This month’s launch of the widely-celebrated Baldur’s Gate 3 highlighted the often-overlooked topic of video game credits, and the fact that many people who work for hundreds of hours on a project sometimes still do not get their name recognised. But why does this happen? And what is being done – across developers, publishers, localisation companies and industry bodies – to ensure the situation improves?
I’ve spoken to staff past and present at Altagram, the company which was publicly highlighted for failing to list its freelance localisation staff in Baldur’s Gate 3 credits, as well as localisation freelancers and the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), to find out.
Below, Altagram’s CEO also offers an explanation for what went wrong specifically with Baldur’s Gate 3 – something they claim was simply an innocent mistake, after Larian previously asked for freelancer names to be provided.
It should be simple, right? If you work on a game you should see your name in its credits – especially if your contributions amount to years of work, translating thousands of words. But in reality, it’s anything but simple – with contracts and decisions made between video game developers, publishers and companies hired for localisation services typically drawing a line somewhere, and often leaving out staff who are not management, not permanent, or those who are a subcontractor of a subcontractor, or an intern.
“I didn’t get credited for 50 games before getting a Special Thanks note because I knew a director,” said Nazih Fares, who’s now the communications and localisation chief at publisher The 4 Winds Entertainment and a board member of the IGDA. “That finally got me recognised.
“These people are just looking for a way to build a portfolio,” they continued. “And unless they can do that they’re going to be stuck in a loop, with no proper remuneration and no proper career advancement.”
“Credits remain the most reliable form of demonstrating expertise.”
“In an industry that thrives basically on freelance work, language professionals don’t have many ways to show proof of experience,” said Diego Perez, a game localisation specialist who helped bring the Baldur’s Gate 3 issue to light via social media. “Translation samples are easily faked, years of experience is just a number, and localisation service providers aren’t big fans of writing recommendations. Thus, credits remain the most reliable form of demonstrating expertise.”
I also spoke with Marie Amigues, the CEO of Altagram, in the wake of her company being thrust into the spotlight for failing to provide credits to Baldur’s Gate 3 developer Larian – an issue Eurogamer brought to light with an eye-opening statement from the RPG’s developer. Amigues agreed accreditation was a problem that needed fixing, though noted it was also something which plagued the entire video games industry, without being specific to localisation itself.
“It’s a general problem and topic for the industry, but localisation companies and Altagram have been fighting to be in the credits for a long time,” Amigues told me. “As a company, we’re not always in the credits. And then secondly, it’s not always easy for us to put freelancers in the credits. There’s regulation within companies to refuse freelancers being in the credits, or to just list the company – ‘Altagram’.”
What difference does being named in a game’s credit make? Perez says his work on games from Square Enix – a publisher which demands localisation freelancers are included in credits – has helped boost his career. “Being one of the [credited] translators behind Final Fantasy 7: Remake has given me plenty of opportunities that other, more experienced and less credited, colleagues didn’t have,” he told me, adding that it was on language service providers (LSPs) to push for inclusion where possible.
So why don’t companies like Altagram do more to push for localisation staff to be credited? Speaking with those with knowledge of the issue, two key concerns are frequently raised.
“There’s a fear that if translators talk to each other and compare rates, they are then able to request better rates,” a former Altagram project manager told me. (Eurogamer has agreed to keep the names of those we spoke to for this piece anonymous if requested, due to fears that speaking out will harm their career.) “There’s also a fear that translators will be poached by other LSPs. And both of these concerns are real – they do happen. But for me they’re still not reasons to not credit people for their work.”
“These concerns are still not reasons to not credit people for their work.”
“There was a fear of having resources taken away or seen by other agencies who could then recruit them,” claimed a second former Altagram project manager. “Another fear was translators learning who worked on a project and phoning each other to discuss rates – which is irrational in my opinion, as translators already have ways of discussing these things with each other – forums and other channels.”
I put both of these concerns to Altagram’s CEO.
“Once you put someone in the credits, you share information that is quite important,” Amigues said. “You want to have continuity, and make sure every single person who is going to work on your projects is learning and producing faster, better quality results. That’s the main reason why most of the vendors do not want to share anything, because there’s a risk to them. And it’s not only freelancers, it’s vendors, studios, voiceover studios. And most of the vendors have this issue.”
Amigues went on to discuss the reality of similar companies managing to undercut Altagram using the freelancers it has worked with and trained previously, hiring them for sequel projects and then ultimately paying translators poorer rates. Amigues says she wants a general code of ethics agreed using the IGDA to ensure a level playing field where people can be credited and not poached.
“If another business knows I’m doing this project, that we have a great management team, but they can do it for cheaper… it’s not so complicated to do when they can say, ‘hey, now we have the names’. We are in an industry, it’s super competitive. Translation is a commodity, even though the people are very skilled. And we have people who have worked their ass off but are not well paid, and companies saying well, it doesn’t really matter who works on this project, we just need to have the result. There’s so much work to be done to make it work well.”
On the concern that staff are being left out of credits to deter them from identifying each other and discussing payment rates, Amigues is less convinced. “I have the impression the community is big and getting more and more involved in sharing data,” she says. “We can always do better, but I don’t think there’s a feeling of isolation – especially as there may have been in the past.
“Still, we need to put all names in the credits,” she concludes. “All names.” Work to ensure this began last December, she continues, though has now been accelerated post-Baldur’s Gate 3 drama with the public announcement of seven commitments to ensure localisation staff and freelancers are credited more fairly.
So what did happen with Baldur’s Gate 3? As we know from Larian’s statement on the omission of staff who worked on the game via Altagram, the developer wanted these names – and indeed, Larian published those from the six other localisation companies it worked with across the mammoth project.
“It was a huge omission and we really regret it.”
“We didn’t intend to not give the names, we really wanted to give the names,” Amigues said when questioned. “We were working on that change of code of ethics about the situation. And we said – let’s give you the list of names later on. And after that, we had so much work coming up from the project, because really, at the end, before the release, there were a lot of requests coming in. It was really crazy for the project managers. So we actually – everybody forgot about it. And that’s the reason. That’s the only reason, and we didn’t have the intention to not give the credits.
“Larian was very clear that we needed to share the credits from the very beginning,” she continued. “So we didn’t have the intention to say no to Larian, we had a very good relationship with them. It’s been two years and a half, and 2.6m words localised. It was a crazy project. But yes, it was a huge omission and we really regret it.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation and it’s put us in the spotlight. But honestly it’s also a great opportunity for Altagram and for myself to talk about credits as it’s not something usually picked up by the industry. I never anticipated this could actually happen. But I appreciate we even have the opportunity to talk about it.”
What do others at Altagram have to say? “Management has pushed for more accreditation, and internal staff typically are,” a former project manager told me. “But I was not surprised to see them called out. It’s something that was discussed often – and always shut down pretty quickly. I had a number of tense moments with management about crediting, as I felt it was the most basic of things to do for people. The rates which companies want to pay to people individually are so low, and it’s such a difficult industry as it’s so competitive and demanding. The least we can do is credit people for their work.”
It’s important to note that, of course, Altagram is just one of many large localisation companies used in the video game industry, and while it is in the spotlight right now, it is far from the first to have been highlighted over accreditation concerns. Another company handled the French, Italian, German and Spanish localisation for Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden, though it was publisher Sega that was publicly called out for not crediting their work.
“That was at least a million words,” a localisation specialist I spoke to said, adding that they were pleased to see that instance create headlines, too. In the past, people would not have noticed. “It’s good to see that things are beginning to change,” they said. “This is changing now with LinkedIn and Twitter hashtags demanding people credit translators,” another agreed.
I’ve also heard some praise for Altagram, for being able to credit some staff in some instances despite publisher rules. “Communication between Altagram and translators is always friendly and respectful,” a former project manager there told me. “We had a positive response when we introduced the ability for translators to talk to each other on the same projects. There’s a clear passion in the company for the games people work on. But I think that’s part of the reason why there hasn’t been bigger pushback so far, there’s a fear you won’t get given one of these projects in future.”
“It’s good to see that things are beginning to change.”
Amigues believes conditions at Altagram are good – and this is how bosses know staff are being approached by competitors or directly by publishers after being listed in the credits, as workers discuss the issue with management. And, recently, it did have staff poached by a client it worked with previously – though Amigues does not give the name.
Earlier this year, Altagram apologised publicly via Twitter for not ensuring all of its localisation staff were listed in the credits for Diablo 4. I asked Amigues about this, who said it was a long-standing policy with Blizzard to “not share the names of the freelancers”. She continued: “It’s not something I think will continue forever and I’m actually working on it with them.” After the issue was highlighted, Amigues says Altagram worked with Blizzard to ensure freelancers were granted approval to at least say they worked on the project publicly.
“I’m hopeful for more, and there will be a solution, but I can’t guarantee it – I’m not the developer or publisher,” Amigues says. “We’re still just in the middle of this.”
Ultimately, companies such as Altagram are contractors and subject to the agreements they have signed with publishers and developers – who may not want outside work credited or even mentioned for various reasons. External development and outsourcing is a standard part of any game development, but I get the sense that publishers and developers often remain uneasy about acknowledging its scope.
“Most studios don’t have a crediting policy, and those who do are either flawed or old,” said Fares. “Policies may not take into account live service games or things like that. Imagine a game like World of Warcraft – if it wasn’t for the fact there’s an expansion every couple of years, you’d be left with just the original developers credited for that first game 17 years ago now.”
“Publishers and developers definitely share some of the responsibility here,” localisation specialist Diego Perez agreed. “After all, the IGDA credit guidelines were created to address a chronic issue inside the video game industry as a whole.” They said they knew some publishers had explicitly asked localisation companies to only mention their in-house staff, while others did not want any individuals credited at all.
“Developers want a middle-man to take care of these things, they have enough to do already,” a former Altagram project manager said. “They have all the power in this situation, for better or worse. They get to choose how to act – and also how much to pay. They get to pick the awful timelines and demands that exist. There’s more they can do to be responsible for ensuring translators are credited.”
“The ball needs to start in the developer and publisher’s court.”
“The ball needs to start in the developer and publisher’s court,” Fares agreed. “They need to get their shit sorted and have a policy. And they are a client, so when they talk to vendors they are making an agreement of services rendered. And the studio has the power to say ‘as a condition of taking this job we need you to adhere to this crediting policy’. Because otherwise it’s a joke.”
Amigues says she has noticed publisher behaviour changing – thanks to the pressure of this issue becoming more public and companies keen to be seen doing the right thing. “It’s something that is changing,” she says. “[Publishers] want their game’s communities to love their games and they feel this is a problem. But there are policies that are not always easy to change. And we know that – if it was simple, everybody would have names listed. It’s complicated – who’s been working, how long, how much? But I believe it’s going to change.”
Localisation staff know it’s an uphill struggle, as their work is often part of a game’s final stages when timing is, as one localisation worker I spoke with described it: “at its most tight and least flexible”. This person sympathised with publishers, and said they knew their work was “at the very end of the project pipeline” when developers themselves were often pushing for more time. It feels like a balancing act, then, where publishers, developers and localisation companies all need to do more to support each other and the localisation staff themselves. And this is where the IGDA hopes to step in.
Earlier this year, the IGDA updated its guidelines for video game credits, and with every instance where accreditation issues have surfaced, these guidelines have been shared as a standard for which companies should be following.
“Part of the process for redoing the old IGDA guidelines was us realising it was pretty outdated, and that we needed to make things clearer for freelancers, interns and students,” Fares says. “As we progressed, we realised some of the standards were asking for a certain amount of days – say 30 days – to be credited. But the issue in certain cases – in this case localisation and translation – is most jobs can be done in three weeks for a single language, before other departments take over, such as QA. So that didn’t answer [the issues for] freelancers being paid by the hour. It didn’t answer [the fact there’s] interns who sadly do a years’ worth of work on a game, but don’t get credited just because they’re interns. And then there’s the plethora of contractor and subcontractor hell, which is just a fancy way to say ‘yeah we want to hire you to do the job because we value your experience, but we just don’t want to pay that much taxes’.”
But Fares is optimistic that change is coming, and says several major studios have now adopted the IGDA’s guidelines as a standard. More sound likely to follow – as this issue is not going away, and all companies involved are under increasing public pressure to play fair.