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VN's Forever: Regarding ChuableSoft's bankruptcy or the sad state of modern, japanese vn industry

Narcosis

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As you may (or may not, at least yet) know, ChuableSoft has filed for bankruptcy on 7th of July. In his Twitter, Ishida P - ChuableSoft's director - stated they had no other choice than to close, simply because it was not possible for them to continue with the company in it's current state. This may come of as slightly surprising, considering their previous game - Watashi ga Suki nara "Suki" tte Itte! (SukiSuki for short) won the 2015's Moege Awards and was met with warm praise - both from the fans, as well as community. The rights to the game were also acquired by MG and it's slated for an english release in late 2017/early 2018. How was it possible, that a rather well known japanese studio known for it's high quality charages went bust like that?

As a fan and avid reader myself, I've been keeping an eye on the japanese vn industry for the past 15 years; More than a decade, with all it's ups and downs and various events, that shaped and changed it's face overtime. It's not hard to summarize, that even if the start of the new millenium had proven to be a highly productive period for japanese developers, things don't look as bright when you start to look past 2010. To put things short - it's golden age is already long over and creators are currently facing numerous issues, which had been slowly but steadily piling up within the last years.

Market oversaturation is often being considered as one of the biggest culprits behind the increasingly difficult task for japanese developers to stay afloat as working businesses. The competition is fierce and industry itself is partially at fault for that; The ammount of new game makers rose expotentially after 2000's, while majority of them stemmed from the same exact community of fans. People, whom - as they grew up - changed from consumers into creators themselves. The otaku market is incredibly closed off and as such, consumes almost everything it produces by itself. It's a self-regulating social wonder of sorts that slowly grew for as long as 80's. Sadly, things finally came to a halt where it produces far more it's capable to consume. As such, to keep up with market's rising competition and social changes, creators had to start minimizing risks, often by lowering standards or switching entirely to budget works; if successful, such couple shorter games could support their more important, high quality productions, at worst make them stay afloat. This system worked for a couple of past years, but the more aware fans often kept pointing at the detoriating quality of games and nonsensical stories, which more than often subdued to popular tropes and cliches. Certain companies found delicate safety within particular niches, protected by circles of avid fans and doujinshi works. It's really difficult to presume, how long will they manage to keep up with the rising requirements, especially when trends change and people swap their interests. "A lot" does not necesarilly equate "good", neither will the fans remain forever loyal. The constantly lowering standards also caused a response within the market itself - people slowly got used to cheaper, lower quality games and as such, their needs grew smaller as well. This came to a turning point, where a lot of people began to feel content with low quality works and won't bother with better releases, mainly because they are a lot more expensive, far longer and usually harder to approach.

Instead producing high quality games, companies turned to churning out budget-type games, often serialized or episodic in nature, but how are you supposed to keep up with a market, that literally has thousands of competing companies, each producing exactly the same type of games? Formulas that used to be highly succesful in the past are now often a nail to the coffin for many starting studios. This is especially prevalent for moeges and charages, often built around slice of life genre; the "coming of age" stories, that used to be so popular are now considered completely cliched and overused to the point, where multiple games released often feel alike; there's little to no distinction between them at first glance and this causes the fans to feel resigned and makes them lose their motivation to get involved with anything further. At the same time, thousands of games are being sold to thousands of consumers; each company has to make a living and that wouldn't be a problem, when the population of fans would be kept at a steady number. Unfortunately, the japanese demographics are clear on that - the population is aging very quickly, with losses greatly superseeding gains. The same can be said about the market itself - the ex-fans, who are currently producing their own games have less and less potential customers, as their generation became incapable to supply the population with a steady birthrate. It's a tale of an aging market, with people who slowly drift away from being fans, as the modern, day-to-day japanese life consumes them almost entirely. In the end, this means less and less total available revenue to creators. Less money available within the market means less available budget to create future games. This means everyone has to settle for less and cut costs, which further lowers the quality of the final product. It's a vicious cycle and one that is increasingly difficult to break from, once you get caught.

In a world of merciless competition for disappearing population of consumers and aging fans, this means pretty much a single flop - especially an incredibly expensive, high quality game - can lead to a complete downfall. Growing risks prevent creators from retries and keep them pinned down to a life, where they barely scrape by from production cycle to another. As the costs grow, they finally find themselves in a difficult situation - often indebted and without funds, because their games didn't bring the expected revenue - where they simply have nothing else to do, than declare bankruptcy. This is more, or less what causes many studios - such as ChuableSoft - to finally close down. Sadly, I presume this is just the beginning and we'll see many more of our beloved companies closing down in the near future.

The only hope now currently lies within the western market - a body of almost infinite possibilities, with a massive and constantly growing fanbase, always thirsty for new games. Perhaps it's time for the japanese developers to finally embrace that possibility and move on.



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Iirc in Chuable's case it was impossible to continue because the director (or some other big guy) was ill and hadn't worked for a year really (causing their last game Anaoto to flop)

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30 minutes ago, Kiriririri said:

Iirc in Chuable's case it was impossible to continue because the director (or some other big guy) was ill and hadn't worked for a year really (causing their last game Anaoto to flop)

Aside from the fact their last game was released around a year ago, I wouldn't be surprised if Ishida P overworked himself, which led to serious life complications, but it's something pretty common in this business. The ammount of work pushed upon a single worker is simply staggering at times and when your health detoriates to the point, you're unable to lead a normal life anymore, there's very little you can do. Judging from his previous tweets, this might actually be the case.

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I was quite surprised by the message of ChuableSoft closing down since they seemed to be one of the more prosperous studios. I wasn't so interested in SukiSuki, but I had an eye on Haretaka which was propably their best title at the time when the studio had reached its peak. Wouldn't have thought that it went down so fast again. Their engagement in the west was apparently a little to late. Though it didn't save Overdrive neither, so it's certainly not guaranteed that it would saved them if they tried it earlier.

The studio I'm currently a bit worried about is actually Ricotta, the makers of Walkure Romanze. Their last full title was the WalRoma expansion 2013, and after that they just released two DLC's 2014 and 2015. Although they probably sold and are still selling tons of merchandise for it, it begs the question how long a studio can survive without releasing anything. Many studios like Eushully have a stricty annual releasing cycle to stay profitable. So if a studio has a slower release cycle, the titles either have to sell pretty good and/or the budget must be low. Ricotta's last 'news' post is more than a year old so it's slowly starting to get a bit worrying.

Edited by ChaosRaven

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11 hours ago, ChaosRaven said:

I was quite surprised by the message of ChuableSoft closing down since they seemed to be one of the more prosperous studios. I wasn't so interested in SukiSuki, but I had an eye on Haretaka which was propably their best title at the time when the studio had reached its peak. Wouldn't have thought that it went down so fast again. Their engagement in the west was apparently a little to late. Though it didn't save Overdrive neither, so it's certainly not guaranteed that it would saved them if they tried it earlier.

The studio I'm currently a bit worried about is actually Ricotta, the makers of Walkure Romanze. Their last full title was the WalRoma expansion 2013, and after that they just released two DLC's 2014 and 2015. Although they probably sold and are still selling tons of merchandise for it, it begs the question how long a studio can survive without releasing anything. Many studios like Eushully have a stricty annual releasing cycle to stay profitable. So if a studio has a slower release cycle, the titles either have to sell pretty good and/or the budget must be low. Ricotta's last 'news' post is more than a year old so it's slowly starting to get a bit worrying.

I actually remember some some people talking about it a while ago. That does sound rather worrisome. On the other hand, Walkure Romanze was an insanely popular franchise, which spawned a ton of merchandise. I wouldn't be surprised, if they actually make enough to not worry about anything. Either that, or they are perhaps working on another game, albeit production in complete silence isn't something japanese developers typically do.

Actually, wasn't Ricotta a subsidiary of a larger company, along with couple other studios? If I remember corectly, they were responsible for a bunch of really good vn's, but I have no idea whether it's the same people working under different brands, or joint teams working under the same japanese publisher.

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While I agree with some of the things you've wrote, to be honest ChuableSoft's bankruptcy wasnt unexpected at all and I dont think they fall into that category. Yeah their games were not bad, but you just cant win with making decent games, you have to sell them as well. With a "hey as long as we make okayish games we dont need to do anything else!" mind unfortunately the bankruptcy was inevitable.

 

First of all, They always had a very bad advertising policy and didnt put enough money to advertisement of their games at all. The biggest example of this was Ano Harewataru Sora yori Takaku's sales, their probably most succesful game in the last 6-7 years. Many people have liked it and wrote great reviews about it, Also have won a couple awards  etc etc, in short it was a great game. But how about its sales? Unfortunately it was "Way less than 1/7 of Yakimochi Stream", a kinda worse than average nukigeish game which got released at the same month with Haretaka. 

What I'm trying to say is, writing a "masterpiece" is not enough at all. You have to catch customers’ attention as well or some random game will just take the all delicious part with proper advertisement, specially if you released very bad 3 games in a row before the current game. Stuff like getting some popular seiyuus, making people talk about your game at the radio programs etc. would rise their sales for sure, but they didn't bother at all. Yeah going bankruptcy is kinda sad, but if chuablesoft can only take 133 points from the total 3861 September sales with their best title,  maybe they did something wrong after all.

Also for some reason they always released their game at the wrong time as well. For example the SukiSuki you've talked about. Yeah it was good and enjoyable, but if you release it at the same month with Primal x Heart & Sakuuta & Koikake, it'll just get crushed, specially with their bad advertisement thing. 

Edited by Qrqe

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On 2017/7/10 at 9:53 AM, Qrqe said:

What I'm trying to say is, writing a "masterpiece" is not enough at all. You have to catch customers’ attention as well or some random game will just take the all delicious part with proper advertisement, specially if you released very bad 3 games in a row before the current game. Stuff like getting some popular seiyuus, making people talk about your game at the radio programs etc. would rise their sales for sure, but they didn't bother at all. Yeah going bankruptcy is kinda sad, but if chuablesoft can only take 133 points from the total 3861 September sales with their best title,  maybe they did something wrong after all.

You're right. I actually thought about including PR and advertising in my rant, but decided to skip wiriting on these, because even excellent PR can't really save a game when in odds against massive competition and plenty of it depends on the approach of the development team itself. That doesn't exclude the fact, that even any sort of PR can still have a substantial impact upon the initial release and reception of the game, contrary to none (Hey, I'm looking at you, Survarium). It just feels weird they didn't really put enough effort into their marketing campaign, despite producing such a high quality game, that was bound to compete on the market with similiar looking titles.

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On 10.07.2017 at 10:53 AM, Qrqe said:

if you release it at the same month with Primal x Heart & Sakuuta & Koikake, it'll just get crushed, specially with their bad advertisement thing. 

Oh... I remember Koikake, by the way. It sold really well (around 12k copies in October 2015), but then Us:track is closed, as I can see in their Tumbr blog. QooBrand, who released Majo Koi Nikki, also went in silence after PS Vita release in 2015... They all by Amuse Craft company, so, I don't know what happens between separate brands inside the "big one". Maybe, nothing too good?..

According to Koikake, I can't imagine the production cost with all those detailed great art (seriously, even houses in "sakura background", whose almost don't seem, really wonderful), Niijima Yuu as a writer (I think it was a not so good decision, but great sales anyway), etc... Maybe, they are really run into problems after finishing the development? I read something about "problems with producers" on us-track.tumblr.com. Or I can be mistaken... 

What kind of strange, Amuse Craft produces new brand everytime?..

Crystalia, for example... Hearts still alive with their new 5th project (maybe, because good sales of Rorolog and FD?), but... For example, there are not FD for Koikake (maybe, they planned to release a sequel with continuation of Sena's story)... So... I dunno.

Unisonshift also exists. Other brands died, maybe?..

So bad. Will that situation solve in near future?.. Maybe, when JP finally will become to see the West as their one else business... I don't understand why are they so negative about that. It's a nice money for them, huh? Why then?.. Agh... Most companies also don't even want to heard anything when someone write to them with request of EN translation etc. Why?.. So difficult to learn new way? But if they continue to live in their area, then they won't survive.

They think "nah, we're good here, don't want to go on West". Oh, really good? You can going to bankrupcy with every new game development, guys, please...

I'm just impressed by their... stubbornness.

 

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