As BLEND’s Enterprise Marketing Lead, Matt brings 13 years in the audio and video production industries to help businesses execute successful voice and video localization campaigns.
A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to make video and mobile games feel local, and you might not know where to start. One of the most important aspects of an immersive gameplay experience is localized voice-overs. Here’s how to do them the right way.
Video games have come a long way since the beeps and boops of the 1980s. Today’s PC, console, and mobile games offer immersive experiences, many jam-packed with cinematic cutscenes, character dialogues, and other voice-overs that walk players through gameplay mechanics or punctuate the frenetic action. And whereas decades ago, localization was limited to on-screen text and user manuals, today’s savvy game publishers realize that localizing these voice-overs for their biggest markets is worth the investment. Gaming, after all, is a truly global industry, which according to Mordor Intelligence studies is projected to reach $256 billion by 2025.
But even localization advocates understand that the process can be complicated. Fortunately, you can set your game on the path to multilingual success by keeping these five points top of mind as you start your voice localization project.
Voice recording is one of the last steps of video game localization. Before anyone steps foot into a recording studio, a script must be finalized for the target language, one that includes all the necessary drama and comedy. In modern games, the overarching story is typically universal, but the character conversations, asides, and references have a language and culture of origin, usually those of the developer’s home country.
Wordplay, puns, and certain jokes in the script make the experience fun and memorable, but they won’t make sense in other language markets. A word-for-word translation isn’t appropriate. Rather, the script must be localized to account for the sensibilities of your audience. A skilled localization team will tastefully adapt the wording to better resonate with gamers, evoking the same thoughts and feelings, but in a style of its own.
Language companies offer translation services. Recording studios deliver voice-overs. However, the list of providers that can handle your end-to-end video game localization is quite limited. Considering your full scope of work and the release timeline, it makes business sense to consolidate these deliverables. Logistically, it’s simpler for the developer, but the final product will benefit from the open communication between project managers, localization professionals, and voice actors to ensure a seamless production process.
Often, a game developer will feel compelled to personally seek out and cast voice actors in their native language. Voice quality is subjective, and designers rightfully want a hand in making the game’s creative decisions. However, they usually defer this process for international voice casting—they just don’t have the context for or attachment to other languages. A voice partner will source the appropriate talent, vetting for experience and authenticity.
A voice production company can also keep you out of messy talent management dealings like contracts, usage rights, rates, and availability for updates and re-records. This applies to English, a different native language, and any other language localization. You have other important work to prioritize, like testing, marketing translation, and your rollout.
The more information and access you can provide for the video game, the better the voice-overs will be. Can gameplay footage or other graphical assets be provided as a reference? Can you send character breakdowns that define persona, motivations, and their roles in the game? All this will influence the shortlisting of voice actors, the audition process, and your ultimate satisfaction with the talent options presented to you.
If English-language voice-overs already exist, they can be useful guides for capturing the spirit of the performance—voice actors of other languages can observe intonation and cadence if those should remain consistent across localizations.
It’s important to cast unique performers in the major roles of your game if the script is of any considerable length. For smaller or specialized roles, though? You’ll have some flexibility to stretch your budget. Voice-over artists are just like actors on stage or screen—they can change their delivery for specific characters.
While versatility varies, video games provide plenty of opportunities to let voice actors get creative in the recording studio. And the fewer lines for any particular character, the less conspicuous it sounds in the final product. There are likely opportunities to bundle voice roles, reducing the number of sessions required to complete the game’s audio. A knowledgeable provider can work with you to allocate your voice-over budget to the right mix of talent; this can be scoped at the onset of the project.
Before recording, be sure to outline all the programs you’ll use to integrate the voice-overs. This will determine the post-production of your audio files—file format type, naming conventions, and any other editing considerations. An advantage of working with a voice-over provider instead of an individual talent is that the studio engineering, editing, and QA are included with the vocal performance. Spare yourself the work of this exacting process by clarifying your needs.
If there’s one thing the world can agree on, it’s that video games are awesome – and their growing global demand is a clear indicator of their popularity. Voice localization is no longer a side quest for game developers—it’s part of the main story for a game’s success. Enhance your gameplay and increase your potential player base by providing an engaging, locally authentic voice experience.