13 November 2013

Loss in Translation

For almost as long as King of Dragon Pass has been for sale, people have wanted to know if it could be translated. For example, in 2000 we were approached at the Independent Games Festival by a European publisher, who lost interest when they heard how large the game actually was.

As we’ve expanded the game for iOS, the economics have gotten worse than they were in 2000. An approximate word count puts the game at over 640,000 words. Doing some quick research, it would probably cost around $0.10/word to translate into a European language (such as French, Italian, German, or Spanish). That’s $64,000 just for the translation, and doesn’t take into account any development costs.

It also doesn’t take into account the difficulties of the translation in the first place. King of Dragon Pass tries to be flexible, so that in this fragment,

text: <ourHero> fled as fast as <his/her> feet could move <him/her>.

ourHero can be male or female. But the FIGS languages all have word gender, so “his” would have to be translated differently depending on the gender of the following word (and also whether or not it’s plural). So we’d need to add code support for this.

Worse would be something like

saga: <He/She> killed <theirGuy> with one blow, avenging <his/her> <r>.

since the gender of the following word isn’t known (it might be “brother” or “sister”).

This sort of thing could probably be dealt with, but it would almost certainly be a significant development effort, and also raise the cost of translation.

Is English the Tradetalk of the Internet?
Back to that cost: at the current price, with Apple’s 30% cut, we’d need to sell over 9100 copies of the game just to break even on the cost of translating into a single language.

Is that possible? Let’s take Italian. There are native speakers of Italian outside Italy, but for simplicity let’s just look at the 61 million people in Italy. The USA has about 314 million people, so we could assume sales of about 1/5 that of the USA. Based on our previous sales, half are in the USA. So we’d get 1/10 of our total sales in Italy. This would be great, and it would leapfrog Italy to our #3 market. However, King of Dragon Pass is not Angry Birds. Although it’s a successful indie title, sales are somewhat over 35000 units. 1/10 of that is 3500 copies, which would not pay for the translation.

On top of that, we’d need to devote resources (both programming and quality assurance) to a significant development effort, which would take away from projects such as creating new scenes.

There are some other linguistic issues with how the game generates text, but really it’s not worth belaboring.

We’ve translated our software before (Jigami is available in French, and Opal in Japanese). But not something that is ten times as big as the average book. Some of the strengths of the game (immense replayability and flexibility) make it a money-losing proposition to translate.