This is an opinion piece and represents the opinion of the author. It does not indicate one way or another the stance or policy of the Fuwanovel community.
Peter Payne, owner of visual novel publisher JAST USA and the J-List empire, made the following comment in their official forums:
…it’s a challenge when games are big and expensive. One thing we’re not too happy about is the way RPGs take 2-3x the resources yet sell about as well as any other game. While we’ve released some nice ones, and have an amazing game coming out soon (Seinarukana is nearly ready to start promotion on), unless we can see increased interest by fans it’ll be hard to choose another one in the near future.
JAST looks at disappointing sales and sees a lack of customer interest. I see a marketing failure that squanders a tremendous opportunity to reach outside JAST’s usual fanbase.
JAST’s experience with RPGs
For the uninitiated, JAST USA licenses Japanese games for English release. JAST has released several translated JRPGs over the years, including the Raidy series, Brave Soul, Aselia the Eternal, and most recently Yumina the Ethereal. JAST has hinted that the Raidy series did very well for them, and they seemed quite eager to work on Raidy 3, so I’d infer that it’s not included in this assessment. Brave Soul was poorly marketed and heavily pirated, as evidenced by the repetitive posts in the old forums asking how to save (which was explicitly outlined in the short paper manual that came with the game.) The release of Aselia the Eternal was mired by multiple issues, including a widely available fan translation patch, JAST’s decision not to release a version with the original 18+ content due to concerns about the sexual portrayal of children, failure to pursue a Steam release, and the fact that by the time JAST got around to releasing it 8 years had passed and the game’s graphics (640×480) and battle system were horribly dated. I previously discussed how Yumina the Ethereal’s marketing was poorly handled, although they did eventually release a trial with actual combat included. Since Brave Soul was released 12 years ago and Aselia the Eternal probably didn’t cost much to localize due to the existing fan patch (JAST worked with the same group for the official release), I presume JAST’s statement is based largely on Yumina the Ethereal’s sales.
Seinarukana: JAST’s most ambitious RPG license to date
I’ve played through Seinarukana, and the gameplay is a blast. The story mixes typical high school comedy with a fascinating sci-fi / fantasy setting, but the blend is smoother and more convincing than Yumina the Ethereal, with the plot and setting gradually introduced rather than dropped in your lap halfway through like with Yumina. Unlike Yumina, there’s no grind or random encounters, which I appreciate. Seinarukana is currently rated 8.4/10 with 151 votes on VNDB, ranking it #3 in untranslated RPGs below Eushully epics Ikusa Megami Zero and Ikusa Megami Verita. For those interested in more details, I touch on the story premise and gameplay in my personal blog post.
Insider information suggests Seinarukana is planned for a 2015 release, likely timed to coincide with Anime Expo in early July. Unfortunately, JAST appears to be heading for a repeat of the mistakes they made with Yumina the Ethereal: taking a high-caliber RPG, hurling it at fans, then expecting the game to market itself.
RPGs should be marketed at a different audience
Ask existing visual novel fans (JAST’s typical customers) to buy an RPG, and they’re going to whine that there’s gameplay getting in the way of their story. RPG fans don’t necessarily frequent VN sites, because they don’t like VNs especially—they like RPGs. On top of that, when RPG fans are looking for RPGs to buy, they’re interested in promotional materials that highlight the gameplay: gameplay screenshots, gameplay videos, and playable demos.
Reviews are important
RPG fans tend to read reviews before they buy, which means RPG review sites need to be engaged and persuaded to review these games. I never saw any reviews of Yumina the Ethereal on RPG sites, which was probably the #1 reason it didn’t do as well as JAST had hoped. There’s a huge potential audience for VN-style RPGs with strong gameplay, but it’s going to take more effort to tap it than JAST is used to. But if they’re going to spend the considerable resources to license a long, high-caliber RPG like Seinarukana… why wouldn’t they market it the best they could?
Seinarukana is a Steam dream come true
Seinarukana has to be released on Steam. Absolutely. Positively. If the game can be listed on Steam, priced affordably, and get noticed–the game will sell like hotcakes. I’ve played Seinarukana, and the gameplay is a blast. Steam users will eat it up. Censoring the H-content in Seinarukana for a non-adult release will be no issue because there’s hardly any to begin with (1). And with a non-adult version, sites like RPGFan and RPGamer should be willing to review the game, which will multiply sales. Getting these sites review copies before release, to boost pre-release hype, is a key aspect of proper marketing!
My message to JAST
Disappointing sales of your RPGs is your own fault. You’re dropping the ball. Put some effort into the marketing this time around and you’ll get results! You have talented people working for you on Seinarukana who know what it takes to market RPGs. Talk to them! Throw money at them and give them the authority to do what it takes to make this release successful!
My message to readers
It’s outside the scope of this article to convince you that Seinarukana is awesome. You’ll just have to take make word for it. Whether you agree or not, if you care about visual novel style RPGs then I have a message for you: JAST needs your help. They’re at a fork in the road where they’re debating if high quality RPGs are worth the effort of releasing. They don’t realize they’re sitting on a gold mine; all they see is a caved-in tunnel that is taking forever to clear. And if they don’t dig down, they’ll never realize it.
I want YOU, the RPG fans, to help me tell JAST what they’re doing wrong. Here’s a pre-release thread for Seinarukana on the JAST official forums. Tell them what they need to do to reach RPG fans like you and me and make Seinarukana and future awesome RPGs a success. Do you want to see shining gems like Eushully’s Ikusa Megami Verita in English? First we have to convince Japanese developers like Eushully that there’s a market for these games in English, and localization companies like JAST that translating a 100hr epic like that isn’t going to bankrupt them.
I leave the sword in your hands, RPG fans.
(1) I support a dual release: one with adult content, the other with adult content removed.