Lately I’ve been thinking again about the current state of Visual Novels, mostly due to the closure of sprite. I think most people into the medium should have noticed that the industry isn’t doing too well financially at least. Well sprite mentioned the financial side of things as one of the reasons that led them to stop and they are far from being an unknown small developer.
There are plenty of other developers besides them that went bankrupt in the last few years and it looks like this trend will continue. I don’t really want to look into any specific company’s here, but more in general on a few reasons why the industry is doing badly and how they try to adapt.
While I did say Visual Novel in the beginning I’ll just write about PC 18+ titles and here only on works that are scenario focused. Console VNs appeal mostly to a different crowd of people and there are much less titles released than on PC. I’ll just ignore porn focused works, because simply they aren’t doing as badly as scenario titles. I’m mostly ignoring the western market here to just look at the Japanese market.
Most titles sell a couple thousand copies with the exception of some heavyweight brands that get into 5-digits. Full-price titles tend to go for around 9000 Yen which would be ~80 Dollar or 70 Euro. It’s a bit hard to know what an average work costs to produce, but some of the bigger titles should easily cost something like half a million dollar to produce.
Looking at those costs it’s easy to see how one flop can potentially make a developer go bankrupt. I guess this should roughly explain how there isn’t much room for failure or for changing any of the variables. Selling them cheaper doesn’t necessarily get you more sales when your works are aimed at a small niche and raising the price more and more is not a good option either.
There are some voices in the industry who blame low sales mostly on piracy which personally I find a bit unlikely considering how hard the punishment for piracy is in Japan and how dedicated the fans are with actually buying the works. Which doesn’t mean that those works aren’t pirated just not that often from people that live in Japan. Something which also goes against that explanation is that the best selling titles tend to be sold without any DRM in them at all.
Personally I’m less likely to buy a title with DRM, since often those need shenanigans with VPNs and other stuff to get them running here.
One thing that has an influence on sales numbers is that it’s harder to get into the medium than into others. Soshage can be started without paying any money and often feature great stories by professional writers that are usually told in a similar way to a VN.
Additional it is more likely for someone to own a smartphone than a PC. Which leads into another problem that plenty of younger people in Japan simply don’t own a PC. The hurdles to get into the medium just get higher when you need to buy a PC you won’t use for much else than VNs.
One of the reasons the medium did end up on PC is simply that there is no platform holder who could tell you what you can put into your games. This obviously applies to sexual content, but also to plenty of other things.
There a some Android ports here and there nowadays, but most of them aren’t sold through Google’s Playstore due to the content.
Though a developers could also remove anything that a platform holder doesn’t want and release an all-ages version which happens quite frequently. The problem here is that people tend to think that only sexual content needs to go, but in reality there is often need for more changes.
Another reason which I can see adding to low sales is that there is a big market for used titles and a good VN is still a good VN even if older. So most buyers have the option between buying a used copy of some highly rated classic or throwing money at some new release that hasn’t been tested by time yet. Some older titles can also be obtained for cheap when sales on some of the digital stores are held. Plenty of older titles are in general quite cheap on those stores.
After all it’s not like there are only a handful works in the medium, on the contrary there are thousands of them. It’s also a medium where titles don’t age as badly as in others.
So I would assume the main reasons that the medium is doing so badly is that it’s harder to get into than other media, one needs a device that isn’t as common anymore as it used to be and if you’re into the medium getting older/used titles is much cheaper than buying new releases.
Now let’s look at what the company’s do to compensate those sales numbers. One way is to sell merch for your works which is mostly just an option for bigger brands who have their own fanbase already, but it can work quite well.
Then there’s the option to branch into other fields more often than not lately this usually ends with them launching a Soshage (Games like F/GO, GBF, KanColle or Deresute). This can work as Type-Moon had shown with running one of the most played titles on smartphones. Though Type-Moon hasn’t released a PC VN in ages and therefore is probably a bad example for the current industry. The problem here is that you basically would need to get players away from one of the popular titles and that is no easy task.
Probably not what most company’s could do, but Nitro+ is basically only doing VNs on the side nowadays and makes most of their profit in other media.
Well then there are plenty of company’s who try their luck on a different market and work on getting their stuff localized in another language. This is a bit hard to judge for me, since I’m not that well-known when it comes to localized titles. From what I tend to hear the sales in the west are often not as good as expected.
I doubt though that localization could be an option for the whole industry all things considered.
Honestly I don’t know what the right way is to save most of the industry as it is. Chances are I missed some things in this article, but I just wanted to write a bit about this topic and there are always the comments. I doubt that the medium will ever completely die yet I can see the industry getting a lot smaller than it is.
I’ll just keep throwing as much money as I can at those brands I hold dear and hope for the best.
I usually write some tweets about whatever I’m reading and I’m generally pretty active on twitter if anyone is interested. My feed isn’t quite SFW even though I wouldn’t consider it NSFW. (https://twitter.com/xjpegx)