Translator and Tester Simone Toccacieli Predicts an AI Revolution in Gaming

This month, we’re featuring Simone Toccacieli, whose background in video game quality assurance gives him a unique perspective on the translation industry. Here, he shares how technology has changed his job for the better.

Why do you enjoy reading MultiLingual magazine?

It’s easy to read, it has a sleek layout, and it speaks about important issues of the industry.

How did you get involved in the translation business?

A bit by choice, a bit by chance. I have an academic background in Italian linguistics, but my English has always been very good, and I used it for so long that it became a sort of second language. When I got my first translation gig, I was already working in the game industry as a Language Quality Assurance Tester, so I was familiar with the work of translators and certain requirements of the industry.

Translating has always been a side gig of my main profession as a QC for video games, until a period of unemployment made it my main occupation. It was thanks to my experience in testing that my activity as translator evolved into Language Quality Management (LQM), a hybrid between a linguist and a tester. I have been doing LQM for almost 8 years and I love it.

Since you entered the translation industry, how has the business landscape changed?

Enormously. My first translations were in text format, sometimes in plain text; that was the world before the CAT tools and TMs. I remember a translation I made for a company based in Belgium. The translation was really short — around 250 words in Excel — but it was entirely manual (no TM involved), and it was a small update of a huge amount of text previously translated by others, so consistency was key. I had to check a list of terms against the legacy translation, and it took me an entire evening. I got paid by words and given the low count it amounted to 20 dollars for 4 hours of work. And the payment came 40 days after the job was delivered. With today’s knowledge and tools, I could do that in 20 minutes, but back then you really had to love the job to keep going.

Could you share your experience working with your first client or on your first project?

Quite a funny story. This was back in 2007. I was hired by a webmaster to translate a website from Polish into Italian. I did not know Polish at the time, so the webmaster was translating verbally in English the various strings in Polish and I was writing their equivalent in Italian into a simple .txt file. The strings were then manually copied and pasted into the code right away. I remember the emotion of seeing the website gradually changing into Italian. It was a new sensation for me. We translated the whole website in one sitting. It was a lot of manual work, done in a rush and with a primitive flow. But I got paid well, and the feeling of creating something purely with your intelligence was unmatched.

Do you believe it’s a good time to enter the translation business?

The short answer is, “Yes, but with some caveats.” If we look at the data coming from the translation industry, they are quite encouraging; the global combined revenue from translation activities is increasing, and the industry creates job openings at any time of the year. However, we can observe — and most people complain about — a structural wage dispersion in professional translation services due to automated workflows and technologies.

Why is that? My opinion is that the pervasiveness of content generated by machine translation (MT), the always increasing perfection of CAT tools, and the AI integration into them require an increasingly specialized professional. Whoever cannot keep up with the technology and is not open to acquire lateral knowledge will inevitably be relegated to the margins of the profession — meaning you will not earn a salary you can live on. The fact that you are able to translate won’t necessarily land you a job as a translator; successful translators need to have specific computer skills, a basic notion of how the text behaves in the media of choice, and in some cases, know how to produce an output in a format that the client can use. That and the language skills will open a wide range of opportunities for prospects translators. But if you are not in for “the work,” do not even start.

Where do you see yourself professionally in the next 10 years?

My career steered away from the language service industry to return to its core: games. I see my professional future more along the lines of a people facilitator rather than a content creator or translator. Being a certified project manager (PM), QA expert, and linguist, I am lucky enough to have the knowledge needed to perform a wide range of professions. I am also very proud of the fact that most of my knowledge as a linguist was acquired independently, and thanks to the work I put into it I was successful enough to put together a decent salary. Is this change temporary? Who knows. Right now, I am happy where I am.

What predictions do you have for the future of the translation industry?

A very debated topic in the language industry is the role of the AI, which is feared by most for its power to kill the job of humans. We often forget, however, that every new technology that killed jobs in the short term created new jobs in the medium-long term, or at the very least improved the existing working conditions. When the first MT tools appeared on the market, we were worried that they would take away jobs from humans. Heck, we were worried Google Translate would take away jobs from humans!

In fact, the opposite happened: the tools simplified the job, which made the translation turn-around faster and cheaper, so agencies could offer alternative language pairs that were previously unprofitable. A cheaper labor cost inflated the scope, so today we can afford to translate much bigger batches than ever before. Because of the affordability, even emergent and traditionally low-budget businesses can afford localization in multiple languages.

You can clearly see this in the gaming industry. In 2008, 200,000 words of content were possible only in AAA titles with large budgets, and the localization was often limited to the 5/7 major languages (FIGS + ENGLISH and sometimes RUSSIAN and PTBR). Nowadays, we have mobile games whose content is close to a million words with 10+ languages localized, and no one bats an eye. The mechanization inflated the scope, the revenue and created parallel businesses of solutions for the translation industry, from the software creation to certifications, to product consulting.

I think AI will trigger a similar “revolution.” I want to offer an example of AI application in CAT tools starting with a question: What is the least creative activity a translator performs? The answer could be “fitting the text into a specification,” like a character limitation, for example. We spend hours shortening strings and reviewing them over and over for consistency, and we are not even paid for that because a translator is normally paid by source word, not by hour (remember the 20 dollars I earned for four hours of work). A well-trained AI applied to an MT tool can detect character limitations and offer an alternative text almost instantly, taking away the boring part of the job that interrupts the creative process of the translator while leaving intact the translator’s wage. AI is here to stay, so we’d better get used to it and use its capabilities at best.

Nicolas M. Martin Fontana
Sales and Marketing Manager at Comunica.

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