Back in 2011, I spoke with MangaGamer’s Head Translator, John Pickett, about getting the publisher’s visual novels onto Valve’s Steam platform. At the time, Pickett was very critical of Valve’s supposed stance on visual novels. Steam, Pickett said, held a bias against visual novels and didn’t consider them actual games, which is why none of MangaGamer’s titles were being released via the service.
Cut to three years later, and MangaGamer have two of their games available for purchase on Steam, with a third scheduled to go up on the Steam store when it is released this Winter. In the future, Pickett hopes to make even more of MangaGamer’s catalogue available via the Steam service. So, how did we get from not being on Steam at all to putting several games up on the service?
“The short answer is Steam Greenlight,” Pickett said to me in a recent conversation. “Back before Greenlight was announced, we approached Steam with Higurashi, only to be declined by Steam representatives telling us they didn’t think it was a fit for Steam, even after making our argument with the inclusion of links to the various articles and press coverage Higurashi had already received. Since Steam refused to accept our best, most popular all-ages product available at the time, it meant Steam simply wasn’t a viable option for us at all, so we had to focus efforts elsewhere.”
He continued, “When I noticed that Steam Greenlight went live, I contacted our staff immediately and made sure we got both of our all-ages titles—at the time, Higurashi and Go! Go! Nippon—into the listings ASAP. Since Steam still wasn’t certain how to handle Greenlight and titles on Greenlight at the time, it was a prospect with a fairly bleak outcome even given the promotions we were doing to encourage fans to vote for the projects to get them onto Steam, while many fans of other genres were trying to down-vote it or leave negative comments because it was different fare from what they were used to seeing on the platform.”
Go! Go! Nippon is an interesting case in that it is a $10 visual novel specifically aimed at a Western audience. You step into the boots of a young man spending a week in Japan, being shown around by a pair of sisters that describe the various locales you visit and form a bond of friendship with you during the course of the trip. This game was the turning point for MangaGamer’s relationship with Steam.
Eventually, Pickett says, Go! Go! Nippon, along with Higurashi, did make it through the Greenlight process, nearly a year after submission. Adjustments to the Greenlight requirements had made it possible for the two to earn a foothold on Steam, and Go! Go! Nippon eventually went on to sell over 16,000 copies on Steam alone, demonstrating to both Valve and MangaGamer that there was a market for these games on the platform. Once this happened, Steam representatives that were in touch with MangaGamer became much more open to the idea of seeing more visual novels released via the Steam service.
In the future, MangaGamer hope to put a few more games on Steam. These include the remastered version of Higurashi When They Cry, Eden*, The House in Fata Morgana (whenever that game’s localization wraps up), and even Ozmafia, an “otome” visual novel targeted primarily at a female audience.
Still, while MangaGamer and other visual novel publishers like Sekai Project have made strides in bringing visual novels to Steam, Pickett feels there’s more Valve could do to help raise awareness of the genre. “Maybe one day in the near future, Steam will actually start listing ‘Visual Novel’ as a genre to sort games under,” Pickett joked.