Live-Blogging Lesson #11: Foreign Translations and Language Independence

29 October 2015 | 21 Comments

Chinese versionThis week I’ve discussed two of the most commonly asked questions during the Scythe Kickstarter and how they relate to other creators. Today is the third (and likely final) part of that series.

Here’s the question that I’ve seen dozens and dozens of times in my inbox in various forms: “Will Scythe come with rules in French/German/etc?”

My answer: “Scythe is 90% language independent, and we’ll offer translated rules and card guides for download from our website.”

The Question

Let’s start with the question. It’s a good, fair question. People around the world are interested in Kickstarter products of all types, and even if they understand English (it could be any language, but I’m using English in this example–the US still has by far more KS projects than anywhere else), their friends or family may not. They want a game they can actually play with other people.

Also, many products come with instructions in various languages. It’s not necessarily standard practice, but it’s widespread enough that someone might hope for it.

However, it’s important to note that including rules in multiple languages isn’t free. There are translation costs as well as printing costs (time and money), and many people will simply throw away the excess rules, so there’s also an environmental cost.

The Answer

There are a few layers to how we address the desire for translated components by non-English speakers:

  • Language independence: A game is “language independent” when icons and numbers are substituted for words. This is handy because it reduces the translated components to only the rulebook in some cases, though it can also make the game slightly harder to learn and remember. In Scythe, most of the game is language-independent, but I didn’t want it to limit the scope of the game, so certain elements requires English sentences.
  • Translation team: We’ve been very fortunate to have accumulated quite a few able and willing translation volunteers through our ambassador program over the years. While this may appear to be a luxury of an established business, any Kickstarter creator can find translators among their backers. I compensate our translators based on the scope of their work and how we use it (e.g., translating a single page might get them a free upgrade vs. translating the entire rulebook for inclusion in the final game would merit financial compensation).
  • Translated quick-reference guides: We knew the rules wouldn’t be fully proofread during the Kickstarter campaign, so instead we had translators focus on the 2-page quick-reference guide. That way international backers could get a feel for the game in a concise manner. Currently we have 15 different languages available for download from Box.
  • Translated rules and card guides: This is a step we’ll focus on after the English rules have been fully translated. We’re also making a template for all translators to use that consolidates all of the language-dependent card text on a succinct document. We’ve numbered all the cards in the game to make it easier to look for them on this guide (and for questions that may arise later on BGG).

Printing with International Partners

I wanted to mention this element because it’s come up in conjunction with the language question. A number of international backers have asked if Scythe will get full printings in other languages in the future. I’m sure other creators have been asked this same thing.

My honest answer is: “I hope so, but I don’t know for sure.” The one exception is Brazilian Portuguese, as that’s the one firm commitment I have. There has been plenty of interest from other publishers, but none of them wanted to commit until after the Kickstarter campaign.

I think that uncertainty is often the most we creators can offer to international backers. That said, I have one recommendation from past experience: Just do your first print run in one language. Even though you might reduce the cost per unit a little more by adding international versions to the print run, you might put your schedule at risk because of a delayed translation. For the sake of my backers, I’d rather keep the project under my control and not bring in those outside factors for the first print run.


How have you seen projects make their products welcoming to backers around the world? If you’re an international backer, what are your hopes and expectations for projects? What appeals to you?

Leave a Comment

21 Comments on “Live-Blogging Lesson #11: Foreign Translations and Language Independence

  1. Hello Jamey!
    We are planning to do a kickstarter campaign in May. We already presented our game in Essen. Now there are some international publishers, who want to work with us. Does it make sense to start some sort of cooperation before kickstarter? Should we involve them, to profit from marketing in their country? Or is it smarter to do the kickstarter campaign first, try to do international marketing ourselves and only involve international partners when it comes to a reprint?
    Thanks, Milena

    1. Milena: It’s great that some other publishers have already shown interest in your game! I think either of those options are viable IF it doesn’t cause backer confusion or delay your schedule.

  2. Thanks for your reply. Taking for instance a trivia game in French. This would only target the French audience and hence be irrelevant for most of the Kickstarter community. Could such a project work on Kickstarter?

  3. Hi James. I would like to hear your thoughts on country specific games and their fit with Kickstarter. One thing is language another if the content is requiring knowledge on a specific country’s culture, history etc.; e.g. a lot of trivia games and party games. Do you think these types of games would have a chance at Kickstarter?

    1. Birgitte: I think as long as the game is good (interesting choices, fun mechanisms, unique integration of theme) and you run the Kickstarter well (see every lesson on this blog–it takes more than a good product), country-specific games can work just fine. That said, if a player can’t make interesting choices, have fun, or make sense of the theme because they’re lacking core knowledge about the country, that’s not going to work.

  4. Then, do you think that it would be a good idea to offer different languages via strech goals? As you have said, since minor strech goals are needed, these could be those.

    Matt from HoliPlay Games

    1. Matias: It’s a good question, but here’s why I wouldn’t do that (at least not in the printed game): I like stretch goals that don’t interfere with the schedule. The rules cannot be translated until the source files are 100% finished, so at a time when you would otherwise be ready for print, you then have to wait another 1-2 months just to finish the translation. So unless all of that was complete before the campaign began, I wouldn’t feature it as a stretch goal. Rather, I’d just make it a digital download for free.

  5. I’ve seen a few games (mostly Euro) have either multiple pledge levels of the same value, just for different languages, or allow the choice of language in a survey after the KS ends.

    I’ve also ended up recycling a few extra sets of non-English rules (my household being shamefully monolingual).

    I don’t mind the extra ones, but I can see how printing three sets (or more!) of rules for every box can really eat up costs, and add to the weight of the package.

  6. I know for our PARENTHOOD Kickstarter, for the handful of European backers who were interested, language barrier wasn’t a problem. English, of course, is fairly widely spoken throughout Europe. Our hang up was simply the fear of added shipping costs to international addresses. It turns out to have been not so bad, but on a related note, the shipping costs (in general) have far and away become the most unanticipated, budget-busting element in our entire project. Very frustrating. Caveat vendor: make sure ALL your shipping costs are as clear as possible to you before setting your KS fundraising goal. :)

  7. Am interested to know about Brazilian Portuguese? I am costing a kickstarter for a game book right now (we are looking at english + spanish/german/chinese), and recalled from the depths of my memory a reference that the gaming market is strong in Brazil, but under serviced.

  8. As a game purchaser, and one based in the UK, the standard practice appears to be multiple language rules (and player aids, oh my word the amount of player aids in Zooloretto due to that) from European publishers and English only from USA based publishers, and it depends from game to game weather the UK gets the European or the USA version in copublication deals.

    But, that’s from the outside looking in.

    1. Stephen: That makes sense in terms of publishing habits–lots of languages in Europe, only one primary language in the US. Though I think more US publishers are becoming aware of the value of the international audience.

      1. True, but I think a lot of US publishers either sell the International rights to a European copublisher or only acquire English rights (and in both cases who gets UK rights seems to be a toss up)

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