“Now the importance of supporting the global market in games is well recognized.” An interview with Andy Macoy, Localization Manager at PikPok


Andy Macoy has been working in the video game industry for 26 years, and 13 of those as a localization manager at PikPok. This New Zealand company is known for its mobile, PC, and console games, including joint projects with Adult Swim Games and DreamWorks Animation. We talked with Andy about how to hold players’ and employees’ attention for years on end, and what he thinks is the key to a successful localization.

“We were getting paid to play the hottest new games”  

— When did video games become a key part of your life?

— I was fascinated by computers and video games from an early age. Back in the early 1980s, things like the Atari 2600 and arcade games like Space Invaders, Pac-Man were all the rage. When I was a kid, the industry was just gaining momentum and I rarely got to play. But gaming really became a part of my life when I got my first home computer. That was a Sinclair Spectrum, I would have been 11 or 12 years old at the time.

— How did your career in the video game industry get started?

— I fell into it almost by chance, I had not thought a career in the games industry was an option for me at that time. My university course primed me for a quite dull IT generalist career, probably working for an insurance company or bank. But while looking for a casual job for the few months between finishing my exams and finding out what my results would be, I stumbled upon Sony’s PlayStation QA office in my hometown of Liverpool, England. I had no idea something so cool was so close! What was intended to be a 3-month temporary job ended up becoming 3 years. While the hours were long and the pay was low, we were getting paid to play the hottest new games and the people there were so much fun to be around. From there I eventually transitioned to the publishing and production side of the industry.

— What drew you to the sphere of localization?

During my years at Bandai Namco, most of the production work was getting games developed in either Japan or the USA localized for their European release. It turned out that I had an aptitude for that kind of work where many in the production field at the time found it hard.

“We want happy players who always enjoy themselves”

— It’s more common these days to come across people who frequently switch jobs as opposed to staying in one place for a long time. What keeps you engaged in your work after all this time?

— PikPok is a wonderful place to work. Having been around the industry for as long as I have, you learn to appreciate the effort our senior management team put in to give the company a people-first culture, and in turn that makes you as an employee feel valued. Meanwhile we are always working on multiple projects at any given time, so there is constantly something new and interesting going on.

— What’s changed in the company over all those years?

— PikPok has grown a lot over that time. The company has expanded to around three times the number of staff than when I joined, including a studio of amazing people in Medellín, Colombia.
When I joined, we were a work for hire console developer. There was a small smartphone app development team within the studio then, back when that format was in its early days.

Clusterduck is a mobile duck farm simulator by PikPok where ducks breed, mutate and transform into amazing creatures

As the years moved along, the console market hit a dip while the mobile gaming industry grew rapidly, so we pivoted to primarily focus on mobile games under our PikPok brand. During all this, we made the wise decision to develop and self-publish our own intellectual property where possible, building franchises rather than scraping along from contract to contract with publishers. We still focus most of our time on mobile development, but console and PC have become increasingly important for us in recent years as we expand the reach of our IPs.

— What would you say sets PikPok apart from other teams on the market and keeps players engaged from year to year? 

— We value the time players choose to spend on our games, so we want happy players who always enjoy themselves. We make an effort to maintain quality standards and keep new content coming regularly. We also study the analytics data coming from how our players engage with our games and aren’t shy to give them more of what they like or pivoting away from things they don’t.

“It’s much easier to avoid problems than fix them”  

— What role would you say localization plays in the popularity of PikPok’s games? 

— As the global gaming market has evolved, good localization has become increasingly important. Years ago, the vast majority of revenue came from English-speaking regions, but the rest of the world is catching up their share. For any game to succeed now, it needs to appeal to a global audience.

— Has the localization process at PikPok changed over your time working there? 

— The core of the process is quite similar still, there’s continuous improvement going on throughout the studio so the result is more one of evolution than radical change. It has expanded to support many more languages, become more consistent between projects and lessons have been learned to improve workflows.

Into the Dead is a mobile zombie apocalypse action game developed and published by PikPok

— Over your 13 years of working at PikPok, which localization project have you found the most interesting, and why? 

— Probably one of the many games we made in conjunction with Adult Swim. They were all highly creative titles, and our linguists enjoyed the freedom to have fun coming up with local alternatives for the many English jokes which would be impossible to directly translate.

Have you ever encountered any localization projects that you’d describe as a test of your strength? – What happened, and how did you overcome those difficulties? 

— Working with non-Roman character sets for the first time was a steep learning curve, as before PikPok I had only worked with the core EFIGSP group for European releases. Then there was the first time we chose to support right-left languages and the unique challenges they present.
The most challenging jobs have usually either involved teams being ready to kick off their localization work too late in the schedule so there was undue time pressure, or instances where a team chooses to re-word a substantial amount of source text after translation has already been done.
Both usually end up with my briefly saying “I told you so” as they are so easily avoided, then knuckling down to fix things. Our teams usually learn their expensive lesson, thankfully.

“There is more to localization than translation”  

— Over the course of your career, what overall improvements have you seen in the sphere of localization? 

— It used to be viewed as a necessary evil by some developers, especially with it coming toward the end of the development process when they are exhausted and trying to get over the finish line. But now the importance of supporting the global market in games is well recognized.
Machine translation has improved in recent years, though it remains only something we would use as placeholder to test fonts etc. However, AI translation is likely going to play a much larger part going forward once consistent quality can be proven. I will keep up to date with advances in that sector.

Rival Stars Horse Racing by PikPok is a great opportunity to breed foals, build a stable and become an equestrian legend

— And what problems still persist to this day? 

— When creating a user interface, we normally need to remind developers that the grammar rules of the source language don’t always apply to the target languages.

— Based on your experience, what’s the formula for a successful localization? 

— Factor it into your game design and UI from the very start to save yourself a lot of stress toward the end of the project. Provide your linguists with as much context and freedom to adapt as possible. And always remember that there is more to localization than translation, be culturally aware of all the regions you intend to sell your game in and embrace any points of difference.