MangaGamer And Overdrive Discuss Localization Negotiation Hurdles

By Ishaan . May 26, 2011 . 1:00am

This past week, Hiroshi Takeuchi, president of visual novel developer, Overdrive, held a live stream Q&A session along with MangaGamer staff (NSFW), to address questions from fans over Ustream. Overdrive is MangaGamer’s parent company, which is why you see a lot their titles localized into English.


But as you know, MangaGamer also localize games from other visual novel developers. In fact, they’re encouraged to do so, as Takeuchi — better known on the Internet as “Bamboo Milktub” — hopes to use them to help bridge the gap between Japan and its overseas visual novel audience. Takeuchi is personally involved with contract negotiations with other companies when the time comes to hammer out localization contract details.


Speaking with fans, Takeuchi touched upon the subject of how Overdrive and MangaGamer negotiate with other companies to bring their games over. He stated that licensing negotiations are carried out “based on companies that are interested overseas and who are willing to invest in the project”.


Investing in the overseas market:


Investment is the key word here, as there’s no easy money to be made as far as the overseas visual novel market is concerned. These games typically need to sell over 2,000 – 3,000 copies to be profitable in Japan. Overseas, none of MangaGamer’s recent releases are even close to that number. Even the company’s best-selling game to date, Koihime Musou, has yet to hit the 1k mark.


Regardless, Koihime Musou has been profitable, due to the fact that voicework was stripped from the game, offsetting the need to pay the voice cast in Japan an additional fee. “Titles like Shuffle! and Koihime were pretty profitable,” Takeuchi revealed. “So I guess well-known titles do better. KiraKira surprisingly did well too.”


The same can’t be said for the majority of MangaGamer titles, however. Profits are gained in part due to cost-cutting measures. For instance, none of Overdrive’s Japanese staff are paid for their hand in localization efforts; the only staff that get paid are at the MangaGamer end. A lot of developers simply aren’t willing to put in that kind of effort, or aren’t interested in pursuing the overseas audience in the first place.


“Sales of  English VNs are steadily increasing, but it’s not enough to convince the companies,” Takeuchi says. Visual Art’s (Clannad, Air) is one such example of a company that aren’t looking outside Japan. “Visual Arts isn’t currently interested in the overseas market…” Takeuchi revealed during his live stream, “but since their president is a business person, if there is a high demand for it…?”


This makes negotiating with other companies hard, especially with regard to more complex visual novels with actual game elements.


Negotiating for more interactive visual novels:


“The problem with interactive games is that they require getting the original production company to deal with the coding and their in-house engine,” says MangaGamer’s head translator, John Pickett. “And in most cases, these companies never thought of the west or the English language when developing the games, making the work even more difficult as they have to now code English support into the engine as well.”


“Add in the fact that western sales just aren’t high enough to merit prioritizing this labour over their domestic market, and you have no estimate of when it’ll get done. I can think of several popular companies who’d be willing to localize such titles, but getting them released in the same time frame as other games? Very hard to make a reality given the current market of paying customers.”


One example of such a game is the upcoming Kara no Shoujo, which needed to be ported and replicated in an entirely new game engine, as the original didn’t include support for the English language. Like Koihime Musou, Kara no Shoujo will not include voice work, due to negotiation complications with the voice recording studio.


Regardless, Takeuchi is cautiously optimistic. While not entirely profitable, overseas visual novel sales are on the rise. Speaking as to where he expected MangaGamer to be in five years, Takeuchi stated: “It might be gone, or it might still be here five years from now. If it is, i imagine there will be a lot more titles by then.”

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  • Cor

    START LOCALIZATION <3 I have spent alot of money on imported games time to bring them over.

    • Ladius

      Start buying MangaGamer’s games, then :P Their site is full of offers as of now, and Kara no Shoujo really looks promising.

  • OneOkami

    “And in most cases, these companies never thought of the west or the English language when developing the games, making the work even more difficult as they have to now code English support into the engine as well.”

    Thats confirms something I’ve been wondering about for a long time and was suspecting.  Ever since I got a good idea about how localization publishers worked I wondered how well (if at all in some cases) the developers modeled their code to allowed content to be replaced with that of a foreign localization.  I figured companies that traditional develop with the full intent and concern of overseas markets (such as Square Enix for an obvious example) make this a priority in their development, but I wondered how far smaller devs that rarely, if ever, work with a foreign licensing company go to achieve this.

    Its enlightening to realize that some of them actually do not go very far, if at all (such as in the case of Innocent Grey with Kara no Shoujo).

    • mirumu

      Good code keeps the assets (art, audio, text) and program logic well separated. If as a developer, you think there’s any possibility of the text being translated into other languages then you can allow for this by storing the text as unicode (this allows you to represent characters from most languages) and by developing your text rendering code in such a way that it can handle different fonts. It’s not especially hard to do this, and it can actually make the engine easier to work with for the artists and writers, etc.

      The thing is, “good code” takes time and effort. When you’ve got a tight deadline and chances are the game you’re working on will never be translated then extra and unnecessary effort like this is the first thing that’s going to get cut. That’s assuming it was even in there to begin with. Managers and team leaders aren’t going to delay a game or invest effort on something that that doesn’t increase the game’s selling potential or make it cheaper to support. It’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day quick and dirty code is often faster to write and cheaper.

      In my experience (not with games so much, but with software development in general) the decision often comes down to whether or not there’s any intention of reusing or having to maintain the code at a later date. If the engine or framework going to be reused a lot then investing some time in having it clean and flexible up front is probably worth it. Otherwise merely doing the absolute minimum and being not buggy is good enough.

    • It can vary wildly depending on the team. Some compartmentalize their text and other “loc” elements well (one of the reasons Carpe Fulgur adores working with EGS is because they’re great about this), others don’t for various reasons and you learn to work with it. Ultimately nearly anything can be *localized* – the physics of binary code make nearly anything possible – it’s just a question of how hard and how deep certain elements are buried in the gamefiles.

      I am a little curious as to what happened with Kara no Shoujo, though, since I’ve yet to encounter a game where English wouldn’t work *at all*.

  • kroufonz

    since “Visual Arts isn’t currently interested in the overseas market…” i want to know how two other in big 3 stand regarding overseas release (leaf/aquaplus and typemoon)

    i also wonder if mangagamer already try to make a contact with akabeesoft2, purplesoft, august, and alice soft.

  • Ladius

    I really respect what the MangaGamer guys are doing, their lineup keep getting better and better and their prices have lowered in the past months.

    That said, I really think offering dvd releases would greatly benefit them in terms of sales, especially if they were available on JList, Playasia and other easily accessible retailers.

    Having Hendane as your only retail partner means that only people who already know of the partnership will be able to find your games.

    • I wonder about this as well. There are many DVD-PG games in Japan. Wouldn’t it be easier and more accessible to release those here instead?

    •  Actually, HenDaNe is our distribution partner. They’ve already distributed copies to Jlist, Rightstuff, and others, so you can order copies of the Da Capo Limited Edition from both as well as HenDaNe.

      Also, we are looking at more physical releases again this year. We currently have three different ones in planning for AX.

  • I love Visual Novels, but I can’t stand the eroge aspect. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I can’t stand seeing my favourite heroine in explicit scenes. I’ve had to give up on a number of VNs because the sex scene were such a mood killer. I’m not a prude or anything, it’s just that sex shouldn’t be a part of video games (Western developers included). 
    I do like the fact that the folks at mangagamer have started offering censored versions of their titles. I wish for this trend to continue.

    • mirumu

      I’m a little surprised none of them have made it switchable in the game options.

    • It would be better if VN developers simply avoid writing h-scenes for their games…

      • Yes, it would be better. Then maybe people will start seeing just how awesome the stories can be without thinking that these games are just some pedobear traps. 

        • That’s why I really respect Key’s decision for their latest game [Rewrite] to be an all-ages game, and will always be one. (Little Busters! EX pains my heart)

      • in most of the vn that i read/played eroge is kinda needed, it’s kinda used as switch between a couple whom graduated from *just holding hands*, or another example is Fate stay night, the eroge was needed for the story and lets you understand better the feelings of the characters…

        eroge is part of the story of the vn and just because there are some of it doesn’t mean it’s a porn game, otherwise it would be the same when during a movie there are some sex scenes, does it mean that it’s a porn movie?

        • Seeing your favourite heroine taking it up the rear – pardon my French – is far from what I would call storytelling. And all the classic movies don’t feature sex scenes. Casablanca is a movie about love, but I didn’t see any sex scenes in it. I guess I just miss the days when sex wasn’t so important in entertainment (now I feel really old).

          • Guest

            Last Tango in Paris – Marlon Brando


            It’s not that sex wasn’t so important in entertainment. It’s that the movies you’re remembering were barred from even speaking about it most of the time, much less depicting it. You must know about the censoring of Casablanca’s original script, right?

            I’m not saying that the use of sex scenes in most VNs is justified by the story; we all know better than that. But it’s not as if the “old days” were just full of sweetness, light and innocence—it was more oppressive censorship and thankfully-outdated social mores.

        • Phlo

          You can’t have just used Fate/Stay Night as an example of where the sex was necessary, right? “Uh-oh, we’re low on magic power. Time to have a MAGIC THREESOME!” Realta Nua was a massive improvement.

      • kroufonz

        i don’t think they need to,since console version of galge already exist for those who didn’t want the H scene

    • Ladius

      I agree with you regarding the awkwardness of many sex scenes in visual novels. There are some great visual novels out there that had sex scenes added as a marketing tool for the Japanese pc audience, and the fact that they are removed as soon as a console port is viable (usually improving the plot’s coherency, if it isn’t a gal game) proves that even more. Some vns’ pacing is utterly ruined by sex, as shown by Tears to Tiara’s absurd emphasis on pointless eroge cgs when the game had a genuinely good story to tell (luckily recovered, albeit with some blunders, with the PS3 port and the anime).

      Then again, there are sex scenes in visual novels that are extremely important for the game’s narrative, and I really can’t see why sex shouldn’t be a part of videogames when any other thing (from extreme violence to cooking to sports) can and when it’s already depicted in any other medium.

      Sex (note: it doesn’t equal pornography) is one of the many facet of human life, and if you don’t set your game in some kind of dystopia or android-land you are bound to have characters that have (or should realistically have) sexual urges. Of course the tone of the setting and the target audience are important factors (no one want sex in a fairy land aside from parodies, and only some heavily story-driven genres are compatible with its depiction), but to reject it as a whole is absurd, imho.

      • Unfortunately, some of the VNs that I have played depict sex as pornography in spite of their fancy storytelling.  

        • Ever played the “ef” games? Those are great examples of how a VN can use sex to enhance the story, rather than detract from it.

          Without the sex scenes, I think “ef” would lose quite a lot.

        • kroufonz

          if you’re playing NUKIGE than yes there will obviously more focus on sex than story

      • Agree >:D, there are just some VN that it comes in perfectly and even seems to be necessary, while others that it just seem to be put for the fanservice of it

    • dusk

      I agree with you whole-heartedly. This is why I started learning Japanese to play visual novels that are on the PSP. It only does All-Ages.

    • In my opinion, i think it really depends on the VN, sometimes it doesn’t feels wrong to have those H scenes, i mean… Uhhh, is like, yeah, it feels more real? (even if they are just, like most of the time, students), of course, i myself enjoy them, but,  it is something natural to come at some point when there is romance, and that is a serious thing to happen when you are dating someone, so when it happens in some games, it feels like everything is pretty much official and well, and i admit, sometimes it’s good to see how the heroine reacts when something like that is about to happen xD, you see other reactions that you dont normally see, and well, it pretty much seems to be a must for most of the VN nowdays, in others, yeah, it pretty much kills the atmosphere… 

      For example, in overdrive material, i didnt felt the H-scenes were wrong on Kira-Kira (well, it did with Kirari, i just couldnt see her like that -_- they made her too childish too…) but with the other 2 girls it was pretty cool and well placed, but in Deardrops, i played it on the psp so it didnt had anything, but when i discovered that it had H-scenes, it was pretty much a big  “blergh”, it just didnt suited it.

      This is just my opinion though, i wish they could just release with and without scenes, or just an option to hide ’em, it shouldn’t be that hard to remove them anyway, and if you just dont like it, you can just skip all the way through it.

      • Makenshi

        I agree. Sex is just part of romance… The mood killers are fillers. When there is nothing to fill the story they put sex or something else on it.

        I can’t take a romance seriously, especially between adolecents,  if theres no sex on it… but it gets boring when it seems like a forced situation(like any other filler). [not trying to sound offensive]

    • Phlo

      One of my first VNs was Hirameki’s localization of Hourglass of Summer. The DVD format was unbearably bad, something the Japanese audience wouldn’t have had to deal with, but the “out of order” time travel story was really interesting and I liked the characters. When I found out that in Japan a later version with porn tacked on had been made, it felt kind of…wrong. But with the failure of great all-ages PC games like Ever17, perhaps you really do need to use sex to get people’s attention…

      I have mixed feelings, really. If it gets more people to play a great game, that’s one thing. But I wish it wasn’t necessary.

  • Chippel

    I’m surprised by how low the sales are, but they’re a bit of a hard company to support. It’s not that they’ve done anything in particular wrong, but because their future is uncertain, there’s no promise that you’ll be able to re-install that DRM-filled game in five years time.  (This is what initially made me iffy about their releases other than the price — the “optimistic” opinions of some of the staff members didn’t help.) Then there’s the fact that their releases are digital, alienating at least some segment.

    • Phlo

      In the case of your legally owned game becoming unusable due to DRM tied to a defunct company, applying a crack really wouldn’t be a bad thing to do. And that’s assuming that they wouldn’t do something about it themselves before going under.

  • caddyalan

    In the last few years, Mangagamer and its associated companies have succeeded in translating some well known visual novels and romance games. Their writing has improved since the first few products in 2008, and they have released a few complex games and non-harem stories.

    That said, I’m still hoping that Mangagamer and its business partners will continue to find new audiences. They may benefit by producing (and translating) gameplay-heavy products which do not include obligatory sex scenes. They may also benefit by publishing stories which appeal to different types of fans, such as people who enjoy reverse harem (otome) games, people who enjoy stories with canonically homosexual characters, and people who like media with a western aesthetic.

    • Ladius

      I think a good start would be ignoring sexual audiences and just focusing on visual novels with great stories, settings and characters.

      • savvy30039

        The best selling visual novel on JBox (the all ages version of JList) is Yo-Jin-Bo, one of the only english otome games. If we’re talking about building any sort of market for non H-games, then people shouldn’t discount the buying power of the ‘fringe’ audiences.

  • kroufonz

    mangagamer should find a way how to give some understanding (or lesson) to japanese dev and make them aware regarding the state of global market, how japanese anime games and visual novel situation in the west, about the uselessness and hate toward DRM, about difference of price between japan and overseas, how physical release still important for niche title and download only title situation for niche games. i know it will be extreme amount of hard work since japan in general quite clueless about current PC and console games market in general .

    there is definitely big untaped marked outside japan, if only the game could be released in more territory (EMEAA, NA and ASIA),if only  having more than one way to obtain (physical release could make their way to import store like play asia and could increase sales), and more friendly to user (DRM problem), also if they can more mainstream gaming sites aware of mangagamer all ages version  title existence.

    maybe mangagamer could try making alternate brand for all ages version games and (try and never give up to convince) so the game could be released on steam/gog etc. they could also try to colaborate with niche console publisher and try to release game on PS3, no one ever try releasing VN on PS3 yet even if there is rumour SCEA hate it, they could try to release it in SCEE and SCE Asia  territory instead. this alternate brand maybe can also make publication more accepted in more website ,and ofcourse they should make the platform holder (steam and sony in this case) that Visual novel(avg,slg,nvl etc)  is not just h-game and console galge isn’t the same with eroge, there is no porn in console/all ages version PC title, and don’t forget to make moreand more anime fan aware of your existence

    this is definitely very very very extreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeme  hard work needed to be done,

    • PrinceHeir


      Hack and Slash Title :P

  • Guest

    There’s barely any advertising or marketing. How can they expect to make money if the general public doesn’t even know it exists.
    How can the developers expect to make money if they dont code their games for global appeal; but then the catch 22 is they dont expect it to make money overseas so they dont bother but it wont make money if no one knows about them hence the catch 22.
    Also, I think they should add more gameplay elements and have better animation. Motion portrait, 3D animated. These are all improving with today’s technology..

  • The market is vastly smaller than I imagined, only less than 1000 for the best selling one? 

    • Ryan Baer

      One of the main problems is that the main market for these games are typically very fluent in piracy. You might get 10,000 people who play it for the thousand sold.

      • savvy30039

        How many of those players are teenagers whose parents would never let them use their credit cards to buy these types of games? Or people who have the interest and the means to pay for them, but don’t consider them real games and therefore not worth the money? Or how many people are just of the mindset that they don’t have to pay for porn in this day and age and include H-games in that category?

        There’s a lot of perception problems MangaGamer has to deal with if they want to sell more than a handful of copies, and it seems unlikely the product will just sell itself as long as those issues are still in play.

  • It’s really hard for me to sit on the pc and play VN, but i’ve found myself finishing and loving VNs on the PSP, yeah, i think porable is the best way to go, at least for me, in VN, i just need to stop from time to time, and move around with my psp, sitting still on the PC just reading is hard…

  • “Overseas, none of MangaGamer’s recent releases are even close to that number. Even the company’s best-selling game to date, Koihime Musou, has yet to hit the 1k mark.”


    I’ll never have localized Alicesoft games at this point! I love eroge. They have great stories, nice eroticism, and – occasionally – some addictive game mechanics. My only gripe is the outrageous JPN price on most of them.

    • I want the sengoku rance games X_X

  • I’d never realized that sales were that low in the West.

  • PrinceHeir

    you know what after hearing this, i am prompted to buying a pack of games next week.

    we need to support Manga Gamer and other publishers that are willing to bring these titles here.

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