will find you on Spotify, if Spotify is still a thing.
True, true. Who knows.
Well, thank you for this discussion. It was wonderful to talk to you.
You are more than welcome. It was fun; it was a nice conversation.
Thank you so much and see you next time.
Have a good one.
Localization resources that Miguel follows:
Globally Speaking podcast
Worldly Marketer podcast