Google Encourages Game Developers to Switch from Human to Machine Translation

Google Play Store Machine Translation

Developers now have access to free machine translation (MT) for their Android apps, tech website 9to5Google reported.

Google announced the new service on March 14, 2023 at the annual Google for Games Developer Summit.

The launch will kick off with seven languages (Simplified Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, and Castilian Spanish), though the list may expand to include more languages in the future.

The selection is especially interesting considering the results of a recent Google survey illuminating the importance gamers in Asia-Pacific place on localization.

The initial launch is also limited in terms of users, who must apply for early access. (Applicants have the option of providing “a short summary of [the] internationalization strategy and goal” for their app.) 

In the Google for Games Developer Summit 2023 Keynote, Product Director, Greg Hartrell, told developers: “Localizing your game is one of the more powerful opportunities to maximize your game’s reach, including with Mandarin and Spanish speaking players. Because Google Play is a global platform, it’s important to connect with people in their own native language. The Play Console already offers a translation service, but it has several days turnaround time. So today, we’re announcing the early access program for machine translation in the Play Console. This uses Google Translate and the best in class transformer-based language models for quality.”

So now, developers can upload their app’s strings in the original language; select their target language(s); allow Google to machine translate; and download and incorporate the results into their app.

“Machine Translation for Play” will automatically translate store listings and product descriptions — standard fare for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) localization thus far. Support articles and training materials, for instance, are low-risk content for MT.

Most strikingly, the new service will apparently also translate in-app text using MT alone, historically a high-risk proposition. Content related to the user interface (UI) is typically translated by humans or, if machine translated, at least edited by human translators. Why?

As Slator’s 2022 SaaS Localization Report explains: “Context is critical for translation of short UI labels; meaning is often something that cannot be inferred without understanding the UI around it.”

The response from gamers is hard to predict. Critics have already debated the impact of MT on game localization for years; meanwhile, a whole movement on Twitter has brought attention to game translators’ lack of visibility, giving rise to the question: With this new service, will Android app developers name Google Translate in the credits?