Haven’t been blogging cause my site was sucking at the moment (server move should be tomorrow) but I had to at least plug this… Siliconera interviews Aksys and chat about Sweet Fuse And The State Of The Otome Market. [Siliconera.com] In Japanese it’s called Bakudan★Handan [VNDB.org], in English called, ‘Sweet Fuse: At Your Side’ . Aksys Games were the people who brought us Hakuoki. I picked out the choice bits:
Interviewer: It’s neat that Aksys is building the girls romance genre in the West. How did Hakuoki as a series do with respect to Aksys’ expectations?
Ben Bateman, Editor: I don’t actually know the answer to this, so I’m going to say it totally blew them away. We’re literally swimming in piles of Hakuoki money over here. (note: he’s being sarcastic, it only sold a few thousand copies)
Interviewer: What are the puzzles like in the game and did you have to change any of them for the US version?
Ben Bateman: “Puzzles” might be a bit of a misnomer. Apart from the standard “Pick option A or B” that you’d find in a VN, Sweet Fuse has two unique mechanics: What’s Wrong With You?! and Explosive Insight. The former pops up when someone does something especially idiotic or frustrating, and it involves being given the chance to either get mad, or keep your mouth shut. It’s kind of like the other choices, but with more spice! And it’s got a little graphic that plays, kind of like in Phoenix Wright. Explosive Insight is the more game-like of the two.
Interviewer: Has the otome market grown since Hakuoki was released last year? And how do you think you can expand the genre even further?
Ben Bateman: Whether or not the market has grown is hard to say. To me, at least, it seems like there’s a little more stuff going on, but the truth is I didn’t really pay much attention to it before Hakuoki, so it’s possible that all that’s really changed is my perception.
I do think that Hakuoki illustrated to us (and, I imagine, to other publishers and developers) that there is a market for otome games. From what I’ve seen, fans of otome games are just as devoted and excited about their games as fans of any other genre. I don’t think there are a ton of them yet, since most have to learn Japanese or rely on fan translations and the like, but as more games come out, I think the otome fanbase will grow a lot.
As far as expanding the genre further, I think the most important things anyone can do are pay attention to what people are asking for, and treat the genre and its fans with the same respect anything else gets. I think there’s sometimes a tendency to dismiss otome games as just “Oh ha ha pretty boys”—which, to be fair, is something I’m probably guilty of from time to time—but a lot of them have plot and character depth that put other games to shame. They get pushed to the side or made fun of a lot, likely because gaming is still kind of a boys club, but my hope is that as they become more and more common otome games will get the same treatment in terms of coverage, marketing, and discourse that our other story-heavy games like 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward do. There are likely limits to how large the market is going to get—VNs and VN-ish games are still a bit of a shaky proposition here in the West, but I think they definitely have the potential to find a home over here.
Full interview here. He doesn’t say anything too important, I’ve picked out the most important stuff there is. The question about ‘how to grow the otome games industry’ is where I would divide myself from my peers. To me, the most dangerous problem faced by a Japanese ultra-niche in a Western market is (quoting Tim O’Reily), ‘not piracy, but obscurity’.
“piracy is not your enemy. obscurity is.” [aka this idea]
Let me explain. To me, the problem with the otome game industry is that you don’t have an audience, barely an audience. The one main weakness of copyright, is that it cannot generate new audiences in post-netflix world (bcuz there is too much entertainment). It can only monopolize on an audience once you’ve got it. But fans are different, because when they share their purchases, they evangelize the company’s products and that is how new fans are created. I look around my own peers, it is hard to find people like me who are hardcore fans who do not make purchases or at least desire to make purchases. When hardcore fans pay for the copy that they could have gotten for free, they’re really not paying for the copy so much as paying to see the next game get translated. Because you cannot pirate labour.
Myself I got into visual novels because of the internet. My first visual novel was Ever17 (which was pirated). Now I own 63 titles.
That is why John Perry Barlow the co-founder of eff.org says, “Economically when you spread information you create demand for it.” — John P Barlow. Fans should focus on doing what they do best, which is to share their purchases and get friends and community on-board with this awesome new thing. See Neil Gaiman explain it.