“Everybody disliked that.”
On January 29, 2021, Berserk Games announced that they had implemented translations for 29 languages in their hit game, Tabletop Simulator. The developers decided to use Google Translate for all 29 languages supported by Steam with the expectation that the community would provide all the fixes to the flawed service for free. “We are excited to see what native speakers in the community can come up with for the most authentic multilingual game play experience,” they said on the game’s Steam page.
The move was widely criticized by players on the game’s Twitter announcement, who generally understood why that was a bad idea on multiple levels.
“My dudes no. Please, pleeeeease just… pay some translators! Translation is a learned skill and adds immeasurable value to any game for so, so many people,” pleaded Twitter user Tafdolphin. “Half-arsing it like this is a terrible, terrible look.”
“If you want an actually user friendly translator PLEASE HIRE TRANSLATORS,” said essibun. “Machine translations are not reliable on their own, they need at least to be proof-read by a translator before being published. This is not the way to go.”
“Tabletop Simulator: ‘We are proud of our millions of players around the globe!’
Also Tabletop Simulator: ‘We don’t see a problem with advertising this. Yes, we translated ‘pan’ as ‘frying pan’ in German. Fix it yourselves if you don’t like it,'” quipped perrydotto.
Anyone who has tried using Google Translate can attest to the fact that, while the service commendably does its best for quick translations of simple words or phrases, it is nowhere near perfect and must have an actual translator versed in both languages verify the quality of the translation. This goes doubly so when someone is paying for a good or service and expecting it to be translated in their language as advertised, as paying for a machine-translation means throwing money away for something that is often unintelligible.
Case in point, some multilingual players took to Twitter to point out the mistranslations, such as “Auto Scale” becoming “Vehicle Weighing Scales” in Russian and something unknown becoming “Fly Up” in Italian.
After hearing the onslaught of feedback from players, Berserk Games removed the Steam listing indicating availability in 29 languages but continued to move forward with expecting free community-sourced translations instead of paying for a translator.
“Thank you all for your feedback on our translation update,” They stated on Twitter on January 31, 2021, two days after their initial announcement. “We chose to use google translate while providing tools to create their own translation mods, as this is the only feasible solution to support 29 different languages. Due to our frequent updates and new features, translating additional texts in 29 different languages is not a viable option. The alternative, seen in many other games, is to only support the most popular languages. Instead, we added the ability for the community to create translations not only for their own mods but also the main game interface. There has already been great progress on translations in the workshop and we anticipate even more in the future. We plan on featuring the best translations from the community so they are easily discoverable in the future. We have updated the store page to accurately reflect that currently, English is the only properly supported language. Additionally, with today’s hotfix we have disabled the feature that automatically chose google translate and have set the game to default to English. Thank you everyone- we wouldn’t be here without our great community!”
This was met with the same fierce criticisms as the first decision, as it ultimately still employs the same bad translations and free labor model, now without the advertising on Steam.
“You’re asking your community to provide free labour so YOU can make more money. That’s highly unethical,” remarked Twitter used ap_dsc. “Translator is a real job, you know?”
“Oh poor devs you can’t afford investing in proper localization :((((((((“ mocked momiji_machega, adding a screenshot of Tabletop Simulator’s estimated sales ranging from two million to six million dollars.
“So instead of acknowledging that you are not willing to PAY PROFESSIONALS to translate your game you are saying thank you for your feedback but we are ignoring all of you and look forward to your free work?” demanded skuldomg. “Are you treating the rest of the people that work on your game similarly?”
Perhaps the most hilariously on-point comment comes from Twitter user FennecBabe, who took their statement and, using Google Translate, translated it into Japanese and back into English to show Tabletop Simulator what the irony of the situation:
“We have chosen to use Google Translate, which is an absolute executable language with 29 online languages and provides tools for creating translations for good translation languages. Due to such updates and new features, translating ins in 29 language languages is good and common, and the language translation mod alone has translated the purpose of my mother’s game classroom translation. I can’t download the best translation of the translation … I’m here. Now, with the language to complete, the language is not English, today’s note, Google Translate has set the purpose of choosing English, English to achieve the game. Why don’t you come here!”
The reasons why Tabletop Simulator’s decision to not only use Google Translate but crowd-source free translations from players has been met with such an overwhelmingly negative reaction are many. First, announcing that the game is in a certain language when a machine was used instead of a human professional is blatantly false advertising — as the translation remains unfinished — and is always frowned upon by players, especially those subjected to the terrible translation.
Second, the video game industry has a history of downplaying the importance of good translations and localizations, with some languages, like Arabic, being the victim of bad translations more often than not, and this strategy reinforces the notion that localizations are an afterthought. Translators are a necessary part of any business wanting to sell its goods and services to those who speak a different language; by expecting the playerbase to just give them this service for free is an insult to the field — not to mention the players who are essentially forced to fix the shoddy translations to improve their gaming experience.
Third, the fact that Tabletop Simulator launched these so-called localizations with the notion that they could be fixed later instead of running them through a workshop first until they were perfected is just asking for a mess, and one that even industry professionals would widely regard as a terrible move. Make no mistake, crowd-sourcing translations is still a bad idea, but the way in which this bad idea was implemented just made the whole thing worse.
Fourth, expecting free labor — no matter how you decide to word it — is a generally uncool thing to do. There is a massive difference between a modding community making more content for a game because they legitimately enjoy doing it (and receive credit for it) vs. being expected to fix a broken translation uncredited for free. The reason why this isn’t a widespread business model in gaming isn’t because it’s something new — it’s because it’s wildly unethical.
Finally, the excuse that localization is too difficult to do on an on-going basis because the game is being consistently updated is faulty. Mobile games are updated regularly for years and must submit any new text to translators should they desire to support those languages. And while Berserk Games was correct in that not many games offer support for 29 languages, other companies at least pay for proper translations of the many they do support. The fact that they are an indie game makes little difference — TerraGenesis, the mobile terraforming simulator made by a solo indie developer, supports 12 languages localized by paid professionals, for example. Berserk Games’ goal to support 29 languages was admirable, but the methodology certainly should have been tabled indefinitely.
Tabletop Simulator’s best course of action for the future? Pay for the translations they can afford — be it two, 12, or all 29 — and pretend that Google Translate/free labor doesn’t exist. As Twitter user queerpixel succinctly pointed out — “you don’t have translations, you have a mess.”