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Filed under: hopes to bring down language barriers that keep creative teams apart

A GDC-like global conference broadcast in 8 languages simultaneously
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

When was announced on Jan. 24, many saw it as a shot across the bow of the annual Game Developers Conference, also known as GDC. But its organizers have bigger ambitions than simply providing free programming to go up against an increasingly exclusive event held each year in San Francisco. Organizers tell Polygon that they hope to bridge the gap between the thousands of isolated development teams around the world by destroying the final wall that separates them — the barrier of language itself.

“ will be streamed as a live event and an archived conference,” explained co-organizer Sarah Elmaleh, a professional voice actor who works in the video game industry. Fans might recognize her as Katie in 2013’s indie hit Gone Home, or from her work in AAA titles such as For Honor, Final Fantasy 15, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. She also plays the Freelancer in the upcoming Anthem from Electronic Arts.

“It will feature talks from game developers around the world translated live into eight languages — eight of the most commonly spoken languages in the world. So anyone who has an internet connection anywhere can see and learn and, through the online community chatting, find kindred spirits in their own language.”

Rami Ismail, one half of the indie game studio Vlambeer, explained that the inspiration for the event came after one of his many trips abroad from his home in the Netherlands to speak with a small community of game developers.

Sarah Elmaleh

“I met somebody who watched a talk that was meant to be sarcastic,” Ismail explained, referring to an archived presentation from a previous GDC. “But they didn’t pick up on the nuance in the English of the sarcasm. So they actually implemented their studio based on a talk that was entirely meant to be satirical advice.

“I will never forget the feeling I had when they explained that, because it was so obvious that they just took this talk as authoritative but, genuinely, it was all bad advice.” will take place in June and run for only two days. Each presenter will give the same talk twice, once each day of the virtual conference. The schedule will be staggered in an order that allows developers around the world to participate live during a window of time that makes sense in their own particular time zone. Later, every presentation will be archived online.

Most importantly, presenters will be able to speak in their own native tongue. Presentations will be translated on a 30-second delay into eight different languages, including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Translation services will also be applied in real time to the questions and answers that will follow each presentation.

“Every culture, every location has unique knowledge, has unique perspective, has tips and tricks for dealing with specific situations that are more common in their territories than in other territories,” Ismail said. “I think creating communications, breaking down those barriers, breaking down that border will just make everybody in the games industry so much better.”

The technological aspects of the project are daunting, but both Elmaleh and Ismail are confident they can pull it off thanks to a close partnership with a private broadcasting company.

“I’ve wondered why nobody has done this before,” Ismail said. “The reality is [...] what we’re doing is not actually something that has been done before.”

Elmaleh and Ismail tell Polygon that private sponsorship dollars, for translation services and other related technologies, are already rolling in.

“Every speaker will speak from their home through [software and hardware] that we supply,” Ismail said. “Then we will take those streams and apply closed captioning to it delivered to us by a broadcasting closed captioning company that we’ve commissioned for the project.”

Thanks to screen-reading technology, the entire conference should be accessible by those with audio or visual disabilities as well.

For Elmaleh, who makes her living performing the lines that players use to interpret and experience their favorite games, is an especially meaningful endeavor.

“I think the value in beginning to appreciate someone’s different way of thinking comes through the sound of their words,” Elmaleh told Polygon. “The only super power I’ve ever wanted is to be able to speak every language in the world so I could talk to everyone. I think it might be strange that I’m a voice actor and I’m doing this thing, but it feels very close to my heart.” is set to run June 21-23, 2019.

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