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.