Monday, January 28, 2013

The Democratization of Game Development and the Future

Last year, 2012, was a really tough year for game production. Domestically in Japan, the social game network came to the forefront, while “comp-gacha” (method of awarding rare in-game items in mobile games only when the player has bought a full set of other in-game items) became a social problem. Additionally, many consumer game companies jumped onto the smartphone game platform.

With the opening of the documentary “Indie Game: The Movie”, etc., indie games garnered much attention overseas. Minecraft also hit a total of 17.5 million downloads, and this was also made into the documentary “Minecraft: The Story of Mojang”. The overseas indie game scene has the sort of creativity as well as industrial scale that can’t be ignored.

At the end of last year I went to the 4th “Kurokawa-juku”, and an event in which the recipients of entertainment awards were decided was held. Kurokawa-juku is an event held on a voluntary base by Fumio Kurokawa, who has traversed the entertainment industry far and wide, at which well-known members of the industry came together to look back on the entertainment industry of 2012. Items which garnered much attention seemed to be mainly domestic Japanese products such as GungHo’s huge hit smartphone game ”Puzzle & Dragons” and LINE , the free phone/messaging app. However, global topics such as Unity and OUYA were also touched upon on the final floor’s question and answer corner.

It needs no explanation, but Unity is the multiplatform game engine being developed by Northern Europe’s Unity Technologies. As a game reviewer, I’ve personally played many Android games, but in the chaotic Android market, I feel that Unity’s logo mark functioned as a sort of brand. This is because at least a certain level of quality can be expected from games made by Unity. Although in Japan it’s been lurking in the shadows of social game news, there were virtually no game industry conferences last year at which Unity’s name was not spotted. That’s how passionately they’ve been handling promotional activities, and beginning with smartphones, and they are certain to have a large impact from here on out on the game industry, which is becoming more multiplatform-oriented.

OUYA also likely needs no explanation. It’s the “next-generation” game console set to launch this April. Using Android as its OS and providing free developer SDKs which don’t require licenses, its development process is another characteristic feature of this great gaming machine. The project was publicized on the American crowd funding site Kickstarter last July 10th. It succeeded in gathering 8,600,000 US dollars, the second-highest amount ever received, and the project started. Major Japanese publishers such as Square Enix and Namco Bandai Games have announced plans to get onboard. Success is not yet guaranteed, but it is a bright bit of news in the currently dark future of the console market.

“The democratization of game development” is a convenient way to describe these trends such as Unity and OUYA. Unity has been using that as a catchphrase since the early stages. OUYA also uses the term “democratization” to emphasize the open platform. The monetization method known as F2P (basic play is free) which emphasizes mainly the business merits in Japan is mainly used overseas as a method of thwarting pirates, and I am surprised by the fact that is regarded as “the democratization of game value”.

The role that this sort of democratization plays for independent developers is extremely large. This is because game development/distribution traditionally required a large investment just to prepare a development environment and get a first-party license, and democratization makes this all become instantly cheaper. Even domestically in Japan, game engine providers such as Unity are also showing much interest in independent developers. (I was really surprised when Matchlock, the company which provides the BISHAMON Personal game effects engine, displayed a dojin game at last year’s CEDEC!)

Of course, it is undeniable that these screams of “Democratization! Democratization!” are partially just buzzwords. Just as there is a fine line between democracy and ochlocracy, the democratization of the game industry is not necessarily a totally good thing. Actually, on OSs with open platforms such as Android and Windows, there are more than enough garbage applications and harmful programs.
Even so, the simplification of production and the drop in the entry barrier are necessary for the contents industry. Music, into which recording/editing technology was widely introduced, quickly succeeded in becoming a “democratized” industry, and now music is produced all over the world and is distributed via the Internet. An immeasurable volume of music is being uploaded to music-based Web services such as Bandcamp and SoundCloud, regardless of the level of fame of its creators or the quality of the work.

This sort of explosive increase in contents is welcome, but is also a source of headaches. Since life is limited, there’s a limit to how much music you can listen to, so “pulling a winner” out of such a wide base of contents is more difficult than before. In the not-so-distant future, the game industry will likely also encounter a similar phenomenon. And for games, which take the most time to consume, that may become an even more serious problem than it has for music. Considering the historic transformations popular culture has gone through, “democratization of criticism” is one phenomenon that is expected to occur following this “explosion of contents”. Of course, there are new reviews and critiques of video games when they come out. However, for better or worse, these were mainly executed by members of the commercial media with deep ties to the video game industry, and have been stuck in between “advertising” and the other roles played by the media. Furthermore, I don’t k now if the commercial media will be able to deal with the exponentially higher number of contents compared with the package era. In the English-speaking world, from the 2000s, blog media – which produces some very good reviews – came about. For example, Rock, Paper, Shotgun is a blog run by four famous game journalists, and is quite famous among Japanese PC gamers. They deal with everything from major AAA titles to virtually unknown indie games, and would have been unheard of in traditional commercial media. There’s also The Border House, run by female game reviewer/producer Tami “Cuppycake” Baribeau, is a type of media unseen in Japan, which criticizes video games from a feminist point of view.

With these types of blog media cutting out video games in a different manner from existing media types, a new video game scene was born overseas. For 2012 as well, which became a boon year for indie games, it wasn’t created solely by the struggle of indie game developers. Cultural progress is always helped along by the back-and-forth between the creator and the receiver.

The future of the “democratization of game development”, as designated by Unity and OUYA, will be welcomed by Japanese independent developers. However, to truly achieve “the democratization of game development”, you need more than just simply an open game engine and platform. Games freely created by individuals or groups are recognized, played, and compared with AAA titles, and evaluated by end users. When that chain of events becomes a reality, only then will the “democratization of game development” have been achieved. And the “democratization of game evaluation” has many roles to fill in pushing along the “democratization of game development”.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Pro Translator's Checklist, Part 2

This is the second part of the (grossly oversimplified) list of DO's and DON'T's that should always be followed by a professional translator when taking on a project, and through his or her day-to-day dealings.

As previously stated, some of these may seem quite obvious –even for a beginner – but many translators seem to neglect many of them on a regular basis (and then wonder, “Why haven't I been getting any work in recently?!”). Don't let that happen to you – read and follow these points as much as possible.

1. DON'T assume that a new client has previous experience using or working with translation services and translators, and don't assume that they don't, either. You just may find yourself been perceived as condescending - or conversely, green and amateur – due to the way you over/underuse certain terms or discuss types of software, etc.

2. DON'T respond to a request for services with laments about how swamped you are with work, or how tight your schedule is with other projects. You might be able to show a client just how in-demand you are, but you are also likely to make them think twice about requesting your services again. If it's absolutely, positively impossible for you to accept a project, thank the potential client for their consideration and drop them a note when your workload lightens up.

3. DON'T assume that you already know everything there is to know about your own language pairs or specialties. Translation is the type of profession in which you can (and should) continue to learn and grow, as long as you stay open-minded.

4. DON'T make excuses for your rate - remember: you are a professional, offering a professional service. Do the necessary research in order to make sure that your rates are within industry standards.

5. DON'T provide a final quote without first checking the *entirety* of the source text. You could end up screwing yourself over majorly.

6. DON'T neglect to ask a client for a style preference or style sheet on especially long or continuing projects. Although the client may be responsible for providing you with these materials, you should always ask to be sure they haven't forgotten.

7. DON'T put off checking the source text of a new project. At the very least, go through it qucikly as soon as possible, even if you are in the middle of working on a different project.

8. DON'T wait till the last minute to make requests to the client, such as “May I have a more legible copy?” or “Could you send some sort of reference materials?” These things may take time - or may be downright impossible – and if that's the case, then you need to know this as early as possible.

9. DON'T assume that your client has examined the source text as thoroughly and carefully as you do – or even at all. You may find that some text already exists in the target language, which is good news; or you may find that there is more text in a third language, which can change things drastically.

10. DON'T forget that human translation is an organic product. Keep an open mind when it comes to having completed translations reviewed, be ready to admit when you've made a mistake, and be ready to defend yourself with concrete resources – don't try to deflect criticism or complaints with “I've been doing this for a long time”... There's always the chance that you've have been doing it the wrong way for a long time.

And thus completes the second half of the Pro Translator's Checklist. We are always open to fresh views and opinions regarding this work, so please don't hesitate to comment any additions, amendments, or criticisms you may have.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Pro Translator's Checklist, Part 1

This is the first part of a list of ten DO’s that a professional translator should always remember when taking on a project. Some of these may seem quite obvious –even for a beginner – but many translators either forget or don’t bother to think to follow them in the first place. 

1. Always remember to thank a client for taking the time to contact you with an inquiry or quote. This should be done regardless as to whether or not you’re actually receiving work from them. 

2. Always be sure to respond to inquiries from clients, prospective clients, and even people about whom you have doubts as to whether or not they’d even be interested in your services. Feeling ignored or unimportant is a huge turnoff for anyone, especially to someone who is looking for a person to do a job for which attention to detail is extremely important. 

3. (This is an extension of the previous item...) Always respond to inquiries after an absence as well. This includes going on vacation, moving house/offices, having computer/server problems, being sick, anything at all... Even if it’s too late to take on a job that may have been offered, showing that you’re professional and polite could lead to more work down the road. 

4. Always be honest about your ability to meet a deadline. Promising a client that you can finish a translation in two days, and then having to take an entire week to finish it not only makes you seem unprofessional and green, it also makes you look like a liar. 

5. Always check the entire source text before agreeing to a certain deadline and fee. “Eight pages” certainly sounds much longer than “three pages”, but “eight pages of a book for small children” is usually going to take much less time and effort to translate accurately than “three pages of a patent”. 

6. Always provide a fair quote in regards to your rates. That is, don’t assume that one client can afford to pay twice as much as what you would charge another client for the same work, and then charge accordingly. You may unwittingly drive off a client altogether, if not a job that most others would gladly accept for much less money. 

7. Always check through the source text when what appears to be a mistake or discrepancy comes up. There’s a good chance that it’s explained further along in the text, and especially if this is obvious, you’ll end up looking lazy or dependant. 

8. Always offer to review your own work for free when asked to go over it again, no matter how long. “Being careful not to make mistakes” should be included in your initial fee; there’s no reason to charge a client for doing what you should have been doing in the first place. 

9. Always request confirmation of reception of deliveries, purchase orders, invoices, and quotes. This is especially true for deliveries. You don’t want a client to assume that you were being lazy or had forgotten about them when the server eats your mail, and with a confirmation you can be sure that they’ve received your submission. 

10. Always be respectful and polite in regards to other translators as well as clients. For one thing, no one likes dealing with someone who constantly badmouths others; and on top of that, for all you know you may be missing out on amazing opportunities that a client would have introduced to you, had you not already expressed your dislike for someone else related to the projector company of origin. 

Hopefully these ten items will be of use to you in your dealings. Next time, the list will continue with the DON’T’s.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Rare Languages & Language Pairs

There are currently 6,069 known “living” languages in the world. Some languages, like English, are extremely common and can be heard anywhere on Earth. Some languages, on the other hand, are much rarer and virtually unknown outside their respective places of origin. Naturally, the more common a language is, the more translators you will be able to find working in and out of that language. The opposite, of course, is also true. Whereas it’s simple to find a translator working in or out of English or Spanish, you’d have a somewhat more difficult task ahead of you were you to be searching for a native Ndonga speaker. 

While it would be hard enough to simply find a native speaker of some of these rarer languages, when it comes to translation, that difficulty can become exponential due to the fact that you need someone fluent in not just one particular language, but in another specific language as well. To recycle the previous example: it’s easy to find an English-Spanish translator. In fact there are tens of thousands of them. But try looking for not just a Ndonga speaker – but a Ndonga-Yucatan Mayan translator... Good luck. 

With the trend of globalization hitting all corners of the ever-expanding world market, translators are becoming more and more necessary. And with the Internet and modern telecommunications helping people from extreme opposite ends of the globe get into contact and do business with each other more easily than ever before, translators working with rare languages are beginning to find their place in the industry. 

While most translation companies specialize in more common languages and language pairs, there may be a niche for rarer languages and more obscure language pairs. Not only a niche, but for smaller agencies in particular, handling more obscure language pairs may even be the key to boosting business in their more common languages as well. 

For example, say a client is searching for a Japanese-English translator. They have their pick of any of literally hundreds of companies throughout the world that have more than adequate Japanese-English translation resources at hand, and will probably choose the cheapest or the one with the top spot on Google. However, if a client is looking for a language professional to deal with Urdu or Zuul, and they find that your agency is one of the few offering their required services and subsequently contract you for the job, then there’s a good chance that they’ll come back to you again out of familiarity the next time they have a Japanese-English project. Not to mention the fact that they may even spread the word to other potential clients that your agency deals in less common languages, providing free publicity focused directly to the sort of client your business needs. 

While it may not be advisable to restructure your translation agency to ONLY handle rare languages/language combinations, it can never hurt to keep as many specialists in said languages on file as possible, just in case. Since a lot of translation companies don’t even bother to do this, just having contact information for – and a proper business relationship with – translators specializing in rare languages automatically gives you an advantage over some of the larger or more established firms. If a client comes to you with a request for a translation to/from Hmong, even if the Hmong translator you have on file is unavailable at the time, chances are they can introduce you to another Hmong translator, thus allowing you to not only accommodate the client but also adding yet another rare language specialist to your company’s lineup for future reference. 

As previously mentioned, it may not be the best idea to focus your small-scale translation agency solely on rare languages/language combinations. But just the fact that your agency has yet to fill up and keep you busy with more common languages is actually a convenience: you may actually have more time than a project manager at a larger firm to go and seek out rare language specialists for when you need them. It’s looking more and more like it may be wise to carve out your own little niche in the translation industry – which becomes more and more important as the Internet and globalization spread further and more quickly everyday, and the world becomes a smaller, more closely-knit community – while you still can.