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Game On! Motivate Translators and Interpreters with Gamification
Posted by Arle Lommel on March 15, 2017  in the following blogs: Best Practices, Technology, Translation and Localization, Interpreting
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Is your company looking for ways to increase translator and interpreter efficiency, boost motivation, increase your teams’ output, and focus team members on billable work? Is simple compensation not enough? If so, maybe you need to look beyond tools, processes, and word rates to make work seem less serious by introducing something missing from translation memory tools: fun. 

Gamification refers to the incorporation of elements of game play into other tasks. Examples include workers who receive points or prizes for accomplishing certain tasks or progressing in levels. Their names may appear on leaderboards, and they may have progress bars to show accomplishment, perhaps allowing them to compete head-to-head with other workers for top honors. The theory is that these devices help engage people in their tasks by giving them tangible outcomes and recognition and by engaging their playful, creative side, the side that leads many younger people to spend significant amounts of time outside of work in playing games.

To this point, gamification in translation and localization has had the most success with crowdsourced models that exchange recognition for work in projects. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Steam have all had success – and occasional controversy – with this model. Even some commercial product developers have found success with gamified elements in efforts to close the language gap for markets that do not justify a full-blown commercial localization effort.

One of the most prominent adopters of gamification in the language field is Duolingo, which offers language learning courses and rewards participants with badges for using the platform. Although site visitors would be hard-pressed to determine that Duolingo is anything other than a language-learning tool, it started out as a commercial translation service that attempted to turn the efforts of language learners into quality translation. The company’s marketing no longer emphasizes this aspect, but its terms of service reveal that it continues to offer these services. Here, gamification helps engage site visitors with their tasks and helps ensure that they continue to work on the tasks that Duolingo needs to provide its commercial services.

Another notable example, which arguably predates the rise of gamification, is ProZ’s KudoZ system. KudoZ are points assigned to translators who help fellow linguists. The more points translators have, the higher they appear in search results and the better their chances are to be selected for paid work through the platform. In this case, the purpose is to mix altruism and self-interest so that translators will help each other.

A more recent example – which admits to being a pure vanity project – is Cademon. Based on Pokemon Go, this system allows interpreters working in the Cadence platform to earn badges and avatars. The goal is to make work more interesting and exciting for platform users.

These examples remain exceptions to the rule. CSA Research has yet to see truly significant adoption of gamification in professional translation and among language services providers (LSPs). Why is that? Part of the reason is that most of these elements are fundamentally “vanity” scores: They are about building reputation within a given platform, but success in the platform will not convert into more or better-paying hours unless the badges and awards correspond to something meaningful for buyers. A company looking for a translator is unlikely to care if the linguist is a “Gold Master Translation Ninja” with “a Diamond Wordsmith Badge and 42 High Fives” in his or her profile.

One of the challenges is to tie rewards to the right behavior. Poorly designed systems may actually degrade performance. If incentives reward the wrong behavior – such as awarding points for accepting jobs, even if they are not completed in a timely fashion – they encourage people to manipulate the system and use it for their own ends. Properly designed systems need to anticipate the ways that participants will try to subvert the system and turn that energy to productive use by making sure that winners get ahead by doing the right thing. With the right motivation, gamification can help reduce waste and channel effort into productive activity. 

Buyers instead care about what industries translators or interpreters specialize in, whether they deliver on-time, customer satisfaction, and what quality they provide. These elements are all hard to measure, especially when definitions vary and translation is a collaborative effort between translators, editors, and proofreaders. The buyer may be happy with the result, but if the editor had to clean up a badly done translation, customer satisfaction can be a bad measure for the efforts of the individuals involved.

Although gamification has been a significant force in application design and the business world since about 2010, LSPs are still figuring out how to make it useful. Linguist platforms that can find the right measures to reward the right kind of participation may be able to derive a significant advantage from these methods. As other industries move forward with their own gamification efforts, we can expect to see more time for play at LSPs in the coming years.


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