We Touch Games… and Interviews, too! – MangaGamer, Visual Novels, and community concerns

Welcome to another interview from We Touch Games with MangaGamer. Before the interview, I’d like to address a concern that was brought up to me by a member of the community. “Why do you only do interviews with MangaGamer?” was the question posed to me. If anyone out there is interested in this, here is my official answer:

It’s not that I don’t want to do interviews with other companies; the MG folks just happen to be very open and receptive about doing interviews. The Drastik Measure and We Touch Games offer interview opportunities to every developer and publisher we work with, so if they want to do interviews, you’ll see them on the website soon enough.

With that said, please enjoy the interview with MangaGamer. I very much enjoyed getting the answers and learning more about MangaGamer from Good Haro and Kouryuu.

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Hello! As one of you may know already, I am Jonathan Phelps, aka Lolinia/TaisiHyuuga of The Drastik Measure. It’s nice to e-meet you both. While usually, TDM is interviewing the people who work on your games, I wanted this interview to be about MangaGamer itself. Personally, I’ve wanted to interview you all since the Supipara interview with Kaitsu and DS55. Hearing about ef’s and eden*’s localizations made me want to get to know the company more, rather than just the games. Along with personal questions, I’ve gotten questions from the community as well. So, here we are on the biggest stage I can provide. Let’s get started.

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         First off, introductions. Who are you and what do you do for MangaGamer?

Kouryuu: Hello everyone. I’m John Pickett, more commonly known online as Kouryuu. I serve as MangaGamer’s Head Translator and PR Director. Those are two kind of big words for “I do a lot, and a little bit of everything.” My personal focus is on maintaining the translation quality of our releases so people know they’re getting a good product when they buy from us. I also work to arrange for press coverage, reviews, and interviews like this one, along with many other tasks on the marketing end. On the translation end, I recently completed my work on Da Capo 3 R, which we hope to have out later this year on our site and Steam.

Good Haro: Hi, I go by Good Haro and I’m one of MangaGamer’s translators, and I also serve as marketing director. Like Kouryuu I do a whole bunch of different things like running our social media, building landing pages, and helping out with branding design work. As the resident fujoshi it’s also my unofficial job to bother our boss to license more BL and otome games!

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         For those who may not know, what is MangaGamer? Just a storefront or is there more than meets the eye?

K: MangaGamer is kind of an all-in-one retailer, publisher, localization company, and community hub, and we’re always trying to improve all those aspects. Our web storefront, which is our primary retail outlet, serves the obvious job of letting us and our partners sell and distribute the products we work with to the fans. The neat thing about our storefront of course, is that we are able to offer probably the most diverse array of stories out there, all uncensored and as the original creators intended.

As a publisher, we work with Steam as well as several other retail platforms to ensure our games, and those created by any developers we work with, can reach the broadest audience possible. We can handle a lot of different things too, from marketing, to quality control, even development advice.

As a localization company, our dedicated and talented team help provide the best translations on the market. We all have a deep love and respect for the products we work on, so we strive to deliver the best experiences our games have to offer.

We wouldn’t be here today without the great community of fans that support us though, and we’d like to keep that flame of enthusiasm kindled as the audience for visual novels continues to grow, doing our part to help connect new fans together.

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         We may have readers who are new to the genre. What are visual novels?

K: “Visual Novel” is sort of a medium unique to the digital age, originating from early adventure games and choose your own adventure novels. At its core, every visual novel is a story, be it horror, romance, action, sci fi space opera, or good old fashioned erotica. The genres of visual novel are as diverse as any entertainment medium, and just as capable of being as prurient or enlightening as them too. Traditionally, visual novels offer the player or reader choices throughout that allow them to shape the outcome of the tale. Some don’t have any choices, like eden*, and are known as kinetic novels–these can be more akin to a movie, but their depth often succeeds in immersing the reader more.

All visual novels though share a few common elements in addition to their story: sound (and typically music), and visual artwork (generally a combination of backgrounds, emotive character sprites, special event artwork, and a user interface). Generally they feature voice acting as well, though not always. These are elements many might find common to movies, shows, or regular games, but visual novels brings them together in a way that fuels immersion, grows intimacy with the characters, and offers a greater depth of storytelling.

G: Fundamentally, visual novels are a medium through which a wide variety of stories can be told. I think a lot of people still have the impression that they’re all just vapid porn games. While there certainly are plenty of visual novels that appeal primarily to more prurient interests––nothing wrong with that, of course––it’s a medium with an impressive breadth of subject matter. I think there’s something for just about everyone out there and the medium can provide a really unique storytelling experience.

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         What’s a typical day in the office like? Any giant tentacles plastered to the doors to replace the handles or is everything handled online?

K: I personally work from home, telecommuting to our online “office chat rooms” in my PJs after fixing breakfast. From there it’s a lot of long hours staring at Office software, emails, and typing away. Occasionally tentacles are involved, depending on which game I’m working to promote or translate at the time. One of our editors owns a dildo he uses to ensure fidelity when working on sounds and lines for adult scenes.

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G: Like Kouryuu and the overwhelming majority of our staff, I telecommute too. I pretty much hang out in the staff chat whenever I’m awake. We joke around a lot and help each other when we get stuck. It’s always interesting when someone gets stumped on a pun and everyone tries to come up with solutions.

Localization work itself is a pretty lonesome job, to be honest. You just kinda hammer away at a script for months on end. I like that in my position I get the opportunity to switch around and work on a lot of different types of things––so some days I’m just working away at scripts, but other days I’m trying to come up with cute website gimmicks or agonizing over a logo design.

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         The fans must know! Emilia or Rem?

K: It’s a tough call. I really liked Emilia at the outset of the show, and would have said her then. I wish we could see more of her again. They’ve been giving Rem tons of screen time though, and making a very convincing argument for her. So until I can make a final decision, I’m spectating with Felix.

G: I don’t know this meme, so I’m just going to say Reigen.

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         With games like euphoria on sale and plans on bringing Maggot Baits to the west, is there any particular content / genre of VN that you won’t touch?

K: I would say Maggot Baits is probably as far as we’re going to push it on the violence side for now, namely since I doubt any Japanese developers will go that far again anytime soon, given how ClockUp kind of toed the line when pushing it past Japan’s Ethics Board.

We’re always careful about we select––we do have to keep in mind that most of our audience is in the US, so we have to be considerate of US obscenity laws, but we also believe in freedom of expression and the right of mature readers to enjoy mature material.

To that extent, we’re also making a point to see what boundaries we can push in terms of helping mature stories find acceptance in mainstream outlets.

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G: Aside from what Kouryuu mentioned, we also have to consider whether we have staff willing to work on games with more extreme content. Almost all of our localization staff are freelance, so no one’s obligated to take work they aren’t comfortable with. That said, I think we had three people volunteer to work on Maggot Baits (I may have been one of them), so it hasn’t really been a huge issue.

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         This one may be a little more personal but the community also wants to know what do you look for in Editors? Is there a test? And are you looking for editors?

K: At the end of the day an editor needs to be able take English lines and make them more readable, enhancing tone and voice, while also correcting all potential grammar and spelling errors. It’s also somewhat important to be able to recognize when lines don’t need additional tweaking.

We do have a test that we run all of our editor applicants through to determine several factors, and actually, we have enough editors at the moment, but we can always keep successful applicants on file for future possibilities.

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G: I’m one of the people on the first round test review committee for editors and when I’m looking at the tests I usually keep a mental tally of improvements to the script vs. errors missed or introduced, the greater the positive impact, the better. Though, I have to admit the make-or-break for me is looking at how hard an applicant tried on the pun.

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         How do you decide to bring a game over? What’s the process of localization like?

K: There’s a lot of discussion amongst our staff, as many of us suggest titles we would like to work on and titles we believe would do well. Some numbers are run, and our acquisition team starts the long process of negotiating the license.

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G: Yeah, usually licenses are either pitched by localization staff or motivated by the acquisition team, but sometimes companies approach us too. Personally, I’m always trying to keep an eye out for games people are talking about to get an idea of what’s in demand, and looking at our catalogue to see what’s missing. Of course, I also keep a particularly close eye on the BL and otome scene and try to play what I can to see if it’s worth pursuing. I’m always a bit worried about my taste dominating that niche in our catalogue since I’m the only one among our senior staff with a particular interest in those genres (right now at least).

K: Once we have the license and all materials, we assign our staff members and contractors to a project team, set goals and deadlines, and we get to work. The actual act of localization is often akin to writing––translators and editors both try to parse lines, figure out how to write a line in English that conveys all the same information and nuances, and pray they don’t come up short.

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         What inspired MangaGamer’s creation? What spurred it on to become a thing?

K: In a sense, the oversaturated eroge market in Japan. While the isolated Japanese market for eroge was a decline, several Japanese developers decided to get together and look westward for potential new markets, knowing that we would have to cultivate them before they bore the fruit we’re seeing today with things like visual novels on Steam, increased Japanese interest and involvement in the western market, and our potential with minori to produce simultaneous or even English-first releases.

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         Less seriously, is pink anyone’s favorite color, and if so, do you stare at the site all day?

K: Some days I do wonder if I’m the only one who likes our pink color. It’s a very warm and welcoming color though, and we want new fans and customers to feel welcomed and comfortable shopping, especially knowing that there’s such a stigma against adult content in the West. (Also, as I like to joke, in Japan, the “pink room”––the area of a store hidden by a pink cloth with pink and pastel walls and floors, is almost always where eroge are sold. I encountered tons of them when I lived in Japan.)

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G: I guess I’ve always been more a fan of cooler colors myself, but I’m pretty fond of our hot pink as a accent color. It really pops in the right context!

         UMINEKO! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Okay. Enough fanboying. Still, though. Umineko is on Steam. I, for one, honestly never thought I’d see so many great visual novels like Umineko and Higurashi coming to Steam. The reaction I had above isn’t too far from the reactions of other fans, either. Must make you happy to see folks happy with what you brought over when it’s all said and done, eh?

K: It’s definitely a real point of pride and success to know that our company was the first to get visual novels onto Steam with Go Go Nippon, and to watch the market take off as visual novels start gaining more mainstream acceptance.

When we first started, you rarely ever saw anyone in the west creating visual novels, and now there are several studios dedicated to just that.

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G: It’s always nice when we get positive feedback. Our support team always tries to share the happy emails with the localization staff. Most of us are in this field because we care about visual novels and want to share the games we love with other people, so it’s always a nice feeling to see other people enjoying them too.

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         On a more serious note, MangaGamer is getting its name out there more and more, especially with the presence of the VNs on Steam. However, there is still the stigma out there that visual novels are just anime porn games. While there’s certainly a market for such material, how do you see ‘the potential conflict between the portrayal of porn in VNs and the ability to present complicated, literary plots to a broader audience’ impacting you in terms of philosophy and sales? (Another community-asked question)

K: That’s actually something we’ve talked about and tossed around ideas for internally already. It most certainly is a challenge to try and effectively pitch and market two very different types of games to the same followers. One of the big things to remember, which our company stands by, is that despite whatever stigma there may be, sex isn’t wrong, gross, or sick–it’s natural. It’s a natural part of being a human being, and should be given the same courtesy and respect as any other topic of human nature.

I personally feel that’s something our society needs to grow to accept, and I feel like we’re actually seeing a lot of good progress toward that between the sex positive movement and the victories others have earned in recognizing alternate sexualities and non-binary genders. Our society has always talked about sex, it’s just now, it’s time to do so in the light.

While our diversity of content proves a challenge to market, it’s also our strength. I think the continued success of games like Kindred Spirits to reach the mainstream market uncut will ultimately help convince more people that intricate stories and sex can coexist side by side, without being estranged from each other.

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G: I think it’s a tricky issue that I’m not sure anyone’s quite got down to a science. I’m not really sure what the best approach is, personally, though this is a topic Kouryuu and I have clashed on a bit from time to time. As much as I wish we lived in a world where more mature material wasn’t stigmatized, realistically speaking, we’re not there yet. I think we have to make some compromises to reach more people and create an accepting, comfortable environment for them.

It’s a little tricky, but I guess my stance is that we should try to present even arguably “distasteful” material tastefully, if that makes any sense, and also to provide different avenues for people to interact with our properties. For example, one of the main motivations behind introducing landing pages was to create an additional point of access for audiences who might not feel super welcome in the company of games like Boob Wars or Suck My Dick or Die! Anyway, generally speaking, I don’t think it’s a balance we’ve gotten anywhere near perfecting yet, but as we continue to grow and our audience become broader, we’ll have to keep adjusting our approach.

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         Just in case our new readers haven’t read a non-All Ages VN, what is the difference between Eroge and Nukige? Are they the same or is there variation between the terms?

K: A nukige is a subcategory of eroge, essentially. Eroge is short for “erotic game”, and generally refers to any title with adult content, even if said sex would only be considered “M” by ratings boards. It’s a broad term, covering a wide variety of titles.

Nukige, as a subcategory, is shorthand for what essentially translates to “fapping game”. It refers to games that are more typical of what we generally call “porn”. Their main, intended purpose is to elicit excitement, arousal, and ultimately, the release of sexual desire.

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G: I think people get a little too hung up on the labels, honestly. There are a number of games that would be considered “nukige”, even by the developers, that have engaging stories. They’re not mutually exclusive concepts.

         Earlier this year, MangaGamer had the unfortunate reality of dealing with scammers back-charging on stolen credit cards, resulting in steam keys not being offered with certain store purchases any longer. I’d understand if you could make no comment about it, but are there any plans in the future for an eventual return of the Steam keys for digital-bought products?

K: It’s something we would like to do. We’ve tried brainstorming ideas and possible solutions, but nothing we’ve managed to come up with seems viable or effective in avoiding abuse by credit card thieves.

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G: Yeah, it’s definitely something we want to do again. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a sure-fire solution. Steam key related credit card fraud is something facing a lot of small storefronts, but I’m not entirely sure it’s the sort of thing that will be solved without some intervention from Valve.

         SPPL is certainly a daring project, in my opinion. From what I read, it seems the game did not have as well as a reception in Japan as one would hope. Having the game come to the west, with future volumes being produced first-for and funded by the Western audience is certainly a daunting, yet unprecedented task. What was it like setting this up?

K: Surprisingly enough, it was actually the developer, minori’s, idea. Which only goes to show just how much hope they had for this project before it’s release in Japan. The fact that minori knows it can call all the Supipara staff back if it succeeds also demonstrates just how dedicated everyone who worked on it was.

We’re still waiting for sales of eden* and SPPL Ch 1 to earn enough for Chapter 3, so we haven’t had to tackle the task of English-first release yet, but we’re all extremely optimistic and looking to make history again with this. It’ll definitely be market-changing when it succeeds.

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         I keep mentioning possible ‘new readers’, so in keeping with that, what would you recommend in All-Ages visual novels to someone new to the genre? And how about Eroge-wise?

K: All-Ages wise, I would recommend either Fata Morgana or Princess Evangile, depending on whether or not you prefer tragedy and drama or sweet and comedic.

For eroge, I would have to recommend either Kara no Shojo, for those inclined to murder mysteries and intricate storylines, or Eroge! ~Sex and Games Makes Sexy Games~, for those inclined to something more arousing with good characters.

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G: Our options for players more interested in pursuing men are still pretty limited, but we do have OZMAFIA!!, an all-ages (although fairly risqué in terms of subject matter at points) otome title, and No, Thank You!!! an adult BL game, both of which have very nice art!

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         Any final words for the readers?

K: If you haven’t tried a visual novel yet, don’t be afraid to. The medium has a diverse offering of genres, and I’ll guarantee anyone can find at least one they might enjoy.

G: Don’t hesitate to reach out to us on social media or through our support e-mail if you’re not sure where to start! We’re always happy to help.

K: I also want to thank everyone for your continued support of MangaGamer. We work hard to share the enjoyment we manage to experience from our titles, and it’s thanks to your support that we can continue bringing new games over.

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This has been a We Touch Games production.

We Touch Games