The Challenge: Providing consistently high-quality, timely, localized versions of the games

Case Study

20 million retail units sold worldwide

Valve games, such as Half-Life® and Team Fortress®, have transformed the gaming landscape. And thanks to the Global Information Management strategy masterminded and managed by SDL, this and Valve’s other industry-leading games are being enjoyed by millions of gamers worldwide in 16 languages. SDL provides Valve with a comprehensive range of language services, including localization, voiceover recording, and website translation. This unique and rewarding relationship was tested recently when Valve approached SDL to translate 25 hours of gaming content into 6 languages in only 2 weeks—a feat that SDL accomplished on-time and to an exemplary standard of quality. The result: Valve was able to simultaneously launch its new games to an eager audience across the globe. 

Valve is an entertainment software and technology company founded in 1996. The company’s portfolio of entertainment properties includes Half-Life®, Counter- Strike®, Day of Defeat®, Team Fortress® and Portal™. Valve’s catalog of products has sold more than 20 million retail units worldwide, and more than 80% of the PC online gameplay action. In addition, Valve is a developer of leading-edge technologies, such as the Source® game engine and Steam®, a Broadband platform for the delivery and management of digital content.

In the company’s 12-year history, Valve has risen from ‘unlikely new entry’ to industry leader, producing a string of bestselling and critically acclaimed PC products and technologies. Half-Life, for example, sent a shock through the gaming industry with its combination of pounding action and continuous, immersive storytelling. This debut title has won more than 50 game-of-the-year awards, and culminated in earning the title ‘Best PC Game Ever’ by PC Gamer. Moreover, Steam—the company’s pioneering PC platform for digital content—has surpassed 13 million active accounts. Steam online gameplay currently averages over seven billion player minutes per month. 

This phenomenal success means that Valve needs to support their global market to satisfy demand—and this has led to the challenge of delivering games in local languages. According to Steve McClure, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Valve, the main hurdle is the logistics involved in managing so many disparate languages, especially as Valve is headquartered solely in Bellevue, Washington. “Although Valve is a global organization, all of our staff are located on the U.S. West Coast,” he says. “We sell our games globally. Games such as Half-Life and Team Fortress are incredibly popular in the U.S.A., Europe and Asia—and that means providing not just localized instructions, but local language voiceovers, on-screen sub-titles and all the other material associated with marketing the Valve brand consistently to a global audience. It’s not something we could effectively manage in-house.”

Gaming embraces Global Information Management

Global Information Management is a priority for Valve. The company recognizes the need to approach local language delivery with caution: after all, a fragmented approach to managing global information can all too easily lead to inconsistent gaming messages from country-to-country, delays in launching new games, and poor localized content quality. Ultimately, it can lead to increased localization costs. “With Global Information Management, Valve is able to tackle the challenges of global market participation head-on,” says McClure. “By introducing a strategy to manage the escalating requirements for local language delivery, Valve is uniquely positioned to achieve superior international gaming market performance, brand recognition, gaming adoption rates, and lifetime customer value.” 

Valve relies on SDL for a comprehensive range of language services. Predominantly, this involves linguistic services in 15 languages. A tightly integrated team of SDL in-house translators and an extensive network of in-country freelance translators deliver localized content for all of Valve’s games. This includes the product packaging, the games instructions (either on DVD or printed), sub-titles (for what the character on the screen is saying), and closed captions or other sounds for accessibility The SDL translation team also provides localized content for the games offering a commentary or ‘extra’. This includes behind-the-scenes footage of how the game was compiled and interviews with the game creators. 

Much to the chagrin of their envious colleagues, the SDL team which is focused on the Valve Global Information Management program devotes a proportion of their work time to playing and absorbing the Valve games. Being thoroughly immersed in the games themselves means they can combine their language skills and subject matter expertise to produce translations of the highest accuracy and quality. The translators also receive regular training on linguistic procedures, to ensure that they approach all their tasks in the most effective manner. Regular feedback on the quality of the work also helps sharpen their reflexes.

Audio translation services

For some of the languages—such as the translation of games into French, Spanish and German—Valve has engaged SDL to provide audio translation services. SDL has reviewed and selected voiceover artists to record the dialogue, booked the studios, and managed the recordings. Upon completion, they have also used their stringent linguistic quality assurance processes to ensure that every voiceover is fully validated before hand-off to Valve. “Our team is really relaxed about SDL managing all this. We’ve worked with SDL for so long, and their track record is so strong, that we have no concerns whatsoever about handing over such an important task as this to their team,” says McClure. 

SDL has also translated Valve’s Steam websites into 19 languages. “Website translation demands a very high degree of accuracy, specialist cultural knowledge and a high level of organization. With the internet being one of our most important go-to-market channels, SDL has helped Value develop a global internet presence by localizing the entire website,” McClure adds. 

The localization work that SDL completed for the launch of the new Half-Life 2, Episode Two, sums up the quality of the relationship between the two companies. SDL had previously managed the successful localization of the original version of Half-Life 2 into 9 languages. Then, to support the launch of Valve’s The Orange Box—which packs three top-rated new games for the price of a regular game—the company realized it needed to quickly translate two of the games into six new languages: Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, Swedish, Polish, and Danish. Collectively, these two games amounted to 25 hours of gaming material, all of which needed to be localized in these new languages in only two weeks. “SDL accomplished this unprecedented task,” says McClure. “We gave them a huge challenge to resolve in an incredibly short space of time, but they managed to complete all the languages on time, on budget and to a standard which reflected the very high standards gamers expect of our product portfolio.” 

McClure concludes, “To understand how important we consider the relationship with SDL, you only need to consider the scale of responsibility we’re placing with the company,” says Steve. “Valve has created some of the world’s most popular and successful games—and that continued global success rests on providing consistently high-quality, timely, localized versions of the games. We trust SDL to manage our end-to-end Global Information Management process and the quality of work they do is reflected in how well our games are received around the world.”


• Manage the localization of gaming
content in 16 languages worldwide
• Enable the simultaneous shipment
of new games to eager audiences
• Coordinate the localization of
product information, including the
games instructions, packaging and
audio visual content
• Meet rigorous standards of quality
gamers expect from Valve

Featured Solutions

• Translation Services
• Website Translation
• Multimedia
• Project Management


• Enabled the simultaneous shipment
and launch of games worldwide
• Eliminated the pains and overhead
associated with managing in-house
team of translators and project
• Provided consistently high-quality,
timely, localized versions of the
• SDL localized two games amounting
to 25 hours of gaming material in 6
new languages in only 2 weeks
• Managed localization services
combine language skills and subject
matter expertise to produce
translations of the highest accuracy
and quality
• Localized web content to a high
degree of accuracy with specialist
cultural knowledge and
comprehensive organization