Fan group decides licensing is too slow, releases things... oh boy

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.

Immediate consequences

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.

Check the next article for a more detailed look at why licensing is so frickin’ difficult.



comments



  1. Buttranger
    09/07/2011 02:29 AM | #

    Haha,no.

  2. I failed jp302
    09/07/2011 02:34 AM | #

    I ought to quantify my tell-all comment on Amaterasu’s blog and mention that I was less upset by the delays in sorting out the licensing situation than by the lack of transparency and communication that accompanied them, specifically concerning issues other than being put “on hold.” All in all, we simply concluded that Katahane’s translation would be both more punctual and higher quality as a fan patch, and Tarte’s defunct status (as well as the ability of upstanding fans to purchase the game legally on DLSite) strongly diminished for us the moral and ethical incentive to go official with the disadvantages that might bring.

    After our decision was made, I was informed through the grapevine that some of the egregious occurances of typos, poor grammar and technical flubs that have appeared in recent official English translations is attributable to the insistance of the Japanese companies involved in making alterations to and inserting the script into the games themselves – then prohibiting the publishers from doing a final proofreading pass afterwards. I don’t know for sure whether this is true (though I trust the source), but I’m saddened that I had to rely on hearsay for an explanation, while having my concerns dismissed and simply being told I would be a bad person for allowing the Katahane translation to be released as a free patch.

    I can’t deny that my actions have contributed to the chilling effect these events will have on the willingness of Japanese developers to allow their works to be published in English. However, the information above- again, if true, but I’ll believe it until I hear another explanation- indicates to me a fundamentally flawed relationship between developers and overseas publishers, and I don’t believe the industry can grow unless it moves away from that. Developers and publishers need to treat each other as equals, and the publishers and fan translators whose aid they solicit need to as well.

  3. 09/07/2011 02:59 AM | #

    It’s 3am and I have work tomorrow so I’ll probably do more detailed comments and/or a follow up article tomorrow night.

    But to address the point, I’ve been saying the western VN market is broken for a long, long time. At the profoundly fundamental level of “can this even be a business.” There’s plenty of blame to be placed on everyone involved, JP companies, localizing companies, translators, and perhaps someday soon I’ll go into them. Later.

    But for now, to bootstrap the whole damn thing out of the bleeding gutter, something more constructive than unilateral ultimatums from any side to make it better.

    Seeing this constant dance of 1 step forward, 2 (or 20) steps back over the years frankly pisses me off.

  4. drmchsr0
    09/07/2011 03:05 AM | #

    The irony here is that the aforementioned fan translators are NOT treating the creators as equals and are demanding a ton of, shall we call it, inflated expectations that cannot be met at this present point of time.

    If you want to fix this relationship, jp302, then you should ratchet down your expectations a few notches and listen to what the parties involved have to say and work on some sort of an agreement concerning this.

    It takes two fucking hands to clap, people. We CAN work with the Japanese, provided we don’t flip out and do things that will eventually lead to hostilities.

  5. I failed jp302
    09/07/2011 03:39 AM | #

    What the involved parties had to say? That’s the problem, no one told me anything other than that free fan translations are immoral and promote piracy, which I knew very well already; I just disagreed that not donating our hard work to MangaGamer, and on the Japanese side to whatever company gobbled up Tarte’s remains, was all that immoral as such things go. Since they had nothing to do with the development of the game, I wasn’t going to prioritize their quarterly earnings over allowing people to enjoy Katahane as fully as they can. It should be no surprise that anyone involved in fan translation values artistic integrity over the letter of the law, and if that is something reprehensible, please reprehend me all you want.

    Nor do I think it is an inflated expectation to request some sort of assurance that a release won’t introduce glitches and typos that weren’t in the scripts we gave them. Kara no Shoujo, for one, went on to fail the ‘glitch’ aspect of this simple request in a heinous way – revealing the identity of the culprit to everyone who looked at the notebook, which is a bad, bad thing in a mystery game – so I’m confident I made the right decision.

  6. VDZ
    09/07/2011 03:47 AM | #

    >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.

    What are you talking about? There is no Kiminozo patch and there won’t be. If they decide to release Kiminozo, fan translation won’t harm sales in any way as the official version is the only translation.

  7. Aer
    09/07/2011 09:11 AM | #

    I absolutely can’t understand WHY they did that. For those who didn’t know, there was already a leak of the translation’s patch (at around 99% of the game translated) and that wasn’t already the brightest thing to do. So, seriously…what was the point ? “We shit on japanese company” ? “We can do what we want” ? “No seriously, we don’t want to see an official release, that would be too beautiful” ?

  8. VDZ
    09/07/2011 09:19 AM | #

    @Aer
    They did this because the official release was not coming.

  9. Burnal
    09/07/2011 12:18 PM | #

    @Aer

    They already waited for 6 months and there were nothing about muvluv expect kiminozo.

    well i dont want some idiotic no-voice version so its better for me.

  10. anon
    09/07/2011 12:21 PM | #

    I few things that I feel are being overplayed. Amaterasu released one fan translation that has been on the internet for months thanks to the leak a while ago, and this fan translation is one that he was told would not see the light of day through MangaGamer. Not “we are working on it”, not “maybe next year”, but “we cannot release this, but if you want to translate this game with a 4mb script from scratch, we might be able to do that.” I find it hard to fault the group for this release, other than the possibility for hurting the chances at getting KimiNozo. However, he has not translated KimiNozo, does not plan to translate and unofficially, and he is willing to translate the roughly 4MB script for free if MangaGamer wishes to release it. The Liarsoft release, if MangaGamer was anywhere near a deal, is easier to fault him for because that was not leaked, and it would have been a good release for MangaGamer. However in the release he claims that he had not been told anything at all, and as you say, by all accounts they were early in negotiations and there was a high chance that nothing would ever come out of it because LiarSoft wasn’t exactly thrilled. This is still though a bad step though, because it hurts the ongoing talks, and it would have been proper to wait until LiarSoft said that they were not interested. Ixrec made it clear when he approached them that he was not waiting forever, therefore it should be no surprise that he release titles that he believed would take forever. You can also fault the group for their new policies in dealing with official translations, however I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with those policies when you consider two things. The first is that an official translator does not need to work with him and can choose a different translator, and the second is he is willing to translate these titles for free, even if they are an official translation from day one. While I disagree in that event with his short time frame about releasing it himself in that event, I see nothing wrong with his other conditions because he is offering to save the significant costs of translating to any company that approaches him, even if that game has a 4mb script.

    To a lesser degree, regardless of any legal or moral issue, in many cases the Japanese companies will avoid the foreign market all together, unless they are brought in kicking and screaming. Look at the anime community, sure we have websites such as Crunchyroll and others doing simucasts. However, this didn’t come because fans asked nicely, or anything clean like that. It came because the fansubbing community would not stop regardless of what pressure the Japanese (and American) companies put on the groups. At some point, after many years, they decided that this problem wasn’t going away, and it was against their interests to allow it to continue. Even in the VN industry there is some evidence of this. It is likely that Minori would have been happy had NNL just disappeared quietly after they sent a cease and desist on EF, and never need to think about releases outside of Japan again. Their games even had protection designed to limit the ability to play the games outside of Japan. However, that didn’t happen, NNL just ignored them, and released ef anyways, so we end up with a situation where Minori was force to decide that it was in their interests to try a western release, as their stuff would be translated regardless of their intentions, and thus we have the MG NNL Minori deal. It would be nice if all the companies were as awesome as 0verflow, where they decided to let their stuff be released quite willingly, and we great thing going. However reality isn’t that nice, we live in a time where the majority of the Japanese companies do not want to have anything to do with foreigners, so in some cases, something like this may be more beneficial then quietly going away. You can argue moral and legal stuff against this, however that doesn’t change much, because the much better funded anime companies couldn’t make the problem go away. As I said, I view these methods as wrong, however that does not mean that they are necessary bad for the industry. Jast seems to be doing something right, as they are working with a number of fan translation groups, however they have yet to have one “rebel”, while MangaGamer has had multiple problems (Katahane, and now this mess).

  11. 09/07/2011 04:08 PM | #

    There are valid arguments on both sides, but I think all the parties involved could have handled things a lot better.

    I’m sure everyone (except for some ‘consumers’) was very hopeful that a deal for an official release would come together, so it’s unfortunate that things turned out the way they did.

    Anyway, I do wish that people purchase legitimate copies of MuvLuv if using this patch, and I hope that the consequences of these events aren’t too severe.

  12. Bob
    09/07/2011 09:17 PM | #

    I like How you don’t blame MangaGamer at all, despite the group claiming that MangaGamer regularly told them little to nothing, and worse what they were told at times were lies. And this does not seem to be isolated, you have one of the guys involved with Katahane claiming the same thing. NNL has also mentioned not being told anything. It seems to be a MG problem, who would have thought that telling your source of free translations nothing at all could lead to them not being loyal.

    ——-
    “have long held the opinion that the western VN fanbase has no idea what is going on in the industry side of things”

    Sure we do, the products are nightmares to license, and the majority of the companies want nothing to do with the English market, and probably think we are the devil.

    —-
    “indiscriminate patching w/o working with companies is unhealthy for the community”

    Sure, but the majority of the top tier VNs in Japan are translated, something that would have happened never without fan translators. Sure the tier below is hurting, but it’s not fan translators preventing all the Japanese companies from suddenly deciding to not be slow, and to no longer hate us.

    ——
    “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).”

    But in exchange we have a 100% chance of being able to play that, along with their best title Forest when it comes out. Sure beats bending over and hoping they give us the time of day years from now. As you admit they were iffy about a release of anything at all in the first place.

    ——
    Full “Immediate consequences” section

    Another reason that KimiNozo becomes a problem is that MangaGamer no longer has a free source of labor to translate the massive game regardless of what happens in talks from here on out, unless they want to go back to Ixrec. Also, MuvLuv being released has nothing to do with people buying KimiNozo, there is no patch for KimiNozo, and Ixrec doesn’t want to do it unless it’s offical. From a practical standpoint though, releasing the Alternative patch does nothing when it’s been online for months, and why should they hold it back when Age said they weren’t releasing it?
    —-
    “Right now you can count the major VN localizing companies on 2 fingers. “

    And one of them seems to be quite successful, maybe the other is doing something wrong

    —-
    “The risk adverse companies will shy back, the ones fine with risk will probably be more cautious. “

    Like Minori did? How about Kara no Shoujo which began with a Cease and Desist?

    —-
    “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.”

    You might have missed something, but Ixrec doesn’t care about official or not, he just wants people to enjoy stuff he did. He was (and still is) willing to translate a huge game (KimiNozo) for free for MG to sell, and he only approached Age for their benefit, otherwise he would have asked for cash.

    “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. “

    Ixrec made it clear he isn’t stopping with that in the past, I fail to see why he would listen now.

    ——
    “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.”

    It seems if you work with MangaGamer, you don’t want to keep working for them anyways.

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