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JAST’s failure to market Seinarukana as an RPG could doom English H-RPGs

This is an opinion piece and represents the opinion of the author. It does not indicate one way or another the stance or policy of the Fuwanovel community.

Peter Payne, owner of visual novel publisher JAST USA and the J-List empire, made the following comment in their official forums:

…it’s a challenge when games are big and expensive. One thing we’re not too happy about is the way RPGs take 2-3x the resources yet sell about as well as any other game. While we’ve released some nice ones, and have an amazing game coming out soon (Seinarukana is nearly ready to start promotion on), unless we can see increased interest by fans it’ll be hard to choose another one in the near future.

JAST looks at disappointing sales and sees a lack of customer interest.  I see a marketing failure that squanders a tremendous opportunity to reach outside JAST’s usual fanbase.

JAST’s experience with RPGs

For the uninitiated, JAST USA licenses Japanese games for English release.  JAST has released several translated JRPGs over the years, including the Raidy series, Brave Soul, Aselia the Eternal, and most recently Yumina the Ethereal. JAST has hinted that the Raidy series did very well for them, and they seemed quite eager to work on Raidy 3, so I’d infer that it’s not included in this assessment. Brave Soul was poorly marketed and heavily pirated, as evidenced by the repetitive posts in the old forums asking how to save (which was explicitly outlined in the short paper manual that came with the game.) The release of Aselia the Eternal was mired by multiple issues, including a widely available fan translation patch, JAST’s decision not to release a version with the original 18+ content due to concerns about the sexual portrayal of children, failure to pursue a Steam release, and the fact that by the time JAST got around to releasing it 8 years had passed and the game’s graphics (640×480) and battle system were horribly dated. I previously discussed how Yumina the Ethereal’s marketing was poorly handled, although they did eventually release a trial with actual combat included. Since Brave Soul was released 12 years ago and Aselia the Eternal probably didn’t cost much to localize due to the existing fan patch (JAST worked with the same group for the official release), I presume JAST’s statement is based largely on Yumina the Ethereal’s sales.

Seinarukana: JAST’s most ambitious RPG license to date

I’ve played through Seinarukana, and the gameplay is a blast. The story mixes typical high school comedy with a fascinating sci-fi / fantasy setting, but the blend is smoother and more convincing than Yumina the Ethereal, with the plot and setting gradually introduced rather than dropped in your lap halfway through like with Yumina. Unlike Yumina, there’s no grind or random encounters, which I appreciate. Seinarukana is currently rated 8.4/10 with 151 votes on VNDB, ranking it #3 in untranslated RPGs below Eushully epics Ikusa Megami Zero and Ikusa Megami Verita.  For those interested in more details, I touch on the story premise and gameplay in my personal blog post.

Insider information suggests Seinarukana is planned for a 2015 release, likely timed to coincide with Anime Expo in early July. Unfortunately, JAST appears to be heading for a repeat of the mistakes they made with Yumina the Ethereal: taking a high-caliber RPG, hurling it at fans, then expecting the game to market itself.

RPGs should be marketed at a different audience

Ask existing visual novel fans (JAST’s typical customers) to buy an RPG, and they’re going to whine that there’s gameplay getting in the way of their story. RPG fans don’t necessarily frequent VN sites, because they don’t like VNs especially—they like RPGs. On top of that, when RPG fans are looking for RPGs to buy, they’re interested in promotional materials that highlight the gameplay: gameplay screenshots, gameplay videos, and playable demos.

Reviews are important

RPG fans tend to read reviews before they buy, which means RPG review sites need to be engaged and persuaded to review these games. I never saw any reviews of Yumina the Ethereal on RPG sites, which was probably the #1 reason it didn’t do as well as JAST had hoped. There’s a huge potential audience for VN-style RPGs with strong gameplay, but it’s going to take more effort to tap it than JAST is used to. But if they’re going to spend the considerable resources to license a long, high-caliber RPG like Seinarukana… why wouldn’t they market it the best they could?

Seinarukana is a Steam dream come true

Seinarukana has to be released on Steam. Absolutely. Positively. If the game can be listed on Steam, priced affordably, and get noticed–the game will sell like hotcakes. I’ve played Seinarukana, and the gameplay is a blast. Steam users will eat it up. Censoring the H-content in Seinarukana for a non-adult release will be no issue because there’s hardly any to begin with (1). And with a non-adult version, sites like RPGFan and RPGamer should be willing to review the game, which will multiply sales. Getting these sites review copies before release, to boost pre-release hype, is a key aspect of proper marketing!

My message to JAST

Disappointing sales of your RPGs is your own fault. You’re dropping the ball. Put some effort into the marketing this time around and you’ll get results! You have talented people working for you on Seinarukana who know what it takes to market RPGs. Talk to them! Throw money at them and give them the authority to do what it takes to make this release successful!

My message to readers

It’s outside the scope of this article to convince you that Seinarukana is awesome. You’ll just have to take make word for it. Whether you agree or not, if you care about visual novel style RPGs then I have a message for you: JAST needs your help. They’re at a fork in the road where they’re debating if high quality RPGs are worth the effort of releasing. They don’t realize they’re sitting on a gold mine; all they see is a caved-in tunnel that is taking forever to clear. And if they don’t dig down, they’ll never realize it.

I want YOU, the RPG fans, to help me tell JAST what they’re doing wrong. Here’s a pre-release thread for Seinarukana on the JAST official forums. Tell them what they need to do to reach RPG fans like you and me and make Seinarukana and future awesome RPGs a success. Do you want to see shining gems like Eushully’s Ikusa Megami Verita in English? First we have to convince Japanese developers like Eushully that there’s a market for these games in English, and localization companies like JAST that translating a 100hr epic like that isn’t going to bankrupt them.

I leave the sword in your hands, RPG fans.

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(1) I support a dual release: one with adult content, the other with adult content removed.

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BookwormOtaku
BookwormOtaku
9 years ago

How’s Seinarukana’s battle system? The main reason I’ve never beaten even a single route of Aselia is because of how tedious it’s battle system is so I’m curious if any improvements were made on that front.

your mom
your mom
Reply to  BookwormOtaku
9 years ago

Sounds like a faggot otaku rather than bookworm otaku

SilverLi
SilverLi
9 years ago

Looking good. I am very interested in RPGs. Sadly they are so few. Thanks to this review I am also very interested in this RPG. Hopefully we can together make RPGs interesting for the market. If the game isn’t focused on H like Raidy/Rance (Rance would’ve been a good SRPG without H. But it is Rance. I like the gameplay).

If it is possible to make Seinarukana all ages without butchering the story I would probably support that too. I was one of the few only suggesting RPGs and such in different New Year surveys.

Martin
Martin
Reply to  sanahtlig
9 years ago

I completely agree with you. A 18+ game is what I prefer but I got no problems with an all ages release on Steam. Everything to make RPGs popular and attractive.

ShadowBreaker
ShadowBreaker
9 years ago

I will buy this…. If they do, has you refered, make a dual release. I want my ero, and I’m willing to pay for it

ShadowBreaker
ShadowBreaker
Reply to  sanahtlig
9 years ago

They are failing like SEGA failed, lack of marketing. If they don’t invest more money in marketing, such has, making and alt. All Ages version for Steam, because VNs in the West don’t sell themselves has, for example, GTA does. They can do whatever they see fit has long as they don’t alienate the main buyer of the game like MoeNovel did with KonoSora or NISA did with Criminal Girls. If the this game does not sell has they expect they will probably be stuck in what I call, the SEGA Paradox, that being refusing to releasing good VNs with the excuse “It won’t sell” basicly they same sh*t SEGA does with the Yakuza series but in JAST’s case they would probably go bankrupt, which would be a shame because they release pretty good stuff.

ShadowBreaker
ShadowBreaker
Reply to  sanahtlig
9 years ago

It’s basicly what SEGA does nowadays, only Sonic… And that’s what I am afraid JAST decides to do, I have nothing against simple nukige once in a while but only focusing on fap material will lead to people who are interested in the good story VNs to simply stop supporting. They will release Starless which I wanted to play and seems like a cool VN, but I prefer VNs the same caliber has Yume Miru Kusuri, that despited the art being outdated it’s one of the best VNs I ever played in terms of story or Steins;Gate that may be long has hell but it’s pretty damn good.

Crosskid
Crosskid
9 years ago

As a VN and RPG fans, seems like it is an interesting game.
With my current circumstances, i need and support for the steam release edition. otherwise, maybe i’ll pass.

Nvekm
9 years ago

Bloody well said – if I could add my 2c
It’s my belief that distribution is one of the main factors as to why VNs have yet to achieve greater recognition than the niche role they have today – and getting high-quality, far-reaching games like Seinarukana onto Steam will be a major step towards breaching this barrier.

ReMeDy
Reply to  Nvekm
9 years ago

Which is why Steam is a god-send for the visual novel community, imo. Even if the games people don’t always play have hentai, it will get fans slowly acclimated to the visual novel genre, and they’ll be more accepting to try kinkier things.

Seracen
Seracen
9 years ago

Personally, I am opposed to censorship of any kind. If they release a Steam version, there should be an option for folks to get the full uncut version (via official patch/mod or what-have-you), locked behind an age-gate obviously. I understand that, in a case such as this, there is a minimal loss of content (or that such loss might be beneficial), but the option should still be there (unless there’s some heinous content that needs sanitizing, and even then, I’d debate it on a case-by-case basis).

Seracen
Seracen
Reply to  sanahtlig
9 years ago

I can understand that. But a lot of these arguments are akin to the sort that happened due to mods on Skyrim. I suppose the main difference is that mods are fanmade, and Bethesda caught hell for even that content.

As for the argument of trying to distance oneself from porn…I’d posit that it’s a poor method of titillation when one is reading 10+ hours of story for 10 min of cheesecake. However, for me, it’s less titillation and more consummation of the romance arc. Hell, half the time I skim through it; I just like that the romance arc actually resolved!

Furthermore, ignoring that aspect of the genre can come across as myopic, especially if there is also a market for the uncensored version. However, if JAST is providing the uncensored version, and Steam has the all-ages version, I agree with you. My concern is cases where the Steam version prevents a JAST version from coming out at all.

mahdrills
9 years ago

How important is it to play Aselia before this? I noticed they’re said to be in the same series.

JAST continues to disappoint in many regards. Personally, I would be much happier if they just exited the scene at some point. Any excitement that would come from them getting the rights to bring over any VN is instantly lost when I see their general turn around and how companies like MangaGamer and Sekai Project are much more in tune with the people supporting them.

I remember thinking back when Steins Gate was finally coming out “Why aren’t they working to get this on steam?” I did end up finding out that they needed to get special permission and they said they were working on it and that they’d like to do that. Yet… I really have to wonder.

I do think it’s a good idea they make a censored version for a possible Steam release, and I do agree it’s liable to bring in a greater audience. However, I think you’re also overestimating the amount of people who actually like RPGs out there. I mean, if you want to talk about RPGs, take a look at what we’ve gotten lately in comparison to 10 years ago. It’s been rather sad. I used to be someone who purely played RPGs, and now I barely touch them in comparison to VNs.

Still with that being said, I’d really like to see it on Steam and I’d love it if it did well. I’m just not getting my hopes up.

mahdrills
Reply to  sanahtlig
9 years ago

I don’t know. I don’t really see many JRPG fans being the type of people to deny VN as games. At least not in the way where they would say “This isn’t a game, I’m not going to look at it” Since a major focus of a JRPG is the story, I imagine many would love VNs for that.

There might not be the right titles out there for them yet. You might be correct in assuming if we got some more RPG VNs out there it might stir some potential interest. However, the problem I see it is with most of the titles you’ve mentioned, the systems are very eh.. Not the types of things I can imagine a lot of people who were used the actual games to immediately fawn over (Unless we got a major title like the Eushelly games you mentioned)

I do think you’re right that the marketing is probably one of the things at fault though, and I do think they should improve upon it. Not just with RPG or gameplay titles, but with all titles that focus heavily on a plot (rather than just romance or sex) Steam all ages is a great step. Kickstarter campaigns for some of the more highly sought after titles have created quite a stir among gaming sites that don’t typically even give VNs a second look.

The main problem I have with JAST is their slow turnaround. Sure they get some great titles but then you hear nothing about them for a while. Seinarukana they’ve had for years, and while people were excited at one point, now it’s like “Oh so you’re only now bringing it out *yawn*” MG gets a lot of titles I don’t care about but they get them out the door pretty quickly (granted at first they were really terrible with their quality, they’ve improved) Sekai is actually tackling the titles that neither one of them said they’d be able to get because they don’t make enough profit. Also both MG and Sekai are pretty regular with updating people on the various things, so people know they’re coming.

Spawn
Spawn
9 years ago

I never even heard of this game until this. I hope it will be on Steam.

Senelcar
Senelcar
Reply to  Spawn
9 years ago

Same here, never heard of this game before, but im interested in it cause i tried to play Aselia ( and failed cause the RPG gameplay wasn’t that great ) and liked the setting. Can you put a link to your post for more gameplay details ?

Master Shogun
Master Shogun
9 years ago

If it’s anything like Kamidori Alchemy Meister, I’m interested. I spent easily over 200 hours on that game.

Arent
Arent
9 years ago

I want to add that let’s plays are becoming increasingly important. And they are cheap. Just approach some major let’s players/anime channels and ask them nicely if they will play a beta. If the game is great, they’ll do it for free.

Arent
Arent
Reply to  sanahtlig
9 years ago

If you look at the hype around “life is strange” on youtube right now (which is basically a visual novel with 3d graphics) and “the last of us” (which is basically a 3d shooter with a nice background story) you can see how important that has become.

Or take the independent kickstarter projects – actually, I think jast is the *ideal* candidate to finance their niche projects over kickstarter. I mean, you have to see it’s not only the *money* they get, having a kickstarter entry is already advertisement. In fact, it would even make sense to start a kickstarter *now*, some weeks/months before seinarukana is finished – simply because it costs zero dollar & it is already advertisement, even if it doesn’t succeed. And don’t forget that a successful kickstarter project & the resulting devoted fans press large game magazins to continuously write articles about the *development* process and test the game. And then, they write about mods and sequels.

AgaresOaks
AgaresOaks
9 years ago

From what I’ve heard Yumina would’ve failed regardless. Everyone I’ve heard talk about it said that while the story’s good, the gameplay was poor. And these were people who played more RPGs than VNs. My personal impression from the demo was “these battles are needlessly REALLY long” including a portion of the boss fight concerned I would soft-lock the game because there was a type of mana being produced that no one could consume and it was really stifling what both teams could do.

That being said, Seinarukana gameplay looks a lot better since it seems to just be Aselia, but with the stupid parts fixed. And a Steam release looks possible given that they put LWR on Greenlight off the back of “I suppose it’s technically feasible to remove the H-scenes” according to Seiha and LWR’s way more… problematic than Seinarukana. Of course, given how fast JAST works I assume the release date will be a few days after the release of Half Life 3.

threepwood007
threepwood007
9 years ago

As a massive fan of Aselia the Eternal and Yumina, I really hope Seinarukana is a success. I agree, though, that there needs to be a fervent review base going into the game’s release to generate the hubbub and buzz. JASTUSA has been actually getting fairly good at that with their new PR strategy (their Twitter account went from a ghost town to a flourishing haven of updates) and one of their recent major releases, Littlewitch, not only had tons of reviews going into its release but was almost immediately greenlit for Steam in an all-ages version.

Here’s hoping their licensing agreement with Xuse/whoever owns the IP at this point allows for it. It would massively boost sales as Seinarukana outshines most of the RPGs on Steam.

Zakamutt
Admin
Reply to  threepwood007
9 years ago

>flourishing haven

what no lol

Coconutmonkey
Coconutmonkey
9 years ago

I do play VN’s (after taking into account what rating it has on VNDB, recommendations, genre, etc) and I consider myself very casual since I read maybe like 1-2 every 3 months. I never really heard of Seinarukana since I don’t follow the companies very closely so I’d say lack of attention really is a problem. But this in itself seems like advertising so now i’ll go check it out 😀

Coconutmonkey
Coconutmonkey
9 years ago

Also one question, will Seinarukana be 18+ or no? Or maybe dual release

Chester
Chester
9 years ago

Heya thx to this article i looked brave soul up and started to play it but its freaking annoying when the game expects u to have Ruby around the Magic flute quest (but she doesnt join my party) walktrough doesnt help either so where the peep do i get her?

Kyle
Kyle
9 years ago

Great post!
I’m personally willing to buy any version, as long as the story and gameplay aree good.
though I wonder, why don’t they release an all-age version on steam, and offer a 18+ uncensor patch on their website or something ? that way they can focus only on one version and offer a (costless?) alternative for their customers …

Maou
Maou
9 years ago

Maybe I’m just weird, but I really liked Yumina and even bought an physical copy.
So I really hope Jast does things right, H-JRPGS in English are so rare…
They really should start selling all ages editions on Steam, Mangagamer is already making money on Steam.

I don’t buy all-age VN’S, but have nothing against it, just don’t go “Hirameki international” route!

Sevalle
Sevalle
9 years ago

This game is on my ”to do” list since forever. Can’t wait for it.

trackback
9 years ago

[…] The opening of Steam to visual novels is changing the face of professional eroge localization. Until very recently this was a world where every eroge, no matter its merit or lack thereof, sold more or less the same.  Story-focused eroge consume several times the resources in time and manpower as short sex-heavy titles, and lackluster sales meant these titles had trouble simply recouping translation and voice licensing costs. Just recently, Mangagamer warned that the failure of Princess Evangile could spell the end of moe-focused romantic comedies in English. Meanwhile, JAST’s Peter Payne similarly declared that gameplay titles are 2-3 times more costly to localize than even story-focused eroge, and added that if Seinarukana does not sell better than their previous RPGs then it would likely be the last ero-RPG they choose to license (JAST’s failure to market Seinarukana as an RPG could doom English H-RPGs). […]

amedaius
amedaius
8 years ago

As someone who had Yumina preordered the instant it was available (and ended up waiting for a very very long time), the game itself was a bit of a disappointment. The story was meh, the gameplay was repetitive, although based on some very interesting concepts, and the characters were fairly static. The reason I ordered the game was because I got hooked on Aselia, and I’m fairly certain most would agree the games don’t compare at all from a story point of view. That being said, I do not regret my purchase at all and would gladly buy any and all true rpgs they manage to license (raidy does not qualify, imo).

Let’s all be honest here, if they managed to obtained rights to localize ANY eushully title, their sales would be through the roof. There is a huge demand for any of their games at all, because they are all extremely solid in gameplay and character development. The myriad of h-scenes don’t hurt either, to be honest. The only translated eushully game, Kamidori, would have made SO much money if it was released officially.

RIP
RIP
8 years ago

I really liked aselia the eternal though the battle system could have been better and I have seem better VN(ex. Steins;Gate) its probably my fav VN. I agree with the dual release it would increase sales and not everyone wants a ero version just like some ppl wants the ero version. I’m looking forward to seinarukana(if you know where to get it tell me ‘-‘) and a little improvements in the battle system would be great.