Thursday, June 16, 2016

How Japanese companies use SJWs to sell video games

It's a bit of a well-known secret that when a video game localizer brings a game over to the west, the original Japanese developers do not see the lion's share of the game's profits after release. Part of this is understandable, as the localizers do much a good bit of work into getting the game ready for US release, though some companies make unnecessary changes to the games so they can get more money from the publishers.

But the point still stands that, when you buy a game (or show or movie or comic book) from the English localizer companies, you're not really supporting the original creators. The only way to be sure that your dollars are going to support the people that actually worked to bring the games to life is to either buy from international branches of the original companies, like Idea Factory and Spike Chunsoft, or you import the original Japanese versions of the games. Though importing comes with a somewhat higher price tag, what with taxes and distribution, but none of that eats into profits earned by the original Japanese developers.

Now this brings me to somewhat of an interesting trend that we've been seeing as of late. It started way back when Bandai closed down their US anime branch, though the most well-known example is when Koei Tecmo decided not to bring Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 to the west. And now we're seeing it with Summer Lesson, an upcoming VR Simulation game by Namco Bandai.

The reason given for why these games aren't getting released is because of the different cultural climate in the west (ie. Social Justice Warriors getting outraged at anything that isn't specifically created to uphold their fringe beliefs.) This then causes a situation similar to that of the Streisand Effect where, after being told that they are not allowed to buy a particular title, consumers everywhere suddenly need to have it. That's how DOAX3 managed to break sales record for Play Asia, and it's how a terrible Seth Rogan comedy movie became one of the most talked about movies in the country for a short time.

The thing is, at least in the case of games like DOAX3, the reaction was unnecessary as there was no real reason to not bring the game over to the west, even just as a download-only title like Koei Tecmo has done in the past. With the success of titles like Hyper Dimension Neptunia and Dragon's Crown, despite or even because of manufactured outraged, it should be clear to everyone paying attention that the threat of SJWs is a paper tiger, and the only thing said outrage does is gain fake internet points or blog clicks for the outraged. No one has ever successfully gotten a game pulled from Valve's Steam store page due to a personal offense and, at this point, it's safe to say that they never will.

So it's quite possible that Namco Bandai isn't being entirely honest with their reasons for withholding their game from western release. Also, keep in mind that this is not the first time that they've done this, what with the closing of Bandai Entertainment USA. It is entirely possible that the real reason why games like Summer Lesson aren't coming over is to boost import sales numbers, cause the Japanese companies make more money from those than from the sale of a localized version.

So I would suggest taking caution with these types of situations and avoiding the impulse to rush out to import sites. Ask yourself if there are similar games that are released in your country that you might find just as much enjoyment from instead. If there’s any doubt in your mind whether the game is worth spending money on, then maybe find a pirated copy somewhere to try before dropping $80 on an import.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Crowd-Funding Failures of Sekai Project

We've got a new video out in the QuQu's Watching series, this time about a certain infamous Visual Novel publisher called Sekai Project. In it, we go over pretty much every crowd-funding project they've had, and the trouble they faced in actually delivering on them. Of course, all the delays the company has had would be somewhat easier to forgive had they waited until delivering on their previous projects before starting new ones...

Now, there's plenty more we could've said on the topic of Sekai Project, though at twenty-one minutes and forty-two seconds this was the longest video on QuQu's channel not counting livestreams. So there wasn't time to talk about the other aspects of the company.

But before I get to that, I do want to reiterate one point brought up in the video. It's obvious that Visual Novels as a medium have grown much more in popularity over the last few years, and this is all happening as the mainstream entertainment companies have decided to put making as much money as possible, often through globalization, before the quality of the art they're selling.

Because of this, many people have moved on to other interests, myself included. Why, I would go as far as to suggest that Japanese Animation and Comics and Video Games might one day overtake American entertainment, leaving the Big Six media companies crumbling under the weight of all that gray goo they keep pumping out. Time will certainly tell if my predictions are correct, but there's no reason why we can't help things along by voting with our wallets and suggesting to our friends that they do likewise.

Anyway, one thing I find interesting in regards to Sekai Project is the data that Steam Spy has provided us with. Unlike MangaGamer, Sekai Project only uses their personal store page for the titles that they're unable to sell on Steam due to age restrictions. Because of this, we have somewhat of an accurate idea of how well their digital products are selling with the data on their Steam Spy page, something which cannot be said for MangaGamer.

Now obviously, their most popular titles are the ones available as a free download. But what's odd is how popular titles such as Nekopara, which have Adult versions on Sekai's Denpasoft digital store page. This brings some doubt as to the possibility that the unrated version of Fruit of Grisaia sold any better than the one sold on Steam, though I suppose we'll never know for sure unless Sekai releases their sales data. Regardless, I think that much of Steam's userbase has decided that $40 is far too much for Fruit of Grisaia, despite the high reputation for quality and length that the series has.

The title has already been on sale multiple times already, though it still has yet to break even twenty-five thousand owners. This leaves me to assume that many who wanted to read the VN have chosen to download a pirated copy, with maybe some importing the Japanese release to support the original creators. I suspect this is what happened with Clannad as well.

The thing is, I can understand charging $40 for each of the Grisaia VNs, since the last novel in the series came out only three years ago in Japan. Clannad, on the other hand, came out in 2004 before Half Life 2 was even released. The original anime was one of the most popular shows back when it came out, so there's no excuse for its poor sales. Whoever decided that it should be sold at a $50 price point, whether it was someone at Sekai Project or Visual Arts, didn't know what they were doing. Certainly, one could argue that the price is worth it for the quality and length of the story, though it would seem that most don't agree given how the title has sold. But I suppose Clannad is just another victim of the J C Penney Effect, where Steam many users don't buy anything unless it's heavily discounted.

The thing that I find troubling is that high profile titles like Grisaia and Clannad are more than likely not making anywhere near as much money as fluff like Sakura Spirit and Nekopara (though later Visual Novels in the Sakura franchise don't seem to be doing as well as the first two.) This backs up my suspicion that Sekai Project is bleeding money, which explains why they still need to resort to crowd-funding projects to continue bringing titles over to the west. Such a business model is unsustainable, and will likely result in their ultimate demise as a company.

If you look at the video's titlecard, you might notice an odd face in the background, one not from any Visual Novels. That's one of the main characters from the anime Heat Guy J, a show that Geneon paid one million dollars an episode for, and as you can guess, the show didn't do all that well for the company. Now, there's a very specific reason why I chose to feature him in the video's titlecard.

When Geneon collapsed, a number of anime titles went out of print that had to be license rescued by other companies, though some are still are still unavailable in an official re-release like Strawberry Marshmallow. It would be best to avoid a repeat of this with visual novels; we have the history of companies licensing anime for English distribution to look back on, and it would serve us well to learn from it. Otherwise, we're going to find ourselves in a similar situation to the time after the anime bubble popped, before online streaming took off.