Ten Questions With… John Pickett (MangaGamer)
With titles such as eden*, Princess Evangile, Higurashi When They Cry and A Kiss For The Petals released on Steam along with many others on their own website, 2015 has been a bumper year for MangaGamer. They are showing no signs of slowing down either, so to get some more information about their upcoming releases as well as the visual novel market we had a chat with John Pickett.
Can you give our readers a quick introduction of yourself and MangaGamer?
Sure thing. My name is John Pickett (though I go as Kouryuu online), and I work as the Head Translator and PR Director for MangaGamer. Our company, MangaGamer, is a coalition founded by several Japanese developers of visual novels who wanted to expand and cultivate the market for visual novels in the West. We strive to showcase the diversity that visual novels can offer as a medium by localizing a wide variety of titles that range the full breadth of storytelling genres and offer different elements for different people to enjoy.
Our company is working hard toward our release of Higurashi When They Cry Hou—Chapter 2: Watanagashi, an exciting chapter in the famous Higurashi series, and euphoria, an adult title that focuses on psychological horror and pushes a lot of common boundaries.
As for me personally, I’m still hard at work on localizing Da Capo 3 R, another title we have planned for release on Steam, which offers multiple tales of sweet romance between Katsuragi Kiyotaka and several possible heroines, all set in a magic academy beneath 1950s London.
MangaGamer was founded in 2008, how has the visual novel market changed since then?
It’s definitely changed a lot since then. Back in 2008, very few people knew about visual novels and the community that did support them was very small, but dedicated. In those beginning years a lot of major news sites and mainstream game retailers were prejudiced against visual novels due to their lack of traditional gameplay mechanics. It was difficult to garner attention for any title released, and even more difficult to break even or turn a profit on any given title.
Since then, recognition of visual novels as a valuable medium for storytelling has grown, and more and more people are coming to understand the breadth and depth they have to offer both developers and readers. In the last few years, the number of new developers starting to turn to visual novels to tell their stories has grown exponentially, and the entire niche is attracting much more attention.
When Steam first opened their doors to visual novels following Greenlight it was a monumental change for this industry—visual novels gained access to a mainstream retailer, and through that, much broader mainstream attention.
That being said, we’re proud of the fact that we’re the only major publisher that still pushes to release titles fully uncensored and uncut on our platform when so many others have begun to choose the path of censorship and cutting content.
Kindred Spirits will be coming to Steam uncut, was this something that MangaGamer had to actively work towards?
Our NDA with Valve doesn’t allow us to discuss the details, but yes, we’ve always been an active advocate against censorship; with all of our partners both Eastern and Western. Ultimately, the final decision for what goes on Steam rests with Valve, and what gets featured on our storefront rests with our partners—the content creators themselves—want.
It’s tough fighting against censorship on both fronts since we have to respect their final decisions, but we’re always excited when we get support in our company philosophy. Of course, putting out a game first is always our priority (because there’s not enough of them), but when things like developers wanting to release uncensored games or Valve allowing us to publish an uncut title happens; well, it’s exciting! We know artists and the market respond best to video games released in the form they were intended to be, so we look forward to seeing the response after Kindred Spirits’ release.
Does the uncut release of Kindred Spirits on Steam mean we will see existing MangaGamer titles on Steam get the same treatment?
Well, Kindred Spirits is rather exceptional. This is a title that didn’t even require censorship in Japan. Since Kindred Spirits isn’t even out yet, it’s still far too early to make a call about the future.
There are a lot of processes we still need to go through before its actual release, so we hope everything goes as planned. That being said, fans can find all of our releases in uncensored form on our website right now, so stop on by to show your support!
With more and more visual novels appearing on Steam and in bundles, have the public or media’s perception about the genre changed at all?
Absolutely. Early on when the market was still small, a lot of people held the misconception that all visual novels existed solely to satisfy the prurient desire. With the expansion of visual novels to mainstream retailers like Steam, more and more of the public is coming to realize that the medium has a lot to offer in literary merit as well, for younger and mature audiences alike.
The bundle people like Groupees and IndieGala have been the most welcoming by far, especially in regards to adult content. We don’t see a lot of revenue from such bundles with the prices being so cheap, but we do find it inspiring to see such a huge number of people coming out to sample what visuals novels have to offer. It’s very enheartening to see thousands of new users signing up to redeem the bundles and access the unique content that’s only available through us.
Piracy used to be a huge headache for publishers of visual novels, now that titles are more readily available is it still a big issue?
Of course it’s still a big issue. Even with the mainstream expansion we’ve been seeing in the past years, visual novels are still very much a niche market and the sales seen by publishers are only a fraction of what major or AAA video games see in their lifespan. Every single sale still matters to us and other developers. Mainstream acceptance and availability means we’re all seeing a lot of growth and expansion in our customer base, so piracy itself is less of a concern, but a lot of the misconceptions created by that culture are still problematic to all game developers and publishers.
Are there any titles that MangaGamer had to turn down or back away from due to the content?
Not specifically, no. The US is still fairly open-minded when it comes to content, which is a blessing for publishers and developers everywhere. When we meet with Japanese developers to discuss potential licenses, we often make a point to discuss the cultural differences regarding how different content is perceived, so we’ve never been offered a title we had to refuse due to content.
The biggest reason we have to turn down some titles is simple human resources. Despite doubling the size of our staff in this past year, we still don’t have enough talented hands to cover every potential title we’d like to release.
Can you let us in on some of the future plans for MangaGamer?
Everyone here at MangaGamer is really excited for our upcoming fall, winter, and spring lineup. We have a lot of big titles that have been in the works for several months now, and they’ll finally be culminating in release during the upcoming months. The next chapter of Higurashi When They Cry should be out on Steam by this time, and we’re excited to see how readers respond to it.
Our next major push for the market is Euphoria, releasing later this month. As a psychological horror tale, both the content and themes push against a lot of social boundaries and force the reader to question what’s really right and wrong when lives are at stake, and what it means to try and hold onto one’s beliefs when all your limits are put to the test.
We’re also hard at work on preparing Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning for release this Winter. Gahkthun is a really exciting title from Liarsoft’s steampunk series, and this particular title focuses around Nikola Tesla and his assistant Neon. Set at the start of the 20th century in an alternate world that draws on technology discovered through Earth’s connection to “Kadath,” a mysterious land based off Lovecraft’s Dreamworld, Tesla ventures out to The Marseille Offshore Academia, an academy built on an artificial island just outside of France, in order to overthrow the school’s Governing Council and free the students from the secret society controlling it. The vibrant yet dark setting is accented with amazing battle scenes starring an electro-charged Tesla as well as a strong romantic story between the main characters.
What is the most unusual thing on your desk right now?
I would say all my nendroids, but they’re probably pretty common for an otaku!
Maybe my mouse pad, keyboard, and keyboard cover?
Anything else you would like to add?
Yes, I’d like to thank all of our fans and all of those who have supported us through the years and helped us grow and expand the market to its present state. I hope you’ll all continue to show your support as we head into the future and bring even more titles to the fore.
I’d also like to thank Valve for working with us to help make Kindred Spirits on Steam a reality. I’m excited for the promising future this could lead to, and I hope everyone helps us both make this a rewarding endeavor for everyone.