The Year Ahead For MangaGamer


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.

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.