Tech community anger at crowd sourced translations

Steam, the internet’s most popular game distributor, is crowd sourcing it’s game translations. This has caused anger in the tech community:

Steam/Valve has decided to build a “community effort” to get its Steam platform and game files translated by the community into 26 languages (english, czech, danish, dutch, finnish, french, german, hungarian, italian, japanese, korean, norwegian, “pirate”, polish, portugese, romanian, russian, spanish, swedish, simplified and traditional chinese, thai, brazilian, bulgarian, greek & turkish).

but here is the catch:

Translators do not get paid. They do enjoy many perks however, like access to the game text to be translated (not the game itself, god forbid they could actually test their translation within the game and not have to pay for it), and… and… that’s about it.

Update: I did some math; the test text when you sign up for Steam Translation Server is 265 words; at the current rate of 0.09 USD per word this means 23.85 USD is how much a professional translator would charge to translate that text. Now if only storefront descriptions like this are to be translated for all games (using Steam’s claim of a catalogue of over 1100 games and growing) that would mean that Steam is saving roughly 26235 USD per language (and keep in mind thats only for short storefront descriptions of games).

Now there are 26 languages on the Translation Server at present; that means roughly 26235 x 26 = 682110 USD are being saved by Steam making the “community” work for free.

To that you have to add the costs for reviewing said translations; 0.03 USD per word, so easily enough 682110 divided by 3 = 227370 USD. (that is assuming only one version of the text has to be reviewed, which is not the case)

So, Steam has just saved 909480 USD by making the “community” work for free.

I would love to hear from people that know more about translation costs in America regards the pricing that has been listed. I think the main source of anger is directly related to Steam’s large profits and that not even a free game is offered in compensation – especially when digital game distribution has a cost of almost zero – ie, it would cost Steam nothing to provide a gratuity.

There are a number of issues that spring to mind – how does one become an accredited translator into pirate for instance? This is an example of a translation effort that can almost only happen by means of crowd sourcing since the language was created on and by the internet via crowd sourcing – starting with Talk like a Pirate Day (Wikipedia entry) and then somewhat legitimised by Facebook.

Then there is the obvious problem for Steam (apart from the million dollar translation costs if done “legitimately”) of to whom to give a gratuity – would a crowd member have to submit a certain number of strings to qualify? Would it be based on votes garnered for the strings submitted, or strings accepted for the official or final translation? There’s also a time factor – games age quickly and translations take time. Crowd sourcing does a fantastic job of parallelising translation production – I would suggest that this process will be complete for Steam within the year, if not sooner – probably a saving of at least 6-12 months.

Further, without copies of the games, surely the contextual information needed to do a correct or proper translation would be missing?

Thankfully the more thoughtful crowd at Slashdot have weighed in, making the obvious point that it’s hypocritical to promote open source software (created via crowd sourcing) but denigrate translation using the same methods.

Another commentator brings subtitulos.es to attention – a crowd sourced Spanish (European, I presume) subtitle project, and a third throws in the obligatory “hovercraft full of eels” line (context).

While I understand that those translating should be afforded some recognition, given that it’s to the community’s benefit I don’t have a problem with Steam’s actions.