I’m sure at one point or another in your mobile gaming career you’ve undoubtedly heard the many tales of caution that proclaim how important it is for developers to localize their mobile apps for sale in other markets and expand on their success. But of course, even if developers do take those initial steps towards bringing their games to other countries and mobile markets, there’s always been that one glaring hurdle that’s managed to keep so many games landlocked in their own native grounds: the elusive language barrier. Luckily, a new translation service called Ackuna is looking to make the prospects of localization a whole lot easier for small-studio game developers going forward.
I recently had a chance to speak with Michael Duke of the marketing department at Ackuna, and learn some more about the company’s take on localization and how their own translation services are crafted to help you achieve your own mobile development goals. According to Duke, what sets Ackuna apart from other more machine-based translation options out there today is the unique sense of community that the service provides. Users will be able to monitor the quality of work throughout the entire translation process, and fine-tune their own localization efforts through community feedback, advertising, and networking. The groundwork for Ackuna was actually put it place about two years ago, when it first began as a mere side project of the company’s prime translation agency, Translation Cloud. In these humble beginnings, Ackuna functioned as a simple means of proofreading a machine-translated text for its interested users.
But as the popularity of the project grew, Ackuna soon adapted in order to directly connect its users with the freelance translators themselves at Translation Cloud, before setting its sights on assisting the localization efforts of mobile app developers. Having just come out of its beta period this past September, Ackuna currently supports 22 different languages, with some of the most popular translations being English to Spanish, English to Chinese, and a number of other European languages, such as French and Italian. To help ensure that most mobile app developers are covered no matter their platform, Ackuna also supports a range of 10 different file formats, including the popular Apple iOS strings, Android XML, Blackberry resource file, and Java configuration file, as well as more uncommon ones, like YAML (Ruby), Microsoft Office spreadsheet, and Open Office spreadsheet.
So here’s the brief rundown that Duke gives me about how Ackuna works, and how developers can easily use the service to get the best localization investment in their own personal apps. First, the developer simply uploads their application to the Ackuna server, where the text strings are then separated and stored in a database. Next, the developer has to choose from one of three different translation methods: each of which come with their own respective costs, accuracy, and turnaround times. Currently, the most popular means of translation at Ackuna is through the free “Social Translation” crowd-sourcing option, where a community of over 5,500 volunteer translators work on converting the text strings into the new language and maintaining the highest quality of accuracy through a voting system which Duke tells me is “not unlike Reddit’s.”
Developers who have the cash to spend and are looking for a speedier turnaround time can instead opt for the “Professional Translation” option, which routes the text strings through the professional employees at Translation Cloud itself, and where accuracy is guaranteed in less than 48 hours. But if you’re in the market for some instant gratification, you can always head the route of the third option, “computer-generated translation,” where Ackuna simply runs the text strings through an automated translator for a small handling fee. Whichever option the developer ends up choosing, after the translation process has been completed, they are then free to download the newly translated app in the original file format, and at this point, Duke says that “there is no reformatting or extra work necessary.”
And so just like that, you could have your latest mobile game translated and enjoyed by gamers from all ends of the world. Duke says that with the overall measure of mobile app downloads expected to grow from 64 billion in 2012 to a staggering 102 billion by the end of 2013, localizing your apps and entering new markets has never been more important. “In fact, it may become the only way a new app can compete in the near future.” Duke fires off some eye-opening stats, which really put into perspective just how limiting it can be for a company to bypass the localization of their games and apps for other markets: “Say you make a great app and release it to the English language market,” Duke tells me. “Not only are you competing with an array of indoctrinated applications, but you are ignoring 73% of the market where your competitors won’t have nearly the same presence.”
As far as the future for Ackuna is concerned, Duke tells me that the company is already hard at work on some promising new features that will take their translation and localization goals another step further. One experimental feature that the team is particularly excited about is called “Translation Memory,” the concept of which Duke describes in the following manner: “Ackuna remembers good translations, and if the program sees them again, they are automatically translated. The more good translations that are submitted, the more Ackuna remembers.” And as the social community of Ackuna continues to grow and expand, more volunteer and freelance translators will get added into the system, and the resultant word of mouth will stretch even farther once your game prepares to launch in other parts of the world.
Duke tells me that the continued success of Ackuna and its unique translating services in the future is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of the community itself. “We want developers, translators, language enthusiasts, students, and gamers to come together and keep the conversation moving,” whether that means discussing how the apps themselves could improve, how the crossing of markets could be better assuaged, or even just some of your personal favorite games that you wish you could play and experience in another language. “That’s why I’m excited about Ackuna,” Duke says, “because it doesn’t just help app developers explore new markets: it’s an experiment of language and a discussion of culture.”