Goodbye LocJAM and thanks for all the fish

In the coming days we will announce the winners of the fourth LocJAM (fifth including LocJAM Japan) and someone will inevitably ask when we will hold a new edition.

So far, there are no plans for that. This might well be the last edition of the contest. Why?

My focus was always on discovery

LocJAM was created because I really loved translating one game

In 2013 I made a series of YouTube videos about translating a full videogame with memoQ. Since I couldn't really share a real project for it, I hacked Republia Times as an example.

It was a tiny flash game created in just two days for the Ludum Dare game jam, but very fascinating since it acted as a satire of shallow journalism and propaganda. Its author Lucas Pope (which would then go on to make indie darling Papers Please) is a true minimalist and his text was very deep and nuanced despite being translatable in less than one day.

As soon as I shared the videos, people started asking me how they could translate the games themselves. I found that intriguing: I really wanted to see how others would tackle the same challenge.

So I hired a programmer and set out to create a contest that would share that sense of discovery. Open to both professionals and amateurs, because true innovation can come from everywhere. With multiple distinct winners, up to eight per language, because I believe there is no single "right" way to translate a text, just different approaches fit for different audiences. And open to creativity and innovation, with a long deadline and no limits for team efforts (even outside translation itself).

Despite the initial skepticism, and having substantially no budget beyond my own donations, the contest was immediately popular, with hundreds of participants and dozens of workshops held worldwide, from Tokyo to Madrid, from Montevideo to Minsk.

The proudest moment? When we were invited to present the contest and its results at the #TranslatingEurope Forum, organized by the European Commission.

Since then, we had four major editions (from English into Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish) and one spin-off (from Japanese into English).

And one thing became increasingly clear

Most people just don't care about discovery

Without making this too long, I've had:

  • Candidates asking to forbid any additional tasks like redoing graphics, since it might reduce their chances of winning
  • Candidates complaining that the game was too difficult, too unpolished, too weird or not in 3D
  • Candidates asking if they would be penalized for using line breaks
  • Candidates insinuating that some jurors were picking their own freelancers in order to look good (when in reality we even had jurors forgetting they were part of the contest altogether)
  • Winners stating bluntly that they were done with the contest, since there wasn't anything more it could give them
  • Winners complaining because they were not being offered a job by their juror
  • Jurors stating they would participate only if they became exclusive jurors for their own language
  • Jurors refusing to have other jurors' honorable mentions shared, since it would lessen the impact of their own choice
  • Workshop hosts planning to charge an entrance fee for their event
  • A game jam losing all interest in a partnership after finding out we would not provide free translations for them
  • A sponsor requiring all translations to be carried exclusively with their tool
  • A company blog rewriting an interview with me and quoting things I never said in other to insert their own sales pitch

And so on...

Which is fair enough, but it's not interesting for me either

Everyone has their own interest for being involved, I get it.Candidates want to win and further their career, jurors want to raise their profile and prestige, sponsors want a measurable return from their investment. Fair enough.

But my interest isn't there.

To make things work in the way most of the audience wants, I should substantially run a yearly university exam, grinding through games and candidates year after year, without risks or surprises.

That's about ten days of full time work every year, eight hours a day, in order to provide what has turned from an amazing surprise to a yearly service people take mostly for granted.

If I was paid for it, that would be fine. Since the very first edition ended, I was asked "So, how are you going to monetize this?". And there are many angles to make it feasible, from charging an entrance fee, to having aggressive sponsorship spaces, to selling the database.

But this is not the type of contest I have created and it's not the type of things I want to do with my time. Just writing about it makes me cringe.It's a volunteer activity, something I do for free and for fun. If my heart isn't in it anymore, it's just better to end it while it's still true to itself.

Four years is a great run for a crazy little experiment like this. Maybe it will come back in other hands or in another form (we already had some discussions about this in the LocSIG group), but it's fair to say that this LocJAM ends here.

Thanks everyone and take care, Alain