The visual novel genre seems to be more popular now than ever in the west. The fans are eager to get their hands on these unique and sometimes over-the-top stories that only this medium is capable of telling.
One company who has been around much longer than the rest is MangaGamer. Founded in 2008, MangaGamer has become one of the largest visual novel publishers in the west. Their focus has been on localizing some of the most beloved visual novels, whether they be highly rated or completely niche.
We had the opportunity to sit down with PR Director and Head Translator John Pickett to learn more about the company and what the future of visual novels in the west is looking like.
Azario Lopez: How is the visual novel community doing in 2019? What are some victories and challenges that you’ve recently encountered?
John Pickett: I think the core community is very passionate. If you check out our Discord that we just launched or other forums, you see a lot of the same people there. They are extremely vocal, which makes it easy to see that those who care about visual novels really care about it. We rely on this core audience to spread it to new people as well. Especially because it’s super hard to get media to cover our titles. It’s a little unfair, but we understand many sites want to stay family-friendly and it’s a constant hurdle that we’ve run into.
I feel like visual novels being on Steam has allowed us to reach a wider audience. For those who don’t know, we were one of the main champions to push Steam into hosting adult titles, starting with Kindred Spirits on the Roof. They might have come to regret that now, but the fact remains that the community has been actively purchasing the content which has forced Valve to keep many of these titles. This is a huge change that we’ve seen in recent years with it comes to visual novels in the west. While it benefits us more when people buy directly from the publisher, we understand why getting our games on Steam is important. Since then, you can now find our titles on GOG and the Discord Store. However, those stores don’t except fully adult titles. There’s room to grow in that direction, but we are seeing a visual novel boom right now.
When we started, it was us and JAST. Now, you have Sekai Project, NekoNyan, and many others so the popularity of the genre is easy to see, but whether that will last is another hurdle. Still, I’m excited that it’s become more acceptable and popular. One of the biggest challenges that we are running into is that the “big name titles” that the core audience wants are all pretty much licensed now. So moving forward, you’re going to see a lot more trial and error when trying to find titles that we think the market will want based on data that we have and responses from customers. It’s going to be finding these titles and working with our partners to keep this impetus going. It just makes it tough because we won’t have that name recognition that we can usually rely on.
AL: You are trying new things with the recent release of The Expression Amrilato. How has trying new things like this benefited you?
JP: Something we tried was to develop our own game, Koropokkur, which was a huge challenge. This was interesting for us because even though we are an adult company, we thought that over the years we had developed a decent-sized fanbase who was okay with the all-ages games. Given the success of Higurashi When They Cry, Umineko When They Cry, and The House in Fata Morgana, which has a story so good that it seems new people are getting hooked on that game every day. So yeah, we thought we had those fans, which made it a surprise to us when a lot of the comments on Kickstarter, the first one we’ve ever launched, were, “Where’s the adult content?” So we learned that through that challenge.
When it comes to The Expression Amrilato, we’re very proud of that and I feel like it’s such a linguistic achievement. This all goes to show the strength of our localization team and our capabilities. Since launch, we’ve received great response from the Esperanto community for the game. We announced that we’ll give free copies to educational institutions, which we’ve had some pick up on. The story is the most important part of these games and that is going to hold for us as a company moving forward, especially when it comes to our all-ages games. We want to use these great all-ages titles to get our name out there on platforms that don’t typically host our content and hopefully get noticed by new people.
AL: Speaking of Koropokkur, do you have plans to reenter the development side of games?
JP: We’re not too certain yet. I think it’s a little too soon to say. We had some interesting stretch goal ideas that we weren’t able to hit, but those ideas are still there and maybe in the future, we’ll return to them.
AL: When it comes to releasing games on Steam, do you feel your games have fair visibility on the platform?
JP: With Steam, if you’re an adult game, you can’t be seen unless the user sets their options to view that content. Adult games already lose a bit of visibility that way. However, if you’re an all-ages game, it is possible to be seen by everyone and host your adult content as DLC. We’ve noticed that a lot of people end up getting this because, at the end of the day, people want their porn.
AL: There’s a trend of some eastern publishers opting to use machine translation on their titles and releasing games at a low cost on Steam. How do you feel about this?
JP: It doesn’t matter who is doing it. If you’re using machine translation, you are being disrespectful and dishonest to the game, the illustrators, and whoever touched the game. You are pretty much robbing the fans and users the experience that they are expecting from that game. I think the price point might entice new players, and after the bad experience, it will poison the well for them. It’s concerning that this might hurt the effort of publishers who put the time into properly localizing these games.
AL: What goes into looking for new titles to publish at MangaGamer?
JP: There are a few different things we look at. One of them is to look at how the games that we have released done so far. The story is always something we look at, but then we look at things like fetishes, and other subgenres. We’ll also look at things like artwork. We have our survey that we do every year and artwork is one of the top requests each year, I mean, come on, people want pretty images to get off to. So that’s fair. Based on this, we might choose more high definition titles. Going back to fetishes, we also try and see which we haven’t covered yet.
There are other things that we look for, such as, how eager a developer is to get their titles in the west, which makes things easier. Others are reluctant or have special concerns or quirks that make negotiation times longer. Luckily, we have a lot of established partners who work with us regularly.
AL: Are there any fetishes that you won’t touch?
JP: To some extent, but that’s more out of law than desire. Since we do retail in the west, we have to keep in mind what western costumers are legally able to purchase.
AL: How do physical sales do for you?
JP: Our website does okay, but the biggest physical sales we do are at conventions. Those who buy physical copies are very much like us, collectors. We try to give them access to these nice hard copies to keep at home in their collection or share with a friend.
AL: Pornhub sometimes reveals their most search terms with their community. Will MangaGamer reveal all of our most searched fetishes statistically?
JP: I don’t think we’ll ever do something like that, but I was looking at our Twitter analytics the other day to see which term relates to our audience. Our number one was dogs. It might be because people just like dogs. Luckily for them, we do have a couple of dog girl games coming out.
AL: Are there any standout titles that you feel like people should look out for in the coming months?
JP: Well, my biased answer is Maggot baits because I was the translator on that. It’s a very unique title and I’m interested to see how it’s received by people. So the content in this game is a bit more extreme than a title like Euphoria, but the story is just as good. I keep telling people that at its heart, it’s a pure love story about a guy who’s bent on vengeance. While I’m not the one to speak on this, I feel like there is enough in the game to have an entire feminist reading of the entire game despite the terrible things that happen to the girls.
AL: *wide-eyed* That is interesting. I do like the artwork!
JP: It’s the same artist who worked on Euphoria.
We also have Sengoku Rance, which everyone is looking forward too. It’s honestly the game that got a lot of people into Rance. It’ll be good to have the official version out in English. We also have Hashihime, which is a yaoi title we have coming up, which is a game that everyone who is working on it can’t stop talking about. And then there’s our otome comedy, FxxK Me Royally coming out.
AL: Is there anything you’d like to tell fans?
JP: Thank you all for supporting us throughout the years. We have become probably the largest visual novel publisher in the west, which is a very far way that we have come since our first five years as a company. Back then we’d just pray each day that we wouldn’t go under. It is amazing to think about how far we’ve come since then and it’s something we couldn’t have done with the support of the fans. We hope you continue to support us and continue to share the visual novels that you love and enjoy with your friends…maybe not your family.
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