Why Gaming Localization Veterans Rock

For a long time, I wondered why many of the best professionals I met in the localization space seemed to come with gaming industry experience. I began noticing a connection between gaming localization experience and high performers at large. Now, after decades of observing the same pattern, I believe gaming localization veterans are the unsung heroines and heroes of the localization industry. Not only that, but I believe they are highly-suited to working on localization teams at SaaS and other high-growth digital companies. Here’s why.

1. Comfort with a high pace of change

One of the things that many people find challenging in SaaS and e-commerce companies is that their steady drumbeat is none other than a constant pace of change. The most successful of these types of companies not only thrive on change, but it’s part of their DNA. It’s the way they operate, and built into the very nature of their structure. They reinvent themselves quite frequently, and have limited tolerance for those who won’t (or can’t) hop on board.

In the gaming industry, the pace of change has always been high, with publishers racing to get out new versions to satisfy their hungry users who always want more. The constant furious pace has led to it becoming pretty normal for people with experience in gaming localization to develop a higher tolerance for change than the industry norm.

In a high-growth digital company, the willingness to not only accept, but to embrace change is hugely important. The old adage that “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” is not always true in SaaS. Instead, it’s more likely that the drivers will yell back, “can someone please stop that wheel from squeaking or we’ll have to replace it?” Before you blink, your product team has released 28 new features and there are five new teams to support that didn’t exist yesterday. Get on board, and quick!

2. Plenty of Creative Muscle

Video game localization work is subject to many constraints. Character limits, finite audio lengths, locked-in visuals or imagery and more can confound the localization process. The original vision for what characters will do in a given scene or interaction often requires adaptation. Otherwise, it simply won’t work in other languages due to technical challenges.

Fortunately, those constraints often force creativity.

Having such limits often force teams to step away from the confines of “literal translation,” which often sounds unnatural and robotic anyway. Literal translation isn’t tolerated very well by end users, who are quick to ridicule and complain online, putting the company’s reputation at risk. Gaming localization seeks to create a delightful experience that users can engage with and enjoy. So, creativity in gaming localization work is typically at least tolerated. Creative localization more common in gaming. It’s surprising how the creative muscle can atrophy when not used, leading linguists to slip into translation that can sound overly literal. Gaming localization usually at least enables that muscle to keep flexing.

3. Deep Concern for User Experience

Gaming localization veterans are eager to put themselves into the end user’s shoes. Many of them enjoy the process of seeing what a customer actually sees. But beyond that, many folks who come from the gaming space believe it’s their responsibility to make the user experience excellent in other languages and locales. Anytime you improve user experience, you make customers happier and more willing to do business with you. Neglecting it, on the other hand, is where many companies fall down.

Aligning the gaming industry veterans’ natural leanings toward improving UX can be complicated in a fast-pace release environment. However, making sure there is a mechanism to continually improve the non-English user experience is critical. Often, such mechanisms rely on a partnership with other teams who control source content authoring and testing. Still, gaming industry veterans, in my view, come with this concern for users quite deeply engrained.

4. Savvy with Multimedia Content

Web content is pretty much the de facto standard for content in most high-growth digital companies. Dealing with offline content is, by comparison, much slower and more painful. However, users love multimedia content. SaaS companies generate huge amounts of multimedia content in the form of online support content, onboarding materials, customer engagement content, and e-learning courses. Increasingly, the best of that content will include some (if not many) multimedia aspects.

Being savvy with multimedia content is an incredibly important skill for localization professionals, not just linguists, but project managers too. Gaming localization veterans usually have had exposure to dealing with many multimedia file formats, which is of huge value for localization in SaaS companies in particular.

5. Autonomous but team-focused

In buy-side environments, teamwork is a must. Localization teams need to be super flexible, building “open APIs” with other teams, to connect to them easily and seamlessly. However, localization work is often a lonely endeavor! Our industry is so highly globalized (even before the COVID-19 pandemic) that professionals are quite used to working in isolation from others. Teamwork is critical in fast-paced environments, and especially in SaaS companies.

Yet, autonomy is highly valued as well. Localization teams often have no choice but to behave as separate entities from the rest of the company, because they don’t cleanly fit into any one org structure. This is especially true for teams that are successful at supporting the company centrally. Which team do they belong to? All and none. For this reason, autonomy is critical as well, both for the team itself and the individuals that comprise it.

This custom blend of autonomous + team-focused is pretty rare. You might argue that any professional needs to be able to work autonomously as well as in a team setting, but I find that on some teams, 80% of the work they will end up doing is naturally team-based, whereas for others, a much bigger percentage is autonomous. In localization, I think the best employees are ones that can comfortably pivot between both. They might be doing huge amounts of autonomous work most of the time one month, but then need to nimbly pivot into team-based projects the following month. That versatility isn’t easy to find among localization professionals, but it seems to be more common among those who come from the gaming industry.

6. Attitude of Gratitude

It’s no secret that the gaming industry has a high rate of burn-out. Due to the aggressive release cycles and high pressure to hit sales targets, the gaming space has weathered a lot of workers to the point that they are ultra resilient. Localization workers, in general, I find to be highly resilient. We’ve all worked on projects over weekends, through the night, and around the clock during our tenure in this space. However, the stories I hear about crazy hours and a lack of work/life balance from the gaming industry are by far the worst!

Because of the high-pressure context that so many have witnessed in the gaming localization space, I find that people who have worked in such conditions greatly appreciate working in digital companies, especially ones that actually prioritize employee happiness. While SaaS is no piece of cake, and the pace can be fast and furious, modern tech companies know that to attract the best talent, they need to make life enjoyable for their employees too. Otherwise, they’ll experience a brain drain of some of their most talented workers, and with that, a loss of institutional knowledge and higher costs of retraining workers, or even lost productivity.

I’ve found gaming localization veterans to be highly appreciative of the work perks most modern SaaS companies offer. And it’s so much more enjoyable to work with people who are grateful for the opportunity to work with each other, and for your company!

7. Nerdy but Fun

Does this person have enough knowledge to fit into technical discussions? Can this person understand, or at least have the curiosity, to dive into more techie details? And is this person able to switch contexts, and have conversations with a web development team or a UX design lead, without the conversation becoming awkward?

Ideally, the best localization team members are technical enough that they can talk the talk with other tech-minded teams at the company, and “hang” with them to come up with solutions, even if they can’t always answer every technical question without doing further research. The trick is, can they communicate with them easily and naturally? And, will they have fun in the process?

The great thing about gaming localization veterans is that they usually not only are nerdy enough to get technical as needed, but usually enjoy the process. What I love about them is that they enjoy figuring out how things work under the hood, and aren’t afraid to ask questions and learn new things.

These seven qualities sum up why I love working with gaming industry veterans in localization, and why we have hired quite a lot of them over the course of building a localization team for HubSpot. Quite frankly, gaming localization veterans rock. While it’s not experience I have directly myself, it’s something I have definitely come to look for when seeking the best of the best in stand-out localization talent.

Do you have any thoughts on why gaming localization veterans are so different, and why they end up being high performers in many cases? Please share them in the comments, if so. I’d love to learn more!

Nataly Kelly

Nataly Kelly is an award-winning global marketing executive and cross-functional leader in B2B SaaS, with experience at both startups and large public companies. The author of three books, her latest is "Take Your Company Global" (Berrett-Koehler). She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and global business. Nataly is based in New England, having lived in Quito (Ecuador), Donegal (Ireland) and the rural Midwest where she grew up.

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