Ben Wibberly, VP North America, Babel Media delivered a brief but forceful talk on the topic of localization and QA outsourcing. The talk opened with a plea for the necessity of great localization and QA. "We know we can design great games and program great games. What we need is to be excellent in everything we do. Sales, marketing, IT... if you're not excellent in every facet of your business you will not make hit titles. BioWare makes great games that are critically acclaimed and sell by the bucket-load... they have two localization tools programs in house. It's not just about the design."
Developers as Cargo Cults
He analogized naïve developers to cargo cults
. "Cargo cults come from the South Pacific islands -- they're colonized by the military -- they think they've made the gods angry because they've never had contact with the outside world. They see the military build ports and airports -- they think the military is interfacing with the gods, and they emulate them." These cults build wooden planes, and aircraft towers, without understanding their function.
He continued, "Taking that idea -- you get a lot of cargo cult in the game industry. Get a development kit, get a guy who smells bad and he'll be our programmer, get an office, and the development contracts will fall from the sky. A lot of people pay lip service to localization and outsourcing but if you don't set it up properly you're going to be that cargo cult. Localization if done properly can be done very effectively. If done poorly, you're screwed, and you'll lose money and ship dates."
Selecting a Vendor
"There are the five main areas that any company will look at and try to know what they're trying to achieve by outsourcing." According to Wibberly, these are cost, security, process, scale, and pedigree. As with other outsourcing talks, the concept returned to knowing what you're getting. "I will always go back to process -- how do these people work? They say they can handle it but how do you know they can? Vendors, like developers, have different specialties -- localizating a historical RPG is very different than an edutainment title."
When it comes to selecting your vendor, Wibberly says one key facet is a translation test. "If you're going to translate 200,000 words, are you just going to choose a vendor who gives you 200,000 words back and you send it to your German sales office and they say 'I hate it, I can't sell this.'" You need to do a translation test. "You need to empower everybody and you need to make sure that these people are delivering what you need."
When it comes to determining whether a company is working out for QA localization, there is one easy, basic metric. "How many bugs am I getting back? How are they comparing to my internal team? How are they comparing to my other vendors? Any decent bug tracking software will tell you this."
Build Your Relationship
"It's definitely about an ongoing relationship. It's not as if once you've set this up you can just sit back and it will run. It's about continuous communication. It's about postmortems. When you work with a new partner there will be problems."
He suggested that you can always rely on the basics of the relationship if they're properly defined in the beginning; if you build a partnership you can learn to rely on that as well. "There will always be things that we can do better as we move through the relationship."