good intentions, bad l10n

Wed Mar-28th-2012 // Filed under: Games

I encountered a kind of depressing “can’t see the forest for the trees” situation today — something that’s undoubtedly the result of good intentions, but which just doesn’t take real world conditions into account at all.

Today, I installed the Origin client. I finally wanted to get Mass Effect 3. I’ve been a pretty happy Steam user for a good while now, but unfortunately the game is only available on Origin, so that wasn’t an option. Actually, I’m more or less fine with that; I’m like a lot of people in that it often takes me a while to get around to adopting new things, but once I do, I tend to get comfortable with them pretty quickly.

EA is one of those companies that has a kind of an obsession with localizing things. If that sounds like a negative thing, I don’t mean it like that. I kind of love localization as a concept; I used to work for a localization company and I have translated hundreds of thousands of words over the years. There was a point in my life when it was my primary source of income. So I have an interest in it, and I know it’s very useful to a lot of people.

I also know that for a lot of companies, providing certain services in the customers’ own language is a point of pride. For EA, that has certainly seemed to be the case for a while now, and I wholeheartedly applaud that. They have localized entire games into Finnish, and as a rule, the localizations have been very, very good — in particular, I remember the Finnish version of Sim City 4, which was tremendously well-made. It was clever and very funny. And they did it the smart way, too; you could select the original English as your language if you preferred it that way.

But, to be blunt, there may be a bit of an American sentiment at play here, the idea that if people can’t get it in their own language, they will be instantly put off and refuse to have anything to do with it. People often think that offering everything in a country’s native language is of utmost importance; that making that experience as seamless and hard to circumvent as possible is a requirement so nobody ends up with a horrible foreign language in their face and gets spooked.

And I’m sorry, but throughout much of Europe, that’s not the case. The hardcore gamers here in particular are quite proficient in English, and often prefer it for various reasons that aren’t even important here. It’s enough to know that they do. I don’t think they mind services that have been localized, really; it’s just that when they run into them, they go into the settings menu and change the language back into English. That’s what I do.

To be clear: I’m not saying there’s no call for localized products and services in Finland — there absolutely is, and EA does the right thing trying to provide them; it’s particularly great they do it with products that are intended for young children and families. It’s just that the (relatively large) hardcore audience doesn’t find it very useful.

So when I install Origin, it insists on speaking Finnish to me. It can tell that I’m located in Finland, and that’s the language it chooses. Again, this is understandable, and it’s a reasonable thing to do. As long as you can change the language later on, no problem. (Though actually, it would be a good idea to offer the option to change the language right off the bat, because I could be an English-speaking person living in Finland, like many of my friends and colleagues — but they can probably make it through the installation process even if they don’t grok the lingo.)

Then Origin actually launches, and you can log in — another hurdle if you don’t understand Finnish, but you’re likely to make it through that, too. And then you can change the language from the settings. (Yeah. One more hurdle.) So I take care of that, and now the Origin client is speaking English to me, which makes me happy.

But the actual content the client is displaying to me is still in Finnish, because I’m in Finland. So everything in the Origin Store — product descriptions, terms of service, everything — is in Finnish. And if I was a foreigner living in Finland, at this point things would start to get really tricky.

For me, personally, this is mostly just an inconvenience and an annoyance. I say “mostly,” because sometimes the translations just aren’t very good, and they may leave out certain things, which is one reason why I prefer the original English versions. For example, I know how easy it is for a text string to change later on, and yet the translation may remain the same. But if I’m honest, for me the biggest reason reason is that I just like everything to be in one language — my operating system, my software, everything. Call it OCD, if you like.

But if I had just moved here from an English-speaking country, perhaps because of a job? Well.

Being less than happy with all this, I start looking for a setting to change this. I’m sure there’s one, I just don’t know where it is right away. And I look and look, but I can’t find it. And eventually I give up and contact tech support via chat. I only have to wait maybe ten seconds for someone to talk to me.

Here’s our conversation:

You are now ready to chat with Pooja.

Pooja:
Thanks for contacting EA Help! My name is Pooja how may I help you?

you:
Hey. Is there any way for me to force the Origin Store to speak English to me? I’m in Finland, I have the Origin client set to use English, but the store insists on being in Finnish.

Pooja:
Hello

Pooja:
Thanks for explaining the issue.

Pooja:
I request you to please login into origin.

Pooja:
Then go to the settings.

Pooja:
Then you would find the language option.

you:
On the website, you mean? Not the client?

Pooja:
Please login into www.origi.com

Pooja:
*www.origin.com

you:
Sure. That directs me to http://store.origin.com/store/eaemea/fi_FI/home/ThemeID.850300/ccRef.en_US — and I can’t see anything like “account settings” or “your account” or anything like that in there.

you:
My only account-specific option there seems to be the button that lets me log out.

Pooja:
Okay, Please go to the gear icon.

you:
There is no gear icon that I can see on the website.

Pooja:
Please look for the round icon above the friend list.

you:
Um, I don’t have a friends list, either.

Pooja:
Yes, go to the website where origin takes you.

Pooja:
Please allow me to share the desktop.

[At this point, a new window opens up for me, but obviously their desktop sharing thing didn’t work. I get an error message in the window, which I pasted to him below.]

you:
Not Found The requested URL /hc/6657116/ was not found on this server. Apache/2.2.19 (Unix) mod_jk/1.2.30 Server at customersupport.ea.com Port 80

Pooja:
Okay.

Pooja:
Please accept the request for desktop sharing.

you:
I would love to accept such a request, but I haven’t received one. All I got was a new window with the “Not found” error message I pasted above.

you:
Also, just to be clear: when you talk about the gear icon and the friends list, you ARE talking about the website, correct? Not the Origin client? Because I do have those items on the Origin client itself.

Pooja:
Have you downloaded the origin?

you:
I just said I have the Origin client. Yes, I have downloaded it. I have downloaded it, and I have changed the langauge setting on the Origin client to English, but that only affects the software, the client itself. It doesn’t change the language of the store itself. All of my menu options on the ORIGIN CLIENT are in English, but in the ORIGIN STORE, as viewed through the client, everything is in Finnish.

you:
Do you want a screenshot of what I mean? I can arrange one if you want it.

Pooja:
No, I understood your point.

Pooja:
I would like to inform you that the store language cannot be changed.

you:
Really.

Pooja:
Yes.

Pooja:
I apologize that I have taken much time in understanding your issue.

you:
So if I can’t speak Finnish, but I’m in Finland, there is no way for me to use Origin without a translator? This is what you are telling me?

Pooja:
Yes.

Pooja:
If you have any other issue or query apart from this issue I may assist you with, today.
Please let me know. I will do my best to help you.

you:
Wow.

you:
Well, thanks, I guess.

Pooja:
I can understand, but this is country specific. We cannot do anything in this regard.

Pooja:
You’re welcome.

Pooja:
Thanks for understanding the issue.

Pooja:
I appreciate it.

you:
Well, amazingly enough, Steam has managed to do this for, oh, a bunch of years now. This is not an unsurmountable technical issue. I realize it’s not your fault, and not something you can do anything about right now, but if you could perhaps pass on the message that this is kind of ridiculous, I would appreciate it.

you:
I don’t mean to make your life miserable here, I realize that you’re just trying to help me.

you:
Thanks for your time.

Pooja:
You’re welcome.

Pooja:
I appreciate your understanding in the issue.

Pooja:
Had it been possible, I would have provided you the information regarding the laguage change.

Pooja:
*language

you:
Sure, I get that. Not your fault.

you:
Well, I guess we’re done. Have a nice day!

Now, let me just be clear here: my problem is not with Pooja. He was helpful and polite, and he would have helped me if he could have. None of this is his fault. There was a little misunderstanding concerning what I was talking about, but to be fair, something like this can be a little confusing. The customer service I got from him was just about as good as I could possibly expect to get in my situation, short of a magic spell that fixes everything. Pooja was cool.

But this is a ridiculous situation to be in. This is the year 2012, and people move around. You cannot make a blanket assumption that everybody with a Finnish IP address speaks Finnish, and even if you do, saying that everybody with a Finnish IP address must speak Finnish and no other languages can be offered seems entirely misguided.

Now, I don’t need this feature right now, it’s true — I would very much like to have it, but I can make do without. The thing is, I know a lot of people who do need it. These are people I work with every day, a lot of whom have made games that are currently being sold in this very same store, as a matter of fact. And if I happened to move to Sweden, guess what? I’d get the Origin Store in Swedish, and at that point I’d be in real trouble, my Swedish being as hopelessly rusty as it is. I’d have to paste every single sentence to Google Translate or something.

Why, yes, that is undoubtedly the very best way to figure out exactly what it is you’re paying for. Nothing like agreeing to a machine-translated license agreement to make life a little more exciting.

It didn’t help things any that clearly I couldn’t even access the website he was trying to send me to, because my browser would always get hijacked to a Finnish page that wouldn’t even let me manage my Origin account, because that functionality just isn’t in the localized version — or if it is, it’s hidden very well. Which is, incidentally, a major reason why I tend to prefer the original English language versions, because in my experience, this kind of thing happens all the time.

This shouldn’t be a hard thing to fix — and I’m saying that knowing full well that in most instances, when somebody who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about says something isn’t hard to fix, it always involves degrees of complexity they are completely ignorant of. You got me there. Apologies. But you know what? Speaking as an avid gamer and longtime EA customer here, I don’t really even care how hard it is or isn’t, because this is a serious oversight and a prime example of a very sensible and entirely commendable policy (“we must try to offer our products and services to our customers in their native language”) that has been implemented in a haphazard and, frankly, somewhat ignorant manner. The whole purpose of that policy is to make products and services more accessible to as many of EA’s customers as possible. Now it’s accomplishing the exact opposite. What is intended to make customers’ lives easier is a barrier to entry.

Oh, and I’m still totally buying Mass Effect 3 (yes, yes, the ending, heap big rage, I don’t care). That should go without saying; this isn’t some kind of a protest or ultimatum. I’m just saying there’s something badly broken here and it should be fixed — and it’s not a bug, it’s the result of a design that probably follows policy to the letter, but doesn’t actually accommodate actual customers.

And, you know. This shit does work on Steam.


4 Comments

  1. I think the best part is that even without considering people moving in from other countries, you’re left with the situation that Finland actually has two official languages and native Finns who don’t speak Finnish very well or at all. And there are plenty of other countries with similar situations – I’d love to know what the Origin store does in Switzerland for an example.

    Comment by hakkis — March 28, 2012 @ 1332922710

  2. Another symptom of the same disease how everyone is so intent on ignoring Accept-Language headers from browsers, and uses GeoIP or equivalent instead.

    *nerd rage*

    Comment by nikodemus — March 28, 2012 @ 1332934731

  3. Travelling a lot in work, I’ve encountred similar problems dozens of times. For example in Germany, some Google products, airline webpages and online services default using German as a language even if I change it explicitly to English.

    Also good example from Germany are some vending machines and ticketing machines that show you everything in English if you choose to, but all the error messags are in German. So the most important and usually most complex phrases are not translated (and you can’t even use gTranslate on them).

    Comment by Otter — March 29, 2012 @ 1333008844

  4. I’m totally there with you — I started using computers when there wasn’t much of localization, or it sucked goat’s balls, and grew accustomed to using systems in English.

    Even now, I’m using my shiny new desktop in English, because it is more comfortable to do so. That, and if something goes wrong, it is easy to copy-paste the error it vomited into a search engine and be assured that someone, somewhere, has encountered the same problem and is able to explain it in a reasonable manner, as opposed to the chances in Finnish.

    So stuff like this makes my life more difficult, especially as it seems that my reading comprehension is better than what it is for some native speakers. ;)

    Comment by Skiriki — March 31, 2012 @ 1333168132

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