Dies irae has been one of those legendary VNs highly lauded by certain members of the community for years now. It’s among the top rated games on VNDB and EGS. Everywhere you go in the VN community, you see people sporting Dies irae avatars, starting up new discussions on the game, proclaiming their undying love for the writer Masada, and so on. The excitement was palpable when it came out that it was being localized and there would be a Kickstarter. Then the Prefundia page came along with a star cast of translators and every fan-pandering feature you can think of. So this Kickstarter should have been an instant smash success, right? Welp.
The Dies irae Kickstarter is almost certainly going to reach its goal, but the journey there has been rougher than anyone expected. The very beginnings were inauspicious. The PR team and the translation team were working together in the early weeks of December to assemble more appealing reward tiers than what was shown in the Prefundia. They were expecting a late December launch when on December 15th Light gave the word: They were launching the Kickstarter that day. They sent out an email to their Prefundia followers (from their own mail servers which triggered many spam filters, instead of going through Prefundia itself), and an hour later the campaign went live.
It wasn’t the campaign launch we had hoped for. They somehow scraped together a decent first day amid all the chaos and confusion of the sudden launch, but it wasn’t the blowout some expected. Then, we were met with long periods of silence from the PR team. Most of the PR actually came courtesy of the translation team (who aren’t being paid for their PR efforts). The biggest question surrounding the rushed launch — what happened to some of the bigger tiers, and will we get good replacements — remains unanswered. The two new tiers they added were primarily aimed at the Japanese audience and are even the only two tiers with Japanese descriptions. A baffling move considering they’ve yet to make the case for why a Japanese person would otherwise back the project.
Things were still doing okay, though. Despite the lackluster PR and the lack of attention from Light, the community was coming together as best they can to fund the game and spread the word. The campaign was hobbling along towards its $160,000 goal. And then the stretch goals happened. I am not exaggerating even a little when I say that they are among the worst stretch goals I’ve ever seen in nearly five years of browsing Kickstarter, and definitely the worst VN stretch goals I’ve seen. The stretch goals they showed us in the Prefundia weren’t amazing, but they were okay. They gave some decent goals to work towards. New ports, fandisc translation, and even a brand new DI story written by Masada.
Instead, we got a 16 page booklet for our first stretch goal. Sixteen pages. The first stretch goal, which is meant to be an addition to the physical versions, amounts to less than what a decent game manual looks like, and they want $40,000 additional dollars for it. This is such an absurdly uninspiring stretch goal that not only did it fail to get people to up their pledges, I actually know of several people who either downgraded or removed their pledges altogether because it is so insultingly insignificant.
The other stretch goals are bad too, of course. The Vita stretch goal was made more expensive, and has an added requirement of a $100 pledge in order to have the option of acquiring the digital version (no physical version announced). This was another source of dropped pledges, as many Vita owners realized that backing for a Vita version was no longer a wise investment. The fan book collection was downgraded to a single fan book, only available at $400 and up. And the Interview with Kaziklu Bey (the fandisc) and new story goals? Those are still hidden away, for whatever reason.
Once people were done revoking pledges, things steadied out again. But that misstep has become emblematic of how poorly run this campaign has been. Neither Light nor their PR company (who supposedly ran Kickstarters before) seem to have any idea of what they’re doing. They have a poor grasp on the intricacies of the western market, and how it differs from the Japanese market. But it’s not all bad. Things are on an upward trend again, and the English world may get their Dies irae yet. I’ll now evaluate this campaign’s current assets, then draw conclusions and make predictions on its future:
- They’re on a strong upward trend. It’s not entirely known why numbers have been up the last couple days. It could be that those who dropped their pledges are picking them back up again. Other people also seem to be grabbing the big limited tiers that were abandoned after the stretch goal update. The game also went live on Steam Greenlight a few days ago which could have helped a lot. It’s likely a combination of all three factors. This progress is preventing the campaign from stalling before the finish line, but it’s still not going to carry them very far beyond their initial goal at this pace.
- Fan passion remains strong. Kickstarter projects already almost never end with funding just barely falling short of the goal. The number of campaigns ending at 90% or more are astonishingly low. At that point, psychological effects kick in that drive people to up their pledges and show stronger support to push the campaigns past the finish line. And DI fans have shown that their passion is stronger than most. This makes it extremely unlikely that it will fail as long as it gets close enough. This is not something you ever want to rely on, however.
- The holiday season is almost over. This is actually pretty important. The campaign launched at a time that was very bad for big spending. Perhaps Light simply wasn’t aware of how big of a blunder launching a little over a week before Christmas is because of the difference between Japanese and western Christmas traditions. In any case, now that the holiday season is over people are much more willing to spend money on frivolous expenses, which is great news for Dies irae.
- The stretch goals are still abysmal. A good stretch goal is one that really gets people going, something that they really want to see come to fruition. This is easier with in-development games where you can promise new features. With a localization, though, the options are more limited. Still, they have to find something better than a 16 page booklet.
- The PR is still doing little. I’m not sure we should expect any more cross promotional deals or external coverage. That means it’s up to the fans to get the word out. What little they are doing is highly confusing. After discovering that add-ons exist (they seriously didn’t know what they were until a few days ago), they created a $70 blanket add-on, then called it exclusive to the Kickstarter. Except it’s also currently being sold at Comiket.
- The tiers are still lackluster. In part of the rush to launch the campaign on Light’s spontaneously accelerated schedule, several stretch goals that were then being workshopped were outright removed, with replacements promised but never delivered.
- At the current pledge rate of $77 per backer, we need 600 more backers. We will likely need more, as the high-end tiers are already taken up and the current average rate per backer is lower. This number is possible but tricky.
What needs to happen
- Get some better tiers, add more add-ons. This needed to happen two weeks ago, and it still needs to happen. It’s not too late to open up some cool new high-end rewards. The demand is certainly still there. Getting more backers in the upper hundreds and even thousands will reduce the overall number of backers required quite a bit. This will be especially important in the ending rush, they simply need more ways for people to spend lots of money if they want that ending spike to be as big as it could be.
- Reveal the last two stretch goals, and explain what the new story will be. They introduced new tiers tailor made for Japanese backers, but they didn’t give Japanese backers a reason to actually back. Telling them that they could get new content would give them the incentive they need to pitch in. These are the fans who contributed $800,000 to the Dies irae anime. They have clearly the money to spend.
- Fix the Vita situation. They should 1) Work out a deal to produce a physical copy with Limited Run Games and get them to promote it like they did with Sharin no Kuni (that produced a massive boost for them), and 2) Axe the booklet goal and move the Vita up a bit, offer a reasonably priced Vita copy add-on. They likely don’t have the time left in the campaign to work out the details for #1, but #2 is still possible to fix.
This campaign still has hope. The last few days have been quite encouraging. It now seems quite likely that they will indeed reach $160,000. But what about Interview With Kaziklu Bey? Or the new story? Or future Masada games? Dies irae seems like it has its funding secured, but Light’s future in the west looks bleak at this point. It doesn’t have to end with just Dies irae, though. If they make the changes they should make, they can turn things around and have their second half of the campaign be much bigger than the first.And it needs support from the community, as well. Light and Dies irae coming over to the west is truly a big deal. If we show our support towards their games and make them as successful as they deserve to be here, that will open the doors to many other similar companies. If you were one of many who asked for these games to get licensed, it’s finally happening. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is and show your support.