Sol Press Interview – Learning Ways to Better the Visual Novel Industry
Visual novels are increasingly becoming more popular in the west with publishers licensing new games from Japan and around the world every week. Publisher Sol Press has been making a large impact on the community by releasing quality visual novels in the west along with branching into the light novel market.
We had the chance to interview the CEO of Sol Press Michael Valdez in order to learn more about the publisher as well as get a preview of what they have planned for the future.
Azario Lopez: Sol Press is a newer visual novel publisher in the scene, what made you want to do take on this endeavor and what keeps you going?
Michael Valdez: I originally wanted to publish manga and light novels, but no one was willing to work with us. Before this, I was working in a career totally different than this but saw this market as something worth investing in because there is a community of fans out there who want to see this content in the west. Similar to manga and light novels, it was tough to get a reply from some of the license holders. When I first saw Newton and the Apple Tree and Sakura Sakura, I knew that I wanted to see them in the west, but no one was replying. Finally, I got ahold of someone at Hiqo Soft, who was having issues at the time, and we acquired the publishing rights for Sakura Sakura and launched the Kickstarter. After that meeting, people were willing to work with us and it has become rather easy to license visual novels for us.
Now, this is not the same for manga and light novels, but luckily for us, an artist who worked on Sakura Sakura ended up also being an artist for a manga that we wanted to localize. It all worked out for us to then sign a deal with the company. What had happened was, since we were new, people didn’t know if they could trust us with their license, but through these connections, we have definitely proven ourselves.
AL: Do you find that the manga community is as outspoken as the visual novel community?
MV: I would say not at all. The visual novel community is tough to gauge in the west because through talks I have come to realize that this industry isn’t sustainable and perhaps shouldn’t even exist based on the fact that every game is released at a loss. This is why conventions and shows are so important to get some type of return. For us, it’s light novel and manga, they take about a month to localize and profit is seen after about a month on the market. On the other hand, visual novels take about six months to localize and we need about 600 sells to say that the release did pretty good.
The issue that we run into there is that we put a lot of time and money into giving our releases a quality localization that fans in the west want. However, we find that most fans end up pirating the games. For insight on that in the games industry typically for every 5 purchases, you have 1 person pirate your game, but in the visual novel industry for every purchase, you have 5 people who torrent the game. You look at the number of downloads compared to sells and see that you have 1,000 sells versus 5,000 downloads and it’s tough to not get disheartened by the whole thing.
AL: You recently began doing physical releases of your manga and light novels, how has that been for you?
MV: Physical releases were something that we always knew we needed to do, but it was definitely a road that we needed to map out to get to where we really wanted to be. We actually started to heavily invest in our physical manufacturing activities. We’ve internalized almost everything, meaning we can now print books, manufacture merchandise, and have a lot of flexibility which we’re now offering to other developers and publishers in the industry. We’ve actually already partnered with several companies in the visual novel industry to begin printing and manufacturing product in the west. This allows them to no longer order items from overseas, and have physical proofs in-hand within days so they know that they won’t have misprints.
We are doing a lot of work right now to internalize our manufacturing process. We are working on a process now that allows us to get the approval of a localized product and have a shipment ready the day after. We want to work with others who publish light novels, manga, and doujins in the west as well and get them access to physical copies of the products. Currently, there isn’t a specialized manufacturer for things like eroge or doujins in the west and we definitely want to provide that to the west. We use non-recycled paper, printed in Southern California and I think it’s probably the highest quality product in the market right now.
AL: You take on some pretty large localization projects, how do you choose your team of localizer and ensure that quality is met across all your titles?
MV: Luckily, because we do visual novels, manga, and light novels, there’s always work for our current localizers. Typically, you’ll need to license a visual novel and have it worked on for six months or so, but within that time you’ll need to make sure that you have another project for them to jump on as soon as that one is finished, which can be stressful. For us, our team is able to pick up a few volumes of light novels as a buffer between projects.
We initially reached out to a very well known group of talented localizers who produce some great work. Right now, though, we are actively searching for translators who are new to the industry to give them a chance to show what they can do because we know there are talented people out there who just might be intimidated by the industry and we’d like to see their work. These individuals deserve a chance to make a name for themselves and we’re more than excited to work with them.
Aside from that, we have a project manager who does translation reviews and each product goes through a translation QA. What we look for is efficiency in making deadlines, but more importantly, the ability to capture the nuances of the product. This makes it easier for the editor to go through and put the final touches on the project.
AL: You recently concluded the Kickstarter campaign for Irotoridori no Sekai, why did you decide to go with this large project as something that Sol Press had to localize?
MV: Easy, I liked it. If you notice with Sol Press titles, there’s a similar pattern with the games we localize where each title has eye-catching illustrations. The title ended up being a game that has truly touched people’s lives and we would love to be a part of bringing that to the west.
AL: With it being a trilogy, do you still plan to release all of them even though you missed the game’s stretch goals?
MV: Yes, with our other projects, even our light novels that might not be a hit at first, we finish the series.
On a side note, we are internalizing as much manufacturing in-house as possible right now to completely negate the cost of physical products through Kickstarter. This might also help companies who want to do small runs of products. So instead of going through a typical manufacturer who requires a minimum of 5,000 prints, we can produce 500.
AL: Does Sol Press have any plans to publish games to consoles?
MV: We’re definitely interested in publishing games to consoles. We’re actually working on planning out which games which have the most viable path which we can focus on first, such as the difficulty of the engine port.
AL: You recently launched your games on several online storefronts, including your own. Was this a direct response to Steam not allowing your titles on the store? What’s this experience been like for you?
MV: We respectfully accept Steam’s decision. Steam has spent over a decade building up their brand, and as far as we’re concerned, they have every right to decide which way they would like to move forward with it. Steam is definitely the largest storefront out there for PC gaming, and if they don’t want to be affiliated with Eroge/Visual Novels on their platform, I’m sure that the market will find a way to compensate for that.
That being said, our relationship with Steam has been quite good, and we look forward to seeing what steps they take in the future for the handling of visual novels.
AL: After a successful Kickstarter campaign for Irotoridori no Sekai, where is the team currently with the localization progress?
MV: The localization is currently at 30% translated [Author’s Edit: This is currently being confirmed by staff], 0% edited, 0% QA, 0% programming. The individual staff members will specifically be announced during the week of AWA.
AL: What plans do you have for Sol Press in the future and what are your goals?
MV: We have high ambitions but it’s been a slow-moving process to reach them. Our end-game is to begin offering a standard of service which assists both other publishers and delivers on improved expectations from fans. We want to provide the best official service to fans because, in the end, we feel there is no reason why a free pirated service should provide a faster or easier way to obtain these products than the official release.
We are looking at the industry and figuring out ways to give a better service that takes piracy head-on, which is something that no one really does. Visual novel piracy is something that is affecting the industry in a huge way and that’s what we are setting out to fix.
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