Sekai Project Interview: Bringing Visual Novels To The West


    This week, Sekai Project have released visual novel Planetarian for Steam in English. Developed by Key’s Visual Art’s label, the game costs $9.99 (although, it’s discounted at $7.49 until September 19th) and you can grab it here.


    Prior to its release, SIliconera caught up with Sekai Project CEO, Raymond Qian, to ask a few quick questions about the company and how they’ve been able to rise through the ranks of visual novel publishers so quickly.


    Sekai Project as a company kind of came out of nowhere. I have to ask—where did the money come from, to allow you to get the company set up and be able to pay your staff?


    Raymond Qian, CEO: The initial funding for Sekai Project came from the founders themselves. We chose to self-fund the company rather than seek outside investment. Needless to say, the early months were lean as we worked to acquire and release projects.


    How many members does Sekai Project consist of in total? How many are full-time staff and how many are hired on a project-by-project basis?


    The core Sekai Project team consists of four members, including the two founders. We mostly contract out the work for each project. The number of contractors for each project varies, but usually there is one or a team of translators and editors, and a couple for QA.


    I’m interested in the logistics of running a small company where there isn’t really one big office that houses all your employees. How do you manage Sekai’s production pipeline? Do you use things like Microsoft Project to allocate tasks and come up with schedules for everyone and their projects, or is it a looser process than that?


    Working without an office has been an interesting challenge. A lot of our internal communication is conducted through live chat rooms. We also hold weekly meetings to summarize the latest updates. To keep track of everything we’ve recently started using Office 365’s SharePoint platform.


    Let’s start talking about specific projects. You started out relatively small with Narcissu being published on Steam. How did you get that to happen? Was that a less “commercial” project you just did on your own time and money?


    Comparatively speaking, Narcissu was an easy project to acquire. One of the members on our team is personal friends with the creator, Stage☆Nana, and through him we acquired the rights to redistribute the game on Steam. Since Narcissu was released as a free game by request of the creator, there were no licensing issues to deal with either.


    The big news was obviously the licensing of Planetarian and Clannad. Visual Arts’ president is said to be quite business-savvy and has supposedly been skeptical about how visual novels could be profitable in the West. How did talks between you and VA begin?


    We were introduced to President Baba of VisualArt’s through a mutual acquaintance at an event in Tokyo. We proposed the idea of localizing planetarian as a good starter since it had previously been localized on iOS.


    President Baba was receptive to our ideas and after a meeting in Osaka at VisualArt’s headquarters, we were able to get the ball rolling with not only planetarian but with Clannad as well. We are hopeful that with the success of these projects, in partnership with VisualArt’s, more titles will hit the West in the future.


    You’ve been able to work with a lot of creators that fans thought were previously inaccessible or disinterested in the West. For some reason, they appear to trust you. There has to be something you’re doing that other publishers aren’t. What do you think it is?


    Some of us also believed in the past that some Japanese creators do not have any interest in the West for a number of reasons. Nevertheless, we’ve realize that isn’t necessarily true. Knowing the right people and having the opportunity to have an open dialog with Japanese creators and game developers is just the thing to make these localization projects a reality. Understanding the needs of Japanese creators is very essential to this process.


    What do you think their needs are, and could you give examples of how one developer’s needs might differ from another’s?


    Considering that we bear the costs for localization in most cases, you might assume that Japanese creators would be happy about getting “free money”—especially for titles that are no longer in print. For a creator, it’s not just about the money. Reputation and an appreciation for their works is just as important.


    Taking Western perceptions of visual novel games and past incidents such as that involving the game RapeLay into account, we pay extra attention to addressing any worries the creators might have.


    How easy has it been for you to get set up on Steam? I remember there was a time when the general opinion was that Valve weren’t fond of the idea of visual novels being available on Steam, but obviously they’ve come a long way since. What was the back- and-forth with Valve like?


    At the beginning we had to go through Steam’s Greenlight platform just like everyone else. The most difficult part was proving to Valve a sizeable fan base for visual novels exists. We have the community to thank for making this process much easier.


    Hadaka Shitsuji is a game that you’ve mentioned wanting to license, if it were ever possible. Is the Boys Love/Yaoi market something you’re interested in, in general? Are you talking to any creators in that field?


    The mention of Hadaka Shitsuji was more of a joke than anything else. However, we won’t rule out the possibility of getting involved in the BL/Yaoi market. It stands to be seen what approach we’ll take to get games like that on to Steam that would be both acceptable to Valve and to the fan base.


    What are some games you’d like pursue? Stuff from companies that you aren’t already dealing with, at least to the public’s knowledge.


    There’s so much speculation around in this industry, we’d rather celebrate when deals are inked instead of feeding more rumors.


    I’m sure you get this question a lot—Type Moon?


    We certainly do get that question a lot but we won’t rule out the possibility. In this industry, you never know what might happen!

    Ishaan Sahdev
    Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and a contributing writer at GamesIndustry.biz. 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.

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