What you need to know
- Starfield was revealed in full this past weekend, and it looks absolutely incredible.
- Unprecedented sandbox scope could make Starfield one of Xbox's most important exclusive games in decades.
- However, with subtitle support for only a middling 9 languages worldwide, Microsoft is once again being criticized for its localization efforts.
- Microsoft aims to expand Xbox to reach the world's 2 billion gamers, but with poor investment in major regional languages in markets it supposedly officially supports, it remains to be seen how they hope to achieve this.
- Update: Since writing this article, Bethesda has posted a job listing for two language producers, in Korean and Arabic.
Update (August 21, 2023): Since writing this critique of Microsoft's localization efforts with Starfield, Bethesda has posted a job listing hunting localization producers for our friends in Arabic nations and Korea.
제니맥스, 한국어 아랍어 뛰어난 현지화 프로듀서 채용공고 (출처 : XBOX 정보 카페 | 네이버 카페) https://t.co/ViNoehrT6p https://t.co/nF6nL9wBFR pic.twitter.com/sBcU2j8QwoAugust 21, 2023
At the Xbox Games Showcase 2023, we finally caught our first full-blown look at Starfield, and it looks absolutely incredible.
With completely unprecedented scale and complexity, Starfield looks set to raise the bar for sandbox RPGs once again as Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim did before it. If Starfield sticks the landing (and Microsoft has claimed Starfield is the most polished Bethesda game to date), it could supplant the likes of Halo, Forza, and Gears of War and become the new face of the Xbox brand. At least, in some countries.
A lot of the discourse about Starfield across social media has revolved around the revelation that Starfield is targeting a locked 30 FPS on Xbox Series X|S consoles. At the start of the generation, Microsoft claimed that 60 FPS would be the baseline for Xbox Series X, and arguably that does remain true. The vast majority of Xbox games launching these days have 60 FPS modes, but Starfield's complexity, interlocking systems, and sheer scale have maxed out what today's high-end consoles are capable of, at least for now.
In any case, the debate over frame rates is of lesser concern for some Xbox fans, who are rallying once again over an all-too-familiar problem with Xbox and its games.
A number of petitions calling on additional languages for Starfield sprang up over the past few weeks, but after the game's reveal, calls have intensified. There's a range of petitions calling for Starfield localization in Arabic, as well as petitions calling for Starfield localization in Korean, amongst various others. There are around 350 million Arabic speakers in the world, and around 75 million Korean speakers — with nations like Saudi Arabia and Korea both featured as official Xbox regions.
As of writing, Starfield only has voice-over support for English, French, German, Spanish, and Japanese. As for subtitles, it only supports English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), and Simplified Chinese.
Starfield is a truly enormous game, and has thousands of lines of spoken dialogue. It's probably unreasonable to expect Microsoft and Bethesda to localize the game for languages where there are comparatively fewer speakers (sorry to the Cornish speakers out there). However, for Microsoft and Bethesda to omit key growth regions for Xbox such as the Arabic states and Korea, not only for voiceovers but subtitle support as well, is somewhat absurd, particularly given Microsoft's pledges to grow the brand beyond their typical US-UK anglocentric markets. In an interview with the Korean Yonhap News Agency, Xbox lead Phil Spencer responded to calls for further localization:
"Unfortunately, we can't localize every game to every market, but we're always analyzing market opportunities and getting feedback on individual games. It is difficult to answer because the discussion [about localization] has not yet ended. We will continue to have conversations and listen to feedback."
Spencer's comments will likely be of little comfort for those waiting to see if they need to take a second language course to enjoy one of the year's most anticipated upcoming Xbox games, and most anticipated upcoming PC games.
스타필드 한글화 서명 페이지 오픈했습니다. (출처 : XBOX 정보 카페 | 네이버 카페) https://t.co/LHMrwKTc6O https://t.co/SnjewXpDEL pic.twitter.com/sVJnQthqg6June 13, 2023
On PC, I suspect modders will do a lot of the heavy lifting for Bethesda in this area, but they really shouldn't have to. Microsoft has the raw capital necessary to bring more localization to the game natively. There are agencies they could work with around the world to help faithfully translate the subtitle transcripts to more languages at a minimum, even if getting full voice-over work done for more languages isn't viable for whatever reason.
I suspect in the future AI tools will be able to help offset some of the hurdles when it comes to subtitle localization in the future, although I don't think we're quite there yet when it comes to transliterating nuances, and things like jokes and humor, while also potentially navigating local censorship laws. This is there here and now, though.
Microsoft has long talked about this "2 billion gamers" north star goal it hopes to reach, but I'm not sure how they hope to reach those billions of gamers without bridging the most fundamental constraint which is the language barrier. Microsoft champions accessibility causes more so than most major companies, but localization is also an accessibility cause, particularly for those without the means, time, or capability to study and adopt a second language. I've written on the localization issue before repeatedly with regard to Xbox over the years, whose official support for its platforms beyond its main markets seems to stop at simply selling stuff. The lack of global presence is still one of the biggest challenges preventing Xbox's growth in the wider world, and it seems those constraints will continue in the near term.
Get the Windows Central Newsletter
All the latest news, reviews, and guides for Windows and Xbox diehards.
Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!
This is a fair criticism, but one that could be said of almost every game out there. And saying it about Starfield, a high profile release, is just a cheap way to get a jab in. I mean, make an article about how is every language supported by every high profile game. Look at Sony and Nintendo too, eh?Reply
Edit: Relevant resource to begin a serious research.