We asked one of the main associations (ATRAE) and several translators about this controversial issue.

The Squid Game has become a phenomenon . Netflix’s Korean series has managed to captivate viewers, to the point that it is the most viewed content in the platform’s history. Still, not everything is positive. The Association for Audiovisual Translation and Adaptation of Spain (ATRAE) has denounced that Netflix has used post-editing to translate the subtitles into Spanish. In other words, you have used a machine translation program and then enlisted the services of translators to review the result. Professionals say that this practice makes their work precarious and worsens the quality of the product. The question is, does it also happen in the video game industry?

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ATRAE maintains that post-publishing in video games “is a palpable possibility” , although not generalized: “Although it is true that at the moment there is a majority that seems to bet on the localization of video games made by people, there are approaches by some companies with a view to saving money ”, they reveal. He gives as an example several “dire more than suspicious translations, such as that of SpongeBob with a lot of involuntary humor that translated ‘Cool Chest’ (‘cool chest’) as ‘Fresh Chest’, among many other nonsensical pearls. So yes, we know for sure that it has been used and that it is being used, although it is not the majority practice ”.

Companies already use post-publishing and machine translations

Diana Díaz Montón, head of translation at Nativa Prime, confirms that “there are several companies that use post-publishing”, such as Electronic Arts. “It is important to remember that not all texts related to videogames are texts on screen ( in-game / on-screen ), or dialogues, but there are also texts to help players, metadata, marketing texts, etc.”, clarifies. “In the dialogues, which tend to have a more creative content and with many tags / variables, it is more difficult to apply it with good results, because in the end you have to edit a lot”, so that “more than helping can hinder the work”. Depending on the “quality of the machine translation tool”, the screen texts, messages for the player and others can offer better results. Marvels Eternals critical and A unique puzzle in search of new horizons.

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According to ATRAE, they have known “for sure” that developers large and small “have tried to use machine translation with regrettable results . ” They explain that in post-editing work “it is assumed” that a translator will subsequently review the result, “but it is impossible” for that professional “to offer the same quality as in a translated and human-reviewed text if they have to start from a bad one base”. They denounce that they charge “less” and that they have “less time to do it.” In addition, on many occasions the company must pay double, “first for post-publishing with horrible results and then for a later translation in conditions that fix the damage.”

Yakuza: Like a Dragon has been awarded at the ATRAE Awards for its location.

From the association they assure that “it is possible” that post-publishing is used more and more. “There are too many times when both end customers (developers) and translation agencies acting as intermediaries only see numbers and money , so it makes perfect sense for them to go for the cheapest option possible. But obviously, by doing that, they forget about the quality and content of the game itself, which is lost along the way and seriously affects the player experience. There is no use spending years developing a work with an impressive story if later it is impossible to find out well about it in your language ”.

ATRAE stresses that “not all developers put quality first” , since “money is important too often above all else”. They believe that their “job as professionals (and as players) is to ensure that companies do not follow these practices. We are gambling on future translations of our games ”. The Squid Game its creator reveals the alternative ending they had in mind.

What about the most creative texts?

Ramón Méndez, video game translator, academic and teacher, agrees that “the use of these tools is aimed at lowering costs”, but adds that “they are not very useful” when it comes to creative texts. “In other words, if it is about translating poems, puns, jokes, cultural references, or simply natural-sounding dialogues, the machine is highly incapable of doing all of that . It could be said that the day that I can do it well, the day that the machine develops creative and artistic sensibility, the fact that the machine translates will be the least of humanity’s problems ”.

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It all depends on the interest of the companies “in that the product comes out with the highest possible quality”. Méndez points out that there are games “that are launched directly with automatic translation without revision or anything”, but in those cases, “people usually notice”, because “the resulting texts are so funny that they end up going viral and talk more of that faulty translation than of the game itself ”. When viralization occurs, the studios, which are generally small indies, “end up backtracking and betting on professional translation.” It happened “with Salt & Sanctuary, which went from an incomprehensible machine translation to a very competent professional translation.”

For Méndez, it is “more common” to come across “with automatic translation without more” than “with post-publishing as such”, since from “the moment in which there is economic expense it usually compensates investing in the highest quality”. Even so, he warns, “there are companies that separate the game into blocks: they use post-editing in what are the menus, system messages and so on, which are more formulaic texts and that are repeated a lot between games, and they bet on complete professional translation in the rest of the texts (dialogues, narrative texts, etc.) ”.

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Sometimes, it is the intermediary localization agency that asks for post-publishing, either at the request of the client or to cut costs: “I am aware of an agency that has been trying to implement post-publishing for a couple of years, but it seems that many professionals refuse to accept commissions of that nature . Not surprisingly, post-editing work is much worse paid than translation work and, as I said before, the texts on the machine would have to be retranslated all from scratch, which means that the post-editing fee does not compensate even remotely for the work that It involves reviewing / post-editing those texts. Post-publishing does work in other less artistic areas of translation, in which the machine is a very useful tool to work with, but in the end it is a question of the profitability of the work ”.

Méndez continues to reflect on the question: “Anyone would accept a post-editing at a translation fee and there would be no problem in modifying what was needed as long as the game was as good as possible; But the thing about post-publishing is that it makes sense when you save work and spend fewer hours . If you invest the time according to the rate, the quality result is worse. In fact, it is one of the foundations of post-publishing: clarifying with the client the quality to be achieved. If the client is satisfied with polishing the texts a little so that they can be fairly understood in Spanish, almost nothing is modified and the retranslation is out of the equation ”.

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Be that as it may, for this translator “this is a lack of respect for the artistic value of the work with which we are working”; also “to the players”, who want to enjoy “some texts according to” the experience offered by the title. “At a time when narrative is fundamental in video games, underestimating the value and importance of high-quality texts is to condemn the game itself.”

This technology will continue to be used

Montón points out that “it is a practice that has come to stay”, since more and more companies are using it and “large investments are being made” to improve technology. In the case of “games with a large volume of text and with frequent updates”, he continues, “this system allows us to translate at breakneck speed”. As he argues, the important thing “is that the tools are good and that the professionals are trained. “There are not always totally clear guidelines, and not all professionals really know the difference between regular revision / editing and post-editing.”

At this point, it refers to translation memories, which must be integrated with machine translation, but what are translation memories? He clarifies that these “store the ‘human’ translations and also provide equivalences that are usually more accurate than the automatic translations as such.” It is not post-publishing, although there are “many companies”, both indies and some larger studios “that resort to automatic translations, without even post-publishing , since“ the cost is zero or very low ”. His forecast is that as services such as Google Translate or DeepL improve, there will be “more developers who opt for this procedure to lower costs and localize more languages.”

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This system is also used for its speed: “ Large volumes can be translated in just seconds, and then ‘just’ you have to add the review time ”, he explains. “But the actual translation time is greatly reduced. It is important that the memory is well fed and that it is as sophisticated as possible (most large companies create and feed their own TM). Some, for example, allow you to choose between a more formal (of you) or informal (of you) approach ”. However, these kinds of adjustments do not always fit well with the dialogues of a video game, where “one way of speaking or another is established according to each character”. For example, depending on where it comes from, it may have one accent or another. “It is difficult for a machine to be capable of making these kinds of decisions, at least for now,” he points out.

The translator Aixa Algaba Maye delves into the subject of translation memories: “They use a corpus of previous texts to create coindications with similar texts,” she emphasizes. The caveat is that “you can specify that it only returns the results that have a 100% coincidence, for example. Or use what has a lower percentage to guide you on how the translation has been in similar texts”. He emphasizes, however, that “it is always a translation support tool”, that is to say, it is not about post-publishing as such, “unless the input client enters in the program that the results of X percentage appear per default and a translator and a proofreader have to put them right. ”

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Project managers and agencies tend to pay the translator per word , so if they have a translation assistance tool (CAT), technology capable of processing texts and corpus, “they can tell you the number of words that are new and the number of fuzzies “, that is,” fuzzy matches “. With a CAT, “the human factor is not lost because you still need a translator to handle and fine-tune the use of these tools”

They all agree on the same negative point. For Diana Díaz Montón, “the greatest impact is on the income received by professionals, since the rates are lower” than those of the translation itself. Sometimes, he says, “it pays the same or worse than a review . ” The problem lies in “considering it only as a solution to lower costs”. Added to this is the fact that “the post-editor is expected to focus on correcting the least,” in a short time.

When he is not paid “to do a more detailed edition”, the result of these works is translated, worth the redundancy, in flatter and less idiomatic translations “. Not in vain, that is one of the main complaints of the audiovisual sector: “When doing post-editing, the minimum is touched and, if it is more or less well, the text goes forward. If not, complete sentences would have to be retranslated and then it is no longer economically viable and does not fit into deadlines ”. The conclusion, overwhelming: “It is a poorly paid practice, professionals are poorly valued and creativity is killed.”

On the other hand, not only minority languages ??are susceptible to succumbing to post-publishing, “it is a problem that affects all of them,” says ATRAE. However, Méndez believes that the more minority a language is, “the more it seeks to lower costs” , because in the end it is a question of profitability. “Minority languages ??tend to have higher rates (because there are fewer professionals in that language) and a much more limited audience, so there is a greater tendency to reduce investment to try to reach that audience, even with lower quality. So much so, that there are Spanish games that have released the game in languages ??such as Galician with automatic translation and, despite being a Spanish-Galician translation, which are close languages, the text was completely incomprehensible ”.