Information, contracts, deals, cultures, and bid'ness

Well, after having some long twitter conversations with @relentlessflame over his take on current events. I found myself venting somewhat about comments on how Mangagamer gave very little information out, took forever to apparently even act on some things, or said one thing at one time that they turned around and contradicted a few months later.

Maybe I’m just a jaded old fart that’s worked in a few too many boiler rooms and seen my share of corporations screwing each other with sleazy deals, but a negotiation of the scale we’re talking about (read: when you’re < 1% of their annual gross revenue) taking months where you get no information? Things suddenly changing without warning? Yeah, it happens practically every time. I’ve seen much worse, and we haven’t even gotten into the things I’d classify as fraud or lying yet. Those are downright hilarious, but stories for another time, another place.

My suspicion is that Amaterasu got close to every scrap of information that was available internally to MG concerning the deals, short of what the companies said to bamboo in confidence that not even employees were privy to. There’s no way to prove it either way, since it’s a case of he-said she-said. But ask any one at JAST, Mangagamer, or survivors of the older brands, and every one of them will tell you that companies in Japan move very slowly, and very tight-lipped until a decision is finalized.

Instead, I think the problem was in expectation management. They expected to be wired into the hotline, knowing what was going on with the deal going on involving their work, and were completely disillusioned when in reality they were so low on the priority list that things moved in the span of months, and a license was effectively sold out from other them to a console porting company.

While I was talking on twitter about some of my experiences in this sort of thing, a number of followers were somewhat shocked at what I thought was normal. There seems to be some giant disconnect between my view of the world and other people’s. So, using the stuff I wrote onto twitter in pieces as fodder, here’s a somewhat jumbled account of the kinds of stuff I expect to see as “normal.”

Things take a bloody long time, and then some more

From personal experience, I’ve literally had to wait around 2 months for a contract revision to be looked at and given the okay for something VN related, and it wasn’t even the final draft. Mentions of the contract come back with a “we’re still working on it.” Do it a few times and a year will fly by. (Nothing eventually came of the talks for other reasons, so don’t get excited). Time zones, miscommunication, lost messages, corrupted files and spam boxes, Murphy’s law every step of the way make it even more fun. I makes you want to pull your hair out, but there’s very little you can do.

In a separate industry and a past life, I once was in a shop where sales people had to get contracts in worth a mere $5-10k, from agencies and companies with budgets in the $500k+ range. You better believe they got the run-around when it came time to get a foot in the door or close a deal.

This is much like the situation we have with the Mangagamer negotiations, most of the MG games are still in the red, meaning the originating company gets close to nothing in terms of money back. It’s not hard to see where MG stands in the scheme of priorities. So if something else comes up, (practically anything worth more than $1000) it’d be more worthwhile to work on that first.

So, for my previous employer, what was officially the corporate strategy for getting contracts signed when the counter-party was too busy with more important things?

You called them up. Not email, not voice mail, not texts. Call until they pick up and speak to you. Every day. Every hour if you had to. “Hey how’s the contract, when are you going to sign it?” And you keep at it until they’re eventually so sick of you that they’ll take the time to sign the thing to get you to stop calling and before they change their mind. Yes, you earned yourself the reputation for being a total pain in the ass amongst all your accounts, but you dealt with it, because your boss has told you to make the calls and close the deal, or get fired (in the peak of the financial crisis no less.)

Now, that strategy does work more often than not provided you’re in New York City working with a pool of hundreds of media companies who all have budgets they absolutely have to spend. It was easier to burn $5k than it is to deal with your calls every day interrupting more important business. You burned karma like there’s no tomorrow, but you had the inked contract in hand within a week or two.

If you know anything about the culture in Japan, you’d know this behavior is frowned upon. So you’re going to have to pester very carefully. It’s a fine line to walk, but karma is very hard to come by in an industry where most CEOs have the cell phone numbers of all the other CEOs.

Bosses don’t confide much

And I’d like people with counter examples to step forward on this one.

My bosses never confided in me the details of what was going on for a project I was working on until they had good cause to warn us something was going to explode. I’ve spent days preparing for a launch that was killed hours before launching because the contract wasn’t acceptable all of a sudden. Without warning, it’s “kill it, deal’s off.” Later I’d find out that the other side had another deal for a similar thing at a better rate or something and refused to match the rates, etc., and it’s back to square one again.

I’ve seen sales guys complain their contracts (and commissions) got screwed because the CEOs went out for drinks, and put together some new package of terms. If you think office politics are disgusting, then just run away from politics between companies.

It all seems insane that 2 companies can’t seem to agree to sign a single stinking sheet of paper without all this drama and dancing back and forth, but that’s how it is, and it’s not likely to change.

How to get higher in the priority queue

Well, I’ve already discussed one way to get up in the priority queue, be a total jackass. But putting that aside, what else is there?

There’s always favors and bribery. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to work on projects for contracts that where inked after two sales people at an industry event have a “private meeting” in the evening.

Finally, you can get leverage. If you somehow pose a significant threat, or pose a significant opportunity, you can get attention. If you’re offering a licensing deal that pays a ton of cash up front, you can probably get someone to listen. Sadly, it’s been repeatedly demonstrated that there’s no money in the western VN market right now, so good luck coming up with bribes, alluring royalty rates, or up front licensing advances.

Posing a threat, in some competitive sense, sounds interesting, except you’ll have to choose your line of attack very carefully. There’s pesky things like laws that can get in the way.

For now, if someone can come up with clever ways to do any of the above, that’d make things flow better, but otherwise, you’ll have to suck it up like the rest of us.



comments



  1. Buttranger
    09/08/2011 03:51 AM | #

    “Bosses don’t confide much”
    Except they aren’t working for MG.
    Also:
    Pretty sure the Pizza business is completely different from the VN business and all bosses aren’t the same(Didja know?)
    And finally how much of your post is fiction?

  2. Miitan
    09/08/2011 05:51 AM | #

    As you rightfully said, Mangagamer needs to start making the ‘Have you signed the contract?’ calls several times a week or we’ll end up with titles in limbo for years at a time.

    Sure, some deals will fall through as a result of this, but they’ll be the ones that weren’t serious to start with and currently it seems that the majority of eroge peddlers in Japan aren’t serious about the English market anyway.

  3. anon
    09/08/2011 07:09 AM | #

    You seem to be forgetting that as long as MangaGamer doesn’t actually hire fan translation groups (and instead just take their fan translation for free), they aren’t actually employees of MangaGamer. If MangaGamer wants some employees, then hire some employees. However, if they are taking free fan translation, then realize that they are only working with MangaGamer because of a common interest, not because they are their employer. Once that common interest is gone (such as in this case, where Liarsoft would probably take years, and Muv Luv was flat out said it wasn’t going to happen), it makes sense that they were no longer loyal.

  4. homo65535
    09/08/2011 07:24 AM | #

    >My bosses never confided in me the details of what was going on for a project I was working on until they had good cause to warn us something was going to explode

    I bet you work as a burger-flipper or somethin really low

  5. 09/08/2011 09:36 AM | #

    You’re pretty off here.

    Things going slowly, especially with cases of complex licensing like this, surprises no one. Selling a game officially will always take much longer than just releasing a fantranslation, everyone knows that. Even if someone were naive enough to think otherwise, previous instances of fans and MG working together should have slapped him back to reality. This means any fantranslator willing to talk with MG is aware things might (and most likely will) get ugly.
    But here comes the problem. It’s not a job. And that reduces drastically the patience of the people involved. Note that I’m not saying donating the translation means MG automatically becomes indebted to the group, nor that they should be a slave to their whims. But it should at least turn into a “working with” kind of deal, rather than “working for”. Sitting on finished translations is already painful enough for fantranslators, but none of these past deals have broken only because of that. Not even MG’s terrible workflow and their stupid practices (using .doc for the scripts? Not massreplacing nametags? Seriously now) have scared anyone away when a deal was already set.
    Adding blatant lies to this, however, is a no-go. And that’s what has made Amaterasu break the deal and Katahane’s team run away at an earlier part of the negotiations. We know Japanese companies will end up changing minds 50 times because this is a new kind of business for them. So does MG. That’s why they shouldn’t be so fast at telling the groups they’re working with that X deal is done or going really well when it isn’t. And it doesn’t stop there, unfortunately. Things that depend almost exclusively on MG themselves also end up stained with lies. Everyone who’s worked with them could tell you a good example; Kara no Shoujo’s translator was supposed to get the full QC reports, but on release day we realized he only got an edited version of them with stuff removed, some of them being legitimate typos. Heck, even the Katahane group already explained how MG hid information when they asked about some Koihime issues they knew they were aware about.
    I wouldn’t yell to my boss for lying to me because I’d rather not get fired, but there’s nothing to lose here if the deal breaks. And to change this MG should make their products more appealing to both customers and fantranslators, who mostly share wishes in that regard. “A translation is better because it’s official” is not enough, everyone should have realized that already. Forget about morals for a moment – when 90% of the people who may read a game doesn’t think official localizations are intrinsically better, you can’t apply that reasoning to a business. Physical copies are a step in the right direction, because that’s offering something fantranslations can’t. But that’s still not enough, especially considering how MG’s physical releases work. It’s not a secret the tight budget doesn’t allow them to do much, but something has to be done. And it’s MG who has to do it, since it’s their business. Expecting fans to gift you things for free and then give nothing back is just delusional.

    As niche as it is, the industry isn’t dead. JAST is the living proof of that. What is dead is MG’s approach to these cooperations.

  6. robozawa
    09/08/2011 10:07 AM | #

    >>Buttranger
    >>homo65535

    sup /jp/

  7. zalas
    09/08/2011 12:52 PM | #

    @Yuyucow

    You seem to be attributing any case of information received from MangaGamer not matching the current situation as being “lying”. I do not believe that to necessarily be the case in all those situations you described, since they can easily be attributed to changing situations and/or simple lack of organization/incompetence. Your earlier examples about .doc files also lend credence to that idea.

    Yes, MangaGamer does not offer much to people who would normally just illegally download a game, especially ones popular enough to receive a fan translation. It would be nice for MG to be able to convert those people to customers, but it’s going to be a tough sell… However, for people who do want to give money back to the creators, MangaGamer does offer a cheaper (albeit less efficient) option for doing that. So for those people, it’s either “I can buy this one game and play it” versus “I can buy a few of these games and play them, but the creators don’t get as much per game.” Frankly, I think MangaGamer should just move into the iOS market and aim for people who are into reading but have never heard of visual novels before. The forced lower price point and potential to reach people who don’t mind digital-only product should be able to grab some customers if done right…

    And lastly, I’d like to comment on “free work” in general as opposed to specifically Yuyucow’s comment. Offering to give away something for free is something anyone will applaud, but then to use that as leverage in arguments when things don’t go your way kind of rubs me the wrong way. Either give away your stuff with no strings attached or make sure both sides understand any conditions you’d like to place on the exchange from the beginning. Agreeing to give away something for free with no strings attached and then coming back and complaining that you deserve better because you did something nice for them is an outcome that benefits neither side. If you need payment in some form, whether it be financial compensation or better dialogue, that is okay, but you have to make it clear to the other party from the onset and not simply say that you are giving something away for free and hope they’d surprise you with some money or treat you well.

  8. anon
    09/08/2011 02:08 PM | #

    zalas, Just to address one point you made in the last paragraph. While I cannot speak for what he told MangaGamer directly (though anything in the community is something that representatives of MangaGamer surely would have seen), when Ixrec announced that he was looking for to get an official release for MuvLuv, he made it clear to the community at least that he was not waiting forever, and he would release it as an unofficial translation if he could not get an official release. In this sense, Ixrec did have a condition which was well known, that condition being that the translation needed to eventually see the light of day. From what we have been told, it seems that he was told that they would not see the light of day (at least with Muv-Luv), so it should not be a surprise to MangaGamer that he did release it.

  9. zalas
    09/08/2011 02:27 PM | #

    @anon

    It does not sound like to me that he made it very clear to MG, then. What he posts online should not be required reading for contract negotiations, and I seem to recall he has a tendency to be averse to having to repeat himself (I don’t blame him from getting annoyed at answering the same question over and over again from random downloaders of his patches). Sure, there’s some fault with MG if he did say something about the conditions, but he is also responsible for repeating his conditions until they are absolutely clear. Lastly, don’t his recent tweets indicate they were more upset at the lack of transparency and seeming lies as opposed to the feasibility of release and the time frame?

  10. drmchsr0
    09/08/2011 04:34 PM | #

    RE: MG’s approach

    You are assuming that JAST USA has a good approach to licensing. I’m remembering that MangaGamer has THE JAPANESE CEO OF OVERDRIVE as one of their advocates and the guy who just so happens to know half the bloody industry, while I remember that JAST USA has had a hard time to even convince people.

    And don’t you forget this little history lesson: JAST USA died off once and they were run by the same people. Who did the very same mistakes MG are making.

    Pinning the blame on the company who has the right man to make the magic happen doesn’t make sense. Blame then, your inflated egos due to FREE PATCHES AND DOWNLOADS, your inability to change yourself and your inherent lack of trust and faith for a company trying to do good.

  11. anc
    09/11/2011 02:08 PM | #

    I for one consider a world where I can play Muv Luv Alternative, Shikkoku no Sharnoth, and Forest in 2011 to be superior to a world where I never get to play Muv Luv Alternative and Forest, and I might get to play KimiNozo and Shikkoku no Sharnoth in 2013.

  12. anon
    09/12/2011 07:21 AM | #

    NNL’s take (taken from their site)

    “We apologize for not updating in so long. For reasons we cannot disclose at the current time, we’re still working on the ef – the first tale alpha, but it should be done within the next week or so. Then we can finally tell you what you should expect from ef, and what took so long!

    As for the MangaGamer/Amaterasu Translations news, ixrec has never said a bad word about us, so neither will we. Call it mutual respect. In addition, we’re not qualified to comment about it. However, we’ll just bullet the following points:

    – nbkz and bamboo are old friends, which helped things quite a bit. A handshake agreement happened perhaps one or two weeks after our first e-mail to minori. Our situation was unique in this regard. – minori owns everything pertaining to the visual novel, so there was no subcontracting BS. – We have a direct line to nbkz, the CEO of minori. – We had to use this direct line in order to obtain the alpha build. MangaGamer had given us one story while nbkz gave us a conflicting story. After the miscommunication was cleared up, we got the build. See? Communication is good! – No Name Losers also had a contingency plan in the event that we never received a build in a reasonable amount of time. Thankfully, we never had to put this plan into action, and we probably never will. – minori has granted us full override on the scripts. Therefore, you will not see any text or replacement issues like those in Koihime Musou. We’re bypassing MangaGamer (to a certain extent; we’ll explain later) and sending the scripts to minori directly. If there’s any text issues in the release, the blame will rest wholly on us.

    Thanks for being patient! We’ll see you in a week! “

  13. Anon
    10/18/2011 07:05 PM | #

    I more or less agreed with you at the time with the three posts, however if the charges made by NNL are true now (as of 10/18), and the ef alpha was withheld from the group who was asked to test it and MangaGamer lied about minori not sending anything, then I lose all respect for MangaGamer in these fan translators/industry problems, and accept that Amaterasu was not wrong with their actions.

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