When we developed Awesomenauts for console, we had the benefit of working with a publisher that helped us with QA (Quality Assurance, also known as testing) and translations. However, on PC we have self-published Awesomenauts, and that means that we had to take care of these things ourselves. Being low on budget and time, we decided to take the more radical route: we crowdsourced large parts of both.
For those who don't know the term: crowdsourcing means asking the public to help you, outsourcing to the crowd. So we did a beta where people could play the game before launch, and tell us if they found any bugs. And we asked players to help us translate all the new texts to German, Italian, Spanish and French. Since crowdsourcing is such a hot topic these days, I figured it would be interesting to share our experience with the translations.
At first, I was quite reluctant about letting players do translations. Despite our budgetary problems a few months ago, I was in favour of paying a translation company to do it, thinking that would be faster, more reliable and better quality. However, my colleagues wanted to give crowdsourcing a try, and so we did. And know what? Crowdsourcing turned out great, way better than even the biggest optimist at Ronimo had expected!
To find translators, we opened up an email-address for players to sign up for translating to a specific language. We promoted this on our Facebook, Twitter and forum. Within a week, we got several dozen reactions, meaning we had enough translators to have backup if someone bailed out at the last moment. It was also enough to have them double-check each other's texts.
Since we had some new and (at the time) secret features (like the new character Gnaw that is coming this week), we asked each of the translators to sign a short NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). An NDA is a small contract that simply states that any secrets we share are to be kept secret. I generally dislike the formality of putting everything under contract, but for something like this it is nice to make it very clear to the testers that we really don't want any unreleased information to leak. For an indie studio, the most important marketing tool there is, is which information is revealed when. So keeping that under control is very important for us.
Once that was taken care of, we simply put our spreadsheet with texts on Google Docs and gave them access. From there, the magic happened... I was absolutely baffled to hear that the very next day, everything had already been translated. No commercial translation company we previously worked with ever worked that fast! And they took their job very seriously: in the following days, they checked each other's work (marking what had and what had not been checked), and extensively discussed how to translate some of the genre-specific words. They even made some improvements to the existing console translations!
Awesomenauts has been out for over two weeks now, and we have not heard any complaints about bad translations. So despite that I don't speak Italian and thus cannot check the Italian translations to see whether they are any good, I think I can conclude that the translators did a great job. Players are quick enough to complain about any other issues in the game, so if they didn't complain about this, then it must have been good enough! ^_^
Another benefit of how this turned out is that if we have any new texts, we can just send them to the translators and they usually have new translations for us within a day. Compared to the formal requests for new translations that we had to do to commercial translation companies in the past, and the time it took for those to come back in all languages (usually one to two weeks), crowdsourcing is just incredibly easy and fast!
Of course, we also wanted to give something back to our translators, so we gave all of them a free copy of the game on Steam. More importantly, we also gave them a special icon in the game: the Golden Duck! (This may sound silly, but I think it is important to officially honour people who help us, and what in the world is cooler than a Golden Duck?!?!)
This blogpost so far obviously suggests that crowdsourcing is a great idea. I think it is, and I wonder: wouldn't it be possible to take this a lot further? Why not let players design puzzles for a puzzle game, for example? Looking at how much user-generated-content has been made for games like Portal 2 and Little Big Planet, I think a lot of players would be honoured to contribute a couple of puzzles to a game! Why not ask users to design puzzles before release and include them in the game? In a sense, this might feel like abusing their time, so maybe some kind of compensation would have to be figured out for that. But then again, I think if they got a chance to contribute to a game they love, lots of players would feel honoured, not abused! Making games is one of the most fun jobs in the world, and quite a few gamers would love to be a bit closer to that by contributing to an actual game.
After all this jubilant talk about crowdsourcing, it is time to mention some of the downsides. For one, I think rallying players becomes a lot more difficult if you don't have an existing playerbase yet. Quite a few people already knew Ronimo from Swords & Soldiers and De Blob, and we already had a ton of Awesomenauts players on console. I guess for your first game, it is a lot more difficult to find enough translators who are willing to really help you.
Another problem is that on console, there are a lot of certification requirements. Console manufacturers think it is necessary to define whether a button is pressed or clicked, and if you use the wrong word, your game might fail certification. (This example is not made up, one of the current consoles actually has this exact requirement...!) Working with players is a risk for these kinds of requirements, since they might not know about them. Professional translators know all the certification rules (or at least, they should...).
There is also the risk of a malicious person putting in weird texts. This happened to Minecraft, where an official release contained a racial slur in the translation to Afrikaans. Having translators double-check each other's work helps against this, but it is always a risk that someone changes a text at the last minute and this kind of horror ends up in an official release...
Despite these potential downsides, crowdsourcing has so many benefits, that I feel it is a great idea. It turned out that it is not just cheap for the developer, but also incredibly fast and a fun way to interact with the community and have them add something of their own to the game.
To conclude, we would like to thank our community translators for their great help and support!