Halifax trip 2, the juicy bits

Last time, I briefly sketched out the major geographic highlights of the trip to Canada. This time I’m going to try to report a bit on the industry gossip that I heard on the way. The bits of gossip comes from multiple people from different companies. Sometimes the comments are about my friends’ own companies, sometimes it’s someone they know in another company. I’m not going to say who’s saying what about whom.

My friends aren’t expecting me to write any article about this stuff at all, so private details are kept out. I’m only going to share the general bits. Sorry if you disagree with this, but I value these friendships a lot more than I value spouting random talk on the Internet.

Random gossip posted here was collected in late 2012 with supporting bits from as far back as 2010. Everything is probably quite out of date by now.

The state of the industry

In general, the eroge industry on Japan is continuing to do poorly. Two years ago, I had already heard from bamboo (of Overdrive) at AX that sales after the great Tohoku earthquake were down some 30 percent from pre-quake levels but that apparently wasn’t the end of the story.

According to my friend, there is simply too much stuff out there now: anime, games, internet, light novels, manga, etc., and lots of people in the otaku world are happy to just either read the light novel version of a game or if they get really interested, watch the anime when it comes out. Very few people will go so far as to go and play eroge because there’s plenty material to keep a person entertained already, so the userbase isn’t growing as fast as it used to in the heydays.

Sales have been so bad in recent times that there are very few producers (aka the people who back and fund these games) willing to take the risk of making a game that pushes the envelopes and risks bombing. Now, game makers are pressured to make “safe” titles like love-comedies set in schools because the companies don’t have enough reserves to make a second game in case of failure. If you think you’ve noticed that trend before, it’s not your imagination.

Also, my friend complained that games he used to make had two foundations, plot and characters, with ero laced on top almost like a reward afterwards. Now the industry as a whole is demanding that games be founded on characters and ero, with plot added on top. Games that don’t have any ero at all have become essentially non-starters and it’s a situation that makes my friend very unhappy. There are exceptions from time to time from big established brands but even those are feeling the pressure.

As a point of cross reference, some books and articles I’ve read that covered the boom and bust of yandere in games mentioned that games featuring yandere in a prominent role has dripped on recent years because “market forces” have focused upon more moe type stuff on recent years, thus pushing more daring games out.

Comike is changing

Last comike apparently August-soft was dropped from the lottery for a comike spot. That was a shock to much of the industry because August is a hugely popular brand amongst eroge companies and they always did their Comike booth properly. They were also regulars for well over 10 years straight. Most people assumed that they would keep going to Comike forever.

Comike staff now think that Nekonekosoft might now be the current record holder for longest steak of appearances. My friend thinks that one day even NNS will inevitably fall from the list. There’s been pressure from more mainstream game and media companies who want to go to comike and eroge companies are getting pushed out because they’re an eyesore.

A reaction to this trend had popped up in recent years. There’s been some movement by companies that can’t get to comike to have Akiba events the same days as comike but it’s a sign that the times are changing and VN industry is becoming more marginalized within even the otaku universe.

Doujin is a creative outlet

Because game companies are so restricted now in what is considered viable, the creative staff working on the games including the artists, writers, etc. all are using comike to relieve pent up creative energy. The stuff that they want to create but can’t tends to flow there. Some companies apparently schedule blocks of free time for people to work on their comike projects in the month right before the event. It’s like a vacation of sorts.

So long as the person finished their serious work before they go work on their doujin of course.

Apparently there are some people who skimp on their real work to work on their doujin stuff. Those people get found out quickly and apparently start having trouble working in the industry because word spreads quick and no one wants to take them on.

The industry is somewhat like an apprenticeship model

Not in the sense that there is a guild that apprentices enter and must get a master title before they can set up their own shop. But more like academia where there are “pedigrees” of “this person came from so and so’s development house”.

While ultimately it doesn’t mean too much relative to actual ability, it’s apparently a useful shorthand for dealing with newer people who haven’t built up a reputation yet. At the least you have a rough sense of what kind of work and quality they have participated in. Some game companies are especially known for being incubators of sorts for new talent.

A year means a lot, so does a decade

While talking about new people on the industry, we also discussed how new people take roughly 3-6 months to figure out where their place is supposed to be in the industry, and how it takes a full year for someone to really understand their job and position in the industry. If they can pass a year, they are usually able to go off into the industry at large and generally make things work. I’ve noticed the same general time frame for new hires at my own workplace in a totally separate industry so it seems to be some kind of thing about humans in general.

Interestingly, for scenario writers, if a newbie can last a year then they have what out takes to last a while, but very few last for over a decade. The nature of being a scenario writer is that there’s always someone very angry at your work. It is hard to find people that are mentally tough enough to take that kind of abuse constantly year after year, especially creative people.

My friend strongly agreed with my advice to new translators that the best way to survive was to do work for your own satisfaction and not the approval of others, but he laughed that very few people actually can do things that way.

Industry reports on piracy numbers aren’t pretty, the effects are confusing

I didn’t get to see actual numbers (my friend didn’t have them memorized) though if I ask a few friends I can probably get some. The general gist is that the number of legit copies out there is dwarfed by pirated copies and there’s not much you can do about it.

I’ve heard stuff on activation stats from other sources before that quotes some kind of ratio of legal vs illegal copies and there’s always quirks in the methodology with all such studies. But my friend this time cited an amusing stat of how for one company that had activations of some sort (maybe for a patch or something, I forget) the ultimate activation number came out to be greater than the total number of copies that were ever produced, with a good amount of those copies still sitting in a warehouse somewhere.

No one was making the argument that all (or even most) of those were lost sales and stuff, but my friend framed it more in the sense of how it’s not fair to the who paid full price for a game and are supporting the company. Ultimately it winds up having some effects on the continued viability of a brand.

From what I understand, the crux of it is that copying shrinks the pool of customers who buy post-release copies or used copies at lower prices right after the release period (over the long term a pirate might buy at some point, but they probably won’t buy in the first week or so when things matter most). Remember, many of the most hardcore fans will pre-order multiple copies of a game upon release, take the pre-order goods, then sell the full game back at a loss (sealed) because they just want the goods. The extra supply combined with lower demand for copies pressures stores to mark prices down on used copies even further to clear stock because shelf space is very expensive to a store. If prices get too low, the public perception of the game and brand’s quality drops among more casual gamers who are just browsing or getting into the genre.

For those who are going “why do these dumb companies care about used game prices!” Think about how the free market punishes really bad games: the price tanks. For example, Mahou Shoujo Ai 3 was such a bad game it went from full price 9240 yen to under 1k within a day or so and made various otaku news sites for being that bad. Stores actually stopped buying used copies back because they couldn’t get rid of them. Most normal games tend to fall to about 4-6k yen in the first few months, then slowly get cheaper with time. Then there are a few “classics” that retain most of their value, or even go up over time. But the rule of thumb of “the lower the price, the crappier (or older) the game is because no one wants it any more” works. This perception can be damaging for a game that’s only come out a month ago and someone’s browsing the shelves for “something to play tonight.”

Even the hardcore buyers are aware of used game prices and on some level it affects their future buying strategies. Why pay full price if you can buy a sealed used copy at a steep discount within a few days? There’s a point where someone will be willing to forego pre-order goodies for a cheap price, and if a brand’s games cross that line too fast too often, future sales will be affected. I’ve heard some stories about how game companies are increasingly careful about how many copies they produce in order to control the number of used copies and the subsequent prices that appear on the secondary market. Some apparently would rather print a smaller batch, sell out, and print more in a second run than do one big risky production run.

I have also heard before that stores have also responded to the glut in supply by only really ordering as many games as they have pre-orders for, unless the brand has a track record of selling out. They’re going to get extra stock from used sales anyway so why risk holding more inventory. This of course means less money for the game publisher since they get paid their share off the copies ordered minus any big lot returns that might happen. It’s a situation where a bombed title makes stores very unwilling to take more chances on a brand, which is probably why were seeing a big churn in brands lately as mediocre titles get crushed.

The “proper” time to pre-order games

Is when a game goes to master up. From a number of game company heads I’ve spoken to over the years, there’s always the chance for a delay so the smart thing is to just wait. the only other comment I get about delays is that they are “difficult decisions”



comments



  1. Wahfuu
    12/01/2012 06:43 PM | #

    Ahhh. A bit depressing to read, really. I wrote recently about how much of a joke western-translated eroge is becoming amongst a lot of the hardcore fans for all the H thats been thrown at us.

    I don’t really hate the safe titles or anything, but plot being the sugar instead of the bread makes me really irritated, but I can’t really point a finger at anybody. I’ll just continue to buy all the VN’s I can find that I enjoyed and hope that another super-power hits the market.

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