How to translate a game

30th December 2021 by Frank West2

Translating a game or any product can be a great way to reach a wider audience and will also help increase social interactions and online ratings. There are many reasons to consider translating and when done successfully, it can have fantastic results.

The types of translation

There are 3 core ways to offer translations of a game:

1. Provide an online PDF of the translated rules

If your game is language independent meaning the only text exists on the box and in the rulebook then this can be an easy approach. It works well for games that you don’t expect to have a big audience, games sold only via crowdfunding and direct sales, and games with an active community. However, it may hinder your ability to do full translations at a later date (as some translation partners wont work with games that already have online translations) and it wont help with sales or marketing via third parties.

Remember, one of the hardest things to do is make people aware of your game, if you also need to make them aware that there is an extra download that will help them play the game in another language, then your job will be even harder.

2. Same box

An alternative to providing an online PDF is to include a translated rulebook in the box alongside the native language. This only works if the game is language independent (no text on any components other than the rulebook) but can be a good way to make your own translation.

The advantage of this approach is you don’t need your customers to download extra materials, you can advertise the different languages on the box, and you don’t have to be concerned about minimum order quantities for each language, as there is still only 1 product to print.

On the other hand, you make it unlikely a full box translation will ever happen, your manufacturing costs are greatly increased for every copy of the game, and you will be entirely responsible for marketing your game to distributors, retailers, and customers in each language you choose to include.

3. Separate box

My preferred and recommended approach to translations is to treat them as their own product, meaning a fully translated box, rulebook, and all components. This approach comes with the most complications and risks, but also the biggest rewards if it is executed correctly.

At the time of writing this article, over 30% of all copies of The Isle of Cats that have been sold have been fully translated versions in separate boxes.

Separate box – Time to partner up

It can be tempting to try and translate a game yourself, whether you speak multiple languages or hire a translator, it seems the easiest and cheapest way to approach it. However, while this may be true you miss out on the biggest benefit of working with a partner, their audience.

There is little benefit in translating a game if you cannot get it into stores and this is where translation partners will shine as they will already have the connections. The Isle of Cats recently released in Polish bringing the number of languages you can get the game in up to 15, do I have a way into every board game store in every country that speaks those languages? No… But my partners do.

Although you can attempt to translate the game yourself I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have years of experience and contacts in the chosen languages. Even then, it will quickly become a fulltime job while by working with partners I can easily manage all my games translations alongside all my other tasks.

Finding a translation partner

You may be wondering how to find a translation partner and here’s a quick tip to get you started.

BoardGameGeek will happily show you all the publishers of every board game in their database, and this is all you need. For example, if you look at the credits page for The Isle of Cats you will see all the translation partners I work with in the publishers section. Simply look for games that have a similar audience to your own, check their credits page on BoardGameGeek and you will quickly have a list of publishers to contact.

For each publisher you decide to reach out to, I recommend you familiarise yourself with their games library first, see if they fit your brand, and send them a well written email containing the critical details of your game.

When to translate a game

Choosing when to translate a game can be tricky and my personal approach is to start translations from the second print onwards.

While you can try to translate games in your first print, you will need to have a proven record to tempt translation partners to join you, and you will add many complications and risks of delay to the release of the first print of the game.

I will always get the English version of a game finished and at the factory before I start translations to ensure any production errors are cleared up, all files are completely finalised and error free, and to not risk delaying the release of the English edition.

As you start working with translation partners over multiple games and build up a relationship, you may start to change this approach and with Explore & Draw I have already signed up 5 partners who have translated and started printing the game before the English version has released. This was still done via a second print though to not risk delaying the English release.

Costs and agreement terms

It is important to make sure you consider what you are including in your agreement terms and to agree on a price before working with any partner.

For translations, a standard approach is for the translation partner to cover the cost of making the game and to pay you a licensing fee. Licensing fees will vary greatly, and the size and success of the game can both play a factor, a good starting point is 10% of what the game is sold for by the partner.

If the game has a MSRP of $50 and your partner sells it to a distributor for $20, then 10% would be $2. I have seen people agree to as little as 6% and others agree to 20%, so think carefully about what will work for you, and what makes sense given your experience, reputation, and the reach of the game.

Agreements aren’t all about cost though and you need to make sure you agree on the approach you are taking and have some sort of contract in place.

Key parts of my agreements include:

  • Who will be responsible for manufacturing the game. I choose to manage the manufacturing process of all translations of my games to ensure every version of the game is identical from a component perspective.
  • Who will be responsible for shipping the game, I inform my partners they will need to arrange their own shipping from the factory.
  • What rights the publisher will have, consider whether they have global rights for the language or regional rights.
  • How long the agreement lasts for, I also include a “the first print must have been started (files submitted/deposit paid) by a specific date” clause to allow me to find another partner should this one change their mind during the process.
  • When payments will be made, I request 50% when the files are submitted and 50% when the production completes.

 

I hope this article has proved helpful in getting you started with translations and I’m more than happy to answer any further questions you may have in the comments below.

Good luck!

Frank West

Frank West is a gamer and designer based in Bristol, UK. He published his first board game, The City of Kings, in 2018 and now works on other games and organising events in the local area. His goal? To design and publish games focusing on immersive themes, fun mechanics and beautiful components. If you have any questions or would just like a chat, feel free to get in touch at any time!


2 comments

  • Christof Van Conkelberge

    10th January 2022 at 11:12 am

    Thank you for explaining how licensing works.

    kind regards,

    Christof Van Conkelberge
    BELGIUM

    Reply

    • Frank West

      11th January 2022 at 2:07 pm

      It’s my pleasure, I hope it proves useful to you in the future!

      Reply

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