Just when I was thinking I needed to finish writing an article I had half-finished on the “value” of a fan-translated script, a crazy bomb drops out of seemingly nowhere.
So VN translation group Amaterasu decided yesterday that they had enough of waiting for Mangagamer and various Japanese game companies to come to a negotiation, and decided to just release their patches yesterday.
This isn’t going to be pretty.
I personally have avoided looking at the comments by ‘the community at large’ because I know it’d probably just irritate me as I write this, but I imagine it’s mostly people cheering them on.
As for me, I see this as one of the biggest steps backward for the industry in probably the past year or so. I’ve previously gone on record that western visual novel economics are broken as well as saying indiscriminate patching w/o working with companies is unhealthy for the community, and have long held the opinion that the western VN fanbase has no idea what is going on in the industry side of things, thereby making impossible demands on a system that’s already strained.
But first, allow me to clear here, I specifically don’t care about the individual games in this incident and am most interested in how this affects the industry and the future of VNs as a whole. I don’t particularly have feelings either way for Liarsoft, but Muvluv is a series I love very much and wished more of my friends knew of it. However, I still highly disapprove of what happened. In a few brief paragraphs, I saw what amounted to over a year of work over at Mangagamer get flushed down the drain. It’s a clear case of short-term benefit in exchange for plenty of long term damage.
I’m not privy to any of the details of the negotiations between Mangagamer and the various parties involved. But I do talk to various staff in companies on a semi-regular basis about various things, and just happen to watch what Age does out of personal interest.
What’s on the table right this moment
Every year Mangagamer brings a number of game companies over to Anime Expo so that the companies can see for themselves just how well received their games are there. In 2010, Age was one of the biggest names that came (we also saw Hobibox w/ pushing their Higurashi license among others), and months after that visit, the rumblings of possible licensing talks were in the air. It was certain that after that trip, bamboo and Kycow had much more interaction with each other on twitter and the like.
Something was going on with Age and fan translators a number of months after AX 2010 into “early 2011:“http://amaterasu.is.moelicious.be/blog/?p=818”. Then At AX 2011’s Mangagamer Panel, we were hearing that Age’s other hit title Kimi ga Nozomu Eien was looking like a very likely candidate for licensing (though nothing was inked yet to date).
So we had 2 potential candidates here from Age, Muvluv+Alternative as a set, and Kiminozo.
Then Liarsoft’s Sharnoth was definitely being spoken of (though who knows how far the talks proceeded). With one license, subsequent ones are usually easier, so the rest of Liarsoft’s products were an open possibility in the future, but still unlikely (like say, 10% probability at present).
Then, there other companies up in the air in an unknown state of negotiation that are unrelated to this – AX 2011 saw Clochette and Debonosu visiting, along with Akabeisoft2 (on an unofficial semi-vacation visit kind of basis). Some of those will probably turn into licenses over time as talks continue.
Since the news of the patches just broke, anything’s game, and the real effects will be months away. The most extreme case would be the companies get spooked and simply refuse to continue talks. While I don’t think this would be their first reaction, it’s a possibility for companies that were hesitant about localizing their games in the first place (by all accounts Liarsoft was fence-sitting on the license).
They could also decide to continue on in the face of a competing patch, but they’ll have the nasty shadow of always knowing that sales will be affected in some unquantifiable way. If the sales numbers come in bad (and make no mistake, they will be in the deep red, has watching sales figures for these games taught you guys ANYTHING about this industry) then they’ll never know what they would have done without a competing patch.
To put it briefly, it’s a hard sell. If I had to pitch this as bamboo, I’d have to play up the angle that there’s an opportunity there that if 5000 downloads of a patch happen, there might be 50 real buyers for the game (also make no mistake, the VN industry are aware of the piracy rates of their games at home, so they have a baseline to know how to convert downloads into sales figures). In this scenario, speaking as an analyst, it looks like a once-off then wait-and-see strategy. They’ll make the attempt anyways, just to see what the risk profile looks like, and will decide if they want to invest more energy into it later.
I can only hope that talks continue and end successfully despite what has happened. If anything I’d be saddened if many people were unable to play Kiminozo because of this. What would be utterly disheartening though is if it does go on, and sales totally flop despite their being a high patch download number. Then it’s hard to make the argument that trying again is worth the resources.
Long term fallout
Right now you can count the major VN localizing companies on 2 fingers. The major brands of the popular games in Japan all know each other to a certain extent and certainly talk to each other. So you can be sure that there’s going to be talk about what happened.
The risk adverse companies will shy back, the ones fine with risk will probably be more cautious. Life will eventually have to go on. It’s pretty much a given that Amaterasu will face an uphill battle if they ever talk to a company again, and this probably extends not just to the group but down to individuals.
And while I don’t like to consider the option, legal action, in the simple form of a DMCA notice (which costs nothing and is exactly the situation that the law was designed to handle) is entirely valid.
However the chips may fall, this has been a total black mark on the face of all fan translators who want to try to work with companies to build the market. I’m personally upset because I’ll be guilty by association whenever I’m introduced to an industry person for the foreseeable future until this blows over.