MangaGamer And Overdrive Discuss Localization Negotiation Hurdles

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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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Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.