Videogame Translation in China

China: the Largest Videogame Market in the World

The Asian giant has now become the largest video game market in the world. According to the latest HIS report, the video game market in China represents a $38 billion in revenue in 2018. In addition, the income of the sector of Video games in China accounts for 25% of the world total: one in every four dollars of the video game industry is being billed in China.

In 2017, most of the revenue came from PC titles. However, video games for mobile phones or tablets outperformed the rest of the platforms in 2018. Spending on mobile games grew 55% in 2018, and increases of 24% are announced for 2019.

Meanwhile, consoles still cannot find their place in the Chinese market. The sales figures of the PS4 and Xbox, barely exceeded 500,000 units since they launch.

An Overpopulated Country

All this avalanche of figures is driven by the huge population of China. The Asian giant has a population of about 1400 million people. In addition, taking a closer look at the demographics of China, we see that about 21% of its population is between 15 and 40 years old.

We could discuss what is the average age of a gamer, but surely many of us agree that it is probably in this range. This means almost 300 million potential gamers, with stable jobs and growing purchasing power. Recall that the unemployment rate in China is around 4% according to official figures, and that the country has an increasingly large and stable middle class.

A Generation Without Computers

Unlike what happens in the West, where many of us have our personal computer, in China the situation is very different. It is estimated that around 95% of Internet users in China access the network through their mobile phones.

In France, cybercafes were a revolution for the year 2001, when high-speed connections still did not exist and we couldn’t play StarCraft games every time we would receive a call at home (damn 56 kbps connection!).

Cybercafes in France were a hit in all cities. Neighbourhoods were filled with gamers’ nests. Tournaments, night marathons and birthdays were organised as well as all kinds of events. Cybercafes happened to become social centres for many young people.

However, with the advancement of technology and the arrival of high-speed connections to French homes, cybercafes moved into the background and many of them had to close in 2003 or 2004.

Today, China continues to have thousands of cybercafes throughout the country. In addition, Chinese cybercafes have gone one step further: they offer 35-inch screens, hundreds of games, sofas, home delivery and very low prices, even for Chinese stores. In fact, many Chinese decide to use cybercafes as hotels in some areas of the country: it is much cheaper to spend the night in the cyber than to sleep in a simple room in a hostel.

Mobile Phones as the Dominant Platform

The situation of cybercafes in China is a very important fact to understand the impact of mobile platforms in China. For the vast majority of Chinese people, their mobile phone is their personal computer.

It’s the device they use every day, the one they take to work, to school and the one they still use when they go home. It is with what they use to read the news, follow their social networks, watch movies or series online. In addition, of course, it is becoming the favourite platform for Chinese to play video games.

Honor of Kings, the mobile version of the League of Legends, is currently the most profitable game. According to official announcements, Honor of Kings is expected to report to Tencent, the developer of the videogame, a profit of more than 3 billion dollars. Such is the addiction and reception that the videogame received in China, that Tencent has decided to limit the number of hours of play per day to those under 18 years of age.

Tencent, the Largest Videogame Company in the World

The Chinese company Tencent is the largest technology company in the country and one of the most important in the world (Tencent owns 40% of Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, that says it all). For the last few years, they have been investing very strongly in the videogame industry. As you may know, Tencent today owns large Western companies such as Supercell, Riot Games and is a large shareholder of other major companies in the sector, such as Epic Games or Activision Blizzard.

Image for the Epic Games Fortnite

According to specialists, Tencent’s greatest competitive advantage lies in the enormous social network infrastructure available to it. The two largest instant messaging platforms in China are owned by Tencent: Wechat and QQ. These Chinese social networks have nearly 1,000 million active users per month, of which more than 700 million daily use their services daily.

In addition, Tencent is one of the pioneers in the implementation of applications called hub. This type of application integrate different services or programs within the same application. In this way, you do not have to change application to use maps, view images, read the news or play mobile games. This is a total revolution in China, and Tencent is one of the leaders.

To make matters worse, Tencent announced the re-launch of Wegame in 2018. Wegame is a video game download platform that will compete with Steam in China. Tencent’s game publishing platform now has more than 200 million registered players.

Tencent’s monopoly in China is slightly threatened by its biggest competitor, NetEase, another giant technology group in charge of operating games such as StarCraft II, Overwatch and Diablo III in China, among other titles.

Videogame Translation in China

According to the latest Chinajoy convention, the most important videogame fair in China, the Asian giant develops and publishes more than 30,000 mobile games every year, almost 2500 new games every month.

However, not all of these games go through localisation processes. Some are not even translated into other languages. The Chinese game developer and entrepreneur still does not understand the importance of localisation and translation of video games.

In my opinion, this is mainly due to two reasons. First, that the domestic demand of the country continues to grow year after year. There is still room for growth by exploiting the internal market and many developers prefer to invest their money in national promotion.

Second, the lack of national competence to locate games in other languages. The Chinese developer has today two basic alternatives for the translation of video games: foreign companies or Chinese companies. The first one, the big international translation companies based in China, are very expensive. They suppose an investment too big for a service that for many videogames companies, today, is complementary and optional.

Secondly, specialised translation companies in China are very young and have little resources. Most of these companies are pretty recent, founded 4 or 5 years ago. The services they offer are economically affordable, but their results are far from satisfactory.

The number of foreigners living in China is very low today. If you’re looking for experienced video game translators, you are looking at a tiny professional population.

Videogame translation in China is being carried out mostly by people without training or experience in the sector. The mere fact of being native and proficient in English is usually enough to enter into a selection processes for any Chinese video game translation company.

As China’s domestic demand is satisfied and profit margins within China are shrinking, Chinese videogame companies will begin to attach much more importance to international markets and to the localisation and translation of content. Given the low competition that exists in the sector, today China is a world full of possibilities for video game translators.

Videogame Translation: What Language?

Due to proximity and ease of work, the majority of localisation work from Chinese are done in Asian languages, such as Korean, Japanese or Thai. The adaptation of contents tends to be much more discreet when it comes to marketing products regionally.

However, French is rising as one of the most important languages ​​for the gaming sector in China. The growth of emerging economies such as the French-speaking African countries is raising the demand for French translators in China.

FAQ About the Videogame Translation Market in China

If you have come this far, surely you have many doubts about the videogame sector in China. I will try to answer some of the most frequent questions. If you have any other questions, leave your question in the comments!

Is it necessary to know how to speak Chinese to work in China?

No. It is advisable, though. As a general rule, knowing how to communicate in English is enough to survive in China. The new generations of Chinese learn English from a young age and are always eager to practise it with foreigners.

What are the trends of mobile games this year in China?

In recent months many games about the Second World War are coming out. PVP games with very good graphics. Games where you control ships or warplanes. A good example of this type of game is War Wings, by Tencent Games.

How much does a freelance translator charge in China?

It depends. It is estimated that the average should be around 200 RMB per 1000 words for English to French (about 26 euros per 1000 words) and a little more from Chinese to French.

Nowadays, it seems to be difficult to live on freelance translations in China. Sometimes huge projects arrive, of 100,000 words. Other times, only small projects of 2,000 or 3000 words.

How much does an in-house translator charge in China?

In-house video game translator positions are very much required in China. Conditions are usually quite interesting, although salaries depend on the city and the experience of the translator. To give an indicative figure, a professional hired as “Specialist in localisation of video games” can make between 12,000 and 15,000 RMB per month (about 1600–2000 euros).

What About Delivery Time?

As you can imagine, in China there are hardly any labour regulations, agreements or standardisation in this sense. Much less if we talk about sectors as recent as the translation of video games. The goal of Chinese translation companies is to get the job out as soon as possible and in the best possible way.

When working as a freelancer, you can almost always negotiate your availability with translation companies. However, the faster you complete the work, the more likely you are to collaborate with them again.

Once again, each project is different and many times delivery depends solely on the deadline set out by the end client. Either way, translation companies expect an output of 2,500 words a day for part-time translators and about 5,000 words a day for in-house or full-time translators.

As a general rule, Chinese companies do not differentiate repetitions from the rest of the text, so you will normally charge 100% of the work done. However, some companies might pay 50% for repetitions or that do not even count them or pay them. In the end, it is up to you to choose whom we want to work with.

The time you devote to each translation is up to you. There will be people who are able to translate more than 1000 words per hour, while other people might need more time.

There are many factors that determine the speed at which you do translation: your level of commitment, concentration, typing speed, how well you master your translation software, the familiarity you have with the type of game you are translating, et cetera.

Personally, and as a reference, I think I can translate about 1000 words per hour from English to French. Of course, it is impossible for me to maintain this level of concentration for a long time. I need to unplug from time to time to avoid mistakes.

What is the worst thing when working with Chinese translation companies?

Working with Chinese companies can sometimes be a very exasperating experience. Rigour, consistency and precision are not usually attributes that are highly valued by Chinese translation companies. As I said before, times are fundamental in an economy that grows to more than 7% each year.

Many times you can find yourself lacking in resources to do a good job. Sometimes, communication with the project manager or with the final client is not very good.

For those who translate video games, software or applications, it is essential to know the context of a word. It is very important to have good communication with the client to know what this loose word refers to, without context. For example, attack or raid are widely used words in RTS games. However, seeing them loose in an Excel box, is it a verb? A noun? Who performs the action?

Another problem that we can find is often confidentiality. When working as a freelancer for a translation company, it is unlikely that you will have any contact whatsoever with the videogame developer.

Many Chinese translation companies have confidentiality agreements. How can you translate a video game if you have not had the opportunity to play it? How can you adjust your writing style if you don’t know what the game looks like? Unfortunately, consistency is sometimes secondary when translating for Chinese companies.

However, there are other companies that much more sensible and determined to deliver a good job. Lately, I received some projects for which I was given some days to familiarise myself with the game before being given the document to translate.

What is the best thing about working with Chinese translation companies?

The lack of rigour and consistency can be unbearable for more experienced translators. In addition, translation rates in China are much lower than those offered in Western countries. However, China offers enormous possibilities for development and growth for any translator.

To give you an idea, in just over two years working for Chinese translation companies, I must have translated more than 50 video games and as many mobile applications. Some of these projects are small card or casino games, but other projects had more than 250,000 words.

Nowadays, China allows you to work whatever you want. There is a huge and growing demand in all sectors and very few professionals to cover it. It is an ideal country to train and get experience. Also, if you are willing to sacrifice part of your free time and become a multi-employer, you can start saving money and start making plans for the future, something that today does not seem so easy in European countries.

How can I find a videogame translator job in China?

Chinese translation companies are always looking for translators. Many translation offers are published on portals such as 51job (Chinese and English). Another way would be to directly contact some Chinese translation companies, such as Gametrans, among others.

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