A new language law has come into effect in Quebec which will prohibit the sale of new English-language videogames if a French version is available.

Quebec is notorious, in Canada at least, for its “French first” language laws and the “language police” (officially the Office québécois de la langue française) that enthusiastically enforces them. The growing popularity of videogaming has led the provincial government to extend those laws to cover games as well but some retailers are concerned the new rules will do far more harm than good.

“I’m afraid it’s going to cost me my business,” said Ronnie Rondeau, who co-owns eight Game Buzz stores in the Montreal area. “If it really was going to make a difference, I’d be for it, but only a small number of people want to play in French. The rest don’t care. And money-wise, it’s going to hurt.”

The trouble, Rondeau said, is that most gamers are more concerned about getting major new releases when they launch, rather than waiting around for a French version to come out. If he’s forced to wait for a French edition of a popular game to hit the shelves, he said many of his customers will find “other options,” such as buying online or crossing the border into Ontario, New Brunswick or the U.S. He noted that the English-only version of Rock Band wasn’t available in time for the Christmas rush in 2007 and the French version didn’t come out until six weeks later.

Part of the problem, according to Montreal-based game designer Haig James Toutikian, is that translating games can lead to problems with fitting non-English text onto game screens and other such bugs, all of which can contribute to release delays. “I know how much of a pain they can be. They take up a lot of bug tracking time,” he said. Similar technical and compatibility concerns have kept games destined for sale in France from appearing on the Quebec market.

Danielle Parr, executive director of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, warned that because of its small population, game publishers could decide it’s too expensive to release a French-only version in Quebec even if one is in production for Europe, meaning Quebec retailers won’t be able to sell the game at all. But she also tried to spin it as a somehow positive development, saying gamers “will see more games available in French. And that’s good news.”

I suspect most gamers and retailers would disagree.


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