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"For sale in Japan only": A Japanese developer's perspective on the eroge embargo

sanahtlig

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I wrote previously about a display bug in Dual Tail's strategy eroge Venus Blood -Hypno- that prevented interface text from displaying correctly in non-Japanese Windows. Fan hacker binaryfail generously donated a patch that fixes the issue. I sent this patch to Ninetail (parent company of Dual Tail) via Twitter, requesting that they include the fix on their official support page. Project manager and game designer Keimaru responded to me in broken English. His response, edited by me, is as follows.

Thank you for the patch you've provided that makes Venus Blood Hypno display correctly in non-Japanese Windows.

However, Japanese eroge are limited to sale in Japan only. As hosting this patch on our site would imply that we endorse sales of these titles overseas, your request puts us in a difficult situation.

We are very pleased that our game is loved by overseas players.

However, as we have to conform to industry standards that regulate sales of these titles overseas, we can't officially recognize this patch.

We're perfectly fine with this patch being used and distributed unofficially by fans.

Thank you for your love of our games.

Original:

Thank you corresponding patch to a non-Japanese Windows.

However,the Japanese H game is Japan limited sale. For this fix is likely to be to respond to play abroad, Judgment is difficult.

As us, that our game is loved overseas users, we are very pleased.

However, as the cause officially correspond to H game overseas companies of Japanese H game,it will face a variety of challenges.

We acquiesce so long as informal patch by the fan.

However, it can not be status quo officially distributed as official. Sorry, thank you for your understanding.

Thank you love our game.

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609300971026427904

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301060453187584

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301099590254592

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301211351617537

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301257237311488

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301320453877761

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301481934622720

I thanked him and went my way. A commentator on Reddit later informed me that Keimaru had posted a much longer comment in Japanese. This comment showed such sincere and thoughtful consideration of the issue, from a Japanese developer's standpoint, that I decided it needed to be relayed to the English audience.

Japanese eroge developers are well known for their reluctance to get involved with the Western market. Packaging and splash screens prominently declare "For sale in Japan only". Westerners tend to dismiss this policy as apathy for foreign fans, even regarding the practice with contempt as just another manifestation of Japanese isolationism and xenophobia. When eroge companies block foreign IPs, they automatically assume that the company has closed its doors to Western release (despite abundant evidence to the contrary). "The companies are just being xenophobic," they say with bitter contempt. "Might as well just fan translate their titles, since they'll never officially release their games in English. They don't want dirty gaijin playing their games."

It's about time that we get the other side of this story. And who better to deliver it than a prominent and well-loved Japanese developer--one puzzling over how to respond to a bug that prevents foreign fans from playing his games? I provide my translation of Keimaru's Twitter comments below. I regret that my translation skills could not fully convey the honest simplicity of the original message, but I did my best to at least get across the ideas and intent.

VBHには非日本語OSだと、文字表示が崩れて不可視になるバグがあるらしく、かなり初期の頃に非日本語OSユーザーさんから問い合わせは来ていたのだけど、根本的な解決はできてなかった。・・・が、今日、海外ユーザーさんらしき方から、それに対応するDLLが送られてきた。

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609347515243065344

We've been aware for some time that Venus Blood Hypno has a bug affecting users of non-Japanese Windows. This bug causes Japanese characters to display incorrectly, making certain interface elements unreadable. We had reports very early on from users of non-Japanese Windows about this, but we weren't able to resolve the issue. Today however, a DLL file that fixes the issue has been sent to us from what appears to be a user from overseas.

実際、うおーすげーありがたい! と思う反面、ちょっと悩ましい問題が・・・

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609347694646030336

On one hand, we're incredibly thankful! On the other hand, this presents a bit of a dilemma...

過去に日本のエロゲーは、一部卸業者に勝手に国外に持ち出されて、販売されて、それが取り上げられて国際問題になって、相当国内でもいろいろあって・・・ それから わざわざ日本国内販売only JPonly と書くことが義務付けられたのだけど・・・

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609348225280028673

In the past, certain distributors bought up Japanese eroge and sold them overseas without consulting Japanese developers. This led to an international scandal, causing considerable turmoil within Japan as well. Since then, we've been obligated to display warnings like "For sale in Japan only" during game start-up and on the packaging.

今回のユーザーさんが、国内で非日本語OSでプレイしている、ならばまぁ、OK! てな感じですむんだけども、これが国外から非日本語OSに対応して! て話になってくると、ちょっと状況がだいぶ変わってくるんじゃないか・・・ウチ一社だけの問題じゃなくなるんじゃないか・・・と悩みが・・・

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609348934620704769

This user's request raises a worrisome issue. While there's no issue if users want to play these games in Japan on a non-Japanese OS, if this is a request from overseas to support foreign OS's, then that's an entirely different matter. At that point, isn't it no longer just our company's problem?

つまり、本来販売すべきでない、すると問題が起こってしまう可能性がある販売経路のところのユーザーの求めに応じて、対応するのか? していいのか? という・・・ うーん・・・

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609349366516547585

Should we respond to this request and support users that we were never supposed to be selling to in the first place, since selling to these users risks another incident? Is it even ok to support them? I'm not sure...

正直、判断がつけられない。うーんどうすりゃいいんだ・・・ 公式で対応してしまうと、そういう会社としての判断にならざるを得ないし・・・・ ぶっちゃけ、ユーザーさんが善意でこっそり勝手にやりました、メーカーは無言で良いとも悪いとも言わない、あたりがグレーなままでいいんだけど・・・

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609350183961300992

Honestly, I'm torn. What to do...? If we officially support this patch, that would have to be our decision as a company [our stance on the matter]. To be honest, we could just leave things in a gray area, where we let good-intentioned users do as they please in the shadows while we stay silent on the matter...

ぶっちゃけ、今回かなり初期の頃に、中国系のユーザーさんっぽい方からも問い合わせが来てて、うーん・・・国内でのプレイ・・・だったらいいな・・・ というJPONLYの部分に対して、ユーザーサポートもかなりスレスレ感があったりもして、ちょっと対応に苦慮もしていたり・・・

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609351058582732800

To be blunt, when we received very early reports of the bug from users we believed to be Chinese, our user support team felt they were really skirting the line with regards to the JP ONLY clause, thinking 'I hope these people are playing within the country.' They puzzled over how to handle the issue.

そもそもユーザーさんが日本で買って、国外に帰郷して自分の個人の楽しみで自分のPCだけで遊ぶのはセーフなのかどうなのか、どこに線引きがあるのか、一企業として判断するのはひっじょーに難し

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609351483679637504

If a user buys a game in Japan, returns to his home country, and plays it on his own PC purely for his own enjoyment--is that ok? Where's the line? As just one company of many in this industry, it's extremely hard to make such a decision.

このモヤモヤ感・・・解決してくれる人はいるのだろうか・・・いやいまい。(反語

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609351709635145728

This nagging feeling... is there anyone who could resolve this issue? No, there probably isn't.

いくつかのやりとりを経て結論。ほとぼりが冷めたころにこっそり勝手になおしとこう。元の吉里吉里でも解決してるらしいし・・・べ、べつに海外ユーザーの求めに応じてなおしたんじゃないんだからねっ あくまで自主的に、そう自主的になんだからねっ(苦しい言い訳)ただ立て込んでるので先になるかも

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609364091585495040

A conclusion arrived at after some debate: after things have settled down let's quietly fix this. The issue seems like it would be resolved with the previous version of the KiriKiri engine. It--it's not like we're fixing it because the overseas user told us to! We're doing this voluntarily, because we feel like it (guh). However we're pretty busy so it might be a while before we get around to it.

I don't know about you, but Ninetail just earned one new (very loud) fan. For an example of one of Ninetail's outstanding games, see my Venus Blood -Gaia- review! (NSFW version, SFW mirror)

Special thanks to those of the Fuwanovel community who provided feedback on the translation, especially Majikoi fan translator dowolf.



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It's been sitting on LewdGamer's desk for 10 days with no progress, so I decided to go ahead and publish it--especially since the recent controversy over the Ultimate Loli Sim thread (the corresponding personal blog post was also forcibly removed by moderators) and the surrounding toxicity (which is evident in the FuwaHistory thread) puts my future at Fuwanovel in question.  Might as well tie up loose ends just in case.

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It still sounds like they are xenophobic to me, especially with comments like these:

 

To be blunt, when we received very early reports of the bug from users we believed to be Chinese, our user support team felt they were really skirting the line with regards to the JP ONLY clause, thinking 'I hope these people are playing within the country.' They puzzled over how to handle the issue.

 

If a user buys a game in Japan, returns to his home country, and plays it on his own PC purely for his own enjoyment--is that ok? Where's the line? As just one company of many in this industry, it's extremely hard to make such a decision.

Why is this even a question? Of course it's okay. They purchased the game didn't they? So they have the right to do whatever the hell they want with it afterwards.

 

Also, I have no idea what is wrong with this:

In the past, certain distributors bought up Japanese eroge and sold them overseas without consulting Japanese developers. This led to an international scandal, causing considerable turmoil within Japan as well. Since then, we've been obligated to display warnings like "For sale in Japan only" during game start-up and on the packaging.

 

So long as the distributors buying up Japanese eroge are buying them and not smuggling them; then there is nothing wrong with them selling them over seas. If a book is released in the US, there is nothing wrong with me buying up a couple hundred copies and reselling them to customers in other countries. 

 

The fact that these issues are even questions in the first place is what is Xenophobic. 

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It's important to put his response in the context of the eroge industry as a whole.  His views are decidedly liberal compared to his counterparts at other companies.  The eroge industry itself has decided that eroge should not be sold to foreigners.  By even considering supporting non-Japanese OSs, he risks being shunned by the rest of the industry.  He's taking a real social risk here.  And that's very courageous of him.

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Are Japanese the xenophobic ones or are we the ones that forced them to take action against something that used to be normal for them?

I really don't like thinking that the Japanese are just xenophobic, we're a huge part of the problem, we're the ones that overreact and have power over them, that's why they don't want to consider us, because we give them a hard time for it.

I really liked seeing this side of a developer, it really goes to show that it's not just because xenophobia, but because they want to avoid legal trouble we western folks give them.

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It's important to put his response in the context of the eroge industry as a whole.  His views are decidedly liberal compared to his counterparts at other companies.  The eroge industry itself has decided that eroge should not be sold to foreigners.  By even considering supporting non-Japanese OSs, he risks being shunned by the rest of the industry.  He's taking a real social risk here.  And that's very courageous of him.

 

My problem isn't with him as an individual (I understand why his position is guarded). But with the industry as a whole. And if his views are "liberal", I would hate to see the conservative views. 

 

I really don't understand what could possibly be bad with expanding to overseas markets. It's obvious there is demand. As companies do they not want money?  

 

What bothers me the most is the irrationality of this collective stance by the industry. 

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Because it only takes one "scandal" for everything to be destroyed. And trust me the West is the best at coming up with scandals.

There's demands by fans, but over here you also have all the people who turn games into a political thing and would likely attack many of Japan's games to fill their political agenda.

The west is plagued by people that work for the sole sake of running their mouths over every little thing and turn it into a national issue. Because they have nothing else to do with their lives but to complain, otherwise they have no jobs. Eroge becoming popular here would be like building a huge bait for them.

I'll say it again, all it takes is one game to get enough attention to make the whole company come crumbling down.

We have nothing but our own culture to blame.

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I really don't understand what could possibly be bad with expanding to overseas markets. It's obvious there is demand. As companies do they not want money?  

 

What bothers me the most is the irrationality of this collective stance by the industry. 

There was a time when the eroge industry did not care about distribution. This was until the "mainstream" Western world 'discovered' eroge and branded it terrible and disgusting. The natural reaction of course is to recoil into their own shell to avoid future incidents/'scandals'. So unfortunately you're putting blame in the wrong place: Reversing this would require a change to reception of eroge overseas, not a change in the attitudes of the Japanese developers.

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All of their games contain 2D loli content and let's not forget that a common attitude of people in the west is that this is equivalent to child porn. Being cautious about openly endorsing child porn overseas is practically common sense.

 

The eroge business in general barely functions as is with dozens of companies in danger of closing their doors any minute because of lack of profits. Rocking the boat when the situation is already unstable is most often not the best policy.

 

Companies that can get by on all-ages products could have a chance of thriving overseas but a company like this one where the sex is practically unremovable from the experience is kind of screwed. There's hardly anything to be gained from branching out overseas and it comes with a ton of risk and exposing themselves to scandal. I don't know how opposed they'd be to being picked up for official releases since in that case I think the English release company would sort of act as a middleman to take some of the heat off of them, but without that they're just a big target.

 

In order for circumstances to change the western attitude towards this kind of thing would probably have to change first.

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Although now that I actually read the tweets, it's less about him being cautious about the overseas reaction and more like "This is a system that was put in place and is now emposed on us (unofficially or officially and to what extent it's enforced I don't know) and if we don't follow it our company could be looked upon with disdain." and then he goes on to muse about to what extent this 'policy' extends to.

 

I guess it's more complicated that just what each company personally wants to do.

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出る杭を打つ is drawn from a Japanese saying that is basically the opposite of the American saying 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease'.  He is taking an even larger risk than Sanahtlig is hinting at by saying this.  Japanese companies in general do not take kindly to their employees putting the company out there on a limb, and the industry already suffered badly as a whole from the infamous Rapelay incident and a number of follow-up incidents. 

 

I don't think those of us over here can really comprehend the pressures the average Japanese companies are under.  For one thing, social pressure can turn into economic pressure with alarming swiftness over there.  For another, Japan is reliant enough on other countries' trade for its survival that these kind of scandals overseas can cause hysterical reactions from their lawmakers.  The eroge industry, being a niche industry by nature, is vulnerable to crackdowns in a way that the car and food production industries aren't.  Since eroge are basically a guilty pleasure and a luxury, there are plenty of lawmakers that wouldn't see a problem with doing away with them if it meant they could improve their own chances of remaining in office.  It isn't like they are universally accepted, even by otakus... so before you criticize eroge-makers for being 'xenophobic', you should at least try to see the bind they are in.

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My problem isn't with him as an individual (I understand why his position is guarded). But with the industry as a whole. And if his views are "liberal", I would hate to see the conservative views. 

 

I really don't understand what could possibly be bad with expanding to overseas markets. It's obvious there is demand. As companies do they not want money?  

 

What bothers me the most is the irrationality of this collective stance by the industry. 

 

You should keep in mind that it's the Rapelay incident that caused this whole "Japan only" thing to begin with, and it has nothing to do with Japanese and everything to do with the dumbasses from UK. It's not about them being xenophobic, but about west being openly hostile toward their product.

 

Try looking for a "Japan's Sales Only" label in a game released before 2009 -- you won't find one. This wasn't a thing before the west outright attacked eroge industry. Also, from the way it's worded I'd say the "is that ok? Where's the line?" is a question that's partly directed at you, the west, as in: will you come with burning stakes at our door again if someone has brought home a game he bought in our country?

 

What we need is to make west accept the concept of visual novel and eroge, and the "Japan Sales Only" label will swiftly go away. No one's so xenophobic here as to ignore profit, as long as it doesn't mean you're gonna end up lynched for it ( :D). How would you fix this is beyond me though, eroge aren't particularly respected in Japan either. Aaah, just remembering that RapeLay debocle fills me with so much rage... It's as if some ppl exist solely for the purpose of ruining good things.

Otherwise, yeah, what Clephas said.

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出る杭を打つ is drawn from a Japanese saying that is basically the opposite of the American saying 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease'.  

"The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." (Source)

 

This is actually a fairly well-known Japanese proverb, enough so that an English spin-off was created.

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Thanks for the explanations everybody. I didn't realize that Western media outrage had so much to do with this. Or rather, I knew such incidents happened; but I didn't know it had such a tremendous effect. 

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"Try looking for a "Japan's Sales Only" label in a game released before 2009 -- you won't find one. This wasn't a thing before the west outright attacked eroge industry."

 

You're wrong. "Japan only" warnings have been around for a very long time. Maybe not as prevalent, but certain companies have had this attitude since forever. The issue isn't exactly xenophobic, but certainly there is fear involved on the developer side. Justified or not, it was there before the Rapelay scandal.

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