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Inside the Tech – Solving for Automatic Translations on Roblox

October 31, 2023

by Roblox

People & Culture

Inside the Tech is a blog series that goes hand-in-hand with our Tech Talks Podcast. In episode 19, International, Roblox CEO David Baszucki spoke with Zhen Fang, Head of International, about tackling automatic translation and multilingual search. In this edition of Inside the Tech, we talked with Engineering Manager Kyle Spence about some of the Creator team’s key technical challenges: automatically translating Roblox content in the 15 languages we support. In doing so, we are helping users understand content both on the platform and in-experience, no matter what language it’s in. In doing so, we’re ensuring a localized experience for tens of millions of people around the globe.

Tell us about the big technical challenges your team is trying to solve for?

Roblox is a platform for communication and connection through 3D experiences. Creators can make and share anything they want on Roblox. And our platform lets them share their creations with people from around the world. But while our global community is huge, many creators only speak one language, which can make it hard for people to communicate with one another on our platform. 

We want everyone to enjoy any creator’s content, and interact and make friendships, no matter where they live and what language they speak. So in order to overcome language barriers, we need to be able to localize what people see and hear in real-time in 15 languages. 

We have in-house translators who can easily handle more established things like navigation and instructions on our website. But it’s a much bigger challenge when we don’t know what creators are making, and so we’ve focused initially on trying to provide automatic translations for creators’ experiences. Our next big technical challenge will be to do automatic translation across all kinds of content, from text to images, 3D meshes, avatar items, game products, game passes, badges, and so on. 

Eventually, we hope most people will be able to use Roblox and not even realize anything is translated because everything’s in their natural language. 

What are some of the innovative solutions we’re building to address these technical challenges?

When it comes to translating text, voice, and images, we’re starting to utilize natural language processing (NLP), which incorporates some of the ML mastery we have at Roblox. Implementing NLP required building our own translation models, which are significantly more efficient. Over time, we’ll continue improving on the quality and the cost factor. In fact, we’ve already lowered the cost of our experience translation models by over 70% this year. 

The other thing is successfully translating all kinds of content, including images, like a handwritten sign. That’s an example of where we’re looking at how to translate beyond typed text.

And we’re also starting to see progress on our research work on voice chat translation. So imagine a German speaker chatting on Roblox with an English speaker. Each would hear what the other says —the voice characteristics, the rhythm, the emotion—at low latency, but in their own language.

We want low latency, which is hard with many languages because of different sentence structures. But Roblox has some interesting benefits when it comes to building translation models. Our content has a lot of predictability in how people talk, no matter their language, and that’s really helpful for training our models. So when someone says something on Roblox, it’s probable a specific sound will follow. That can narrow down quite a bit of language space.

What are the key learnings from doing this technical work?

One is that third-party translators don’t understand specific Roblox contexts, like an obby (or obstacle course), so they can’t translate things like that into multiple languages. But providing even some understanding helps players have a better time. 

So we train our models on Roblox content, which means they can provide higher-quality translations. Then we can decide on the quality level we want and adjust to changes in language over time. For example, the slang of 10 years ago isn’t today’s slang. So we’re always updating these models. Our systems give us a pretty reasonable sense of how we’re reacting to content we haven’t seen yet and how to train the models to make them better.

We also have to adapt to our massive scale. As creators build more experiences and as more people communicate on our platform, we need to develop smart ways to use models, caching strategies, and storing strategies across every use case. 

So a developer could make an experience in the United States that becomes popular in Japan, even though they don’t speak Japanese and didn’t promote it there. But now they can have a Japanese user base in part because of automatic translation. And players can make true connections on Roblox with people from around the world with different cultural backgrounds. That’s exciting because the whole point of our team is connecting people and expanding the reach of creators’ content.

Which Roblox value best aligns with your team’s work?

We really lean into innovation and aim for these crazy bets aligned with our vision for the platform. We execute relentlessly towards them even though we might fail. We grind through it and make it work, even if there’s no precedent to follow.

That’s one of the main things I love about Roblox—coming up with crazy ideas and having leadership say, “Let’s see if we can make it work.” As long as we’re learning from it, it’s worth the risk.

What excites you most about where your team and Roblox in general are headed?

Working on challenging, interesting, innovative projects where success means massively impacting society, making the world smaller, and connecting everyone together.  A big part is our engineering-first mentality: leadership has high-level ideas but trusts the people on the teams to decide how we get there. Having that support from above is really important.

And within teams, we’re really collaborative. We look at other people’s code with no ego. It’s okay to challenge ideas if we emerge with something really powerful.