The Year Ahead For MangaGamer

By Ishaan . February 18, 2011 . 1:05pm

Part 1 of our interview with John Pickett of MangaGamer talked about his perspective on some of the challenges that visual novels face in western markets. Part 2 delves a little more into how the company plan to address these challenges in the year ahead, and what their goals for growth are in general.

 

What about visual novels designed more to western tastes? Maybe something that’s less moe, perhaps more adult-looking, that doesn’t erect as thick of a cultural barrier?

 

John Pickett, MangaGamer: As a matter of fact, one of the games we have is one I feel fits this to a T. However, I can’t say too much about that particular title at this time as we’re still trying to work out a few remaining issues. Likewise, there are some companies whose games fall more under “steam-punk” than school-based, or slice-of-life type settings, so yes, there are actually a fair deal of games that aren’t very “moe”.

 

We’d like to be able to bring some of them to the west to help break down that very barrier, but finding something that doesn’t use anime-style artwork is a very difficult feat indeed.

 

I do feel like the iPhone and iPod are maybe the more accessible platform for visual novels. They’re cheaper and the touch-interface is conducive to those kinds of games. Do you guys have plans to put more content on there through your partners?

 

Well, to be more accurate, our partners put them up on the iPhone using our translation. We at MangaGamer aren’t actually responsible for the iPhone ports.

 

That being said, Overdrive has already ported their Japanese versions to the iPhone, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw an English port to it as well. Likewise, I imagine other Japanese makers have interest in porting to the iPhone as well, so while it is a possibility, it’s one we’re not in charge of.

 

You’re rolling out physical copies of Da Capo, based on your experiences with Higurashi and KiraKira. How did those do in line with your expectations of them? What kind of numbers are we talking?

 

Well, KiraKira was a much harder sell, but that’s not really any big new surprise. Higurashi has recognition from the anime, and has done better digitally too, so that was expected. We managed to sell several hundred of each game between the two conventions, and Hendane had a similar experience: it wasn’t long before they sold out of their Higurashi stock, but it took them a bit longer to move KiraKira.

 

We’re hoping that between the limited edition extras, and wholesaling of this print run to other retailers as well, that we can move a lot more copies of Da Capo. If it proves well and we do manage to move most of the run shortly after it’s actually released, then it means we can move on and print that much more—other games, other limited editions, and more. Maybe we could even see a hard copy version of the Higurashi Answer Arcs, or ef if this does well.

 

You’ve been very lucky so far with the kind of games you’ve been able to license. Higurashi, Da Capo and Shuffle are relatively mainstream names within the visual novel community, especially due to their respective anime series. Do you expect to be able to trump those in the future?

 

I don’t know if we’ll trump them any time soon, but I can certainly see us getting more titles of similar fame. Koihime Musou already has three anime series, ef was animated and the game even features animation by Makoto Shinkai. One of Navel’s more recent games, Oretachi ni Tsubasa ha Nai is set to be broadcasted as an anime, and so on. Many people used to say, and still say that licenses like these are impossible, but they’re really not as “Holy Grail” as some would think they are. Obviously they can be more difficult to obtain than a less renowned title, but if fans are willing to buy them and demonstrate they have potential over here, then it is very possible for us to bring more over.

 

I have to ask about doujin games. Have you ever considered publishing things like doujin shoot-em-ups or RPGs on a platform like Steam that would give you a wider audience to cater to? A doujin publisher named Carpe Fulgur has seen some phenomenal success in that regard with a single game (Recettear) recently.

 

I’m aware of Recettear, whose success is due largely in part precisely to Steam. The problem with venues like Steam, or the PSN, is that they’re currently biased against visual novels in the west. While countless visual novels are released on the PSP and PS3 over in Japan, it’s extremely difficult to get one on the PSN here. NISA’s president talked about this before when you guys at Siliconera asked him about Sakura Wars 1 and 2.

 

So long as Sony and Steam continue to deem true visual novels “not games” then you won’t be able to see much of anything closer to them than games like Persona and Agarest War. That being said, we would of course love to see our games on those venues if they were ever willing to accept them.

 

Doujin games can be tricky to work with. Entirely original ones can be great deals, as Recettear shows, but more often than not they tend to use things without the copyright permission to use them, be it tracks, figures, and so on. This was one of our biggest problems with the license of Higurashi. That, and doujin games tend not to have a whole lot of recognition to make them enticing efforts either. Would Recettear have done half as well if not for all the promotion it received on Steam?

 

We certainly are not opposed to the idea of working with doujin games, but when the choice is between a doujin game no one has heard of or a similar game that’s professionally made by an official company with a bit more name or brand recognition, the latter tends to win out.

 

Let’s look ahead to January 2012. What can we expect over the next year with regard to the kind of content you’re putting out and how you’ll be trying to grow?

 

Well, in terms of growth and expansion, I suppose there are several things. We hope the hard-copies prove to be a success so that come 2012 we’ll have a wide array of titles in physical format to offer customers. We also hope to have our affiliates program up, and with that start seeing our banners in many sites on the internet.

 

It’s our hope that we will finally be selling manga on the website by then. We have a lot of different artists signed up to work with us, and would like to see that selling well too. It’s also possible that you’ll see an expansion in the number of partner companies working with us as the interest of Japanese makers in the western market grows.

 

As for games, we have several games by Nexton mostly complete which you’ll probably see released over the next few months, and a couple of titles from Circus we’ll hopefully have out by then. There’s also DearDrops, which I’m sure those who played KiraKira are already looking forward to. Now that this interview’s coming to close, I’ll probably be getting started on that game myself, so hopefully we can have that out around this summer.

 

Then there’s the exclusive Overdrive’s developing for us, too. However, I think we’ll also be releasing a few that may come as surprises to many once they’re announced.


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  • Yukito

    If there is one thing that makes me hate Sony, it is that BS about “Visual Novels not being games”. The developers should argue it with them. For God sakes, Sony allows visual comics, movies, music, videos, and various other media that actually are NOT games. Visual novels actually HAVE some sort of interaction, unlike movies and videos. Why the hell do they argue the fact that they are games or not, when they will put anything else onto the system?

    Because Visual Novels = pr0n? Is Sony of America the group of people who seriously believe that kind of magical unicorn fecalmatter? We will never know the truth if the games can actually well at all on consoles here is Sony doesn’t give the damn things a chance. I myself, along with a bunch of others, would buy them…..hell, I think the sales could rival some of NISA’s games atleast.

    What they should do is try out games with a fanbase, like Umineko No Naku Koro Ni, Clannad, and Haruhi Suzumiya. If they don’t want to go the anime route, try 428. There aren’t too many games that work with amazing scripts, or give your characters much choices, so where is the harm in TRYING?….

    Sony, get your heads out of your asses, and give it a shot. Hell, a PSN release even. How would it hurt? Besides, Japan is pushing more of them out on the PS3 than most any other genre. Might as well since there is a bunch we could have localized. It would open up for a bigger library if they hit off with some sort of sales.

    • Ladius

      Aside from what you said, even if vns were “non-games” I would like to be able to choose wether to buy them as a consumer, without some company getting in the way with their useless filter. It’s market who dictate the value of a product, boycotting it even before its success can be tested, damaging the variety of your lineup and pissing off a niche fanbase, is simply stupid.

    • malek86

      Nisa did try with Disgaea Infinite, though, and it wasn’t very successful. But admittedly, maybe the SRPG niche isn’t too interested in games that don’t involve any SRPG-ing. Just because they like jokes in their plot doesn’t mean they’ll want nothing but those.

      Myself, I wouldn’t mind seeing Imabikisou translated. I hear it even has remote play so you can read it on PSP. Oh well, wishful thinking. Maybe I should just import it.

      • Yukito

        The issue with Disgaea Infinite is, it is Disgaea. It caters to Disgaea fans and them practically only…. and Disgaea is already a niche game series in the first place. It is far from a good test run, not to mention there are alot of JRPGs people could grab over it. I am talking since there aren’t many on PS3 with story as a heavy focus, they should try it on PS3.

      • http://twitter.com/bta_man BTA

        Well, Infinite was… strange. It wasn’t really what I’d call a traditional VN at all. It was rather short, and by the end you were just making random jumps back in time and fast forwarding through tons of texts just to change one option to have the chance to maybe see a tiny bit of new text… kinda like a regular VN, but much much smaller. I’m not saying it wasn’t good, but most of the reason I liked it had to do with all the Disgaea injokes and such, and… well, if a Disgaea fan like me only liked it due to that, that means the only people interested in it would be a fraction of a group of people that isn’t particularly large to begin with. :x

      • cj_iwakura

        Funny, I heard it sold real well. And it had a fantastic localization, worlds better than Prinny 2′s.

        • malek86

          Wel, if it did sell well, surely somebody could try and bring other visual novels to the PSP.

          I don’t think it only sold because of the Disgaea name.

      • Guest

        These are the ones I’d want (despite the system):

        Gintama (from PS2)
        Death Note Kira Game & L (DS)
        Demon Detective Neuro (PS2)
        428
        Steins;Gate
        White Album

  • http://twitter.com/colonelxanders Alex Sargeant

    The Steam/PSN argument is disappointing in terms of not being games. In a time where a lot of RPG gamers are felling jaded that the storylines aren’t well thought out enough, often fans who play RPGs -for- to stories, it seems rather naive not to view visual novels as an option to quell that dissent.

  • Barrit

    I lol’d at the wording of this question:

    What about visual novels designed more to western tastes? Maybe something that’s less moe, perhaps more adult-looking, that doesn’t erect as thick of a cultural barrier?

    • M’iau M’iaut

      None of the ones we’ve seen stateside for the DS — 999, Lux Pain, Trace Memory, Hotel Dusk or Time Hollow fall on the moe end of the spectrum. Not all of MGs titles are moe in the least. Also on the adult side, JAST has specifically NOT targeted moe or youngish looking games because of PR and even legal concerns.

      I’m not out to change everyone’s opinion here, but do wish to broaden folks understanding of one thing. The anime trope of out of proportion heads and expressive eyes is not by itself moe. It may push similar emotional and social buttons but take that Ever 17 pic at the top. Coco (on the left) is indeed moe, from her behavior to her VA (Hisayo Mochizuki). Tsugumi on the other hand is a damn ice queen (VA Yu Asakawa).

      • http://twitter.com/Eriolkun Bruno T.

        I don’t think that was his point, haha…. but indeed, surely a interesting wording. Made me chuckle a bit.

        By the way. “Moé” in general is a much more broader term than “sweet and cute”. There are people who find other things in other characters, moé as well. I believe what they want to emphasize as “moé” here is how characters are depicted purely based on their image and appeal, using the “cookie cutter” stereotypes we all know (and a lot love). How they’re all image and barely any substance, no spark in their characteristics besides their defined roles in appealing to a certain public. The anime-styling surely plays a big role in that, and you can take a guess just by looking at them (I like to play that guessing game sometimes); take the quiet type with the long black hair, the tsundere with the twintails, the senpai with glasses, osananajimi, etc, all with the trademark blush.

        But I digress. To be honest, I’m not really sure what would constitute a style with less moé, I’m just going with what I know. Maybe an example of one would make it clearer? Appealing to their audience is the main reason why eroge have ero. And of course they fanservice it up a bit for their fans.

        I believe Ever17 was a hit (in the west, at least) because KID craftfully modified those basic guidelines and gave their characters essence. Even Coco, being the staple loli of the game, had essence besides… being the staple, loud and funny loli.

        • M’iau M’iaut

          I certainly support an idea of moe that follows concepts of endearing thoughts of protection, support, educating and caring; with perhaps an incident of hugging the bejesus out of them once or twice along the way. It’s really not much a different concept than why US marketing has to bombard us with images of babies, monkeys and chimps. I’m no more interested in throwing Coco into a relationship that is not appropriate for her than making dear friends with a chimp.

          It’s just I’m going to get nowhere being directly confrontational — i.e. telling someone they are flat ass wrong — if they immediately qualify what they classify a ‘moe’ image with sex. I can find out what they consider moe and show them why it is or is not. And perhaps also show the real purpose that character type exists in a particular work. I am thinking here of Coco’s innocence and how that plays a part in her role with BW. Or any other similar childlike character who is simply amazed at the wonders around them.

      • Joanna

        Yeah, I dislike moe, but I love anime-esque art, so I definitely don’t like when people put all anime under moe. I can even tolerate moe in anime/games if there are other characters that are not moe. I do wish, however, that the moe fad would just die….but I guess if it did, another 2 dimensional character trope would replace it. You just can’t win. :

  • Zero_Destiny

    Visual Novels on Steam or PSN. :D That would be really great. Maybe some day, I’ll be hopeful about it. The industry in the west has seemed to warm-up to this stuff. Granted slowly but hey all the DS VN/Point and Click games makes me think the market will expand. Because quite honestly most of the VN’s I’ve played were DS games and now I want more. Been getting into the MagnaGamer releases now and got some good suggestions too. Anyways give it time. It was a shame about Sakura Wars; still bummed :( myself. But I want to be hopeful.

  • john411

    >But finding something that doesn’t use anime-style artwork is a very difficult feat indeed.

    Finding ones that don’t use anime-style artwork is not the problem. Anime-styled artwork worked fine for Phoenix Wright, 999, and plenty others. IT’S THE MOE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IT’S THE MOE!

    And if loli-moe-lovers want to disprove me on this, put your money where your mouth is, and explain why your brethren aren’t buying MangaGamer’s games en masse?

    • M’iau M’iaut

      Well considering we don’t have a clubhouse or other place where we plan the takeover of the world I can only propose some of the following.

      1) Download only is a turn off, this is a small niche, and small niche folks still like their hard copies. We are collectors.

      2) Price remains high, especially long as they retain the Euro price structure. Most of the main titles remain at the $45-50 USD (depending on the day) price point. The difference between that or a digital product and say $80ish for a hard copy isn’t that much.

      3) Their localizations remain an issue. Yes they’ve gotten better and have reached out to American English speakers, but the first things they put out — none of which were moe — were so rife with errors folks are on the fence still.

      4) They picked titles which already had English translations and thus had already been played by the core group of VN enthusiasts. Also titles such as Da Capo I and Shuffle, are more known for their animes and among players of the games NOT the “best in show.”

      5) They’ve made their share of PR fumbles. When MG first came on the scene they were (and still are to an extent) confrontational with the already existing English VN scene. They also at the start were far harder to contact and did little PR, mainly depending on the fans to spread news.

      • Apollonis

        Eh, well don’t let that drama get in the way of enjoying stuff, right?

        And I could be wrong, but isn’t ~$47 cheap compared to what the Japanese tend to pay for stuff? It’s cheaper than a typical game, at any rate, and while yes lower is better I feel like it’s kind of hypocritical to complain too much.

        • malek86

          Uhm. It’s a matter of perception. It’s the reason why companies have to publish shmups for a budget price here, while in Japan they are very expensive.

          It does feel a bit silly to complain when you think that… however, he might have a point: especially considering that smartphones and tablets might eventually become the best medium for this sort of games. And smartphones/tablet users probably won’t want to pay that much, since the average price of apps is much lower.

          That pricing will definitely become a problem, if they intend on expanding on those devices.

          • Apollonis

            Ah but as they said some of their translations are already available on iStuff via other companies. Higurashi iPhone version is $6 a chapter MAX, less when it comes out and is on sale, and the first one is free. Very much worth it in my opinion.

            And Kirakira is apparently $10, hadn’t realized it was up there.

          • mirumu

            Yeah, at that price those were just impulse buys for me. I already owned both games on PC, but those were cheap enough that I was happy to buy again just to have a portable version.

        • M’iau M’iaut

          I’ve bought my share of MG stuff just not as much as I might if the value was a bit better for the PC download. I also dabble in download military sims which can be even more ridiculous on the price. The big thing I was saying was I (and I’d expect others) will see $50 dl and $75 hard copy similarly. We are already paying a premium. I picked up Remember 11 shipped from Japan for $40 and over the course of a month or two could pick up any adult VN for $30 or less through RightStufs weekly and daily promos.

          I just feel one of MGs biggest issues is their lack of contact with the states, which does seem to be improving. If folks don’t know they can even buy something, they won’t.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RDT4LO5RQ6LCE22CXXBZT3AU5A Matthew

            Lack of contact with the US? Have I missed something?
            All of Mangagamers translations have a US English translation. Their marketing is all State-side. They sell their hard copies in the US. The only thing that isn’t “in contact with the States” is that they are based, and so price things, in Europe and so Euros, everything else is based around the “States”.
            They’d be better off using International English for their translations so making their products more understandable to English speakers worldwide rather than limiting themselves “to the States”.
            The West is not just the US and the faster companies realise this and market themselves as such, especially as these products are mostly download only and so are easily accessible worldwide, the better it will be for those companies and the V/N market in general.

          • M’iau M’iaut

            Things have become better, but initial promotion by MG was spotty, and attempts by interested fans were not always met with open arms. The view they put off was that they were here to do things with this market as they ‘needed to be done’. The folks who approach you upon learning someone new was bringing ecchi VNs to the western market are the core of the core, and as Ar Tonelico told us, ‘you never forget your first’. Again I will also admit the translations of current product are light years ahead of initial offerings.

            Regarding the choice of language I would say this. The only established ecchi VN market (MG did not launch with all-ages) outside Japan was the States. Yes, fan translations did exist elsewhere, but I speak of significant licensed, localized and at retail presence. The west is indeed far more than the US, but if you want to reach the largest number of English ONLY consumers, you run across far fewer hurdles if done in ‘good old American’. The idiot American gaming press has hard enough time accepting games from traditional Japanese genres even exist anymore. To give them ammunition in dialogue — for a product that is all text — that to American ears does come off as stilted or heavy (Lux Pain) is perchance not the best course of action. I want these products to succeed just as much as you, perhaps it’s that stubborn American in me that just sees the way differently.

        • mirumu

          Personally I’d happily pay even Japanese prices for current A-grade Japanese titles. Well, occasionally I do by importing untranslated Japanese versions directly. Unfortunately most of what’s being commercially translated is fairly old, and they aren’t games known for being top-notch visual novels.

          If I step out of the realm of possibility for a moment, and saw english language versions of Alchemist’s PS3 Umineko port, Amagami SS, Chaos;Head, Stein’s;Gate, etc on the shelf (today, not 5 years from now) at Mangagamer’s prices then I wouldn’t even blink before buying.

          Now I don’t blame Mangagamer (or Jast) for not picking up these titles. Many of them would be impractical, would take too much time or simply would be too costly, but I think that gulf between what titles are translated and the market’s desires is fairly significant.

          I don’t really think this problem is especially unique to VNs either. I mean if, for example, Final Fantasy X had never been released in the west, and I licensed it, translated it, and released it today at full price how well would it sell? I really doubt it would even sell a fraction of what it did back in 2001/2002.

  • JustaGenericUser

    In before hilarious butthu–

    (john411 posts)

    Too late.

  • androvsky

    Sakura Wars 1&2 for PSP makes for a bad example of Sony rejecting visual novels, since they obviously allowed Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love. I got the impression that the PSP rejection happened a while back when SCEA wholesale rejected old ports for the PSP (including Breath of Fire 3 and Suikoden 1&2). It seems like they’re loosening up on what they’ll allow; obviously they allowed Disgaea Infinite for PSN and retail, and some would argue Dragon’s Lair (now on PSN, and Space Ace soon too apparently) isn’t much of a game either.

    Obviously, I don’t know what SCEA told MangaGamer when they talked last, but from where I’m sitting it doesn’t seem like SCEA is too far away from greenlighting more visual novels. Is there someone in particular we can bug? Grace Chen, Jeff Rubenstein?

    • M’iau M’iaut

      Sakura Wars has been ‘refused a visa’ back to the PS1. It’s not hard to criticize Sony for SW, since agreements had been reached between US localization outfits and Red but Sony wouldn’t give the go ahead. Similar situations were with the PSP port. Again, agreements had been reached, and folks were told no.

      • androvsky

        You forgot Sakura Wars was a Sega first-party (in conjunction with Red) series exclusive to the Saturn, and later, Dreamcast. Sony had nothing to do with the original failure to localize Sakura Wars.

        It was actually Sega U.S.’s campaign to ignore the Saturn and hype the Dreamcast way ahead of time that was the original problem.

  • Apollonis

    The plan for complete global saturation is steadily progressing.

  • Souji Tendou

    I’d like to ask something, will you guys at MangaGamer localize Shuffle Essence+…? It’s the updated version of Shuffle.

    • JustaGenericUser

      Oh yes, this this this this.

      EDIT: Also the spin-offs.

  • PrinceHeir

    “So long as Sony and Steam continue to deem true visual novels “not games”

    damn it. this is probably one of the reasons why VN won’t be mainstream(which is fine but they could use alot of support by now)

    ah well we just gotta support those who are willing to bring this here.

    • Zero_Destiny

      I like to be hopeful that maybe one day companies will let them on. I think VN’s can find a niche in the west. :) Anyways at least we always have the DS with all it’s awesome VN/point and click games. I’m sure the 3DS will keep this trend up too. :D

      • PrinceHeir

        oh well let’s just hope we have more games like 999 and phoenix wright :)

        • Zero_Destiny

          Yeah!!! HELL YEAH!!! Great games :) Just got my third ending in 999, my mind was . . . BLOWN!!! It gets better and better every time you beat it. :D Going to go back to Phoenix Wright 2 soon. Want to beat it (I’m on the 3rd case so I’m close) and then download the third one. Anyways I think in a couple of years we might end up seeing more companies like MagnaGamers. I’m sure VN’s will find a niche in the west. :D Slowly but I think so long as we try to support them we shouldn’t have too much to worry about.

      • Joanna

        I’m also hoping the 3DS continues the nice flow of VNs/adventure games. :)

  • Guest

    The visual novels need to work on their presentation. Alot of people find looking at static pictures and reading text with a few decisions……boring, They’re getting better (that new Haruhi game coming out looks amazing) but with games like Back to the Future (looks and plays awesome) getting on PSN (well ok for one its an ADV =/= visual novel but still…it’s not that hard for a VN to take the transition to ADV; it’s almost the same path). Dont pander to such stock cliche Anime tropes, ease off on the moe/loli and Otome stuff, and induct a little more gameplay in it then you might peak the West’s interest.
    There’s actually a lot of games that use the VN story presentation (Blazblue, Last Rebellion in the West, A Certain Magical Index, Katekyo Hitman Reborn Kizuna no Tag Battle for PSP in the East) that blend into other gameplay types rather well.

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