Localizing Bethesda Games for German Audience

The Synthesis Germany team has told us about translating Bethesda's games, discussed the production process, and talked about challenges they face while localizing games for the German audience.


We are Synthesis Germany, specializing in video games localization, based in Hamburg and founded in 2012. The origins of the company date back many years before this and we can also trace our roots to Milan, Italy. Since 2016, we have been a part of Keywords Studios, the multi-service technical and creative provider to the games industry.

Our core business is providing German translation and audio services to video game developers and publishers. We do this with our team of skilled project managers, linguists, audio specialists, and others. We also have a team of awesome freelancers helping us every day; translators, voice actors, directors, and many more.

Our most renowned projects include the localization of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim which was back in 2011. This was the company’s "baby project" after which many great titles followed, such as Fallout and the Wolfenstein series.

We work with a range of clients across different game genres and some of the most recent projects we had lots of fun with include Mafia: Definitive Edition, The Elder Scrolls Online, DOOM Eternal, Resident Evil Village, The Dark Pictures, and Valorant.

Getting Into Localization and Memorable Projects

We started as an audio service provider for a wide range of companies – the creative industry, media, and game developers. We worked for several big and smaller clients and, for some reason, we experienced the most positive request rate and client feedback in the local German games industry. Maybe it was due to the fact that all founders were big gamers in the 1990s and this gave us the right attitude but it never was a real plan to focus on games, rather the games industry found us.

From then on, with our first booth at Games Convention Leipzig, we started our journey as a pure video game audio studio, adding translation services to our offering from 2012.

One of the most memorable productions we worked on is The Elder Scrolls Online, with its awesome universe, filled with so many of our voices.  After many years, and countless hours of recording and production, there is still a kind of magic felt by the whole production team when we work on new content for TESO.

Another one to name is Wolfenstein and the whole series, with its highly cinematic content that partly felt like a movie in production. Besides being a great (localized) game, it brought a lot of challenges to the text team. Being placed in the WW2 setting featuring characters representing the Nazi regime, the intention was for all content to be as authentic and realistic as possible. For the developer, this meant a lot of work and research for names, historical elements, everything that made the setting perfect.

The localization team for the German version had to, more or less, replace each of these carefully collected pieces of content with a sanitized version that would not cause any legal issues when released in Germany, at that time. So, in simple words, the development team put Nazis in and the localization team had to take them out again – but without losing the story and attraction of the game. This was challenging. But it worked out finally and the game received excellent reviews for its localization – that has been one of the most rewarding experiences for our team.

A great game and a unique experience was working on Mafia: Definitive Edition. We were in the middle of production, working on lots of lip-sync scenes when the first Covid-19 lockdown interrupted our recording schedule. Finishing this production with a huge number of actors – with both directors and engineers no longer in the same studio – was a challenge but one that we took many learnings from.

We did recordings with an engineer in ‘home A’, a director in ‘home B’, and an actor in ‘home C’. Previously this would have been unimaginable but, from a technical perspective, it was a positive experience that made our audio team even stronger and more confident in taking on even the most difficult of projects.

Best Localizations and the Necessity of Localizations

We asked around the team and, in order to stay fair, we took a project where we were only partly involved – since other loc studios have great staff, too. So, the winner for the moment is ‘The Witcher 3’. It has excellent translations and great audio from our colleagues.

It is difficult to try to explain the need and importance of localization because, when starting to explain it, this already means the acceptance of a need to explain. Our thinking would be: "Why on Earth should one not want to experience a game in one’s own language?" The only possible answer could be "because the localization is not good" but that’s where we come in.

Speaking of working in the localization business, there is one thing we can boil all efforts down to, and this is not just some warm words: Localization is a team effort. If you want to reach AAA level and win awards, you will need to work as a team with all involved parties – from developer to publisher to translation to audio to marketing. The stronger this chain is, the higher the quality of the localization work and fun you have. 

Localizing The Elder Scrolls Online

Just to clarify, for The Elder Scrolls Online, Synthesis provides all the audio recordings, not the translations. Having worked on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, this put us in a good position to work on The Elder Scrolls Online. I put this down to the fact that the processes we developed and experiences we gained in bringing to life the many races, creatures, and groups in The Elder Scrolls universe were useful. This helped gain the trust of the developers, knowing that TESO would end up with even more characters than in any other ‘Elder Scrolls’ game to date. 

Translating the Linguistic Aspects of Tamriel

Although the German language offers an array of different dialects and regionalisms, it is rather difficult in German to use dialects full-on as they tend to sound silly very quickly.  So, we usually go with using different registers and speech patterns or expressions. If a race is depicted as “child-like”, we will make them sound playful and informal in their register, for example.

For the fantasy genre, we usually dive into language styles and forms of address that sound “old-fashioned”, while a hip multiplayer ego shooter set in the near future can get its fair dose of current teenage slang and pop-culture references. Depending on the game and especially outside of the fantasy world, there is also the possibility to use words from other languages. If, for example, we have a game about Japanese gangs or from a superhero universe.

Challenging Moments

Due to our history, in Germany, the word “race” is still something that needs to be handled carefully. This always makes it interesting with games that strongly focus on this aspect. Also, while in fantasy translations it is quite common that names of characters and places are fully translated (aka localized), there is the danger of doing “too much” and making it sound forced. Keeping the balance of establishing localized names that sound as if they have developed naturally within that universe and making the decision of keeping things English (especially in non-fantasy-settings) is an art form.

Another common challenge is the cultural inside jokes that don’t translate well into other languages or cultures, or special text forms like rhymes, songs, or riddles based on wordplays. Since they are not always apparent without context, a good communication system with the developers and their thought processes is important to adapt these things for other audiences.

For example, one challenging aspect of the localization process for The Elder Scrolls Online is its songs. The songs actually play an important role of in-game reference for the epic story of the game, as well as the different cultures. These songs are about heroes and narratives of the game world but are performed by singers from different cultures, such as lizards or cat-like creatures and many more besides. This alone is quite a challenge but, on top of this, we want to achieve an authentic musical-style performance by the singers.

So, before the recordings start, a thorough script adaption needs to be done as well as an elaborate casting in order to find suitable actors/singers. In the recording sessions, we work with a singing coach to direct the singers through the songs. We think it is fantastic to have gems like this in the game waiting to be discovered.

Finalizing the Localization

Some customers have well-established internal teams who check the translations we provide and give feedback. Input from localization quality assurance teams – both on the client-side or as part of our service offering – is also a great way to review the work and ensure we hone a translation to be top-notch.

After translation and even after the review process, the script undergoes a final review. This review is concerned with the correct pronunciation of the various names and phrases. Game worlds are usually full of fantasy names. Some names are kept in the original languages, some are translated, some are just completely made up and some you just don’t have the slightest clue. So this needs to be sorted out properly.

The developers’ input is extremely valuable at this stage. Usually, we make recordings of all the proper names and discuss them internally and, in most cases, also with the client. Sometimes we even discuss the names with community experts. Only after finalizing the pronunciations does it make sense to start recordings. Proper names are so important to create a believable game world.

The Necessity of Localization

Language is a fascinating thing and ever-changing. Expressions come and go and are used sometimes only by certain age groups, communities, or within certain contexts. Plays on words or pop culture references can delight audiences and even become part of the cultural heritage. While machine learning translation has made tremendous progress, there is still a requirement for creativity and the ability to “read the target group” that machine translation is currently lacking. 

Machine learning has the potential to catch ever-repeating texts or descriptions (for example the same item over and over again, with slight variations). However, it remains to be seen if it can truly ever replace the creative spirit of a poet with a mission.


Localization is still in demand these days and with a solid grasp of one’s own language and culture and a good understanding of games and the source language, it is still a business that is very welcoming to beginners. Just give it a go and jump right into it.

Due to new technologies and distribution platforms, the demand for localization is as high as ever. The industry itself changed and will change even more in the future. Right now professionals and dedicated newbies are most wanted and we expect that the growing games industry will come along with a lot of localization needs and challenges in the future.

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