Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

German translation lessons…

So I’m getting Democracy 3 translated into German, if you didn’t already know :D. This has involved quite a lot of hassle, so i thought I’d jot down some thoughts and lessons learned. Firstly, I’d like to make the business case for it. The case is based on this:

  • Germans love strategy games
  • Germany is the top selling market for the game that does not have English as its first language.
  • The non-English speaking German population is non trivial. (src: at 36%.
  • If I assume that the game has only reached the 64% of potential Germans who speak English, and do the maths, if there is a corresponding bump in sales of the German version, then this will put the port into a decent profit.

Add to this the fact that a lot of people outside Germany also speak German, plus that percentage of people who speak English but would prefer the game in the first language, and I think it makes economic sense. I’m also figuring in some ‘goodwill’ value for translating a small indie game to German.

Ok, so it makes sense, but what are the costs?

Firstly there is the cost of the actual translation. The game has 34,000 words of text, so that is quite a big expense. I know many indie games ‘crowdsource’ this stuff, but I find that a bit risky. Don’t forget some people on the web are just maniacs, how do you *know* that half way through the description for income tax there isn’t a huge racist rant, or maybe a load of swear words? or in my case, more subtly, how do I know the descriptions of the voter types and policies have not been skewed to suit the persons political views offering the ‘free’ translation? I prefer to have a contract, and right-of-redress for any lawsuits/damages/grief…

Secondly, there is the fixing of the code. German is loooooooooooong. A simple word in English is often about 10,000 syllables in German. Don’t believe me? just listen to Henning:

But I digress…. What this means is that a lot of text blocks in the game no longer fit. Buttons are not big enough, titles need to word-wrap or be cropped, and so on. Plus of course there are exciting new characters to be added (only a few), and because Democracy 3 uses bitmapped fonts (pre-rendered) I needed to change code to support that (and re-render them all). The vast majority of this work is just scanning through the code and adding scrollbars to text and ‘…’  where it might be needed. The GOOD news (and another reason to do German first) is that once this is done, if I choose to do French, Italian or Spanish, the text should already fit fine.

And lastly, there is the admin cost. The steam promotional graphics need to be changed. My own webpage will need changing.  I’m planning on translating the trailer. New builds need to be made, and the translated content checked so it works ok. Plus I actually need to upload the stuff. Democracy 3 is about 200 MB on disk. It comes in mac,Linux & PC, so thats 600MB. It goes to my site, BMTMicro, Steam and GoG, and the mac game store. This is a huge number of builds. Now double it for German. I have rural broadband. This literally starts to take days to upload… (You can do a ‘shared content’ thing on steam, but thats only for steam, so I’m keeping it simple and just doing totally fresh builds for everyone).

Will it be worth it? Who knows! I hope so, and I’ll certainly blog about it’s success/failure.

BTW Redshirt is 25% off for a while. Go get it.


10 thoughts on German translation lessons…

  1. Hi Cliff,

    Sounds like a great idea to increase sales.

    I think the next should be Polish as I remember a post you did about the first lot of website analytics and you were surprised at how many visits from Poland you were getting if I remember correctly :)

    (Unless they were all hackers trying to get to your code :0 )

    Good Luck !

  2. I’m slightly irked that your reason for not crowdsourcing a translation “I prefer to have a contract, and right-of-redress for any lawsuits/damages/grief…” – that’s basically a sound idea, but how about just wanting to pay someone for a job well done? You don’t, say, crowdsource your game’s art assets, why should a translation be any different?

  3. Tough call. Most of the Germans I know speak English; and at least a few speak and write it better than some for whom it is a native language. There is nothing more likely to raise the ghost of Dean Swift chortling in the aether than an English language forum where a German corrects a Brit or USian on their truly awful grammar. (And I’m not a prescriptivist, so we’re talking just plain bad English, of the sort one feels like wiping off one’s shoe.)

    Would it increase the German audience to have the game in German? Yes, I agree. Even those who speak English well often like a break from translating. I can manage German moderately well, but lack of regular familiarity fatigues me when I need to research something in the language. Whether the cost of getting a really good, paid-for translation is worth it, sounds like an interesting experiment. I hope you’ll report back on the result.

  4. Don’t assume that if German fits, all the other languages will too.
    When I worked on UI localization every language had some really long words that were short in other languages. A short German word was long in french or the french word was short but the Spanish one was long…
    Fun times :)

  5. I would really love to see this game in Russian. Will definitely recommend my father to play it. By supporting Russian language, you can reach to a huge number of people leaving in CIS countries. Of course, they are well known for pirating games. But I still ask you to consider the option :)

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