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zxdvas

The VN market and what can we learn from Yuzusoft, Hyperdimenional Neptunia and Nekopara

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I briefly analyse the VN market and invite some discussion on it.
The breakthrough title of Yuzusoft, Dracu-Riot! came out in 2012, HDN in 2010, Nekopara in 2014. Meanwhile, minori, elf, KID, sprite and many others have closed down. It has been said the VN market is saturated, it is now a dogfight between existing VN company. Globalisation has complicated the issue since VN faced more competitor and also a larger potential market. Of all products I know, VN is one of the most difficult to advertise. On one side, it is closest to traditional literature as art that should be exempt from the concern of capitalism. On the other hand, it is as commercial as video game and movie, one major miscalculation could lead to bankruptcy (Atari burial is notorious). The duality is such a horrible nightmare only those who work in the field have right to say they know how it feels, which excludes me.

If you look at HDN and NKP, you would notice they all have licensed english translation. This helps tremendously in broadening market. It is crucial to remember Japan is the only country that primarily speaks Japanese with a population of about 0.13 billion, about 2% of the population on Earth. Meanwhile, US and UK alone has about 0.38 billion population, and this is excluding the Europe and India. Even conservatively we can say at least 1 billion people on Earth know English. This is about 13% of world population. Even if we assume much smaller percentage of people buy their product, an English translation would still bring in considerable profit. Notice that the script is not a costly investment compared to soundtrack, CG, programming, making op, hiring VA.

In the early 2000s, there is no facebook, youtube, twitter, steam and reddit. There are not many, if any, translation of VN. How much they can earn is solely determined by how well received is by the Japan market. This is no longer the case. The world today produces more entertainment than a person can consume so anything that can be substituted is at peril. VN is not as engaging as video game, not as thrilling as movie, not as sophisticated as literature, not as casual as anime. What truly differentiate VN from other medium is the the perspective. In all other medium the story unfold with the audience looking at it but in VN the audience assume the role of the protagonist and participate in it (I know exceptions exist in both sides). Most VN is told in first person and the protagonist is usually not voiced (incidentally, the exceptions are frequently the better VNs, a phenomenon I might investigate another time). First person narrative is most suitable for love story and this is quite the norm in VN. Writer usually compromise the plot a bit to bring the most out of the characters. This is why while there are better VN than Eustia I find its script to be one of the best I have seen, it is a VN that never for a moment I noticed the writer has compromised the plot to build a better character.

I discern two approaches in strategy these companies adopted quite successfully. These two approaches are by no means exclusive.
The YZS method. VN is not the main income source. it introduces the cutest, most adorable and sexually attractive heroines they can design. They earn money by selling derived products, such as keyboard, pillow, figurine, phone cases. This is spiritually identical to free-to-play game with paid content. You would be surprised how profitable this is in mobile phone games (e.g. granblue fantasy)and MMO.
The HDN or NKP method. Broaden potential market by having as many translation as possible. I hate to admit it but even the worst translation (as long as it is not machine-translated)usually bring more benefit than harm. Ideally, have an anime adaptation. This is spiritually identical to Hollywood movie. AD, youtube trailer, it spares no money on advertising as if the whole world must know its existence. I particularly emphasise the importance of a OP. I have read VN with a great plot yet no one ever mentioned it because it lacks popularity due to absence of OP and poor advertising. 

TL;DR. Translation is almost always welcomed, know your unique advantage, discover alternative income source and be absolute shameless in advertising. It is almost always poor business strategy that leads to downfall in VN company. With all due respect, if a VN with the plot quality of Nekopara could sell so well, you know most buyer really don't care about it. So what can company do if they want to retain some dignity? Make VN that is so unique you can't find anything similar from other company, such as 5pb and Liar-soft. (I wanted to mention KEY but their mastery of VN as a medium is not something that can be learnt and copyed with ease)

Edited by zxdvas

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Looking at HDN and Nekopara I would say that it can be quite important not only to self promote but also get someone to promote it for you. Both Nekopara and HDN have been covered quite well on places like youtube for instance with some larger youtubers having talked about them and having done playthroughs of them. If we look at other VNs in general they just lack this kind of exposure. Fans of VNs usually just stay in our kind of closed community not really trying to convince anyone outside of the community to try different VNs. For something to become a big hit in the west we just rely on people who are anime fans on youtube, but don't often cover VNs, like Lost Pause or the anime man or for it to be covered by a larger gaming channel. If you search for Nekopara or Neptunia on youtube the majority of what you get is the things not released officially by the Developer or Publisher but rather things by different youtubers.

Edited by bakauchuujin

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20 hours ago, Kiriririri said:

Can you please not write about stuff you have no idea about

Care to explain your answer? I haven't been on this forum for very long but I think the OP has some valid points. A translation should usually pay off if you consider how much more of a potential there is outside of Japan that you can reach with an English translation. And if the audience gets bigger woudln't it be good if you had already made a name with it?
But perhaps this is just naive? if so, why?

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- If the knowledge I got off Shark Tank was right, the "I just need this small percentage of people to purchase the product" kind of thought most of the time brings nothing but disaster to a business.

- Most Japanese VN (aside from (nukige) titles from small companies/circles) have merchandises, not just stuff from Yuzusoft. And obvious enough, not all of them sold well. Not if the game itself was not even doing well in the first place.

- Calling a 8800 yen game (or 10k plus with limited edition) a "free to play with paid content" is just ridiculous. 

- Having the game available in more than 2/3 languages only works if the game already did well in English/Chinese. If it flopped even in those 2 biggest foreign markets, then what's there to hope for in other smaller one?

- Having a horrible translation, even if it's not Google style, might work quite some time ago when there were just a very few official translation. But it will certainly kill off a large amount of potential customers for your next titles, bonus a huge negative in your reputation. A very fine example: MoeNovel.

- Life would be so easy if companies could just easily pump out unique stuff like that. I assure you, every company out there want to create a masterpiece, something that no one has never read before. Whether or not they have the ability, time or finance to do that, is a different matter.

- Neptunia is not even VN so I don't know why you put that here.

Edited by Satsuki

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6 hours ago, AustriaVNFan said:

Care to explain your answer? I haven't been on this forum for very long but I think the OP has some valid points. A translation should usually pay off if you consider how much more of a potential there is outside of Japan that you can reach with an English translation. And if the audience gets bigger woudln't it be good if you had already made a name with it?
But perhaps this is just naive? if so, why?

While Kiriririri's reply might had been harsh, I think most can get what he is trying to convey; this is definitely one of the more mediocre (at best) article-post that  I had read:

On 4/14/2019 at 6:39 PM, zxdvas said:

The breakthrough title of Yuzusoft, Dracu-Riot! came out in 2012, HDN in 2010, Nekopara in 2014.

Hyperdimension Neptunia is not a VN. The most relevant and closest-to-a-VN reason for inclusion in a topic like this is that the the game bears a lot of similarities to the subject title in this discussion thread. I don't understand what he is trying to say by including it here (there are other similar game (series) which enjoyed - or > success HDN had if that's what the OP is trying to reference)

On 4/14/2019 at 6:39 PM, zxdvas said:

Globalisation has complicated the issue since VN faced more competitor and also a larger potential market. Of all products I know, VN is one of the most difficult to advertise. On one side, it is closest to traditional literature as art that should be exempt from the concern of capitalism. On the other hand, it is as commercial as video game and movie, one major miscalculation could lead to bankruptcy (Atari burial is notorious). The duality is such a horrible nightmare only those who work in the field have right to say they know how it feels, which excludes me.

While there are VNs being produced and sold outside of Japan, Visual Novels are still mainly being made, sold, and read there. Referencing Dracu Riot, Hyperdimension Neptunia, and Nekopara in the previous part gives readers the impression the OP was talking about the situation in Japan and not globally, and this part of the post seems to be saying globalisation has affected the market in Japan itself. If so, I find it logically difficult to believe that's the case

On 4/14/2019 at 6:39 PM, zxdvas said:

 Most VN is told in first person and the protagonist is usually not voiced (incidentally, the exceptions are frequently the better VNs, a phenomenon I might investigate another time). First person narrative is most suitable for love story and this is quite the norm in VN. Writer usually compromise the plot a bit to bring the most out of the characters. This is why while there are better VN than Eustia I find its script to be one of the best I have seen, it is a VN that never for a moment I noticed the writer has compromised the plot to build a better character.

This is subjective and should be indicated as such. By not doing so, the post gives me the impression the OP was trying to factualise / propagate his own opinion.

On 4/14/2019 at 6:39 PM, zxdvas said:

 I discern two approaches in strategy these companies adopted quite successfully. These two approaches are by no means exclusive.

The YZS method. VN is not the main income source. it introduces the cutest, most adorable and sexually attractive heroines they can design. They earn money by selling derived products, such as keyboard, pillow, figurine, phone cases. This is spiritually identical to free-to-play game with paid content.

The more aggressive F2P model works by incorporating human physiological elements such as Sunk Cost Fallacy into their game design; you get to play a part (usually the beginning part) of the game for free (exception being lot of EA titles / 2k sports titles etc) and microtransactions will be pushed to your face whether you like it or not. The less aggressive method has the entire basic game being readily available to be played for free while giving players the option to buy content which does not impact the gameplay in any meanful way. Examples being MOBA such as Dota 2 (yes, I know of the existence of Dota Plus).

Although I can tell (probably) what the OP was trying to say (the VN itself = same as a F2P game and the additional products produced = microtransactions) , calling the commercial methods companies such as Yuzusoft use on their VNs as similar (even spiritually) to F2P is just frankly ridiculous to me

 

The OP also included a lot of meaningless / subjective / misinformed stuff in his post such as these:

On 4/14/2019 at 6:39 PM, zxdvas said:

This is spiritually identical to free-to-play game with paid content. You would be surprised how profitable this is in mobile phone games (e.g. granblue fantasy)and MMO.

 

On 4/14/2019 at 6:39 PM, zxdvas said:

 

The HDN or NKP method. Broaden potential market by having as many translation as possible. I hate to admit it but even the worst translation (as long as it is not machine-translated)usually bring more benefit than harm. Ideally, have an anime adaptation. This is spiritually identical to Hollywood movie. AD, youtube trailer, it spares no money on advertising as if the whole world must know its existence. I particularly emphasise the importance of a OP. I have read VN with a great plot yet no one ever mentioned it because it lacks popularity due to absence of OP and poor advertising. 

 

TL;DR. Translation is almost always welcomed, know your unique advantage, discover alternative income source and be absolute shameless in advertising. It is almost always poor business strategy that leads to downfall in VN company. With all due respect, if a VN with the plot quality of Nekopara could sell so well, you know most buyer really don't care about it. So what can company do if they want to retain some dignity? Make VN that is so unique you can't find anything similar from other company, such as 5pb and Liar-soft. (I wanted to mention KEY but their mastery of VN as a medium is not something that can be learnt and copyed with ease)

 

While I know the OP has the right to post whatever he wants, perhaps the OP could had gather some of his/her points, and collate and post it instead of posting what seemingly was a informed article.

Just my 2 cents worth :P

 

Edited by phantomJS

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It's an interesting post but there's a few false equivalents. Such as, this company is successful, so it means that their marketing/business strategy is the recipe for success. Well, without sales figures it's quite difficult to tell for certain, but I'd say these games are sucessful for different reasons.

For example, Neptunia was poignant at the time for its meta-commentary on RPGs, overused tropes and videogames in general. In reality, the gameplay is quite lacking, even on the remake, and the story gets old pretty fast, becoming a victim of the tropes it parodies. Although, it is important to note that the remake was rewritten, while the original had a more interesting and fresh story.

Nekopara's success has a lot to owe to its short length, cheap price, beautiful art by Sayori and most of all, the E-mote system (whatever you may call it). That is, having the characters move and breathe, as if they were really alive inside our very screens.

 

But beautiful art, a cool story and characters...blah, blah, blah, none of that matters. What matters is memes.

No matter how good or bad Neptunia was at the time, it became popular because of its almost cult following in communities like 4chan, where many gamers for the first time felt that they were playing a game made for them specifically, as people, through the use of constant forth wall breaks. They felt that the characters resembled them in certain ways and it helped strengthen this bond between them. Over time, I'd say that Neptunia de-evolved into mere yuri bait, but I risk triggering the anger of many fans.

Nekopara instantly became known as "the game where you can fuck cute catgirls". To those people who weren't deep enough into otaku culture to know about the existence of bishoujo games, Nekopara might've been their first contact with the genre. And what can I say, it helps that it doesn't beat around the bush with an overcomplicated plot, to the point where it can almost be labeled a "moenukige". Above all, this game is important because it is an escapism fantasy for us humans, who live in a world ruled by cats, giving us the illusion that for once we can rule over the cats.

What these games have in common is being poignant at the time, offering something fresh or never-before-seen...but it's difficult to predict that a game will or not spread like wildfire on social media. An example would DDLC, which is innovating in a way because of how it messes with your game files, but it got popular thanks to its shock factor. It also helps that it's short and a free-to-play game.

 

So, the idea of releasing a translation on as many languages as possible isn't exactly worthwhile especially since most people can speak English and most eroge aren't exactly Shakespearan novels either...and while it is important for Japanese developers to take in account the foreign audiences when making their game, they run the risk of adapting the game to fit certain standards or values, robbing them of what made us like them in the first place.

Edited by Ramaladni

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On 4/14/2019 at 9:47 PM, Kiriririri said:

Can you please not write about stuff you have no idea about

Really. This saddens me. I spent the time to do something either you deem it unworthy of your time or just don't care and now I am the villain. But if dismissing me would make you feel better by all right do it.

Think of it this way. Suppose I made the stupidest post possible. But since other people are willing to share their expertise at least some of them(including me) walk away from this post knowing more than they click into it. Then my effort is not in vain. And for that I willing to do it again.

Edited by zxdvas

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5 hours ago, zxdvas said:

I will edit this post later. I don't have time yet.

What's the point of editing it though? You'd just make the thread even more confusing. You should just properly respond to what other people wrote (other than Kiri, that is).

I agree with most points others made here BTW. While Yuzusoft is definitely a company creating top-quality VNs and winning over audiences with just how memorable and fun their games are, Nekopara and HDN are meme factories that appealed to a more mainstream crowd and managed to go viral. If there are lessons in them that could help VNs be more successful... I'm not sure if they should be learned. It's not like those games don't have their appeal points (I've recently played the first Neptunia game and it was extremely cute, while Nekopara, while I find it intensely creepy, is undeniably stunning visually), but I wouldn't want most of my VNs to be like them. :< And from these companies, only NEKO WORKs did the "unusual" thing by releasing Japanese and English versions simultaneously from the very beginning. It worked out for them amazingly, but I don't think many companies would be able to repeat this kind of success and good-quality translation is still a large investment.

Edited by Plk_Lesiak

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Personally I think vns can be very sophisticated like literature. It depends on the writer. The reading and vocabulary level is pretty high.  I think everyone else made a valid point about other things. I just wanted to state my opinion on the sophistication comparison to literature and visual novels. 

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Hmm, for me vn's fall into the "guilty pleasure" category. Not particularly bright most of the time. Certainly wouldn't call them sophisticated by any means. They're like junk food. You enjoy it, but you know it's crap. Natrually there are exceptions, but most english translated vn's are crap when you step back and look at it objectively. 

Edited by Stormwolf

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16 hours ago, Ramaladni said:

So, the idea of releasing a translation on as many languages as possible isn't exactly worthwhile especially since most people can speak English and most eroge aren't exactly Shakespearan novels either...and while it is important for Japanese developers to take in account the foreign audiences when making their game, they run the risk of adapting the game to fit certain standards or values, robbing them of what made us like them in the first place.

1. I've think that CN localization and it's market size might be worth as you can see the steam reviews on Island and other VNs.

2. What do you mean by "adapting the game to fit certain standards or values". I'm aware about the localized cut-content VNs differ from the original Japanese version. But if the contents are not removed, are there any problem? It does matter for JP dev to optimize their game for overseas release on certain issue (i.e. font size too big or small).

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6 hours ago, ztrepzilius said:

1. I've think that CN localization and it's market size might be worth as you can see the steam reviews on Island and other VNs.

2. What do you mean by "adapting the game to fit certain standards or values". I'm aware about the localized cut-content VNs differ from the original Japanese version. But if the contents are not removed, are there any problem? It does matter for JP dev to optimize their game for overseas release on certain issue (i.e. font size too big or small).

I'm sure the Chinese market is very profitable, perhaps in some cases even more so than the western market if you take in the closeness of the languages and ease of translation (according to what JP>CN translator friends have told me, anyway). Even some western localization companies such as JAST have started releasing CN translations. In return, you have to sacrifice sexual content or aim for all-ages games only, which leads in to my second point. I fear that more companies will follow the business model of developers like Lose, where the H-scenes exist only as "what-if" scenarios and are accessible through a menu. Well, just think about this, if the game is written in a way that the H-scenes don't have a need to be there, why should they exist in the first place and why should I bother reading them? But my original post was more about japanese developers purposely avoiding certain type of content such as loli, incest, rape, hypnosis and so on, because it would be rejected by western values (and payment processors). You don't even need to go that far, for example, SolPress's Newrin's Steam release was rewritten to not contain sexual suggestive conversations or dirty jokes. Hello Goodbye's CGs had to be censored as the game was banned presumedly because of a few panty shots. Things do seem to be changing, as Miel/Norn nukige are sold on Steam without being cut or censored, but school-settings are still too risky.

Not say that I have anything against all-ages games or less school settings, but yeah. Just some food for thought, I guess.

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