The Changing World of Games Audio

From Language Service Providers to Production Partners

In this final blog of our Changing World of Audio series, Lionbridge Gaming’s newly appointed Product Manager for Games Content, Nicolas Underwood, considers what the series can tell us about both the future and the present of games audio services.

An Overdue Tech Revolution

Back in the early 2000s when the author was cutting his teeth in project management for a games LSP, translation teams worked almost exclusively in color-coded Excel files that were emailed back and forth between freelancers and customer localization teams. Major publishers had more language experts on staff than most LSPs had. Frequently, they worked with a different LSP for each language. Games voice production was a small-scale affair using production methodologies and toolsets that were largely borrowed from the TV and movie dubbing industries.

Fast forward to 2018 and the translation world had been revolutionized by CAT tools, the cloud and centralized multilingual project management by LSPs. Localization costs had fallen in real terms and the growing global market was accessible to studios big and small.

For Games voice production however, things looked eerily the same as two decades earlier. Incremental changes had occurred (Excel scripts now had macros galore!), but audio production had not undergone the technology and market-driven revolution that had disrupted translation.

As our recent series of audio blogs makes clear, that revolution has finally begun, and the changes will be transformational.

Audio Goes Global

In Supporting Audio for Emerging Game, Lionbridge's experts Harry Inaba and Balzac Chang examine the challenges and opportunities of the growing global market for games audio. As mobile phones that can support voice-enhanced games permeate the huge Southeast Asian mobile-first market, voice audio for games is expanding beyond the set of languages that overlaps strongly with PC and console markets. Greater platform agnosticism should continue to drive this trend. Simultaneously, emerging audio markets across the globe, from the Nordics to Turkey to Vietnam, are creating additional opportunities for games companies to generate revenue.

The increasing number of target languages makes it harder for games companies to manage audio localization internally. Creators and publishers are turning to a smaller number of LSPs to provide voice audio in multiple languages and the bundling of translation and audio services with the same provider is becoming the norm. This reduces the number of LSPs and studios that games companies need to work with, and it shifts more of the management minutiae to the LSPs. When games companies retain multiple LSPs, each provider is more likely to be assigned a set of titles or IPs than a set of languages.

In the world of global audio, LSPs require the scale and experience to rapidly add studio infrastructure in new territories, as well as the technology to integrate a global network. LSPs also require the internal structures that enable audio teams to collaborate effectively between language teams and across lines of service. Internal communication, reporting and dashboarding is key to maintaining oversight and simplifying channels for customers.

Maximizing Return on Investment from Audio

As Inaba and Chang note, global audio means marketing teams will be facing more diverse market opportunities that are less neatly divided along platform lines. Identifying the returns on investment (ROI) of audio localization in those markets may itself require increased research, player testing and investment. LSPs need to become experts on the markets they serve to help customers make data-driven decisions about market selection and the added value of localized voice audio.

Those ROI decisions are also likely to factor in that not all gamers, and not all markets, have equal expectations about game voice audio. The games voice industry has grown up in the context of AAA games released in countries with historically high-quality dubbing for tv and movies. But one size no longer fits all.

Several Lionbridge Games audio blogs touch upon the customization needed to achieve audio excellence for key traditional languages in support of major global IPs. (See: Automation in Games, Diverse Representation in Audio for Games, Integrating Original and Loc Voice Creation). Solutions need to be more adaptive. In a democratized audio landscape, producing voice audio at a price point that makes sense for ROI is key to unlocking those revenue streams for publishers.

Squeezing Production Cycles

In their piece English as a Pivot Language, language quality director Eva Herreros and project manager Cheonjo Kong explore the challenges of deploying pivot languages within the production models that are typical to mobile games and are increasingly found throughout the games industry. The challenges of squeezed production cycles also emerge from Richard Saadat and Tom Hays in Integrating Original and Loc Voice Creation and again in Synergy and Savings: Integrating Translation, Audio and Localization QA Tasks by Guillaume Capitan and April M. Crehan.

In combination, shorter production cycles, more target languages, more pivot languages and the need for simultaneous release of all languages are significant challenges. New technology and new ways of working are needed to disrupt the schedule dependencies that are endemic in audio localization workflows.

Lionbridge: Future Ready Now

How is Lionbridge adapting?

As David Rodriguez discusses in A New Cloud Platform for Games Audio, we have launched Lionbridge technology that is changing games audio just as CAT tools changed translation. No Excel files have been seen in a Lionbridge recording session for the last 18 months! Behind this Lionbridge technology is a re-think of how we provide audio services to our customers to meet the demands of their changing world.

Unifying global studio teams under a single technology umbrella hugely simplifies project oversight and content management. In the Lionbridge platform, all language teams see updates to assets in real time, track progress file-by-file for each language and report all issues centrally. As Lionbridge adds new studios, the technology helps to rapidly integrate new teams into the shared process. Dashboarding assists project management and can be made available to customers.

Synergy and Savings discusses how the Lionbridge Games Cloud is the technology component for the integrated services model that Lionbridge has deployed successfully in other industries. Integrating Original and Loc Voice Creation looks at the efficiency gains from combining original version and localized audio production.

Integrating teams supporting different languages, services and even game versions into a shared platform alleviates waterfall dependencies: production can flow through the shared workflow in a continuously managed stream. Additionally, these multidisciplinary teams accumulate deep product knowledge that is essential to stepping up and solving issues before they need customer support.

Upstream of audio production itself, Lionbridge continues to expand its player testing and market research capability through its Community teams. Player testing not only helps evaluate ROI, but also informs the localization process and isolates elements of game content that might adversely affect local markets. Lionbridge Narrative Design teams can use those insights to improve results.

From Service Provider to Production Partners

Overall, the relationship between games LSPs and games creators is shifting from the provision of encapsulated services that are managed by the customer, to a deeper project- or IP-based collaboration across services. Increasingly, LSPs manage those services directly. Such a future will require LSPs with the scale and experience to grow and support global languages, as well as the internal organization and technology to smooth communication and meet increasingly demanding production schedules. Lionbridge Gaming is taking the lead in these areas with our broad range of integrated offerings—and is ready for the changing world of audio.

We invite you to reach out and discuss your project with us. Let’s make great games together.

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Nicolas Underwood