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While Gabe Newell Relaxes on a Pile of Money, STS Volunteers Are Being Harassed
Just recently, we ran a story about how long time STS volunteers are being harassed and illegally terminated by a Valve employee named Torsten Zabka. Victor H. Martins and his Spanish translation team raised the issue and some of them are even considering taking legal measures.
We spoke with Victor to find out more about the situation and to see if there are any developments. According to Victor, Valve hasn’t contacted any of them which is a clear indication of their arrogance and carelessness toward the actions of their employees.
SegmentNext: First, tell us a little about yourself. Who you are and where are you from?
Victor: “My name is Victor H. Martins and I was born in Brazil. I came to Spain when I still was child, which allowed me to learn Spanish so quickly that I’ve reached a native level in just a few years; I currently speak four languages – English, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish & Catalan, although I’ve always focused on translating into Spanish since it’s the language I feel more comfortable with.
I joined the STS on December 2013 and I had always been an active contributor since then. I became a general moderator for the Spanish section about 3 months ago, but then I lost this position recently after a couple weeks on strike. Besides the STS, I’ve also helped translating other projects such as Twitter. I’ve always been interested in learning new languages, and I hope I can devote myself entirely to translation tasks in the future.
My translations included but were not limited to community and videogame content. Sometimes, we were asked to translate games that were not created by Valve but by other companies. A case in point is Killing Floor 2.
It was not really a hobby, or, maybe, if we want to stretch the concept of hobby, it might have been in the initial stages. However, the more time we spent translating, the more we realized that it was a fully fledged job, with responsibilities.
The initial enthusiasm faded away and we felt we had the right to start getting paid. Also, we wanted to include in our résumés that we used to translate for Valve, naively thinking that this was going to be an asset. We found out only later that people (such as Riccardo Rapuano) who put in their linkedin profiles that they translated for Valve were reprimanded. I can go as far as to say that our translations were superior to agencies translations.
Translation agencies charged a lot of money and they didn’t have all the contextual references that we, being gamers, have. Not to mention that we knew the platform so well that we could guess immediately if a translation was going to create problems because it wouldn’t fit in a given image.”
SegmentNext: Okay, Who is Torsten Zabka and why do you think he is harassing you guys?
Victor: “Torsten is the head of the STS and supervisor. One thing that is very important to mention here is that Valve prides itself on having a flat structure, meaning, no bosses and no hierarchy. This could not be further from the truth.
I have to admit that at the beginning, Torsten seemed a very nice guy. However, his true colors became evident pretty soon. Everything started when we translators wanted some real, respectable compensation other than in-game currency. Torsten seemed receptive, at first, also because there were other translators who were demanding the same things.
He always reassured us that he would find a solution that would be beneficial for all of us.
We kept translating also because we, the translators, became close friends and it was nice working all together on different projects. Our goal was to have everything translated and proofread. In fact, our language was always on top of everything.
After a few months, Torsten told us that, for each language, he was going to pick two people to get a contractor’s position whoever arrived at level 48 first. Some translators were already level 48.
This level system was only 2 years old and all the work done before these 2 years was not taken into account. Everybody started from scratch.
Each month, you could reach a maximum of 2 levels by translating a certain number of words. This was the first problem. The system that Torsten created was very illogical and inefficient since we, the Spanish translators, have always been on top of everything and had already everything translated.
So, no matter how hard we tried, we were always at disadvantage for having worked harder in the past than everybody else. This was a paradox. Even if each week new words had to be translated, the amount, sometimes was still insufficient to be able to level up.
The absurd and surreal result of all of this is that the Spanish team was behind everybody else because the Spanish team had already translated more than everybody else well before this illogical system was implemented by Torsten. Members from other languages could reach level 48 more easily than us because they had more material in need of translation.
We had already translated everything way earlier. The worst part is that moderators did not get any point because this absurd system did not contemplate any moderator work. A moderator in the STS is the person who proofreads and edits translations to make sure they are linguistically accurate and culturally appropriate. In other words, the moderator’s job is even more taxing and more demanding than the translator’s task. However, moderators were invisible because of this system created by Torsten Zabka.
The next logical step was to complain with Torsten. We indicated that this system was illogical and flawed for all of the above. Torsten, pretended he did not know what we were talking about. That is when our odyssey began. Torsten Zabka always accused us of plotting against him, scheming. In other words, he was paranoid. He went as far as insulting our coordinator, MaTa, calling him names such as “arrogant”.
Yet, we tried to be patient and move on.
The STS and its system developed by Torsten Zabka was deficient in many aspects. Its outlook resembled a banking account more than a translating platform for gamers. The platform was very slow and inefficient. For this reason, MaTa, our coordinator who is also a programmer, volunteered to create an improved version of the STS. Torsten did not oppose but he always said that he did not have time and that right now it was not the right moment. He kept buying time for months.
We wanted to start working on this improved version of the STS and present it to Torsten Zabka. MaTa had 6 weeks off, so we started. We also requested feedback from translators from different countries. Torsten Zabka spoke to our mate Pedro and told him that we were playing dirty. Torsten Zabka seemed to enjoy conflicts and pitting people against each other and sowing discord. In fact, 20 hours after he spoke to Pedro and told him that we were playing dirty for wanting to create an improved version of the STS, he expelled our admin Ambra and he expelled MaTa as well. Ambra was illegally terminated from Valve and retaliated against right after.”
SegmentNext: Did Valve or Torsten Zabka contacted anyone from your team?
Victor: “No, to this day, nobody from Valve has contacted us. MaTa wrote a poignant e-mail to Gabe Newell explaining the situation and offering him all kind of evidence to show him what kind of individual Torsten Zabka is. MaTa has not received an answer yet.”
SegmentNext: You mentioned that MaTa and Ambra were kicked out as well without any explanation. Is that still the case? Have you contacted anyone else from Valve about the situation?
Victor: “Yes, we have, but we have not got any response. The real reason behind the expulsion and illegal termination is still unknown, but, we have irrefutable evidence to prove that Ambra and MaTa were retaliated against. Torsten Zabka was afraid that the new and improved version of the STS was going to make him look bad and we are certain that Torsten Zabka manipulated and distorted information in order to get rid of MaTa who is much more professional and capable than him.”
SegmentNext: What’s the situation with Clint and the paid positions you all were offered?
Victor: “Raúl Cantora, also known as Clint Westwood has been a very intelligent person but he has also been very manipulative. Months ago we had to remove him from the moderator team because he made way too many mistakes or he was idle on the STS. His direct coordinator had to tell him that he needed to work harder and do a better job at translating and proofreading the tokens. Clint was cherry picking the tokens and only translated and proofread the easy ones, leaving the difficult ones to the other members of the translating community.
This also was discouraging to novices who would approach the STS and would find only very difficult tokens. We know for sure, and Clint has admitted that, that Torsten offered Clint a job position. When Torsten Zabka offered a job to Clint, if he achieved level 48, Clint started playing dirty and with unfair competition.
Clint/Raúl would wake up at 2 am, taking advantage of the time difference and grabbing all the tokens that were published in those hours. In addition to that, he translated only part of the tokens, and left the rest of them with a note “work in progress”, and he would still get points for cheating like this. In other words, his goal was to achieve position 48 and in order to do so, he was cheating and he was causing harm to other translators who had to work twice as hard to fix the mess he was making.
Jonathan Palmero was another translator who was usually awake around those hours and Clint would do everything to rob the tokens from him. For this reason, other translators did not have tokens to work with to meet the level up conditions.
We talked with Clint about this, not once, not twice but three times!!! We begged him to refrain from cheating and doing all these things. He basically would laugh at us.
We couldn’t tolerate this anymore and we recommended that Clint was expelled from the STS. Our Admin, Ambra, was well aware of what was going on and she, theoretically, had the power to expel Clint, except that Torsten dragged her into these conflicts and told her that he was the boss and he was not going to remove Clint. I need to make it clear that Mata had already reached level 48 but Torsten lowered it to level 24, after he was expelled. This was absurd.”
SegmentNext: What do you plan on doing now? You have been with STS for 2 years and MaTa was on for 10+ years, right? Are you going to let it all go or planning on fighting?
Victor: “Yes, that is correct. I have been translating for free for more than 2 years and Mata has been collaborating for Valve for 10 years, he started even before the existence of the STS and well before Torsten Zabka started managing translators.
We will not give up until justice is made. Even MaTa, who refused an external job offer because Torsten had promised him another one, is thinking on taking legal measures.”
SegmentNext: Was the Spanish team the only one being harassed like this? Have there been other cases?
Victor: “No, the Italian team has had a very similar issue. In fact, Torsten Zabka promised a contractor position to the Italian guys to get more free work, and then, after he got what he wanted, he told them there was not going to be any job and he put the blame on Francesca Gola, the hitherto Italian admin who quit her job at Valve.
The italian guys were contacted by Torsten via skype, probably in order to not leave a trace about this voice conversation, and they were told that was Francesca who didn’t want to let them join as contractor. This was not completely true. In addition to that other countries felt ignored by Torsten.
Croatians have experienced problems with Torsten and they contacted us, asking why he had ignored them when they tried to request adding the Croatian language to the STS – their community group were made up of more than one thousand Croatian members who also wanted Steam and its products to be translated into their language.”
SegmentNext: Do you think Steam’s monopoly in the PC market makes Valve arrogant and careless about the actions of its employees? There are no alternatives, at least not as big as Steam.
Victor: “Yes, this is the case and I do not have the slightest doubt about it. And, on top of that, we have to deal with employees like Torsten Zabka who calls us “arrogant” after we have worked for free and have been very helpful. Not to mention that Valve is notorious for firing its employees for absurd or illegal reasons as you can read in several posts, news and interviews to former Valve employees.
I know that Valve is an employment at will, however, there are certain terminations that are illegal. For instance, retaliation, as in the case of Ambra, is illegal. Not to mention that other employees were fired because they antagonized the wrong clique. This is playing with people’s lives. This is beyond unethical.
However, I disagree with you on something. Yes, there are alternatives to Steam. Even though I have to admit that Steam is the most powerful system, nowadays, but, it will be losing momentum since more and more people are becoming very upset at Valve’s dubious practices.
Maybe, we, as users, have our share of guilt: we have permitted that these things happened.”
SegmentNext: In your opinion, what does Valve needs to do to improve its system that deals with such matters? Because I read the HR response and that wasn’t very helpful, was it?
Victor: “The answer to this question is very simple. They have to get strong, robust and uncorrupted foundation before building on such foundations. I would strongly encourage Valve to terminate Torsten Zabka since that employee is a liability to the company and is doing more harm than good. He is well below the level that I would expect from Valve.
Also, it would be nice if Valve listened to its users, to the people who are giving them money. They could incorporate our project. We could take care of it, but this time, being paid and being respected, with dignity, as workers. We are not going to translate for free anymore. It would be good if another employee, more competent and more human than Torsten Zabka, would manage translators.”
It is all very surprising and shocking how Valve is turning a blind to the whole situation. However, we can not pass judgement before hearing what the other side has to say. At the time, Valve nor Zabka has shared a comment but we are trying to get in touch.
STS team is ready to provide proof of foul play so if Valve pays just a little bit of attention to this matter, it can be resolved in no time. MaTa is also trying to contact Gabe Newell in hope of a response.