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Dark Translations and Money

January 25th, 2009, by zalas
Posted in Translation , Tagged:

Nephrinn, the translator behind Dark Translations has decided to go ahead with a new and apparently controversial way of choosing and working on translation projects. Instead of simply translating a game and releasing a patch, Dark Translations will now be accepting commission for games that people are interested in. Since this is something new for the translator, he is looking for feedback on this system as well, so please forward comments to him.

According to the rules posted on his commission forum, games are eligible if they are “dark” games that either use KiriKiri or are compatible with Online Anime Game Translator (OAGT), a tool that hooks into the text engine of a game and can replace the Japanese text with English text on the fly using some external source for translations. Commissions start out as simply pledges to donate money and once $500 in pledges have accrued and each donator has donated at least “.50 cents[sic],” translation work will start on that project. However, a full commission amount based on the amount of text and to be determined by the translator will be required for the full translation of a game. If Dark Translations only receives a fraction of the full commission amount, then only that fraction of the game will be translated. The patch, whether for part of the game or the entire game, will be available to everyone, not just the contributors.

This isn’t the first time fan translations have asked for donations, whether it’s per product or for the entire group. For example, donations for anime fansubs back in the era of tapes were often used to offset costs incurred by the fansubbers, such as importing expensive Japanese laserdiscs or buying subtitling equipment. Nephrinn points to “H-manga translators, like SaHa and Desudesu, who accept community-driven contributions to translate H-manga” as examples of other translators accepting per-work donations. However, in modern day fan translations, there aren’t many costs involved and some translators/groups will resort to illegally obtaining source material to translate in any case. The most common practice nowadays for groups asking for donations seems to be a generic donation link, often supposedly used to offset bandwidth costs, etc.

Finally, perhaps in response to people’s comments on the quality of the English in his translations, Nephrinn has now hired a proofreader who will be paid at least 10% of the full commission rate of the game translation.


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  1. relentlessflame Says:
    January 25th, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Well, on the one hand, translating is a service; it takes time, and time is money. As far as I know, it isn’t illegal for anyone to commission a **private** translation of a work even if you don’t own the rights to it. There’s something altruistic about someone donating their time to provide translations as a sort of “public service”, but that’s not exactly very scalable. This sort of “fundraising” approach may provide a way to make possible projects that would otherwise go un-tackled.

    That being said, the distribution angle is still the problem here. At the same time, I guess you could argue that it’s *always* the problem. But I sort of wonder… If you’re paying someone to produce and mass-distribute a fan translation, wouldn’t that be sort of like “conspiring to commit intellectual property infringement”? (Not that’s necessarily a real crime, but it somehow sounds like a bad thing? Obviously, I am not a lawyer…)

    Two other stray thoughts, I guess:

    1. This is sort of “faith giving”, in the sense that you have no guarantee of a product. It isn’t like you’re “pre-ordering” a product either. You’re “pre-paying” for a service, with the expectation that the service will be rendered. So, you’re placing a lot of trust in the person on the other end. And given that the amount due is determined by the translator (When? In advance? As they go along?), how easy would it be for someone to just keep leading people along with more promises so long as more money is donated? (“Oops! I underestimated, and there’s actually double the work involved! Better donate more if you want to get the full product…”) Just to be clear, I’m not saying at all that it would happen here, but it’d definitely count as a risky investment. You have absolutely no legal recourse, only blind faith.

    2. The ironic thing here is, of course, the people who’ll “pay for” the translation, but pirate the game, or even use the fact that they’ve paid for the translation as a *justification* for pirating the game. Controversy about paying for fan translations aside, it *at least* starts by paying for a legal copy of the original work. That should sort of go without saying, but, yeah…

  2. relentlessflame Says:
    January 25th, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    (Note to the above — I understand that the article talks about it initially being pledges, but at what point does the pledge turn into an actual donation beyond the token donation? Still seems risky, anyway…)

  3. Myun Says:
    January 25th, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    While I can see where this is coming from, you seriously can’t expect people to pay 500$ + eventually more for a job they don’t know when or even if it will be completed.

    This whole thing smells like the dude thinks porn game translations are serious business, or that just because he can read japanese he can make easy money off retards who don’t… I think he’ll be sorely proven wrong.

  4. Aza Says:
    January 26th, 2009 at 12:15 am

    A little digression : tadanohito charges around $500 ($2,5 per page) for translation of one eromanga tankoubon. Usually he gets an entire tank commissioned within few weeks. To put it into perspective, he just put out four new tanks, and less than 24 hour later, $380 have already been “donated”.

    My point is, people will be more than willing to pay for their porn (and other stuff), if they know they can trust the one they are paying to. SaHa did close to 1000 various doujins and manga (not just ero), tadanohito did a dozen tanks, and Dark Translations already translated four full Lilith games in less than three years and fifth is at 25%, so they all have enough credibility to pull something like that off.

    Also, the reason Nephrinn isn’t directly taking donations, but it only letting people “preorder”, is most likely to gauge the actual interest and set the price accordingly (undeniably unprofessional, but he is the first to do something like this, so the law of supply and demand applies).

    I personally don’t see how this is any worse (both legally and morally) from free game translations. He is releasing patches that require original games to work, just as other game translation groups, and the only difference is that he is charging for his work. And is posting regular progress updates (ha!).

  5. Ignosco Says:
    January 26th, 2009 at 12:41 am

    I’d second relentlessflame’s concern that people would use the excuse that they’ve paid for the translation as a justification for not buying the original game.

    Another concern would be agreeing to translate a game without having cleared it 100% at least once before. It doesn’t really need to be said why that’s a good idea, particularly if you are commissioned to translate something that you later find out is too difficult for you, or if there are passages that need to be translated via some other method (eg. purely spoken text or images) etc. etc.

    Without meaning to sound too cynical, there are so few translated eroges that there will probably be people who will want to pay for anyone to work on a game that they think they might like. However, whether or not you can come up with a translation that is worth paying for and most importantly, one that does the original eroge justice is the main question. Judging by your past translations, I have very strong doubts about that.

  6. Anon Says:
    January 26th, 2009 at 12:47 am

    Myuun, have you ever actually looked at his website? He’s translated quite a few games in just a couple of years so you can’t claim he’s making statements he can’t commit to. Besides, it’s only been five days and he’s already got commissions in the hundreds of dollars range for a couple of games so it’s pretty clear that some people are willing to pay large amounts for things they’d have no other way of playing.

    All of his other eroge translations have been way outside of my zone of interest (it’s mostly gang-rape, tentacle, massive boobs, etc) but this way it looks like he might start translating some better games as long as they fall inside the ‘dark’ genre (perhaps some Nitro+ games?). MinDeaDBlood, his latest announcement doesn’t look like it has the stuff that annoys me about his other games and could be pretty interesting (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=3h-B2DhoOx8)

  7. nebosuke Says:
    January 26th, 2009 at 2:14 am

    I checked the site out myself and PMed the guy in charge of the site about what games he could translate with the tools that he has and one of the ones that he said was translatable was Nitro+ Gekko no Carnevale so this might be worth trying.
    In this site’s forums he also mentioned that he was interested in trying out more story focused games.

  8. unkind Says:
    January 26th, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Lillith games are just horrible, but if he was to announce that he wanted to translate something good I’d probably donate $20 or something regularly (i’m sure lots and lots of people would if it was guaranteed once he hit a certain amount). Something like fate/hollow ataraxia or seinarukana so I see them in english before i’m dead ofc :).

  9. stranger Says:
    January 26th, 2009 at 11:40 am

    this was bound to happen and it is worth it IMHO. Although, I don’t know if the original company wouldn’t mind paying for the translation then make it available on a download sites (like DLsite). Perhaps he should try to approach the company first and charge 5k per game, instead of the fans!.

    as for piracy, if the game company can _NOT_ stop it, how should the translator do it? Also, please stop this general hate of the anime fans, there are many who do buy their stuff, that is why those companies are still in business and working on their _NEXT_ project!

  10. Anon Says:
    January 26th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    stranger, I think you should look into how real companies like Peach Princess translate eroge. They pay the original companies to be able to work on their games. A fan translator definitely wouldn’t be able to charge the original company. He wouldn’t even be able to pay them to be able to do it.

  11. Aza Says:
    January 26th, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    @anon 10
    All recent Lilith games are downloadable from DLsite. English fans translations can’t have any effect on purchases from Japan, and can only boost the number of games bought by English speaking customers. And since the money from purchases goes directly to Lilith (minus the margin DLsite claims) with no distribution cost, every copy sold is pure profit.

    Online distribution works different from boxed games and I’m sure Lilith would approve their games being translated to English as long as the translation requires the original game to work.

  12. Anonymous Says:
    January 26th, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    “he has and one of the ones that he said was translatable was Nitro+ Gekko no Carnevale so this might be worth trying.”

    Definitely a good idea. Someone should create a topic about it on the forum along with some info on the game to generate interest. Also, it would be a good idea to check whether he can do Zanmataisei Demonbane or Jingai Makyou – I know there are fan translations ‘in progress’ but many never get completed.

    And does anyone know whether there are any games in the Ever17 series that could be considered dark? And I second Fate/Hollow Ataraxia. I’m sure that has some dark elements to it.

  13. nebosuke Says:
    January 26th, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    Well, why not suggest these games yourself? Registration for the forums is free and you can e-mail or PM Nephirin about what games you want and if they’re dark enough to translate.

  14. zalas Says:
    January 27th, 2009 at 5:34 am

    Aza: http://forums.novelnews.net/showpost.php?p=60641&postcount=19
    Granted, I have a feeling that attempting to sell the fan translation back to them probably exacerbated the situation.

  15. stranger Says:
    January 27th, 2009 at 9:31 am

    @10. Anon:
    What you are saying only apply when licensing the game. In my view the licensing business is what is really restricting the growth of the English eroge market. The English localisation company have to consider the risks when licensing and have to add the cost of the license to the project cost.

    The only way for the eroge market to expand is, for the Japanese companies start releasing the English language VNs themselves instead of waiting for someone take the risk of licensing their titles. JAST can handle the localisation and redistribution as it is doing now, but they will no longer have to pay the license fees. (actually, MG seem to be doing this already)

    For a potential 30% (made up number) increase in sales, the Japanese companies can translate the 2nd edition of their games (or the PS2/3/XboX360) and provide the box copy with both languages. Then let the English punters import the games or buy them from a re-distributor. They don’t have to go as far Ubisoft or EA and open an office in each region…. we _WILL_ import their titles from Japan.

    The company suggested in post is a scenario translation company that can be hired on a per-game bases. The game company will have to do the rest.

    P.S. and since the Japanese company will be selling the title, that means that we will be getting “censored” images. But so far, I seem to be the only person having an issue with the squares, no one else is complaining about them, so no problem there ;-)

    P.S.S. Ok, lake of advertisement is _another_ reason for the restriction of the growth of the market… but that is for another topic.

    P.S.S.S. I know that we can’t even get the anime companies to sub their DVDs let alone game companies. But I had to make a point to stating this

  16. Aza Says:
    January 27th, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    @Zalas :
    The guy who translated Koisuru Oukoku also tried to sell the game to Peach Princess and, to quote his readme, “it almost worked, too, but then the Japs pulled the plug at the last moment.” I have a feeling Japanese companies have a reservation towards fan translation, because they fear unprofessionalism, I guess. Silent ignoring is probably the best that can be wished for.

    But I honestly can’t see a way for a company that never had plans to license a game internationally to lose money from fan translation.

  17. zalas Says:
    January 27th, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Aza: The other possibility is that they wished to exercise more control over how the translation was to be done. If the translation is already finished, they might feel that they have no more say in the process. I know of one game company who would want to work with an official translator to make sure all the terms carried across correctly, etc.

  18. Richard 23 Says:
    January 29th, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    I wish him luck. There certainly is no shortage of media remaining to be translated. And he’s focused on a particular niche.

    If people are willing to pay, the original authors and their respective companies aren’t complaining and he produces results and grows interest in visual novels in general, I don’t see how it could be a bad thing.

    Whether someone does it for free or receives compensation for their work, financial or otherwise, translating games does certainly take a lot of work to do right.

    As to piracy, which always seems to come up, it’s going to happen anyway, whether the work is fan translated or “professionally” done. Moral questions aside, piracy does indeed act as promotion for the work. And piracy does not equate 1-to-1 to lost sales. That is a tired myth. Microsoft, for example, is the standard in many markets due to piracy. Without piracy there’d be a lot more Linux installations!

    Dark Translations may be an outlier in terms of monetizing fan translation, but they’re more than welcome to give it a shot IMHO. If nothing else, it should act as an incentive to continuously improve the quality of their output.

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