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World of Warcraft in Translation: Wrath of the Censors

By Dan at Accredited Language
Posted on Monday, December 6, 2010
Category: Gaming, Gaming, Localization, Localization, Translation, Translation

On December 7, 2010 World of Warcraft, one of the best-selling video games of all time, launched a new expansion along with translations into half a dozen languages. As the game’s world is destroyed and rebuilt in “World of Warcraft: Cataclysm,” the hundreds of thousands of lines of text also shift and rearrange to accommodate local audiences around the globe.

Obviously, translation and localization on such a massive scale take a lot of effort, and the work isn’t done when the translators are. There’s still the question of testing and refining the translations, and in some cases, the localized version has to be approved by the country it’ll be shipping to.

The World in Transition — and Translation

World of Warcraft boasts 7.1 million active subscribers around the world, and the localization team puts in a lot of work to keep them happy. The game has been translated into seven languages (not including its original English): German, French, Spanish, Russian, Korean, and both Traditional and Simplified Chinese.

“Cataclysm” marked the third expansion to the game (since then two other expansions have followed), and as its name suggests, the world is in an uproar. An ancient dragon has awoken, and it’s up to the game’s heroes (those 7.1 million players I mentioned earlier) to put an end to his rampage. At the most basic level, it’s a tale of swords and sorcery against evil and corruption, and as with the translation of the Harry Potter novels, translating the names of spells and fictional kingdoms takes some extra care.

Unlike a book translation, however, World of Warcraft requires constant attention. Regular updates to the game add new dungeons to explore, quests to complete and items to collect, so of course, these must be translated as well. Considering the game just celebrated its eleventh anniversary, there have been quite a few additions, with many more to come.

Addressing China’s “Wrath”

Not everyone was able to experience “Cataclysm” on that day in December of 2010, however. Players in China, for instance, were still progressing through the game’s last expansion pack, “Wrath of the Lich King,” because it suffered a number of legal delays — including a few related to improper localization.

Censorship laws in China prohibit World of Warcraft from showing things such as skeletons and gore, and since “Wrath” focused very heavily on ghouls and zombies, it failed to pass its censorship review. Localizers spent months altering the game to edit out content deemed inappropriate by the censors, including covering up exposed bones on zombies and replacing fallen corpses with headstones. In August 2010, the changes passed review, and the expansion finally launched.

This all goes to show that localization is about more than just text: art and sound are equally important components of the localization process. And when it comes to the translation of a game as big as World of Warcraft, the extra effort pays off — just ask the millions of non-English speaking players enjoying the game.

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