Keywords Studios (2): The Fuckening
Table of Contents
Gamedev Stories - This article is part of a series.
As I was writing this post, news broke out that Keywords is still being shitty to its translators and continues to deny them recognition for their hard work.
I encourage anyone on LinkedIn and other socials to follow the #TranslatorsInTheCredits hashtag, boost and engage with the content, and support the people who do the actual work to bring games to non-English audiences.
April 1, 2016.
I had a meeting with Steve1 and HR scheduled for the afternoon, and there was also a mandatory CAT training set to coincide with it. My probation had already been extended once on the excuse of “poor performance”. I could kinda guess where this would be going, but I was still in denial about it.
It was a sunny Friday morning when I showed up to work at my usual time. I’d stopped by the coffee truck that did the rounds every morning, and I almost teared up thinking this might be the last time I get to do this. I liked Coffee Truck Guy. I hope he’s doing okay.
At work, it was a typical Friday. I had a new lore piece to translate, so I was both excited (lores were my favorite kind of work) and apprehensive, knowing that my reviewer loved to nitpick things in long-form texts2. I was in reasonably good spirits, though.
And then, I got a call from our building that our apartment, and the one next door, had been broken into.
“Is this a prank?” I asked.
To Steve’s credit, he offered to postpone our meeting until Monday. I wouldn’t have it, though. If this was what I thought it was, I wanted to get it over with.
The burglary #
This wasn’t the first time for an apartment to be burgled on our floor. Another neighbor had had all their gold jewelry stolen not a week before. It was the first time for two apartments to get hit at the same time, though.
Ours had been the second one, so the burglars only had time to toss the place, steal my sleeping meds (and cheekily leave one on the kitchen counter, next to a glass of water), grab my birth certificate of all things, and fuck off into the metaphorical sunset.
My then-boyfriend (we’re married now) worked on the other side of Dublin. Our roommate, who also worked at Keywords, had fucked off to Paris. I had to deal with the immediate aftermath on my own.
I won’t dwell on it too much, other than to say that having the safety of your home invalidated like that… it sucks. They did catch the burglars eventually (turns out, they lived in the same building). Knowing Ireland’s shitty justice system, they probably got away with it.
I stayed at home long enough for the boyfriend to get home, then legged it back to Keywords. It was the end of the day for my colleagues, so I ran into a couple of them on the way in. “See y’all on Monday,” I said, knowing I probably wouldn’t.
The firing #
Steve and I met with the HR guy in a tiny, box-like room away from our typical office. HR Guy was around my age and kinda looked like he’d rather have been anywhere else. He did the corporate version of reading me my Miranda rights.
And then, Steve shook his head, and I knew it was all over.
I think he genuinely believed that my work was lacking in quality, and that’s probably what he fed up the chain at Keywords, but there’s no way in the nine circles of heck that that was the whole story. Years later, talking to someone in the know, I learned that quality and performance were just a fraction (their words) of what Steve had brought to Riot to justify getting rid of me3.
I was too shell-shocked by what had happened earlier in the day to protest much. I might have even said I was grateful that it was over (reason knows that Steve’s antics on the job, along with my reviewer’s different understanding of who we were writing for, had stressed me to the point that my hair was falling out in clumps).
Steve escorted me back to the office to gather my stuff. A few colleagues were still there, so I told them what had happened. The next bit felt surreal as I packed up my League plushies and figurines, emailed myself some personal files I had on the work computer, and took one last look around the office where I’d spent the last eight months becoming more and more disillusioned with what had once been my “dream job.”
The kindness #
As I finished packing up my stuff, one of my colleagues offered to buy me a beer at a pub nearby.
I don’t remember what we talked about, only that the beer was cold, my (now former) colleague was kind, and I was too stunned to even cry. To this day, I’m grateful to her4 for the small break in that shitfest of a day.
The aftermath #
The silver lining of being fired late on a Friday afternoon was that I hadn’t been locked out of my work email yet. I sent a message to the Rioters I’d been working with, letting them know I’d been let go and thanking them for the opportunity. I then had to get off the computer and go deal with the locksmith. After he’d done his bit, I sat down on the floor in my ransacked living room and kinda just… shut down.
Everything I’d worked towards for the past two years had come crashing down, and I had no idea where to go from there.
Lessons learned #
Much later, I realized that getting fired from Keywords was a blessing in disguise, not in the least because I was so passionate about League and the games industry that I would’ve been content to keep enduring low pay, a toxic work environment, and all of Steve’s bullsh!t just to stay in Riot Games’ orbit.
(Once again, if you’re reading this and you see yourself in anything I wrote here, stop it before you wreck your health and your sanity. You can still play and enjoy a game you love while doing a better-paying job elsewhere.)
Steve wasn’t a bad guy, but his failure of leadership and of duty of care brought me to the lowest point of my career. Keywords wasn’t the kind of workplace to support Steve’s development as a people leader, just as it didn’t care about the professional development of the rest of us
drones exploited laborers individual contributors. While there are bigger, systemic issues at play here (anyone who’s ever done translation work knows what I’m talking about here), there’s no excuse for either of these things.
Fortunately, success is the best revenge, and I’ve been plenty successful since.
In closing, I leave you with a doodle I made around six months after the fuckening, wherein I celebrate my new job and laugh at Steve for not finding a Romanian linguist to replace me. I guess suckers like me got harder to come by when word of how Keywords treats its employees started to go around.
No idea how that happened. (:
PS: I might continue this series and talk about the hiring test I did (for the previous agency, but still supervised by Riot), the job ad that went up once the Romanian linguist position was up for grabs (I still have it saved somewhere, just gotta go dig, and it is funny, dammit), and maybe even some of the non-NDA things I saw at Riot Dublin HQ, like how their entire Localization team was all dudes…
If you didn’t read the previous part, Steve was my boss at Keywords. He wasn’t a very good boss. ↩︎
As an aside, MemoQ (and any kind of CAT tool that splits text to be translated into single-sentence units) was never a good tool to translate longform prose. No two languages will have 1:1 sentence parity, so you can’t not end up with text that doesn’t sound quite as natural as something that was originally written in that language. ↩︎
And then, it took them months to find a replacement, during which time Romanian translation was handled by the agency Keywords had poached me from. Karma, plajă. ↩︎
In keeping up with my policy of not naming names unless I’ve spoken to the person first, I won’t name her, either. That said, if YOU happen to be reading this, I hope you’re having a wonderful day, and thank you. <3 ↩︎