Last week, Level 5 released Girls RPG: Cinderella Life for the Nintendo 3DS. Moving a mere 9,519 copies in its first week, Girls RPG only sold through 31.03% of its first shipment to stores. The question that naturally followed was: why the low sales?
We did manage to come up with a theory, but before we get into that, let’s take a look back at some of Girls RPG’s development history. For starters, it originates from a mobile phone game.
In Japan, Level 5 released a game titled Cabaret Gals (or Kyabajo Pi) for their ROID Mobile service in 2009. Cabaret Gals was a simulation game where players trained a girl to be a top hostess in the town of Neo-Ginza. Then, in 2010, Level 5 announced that Cabaret Girls was headed to the Nintendo 3DS. A few months later, they changed the name of the title to “Girls RPG: Cinderella Life” and emphasized that it was being developed by female staff members.
This was, perhaps, the first major warning sign for Girls RPG. Level 5 CEO, Akihiro Hino, understood at the time that associating the game with the shady hostess profession wasn’t the best of ideas, and so, Level 5 changed the title to make it sound more like a lifestyle game aimed at girls. Hostesses were changed to “Neosiennes” in the game itself, and your character’s underlying goal changed to wanting to find a legendary lucky butterfly at the castle you would work at, rather than trying to be the best hostess in the profession.
Another warning sign lit up when Level 5 dropped the game’s price from 5,400 yen to 4,980 yen, stating that they wanted to lower the barrier of entry. Then, just last month, they made a major change to the game’s box art, just weeks before its release. Looking back now, it seems rather obvious that even Level 5 were aware of the challenge the game faced.
So, what exactly was the challenge? Probably that, despite being sugar-coated with a bunch of other features and story elements, the underlying core of Girls RPG still involves making your way through the world by being a hostess of sorts and entertaining a variety of clientele ranging from company CEOs to celebrities to politicians. Being a hostess isn’t exactly considered the most dignified of professions in the first place, and we can’t imagine many parents were keen on buying a hostess-training simulator for their daughters.
Now, clearly there is a certain audience for a hostess sim somewhere out there, as Cabaret Gals was a fairly popular game on Level 5’s ROID Mobile service. Perhaps on ROID, the game benefited from the cheap price of entry that most mobile games enjoy, as well as the ability to pick it up incognito. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say the retail console space certainly wasn’t the best avenue for it.