When I told my friend I was going to buy a commercial OELVN to check it out, the response was “Why would you do that!?”
Even western fans of Japanese visual novels often frown upon the OELVN (Original English Language Visual Novel) community. Production qualities are always a concern, as the amateur teams formed by western enthusiasts simply have no chance of competing against fan-translated famous Japanese visual novel titles. But there’s always a start— the Key staffers’ first big title, ONE, certainly had neither good artwork nor detailed storywriting, even compared to animation from back then. But just as the early visual novels offered something different from the animanga medium, OELVNs have their own appeal. Yet as far as I can tell, OELVN groups haven’t made much progress at all in expanding over the recent years, especially in comparison to visnov localization companies like Mangagamers.
It’s not merely a ‘lack of visnov audience in the west’ either. Yes, English fans of visual novels are still rare, but if the pace in translation groups is any indication (Yandere translations announced Aiyoku no Eustia project just 4 months after its Japanese release!), it’s certainly been growing by leaps and bounds. Quality isn’t the biggest hurdle either: the short freeware Re:Alistair was quite a hit amongst everyone with the slightest interest in otome games. So what’s the biggest problem then? — probably still cost vs reputation.
The commercial OELVN, Always Remember Me, is an otome dating-sim game featuring Amy, a college girl and writer-to-be who was going through a life crisis after getting involved in a traffic accident: her boyfriend Aaron had been hit trying to protect her and woke up in the hospital with no memories of their relationship. Despite my lack of experience and interest in most dating-sims (except the Persona JRPG series’ social link system), I found the game to be quite fun to play. The game was interactive, where you chose from numerous activities for each time period of each day in order to develop Amy’s personal skills and her relationships. It had a lovable art style with soft textures, light shadows, and a watercolor-esque feel (main reason I checked it out~). The script was short yet light and sweet. The event CGs numbered less than a dozen, but each of them handled with excellent transitions and focus panning. The game even had an original soundtrack with a great OP (Remember Me) performed by Cristina Vee. It may not be quite competitive with its Japanese equivalents yet, but the polish that went into this game certainly shows that we’re getting there~ ^o^
However, there was just one problem with it— the game costs $20, the most common price you see for commercial OELVNs.
It’s really not much; actually it’s much lower than what JVNs cost these days. But when you compare that to the cheap indie games being sold through Xbox live and Steam, it is. Localized visual novel element games like Recettear (also $20) are getting common, and they usually offer much higher production qualities and longer playability, not to mention better established fanbases. If I had only $20 on my gaming budget this month, I’d probably hold off on this…
Now, the concept of a loss leader is quite well known, particularly in indie games and publishing. Xbox live developers and Kindle e-book writers often release games and books for as little as under $3; many of them do precisely this in order to get their products, and their names, out there. The loss lead might not gain much profit, but the fanbase earned usually makes it worthwhile in the long run. For a community as small as the OELVN one, any expansion in fanbase also expands the community and its market as a whole— taking a slice of the pie from the rapidly expanding animanga fanbase out there.
So I talked to the creators of Always Remember Me about a lower distribution price. To many of my friends, $5 or even $10 could be seen as a ‘throwaway’ amount, a price they’re willing to spend to trial a game with potential. But $20 is certainly over that. With the right marketing, an OELVN that people wouldn’t hesitate much to pay for should be able to pull many more customers over time, and some of these customers will hopefully stick around for other products from the company and the community, right? But, the response that came swift and simple was: “($20) is the one that gives best return”.
Yes, on that game. But what about the long run?
Well, in the end, I’m not an entrepreneur, so these are just some thoughts of mine as a customer of the market; and to Winterwolves’ credit: the demo release + online registration purchase system they set up was an awesome idea~