Eroge Market Victim of Moe Boom

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A frank interview with an eroge industry insider reveals some interesting tidbits, with the demands of moe marketing evidently precluding much in the way of innovation.

An abridged version of Siliconera’s lengthy interview with an anonymous eroge distributor is reproduced below:

You said that the market is flooded but also that there are a limited number of customers actually making purchases.

Do you think this leads to a tendency on the part of developers to make the same kind of game over and over again because there’s a higher chance of selling product this way?

For instance, it seems like we’re seeing a lot of moe style games these days…

Yes, I see the developers making the same kind of game over and over, because that’s actually what the consumer wants and what sells.

One game developer we work with is well known for their school adventure title [probably the endlessly rehashed Da Capo]. Now, they have been releasing many versions and expansions for this series.

However, if you were a fan of any series, wouldn’t you want to enjoy the same characters and world setting rather than putting in the effort to move on to a completely newer series, and risking not enjoying it? (This is called “hitting a landmine” in eroge purchase lingo)

But its not like some companies aren’t trying other things out. For example, some companies are trying out different genres within the bishoujo game market, such as a RPG-styled adventure games.

Even though people put in quite an effort to develop and promote these games, the demand for known franchises is still much greater.

The word “moe” is pretty broad, but it is a necessary element in an h-game that sells. You can even say that a game didn’t sell because it wasn’t moe enough!

Enjoying a fun time with the characters during an awesome story could be one type of moe, but some people prefer titles where they put forth a certain fetish (such as younger sister, childhood friend, etc.) before anything, and that’s moe to them. Nevertheless, it’s certain that the ones with the prettiest art style have an advantage.

One factor you can’t forget in the h-game market is that the games are expensive. A normal full price of a game goes for 8,800 yen (that’s 9,240 yen with tax included). That’s over 100 U.S. dollars with today’s exchange rate.

That’s why the consumers can only purchase a limited number of games each month, even making use of the second-hand market. Not to mention, these games take time to beat.

Recently, it’s not uncommon to see developers making smaller games that come out at a faster pace, too — sometimes in increments of 3 months.

It may sound weird, but in this industry, unless the game is superbly good and receives perfect reviews afterwards, the number of pre-orders determine the value and life of a title, because that’s the only time we can actually borrow the space to promote the game at the stores and media.

So, if reducing prices and making smaller games isn’t an option in your opinion, what can you do in order to expand the audience for the genre? Japan isn’t reproducing at a very high rate.

In this situation, when the existing market is so saturated, what measures do you think can be taken to help make the niche more profitable? Are the publishers you’ve worked with thinking of long-term plans in this regard?

Actually, I personally think this industry has reached its limit in terms of the consumer fan base.

We’ve done everything in terms of marketing, and now companies are simply eating into each other’s profits, in which case its maximum size will never grow bigger. Not to mention, the same customer base is usually also a fan of console games and anime.

The developers’ goal is still to make a good and attractive game, but now they are putting in more effort than ever to keep the fans they gained entertained as long as possible, so they will be interested enough to try out their future titles.

An almost total lack of innovation, whether technical or narrative, and an evident lack of interest in new markets, domestic or international, seem more of a barrier to expansion than the tiny core of established fans the industry has so carefully served all these years.

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87 Comments

  • This is why I decided to start working on my own series of Visual Novels; for the Source Engine. You simply can’t expect translation groups to deliver English Translation. My options are to make my own novels, and release them for free; or to learn Japanese.

    Both options are difficult but atleast one gives me the opportunity to set up a small business.

  • “An almost total lack of innovation, whether technical or narrative, and an evident lack of interest in new markets, domestic or international, seem more of a barrier to expansion than the tiny core of established fans the industry has so carefully served all these years.”

    I don’t think this is terribly fair. If getting a “landmine” costs a gamer 100 dollars of wasted cash, then /producing/ a landmine, and promoting it could very well put a game-maker out of business, or close to it. It doesn’t seem like the kind of risk most companies would be willing to take.

    “A bird in hand is better than two in the bush,” so to speak. They have a known market, they know what they have to do in order to sell to it, and they’re content not to risk going out of business to go after that other “bird” – a bird that may not even actually be in the bush in the first place.

  • Danmaku-Brotha says:

    If there is any kind of virus or cancer that has crippled Japanese markets within perpetuated decline and stagnation it would have to be the long term effects of the “Japan Syndrome” that they have still been suffering from since the 90s. In ways very similar to America’s economical crisis Japan has been and is still constantly devastated by cronyism, predatory banking and predatory loaning activities (like the consumer lender Aiful corp. and their debt in abusing too many Credit-Default Swaps) which could very well place them in a situation potentially worse than the 90s. There is no silver bullet solution that is just going to magically pull Japanese industries out of financial turmoil and eroge, anime and manga markets are most certainly no exception. Almost all major profits are used to pay off debt accelerated by all sorts of structured finance vehicles, hedge funds, fractionally reserve banking and long term deficit spending that just keep increasing more and more. So it really comes as no surprise as to why staff are severely under paid and companies can only retain the vitality of a weed. Probably Japans biggest problem is how The central bank of Japan has horribly exploited the Japanese yen almost just as badly as America’s Federal Reserve has exploited the dollar where it would almost seem as though both organizations are virtually carbon copies of each other in the sense that they both manipulate the issuance of their currency on any given whim with absolutely no transparency. Having a fiat based currency, nothing intrinsic to back it and printing it into oblivion is why all the prices on commodities are skyrocketing, so people would rather back their savings into something more tangible than to go around splurging if they’re smart. This problem as well as many situations like it all around the world can only be solved incrementally in exposing these plutocrats, criminal investors and banksters that make Madoff look like a Akiba maid, cuz seriously the government ain’t gonna do shit since thats who they get provide them immunity out of fear and greed.

  • Oh sankaku I love your yellow journalism writing and crazy exaggerations.
    I hope 2010 is a good year since the world is so going to end because of the global warming in two years, anime and eroge will be dead before though because of the moe virus.

  • Danmaku-Brotha says:

    Moe is not simply based upon the way that something looks or behaves, nor dose it have to exclusively tie it self down to the same standard that something is cute. The Japanese slang term moe (literally meaning budding) refers to the characteristics of something that is growing, developing, evolving or just basically a diamond in the rough. Moe is also interpreted as a burning passionate sensation branched off from the term “moeru” (burning). When applied towards anime, manga, video games (or really just any form of entertainment) moe is a emotionally positive reaction towards observing the dynamics of a character, relationship, or situation in the the way it reflects upon the viewers key feelings to evoke upon a change within themselves through inspiration or to maintain there own self worth. It really is just a exuberant, sincere and honest feeling as well as a form of appreciation, affection, and admiration towards a character that they are emotionally moved by. There is no style or genre that best represents moe since it is a sensation and is subjective to whatever someones moe feeling happens to be. What I have noticed is how the term moe has been modified as some sort of convenient “catch all” word basically referring to anything cute, loli, ecchi, slice of life, slapstick or even sometimes porn, even the terms hentai (weird person) and otaku (maniac) are grossly misinterpreted when carried over to different cultures.

    Moe as a fad or as a trend in Japan is mainly due to whatever generates the most moe feeling within that time or era of what becomes most relative towards what people feel more in need of reflecting off of the current climate or environment that they are situated within. Its whatever is felt as moe that becomes popular over time and not actually moe the feeling it self, since what it is that encompasses the literal meaning that the more recent slang term moe is structured upon has always existed through out entertainment. One more thing I’ve noticed is that whats rarely taken into account within many English speaking fandom communities are the Japanese sensibilities vs. Non Japanese sensibilities and cultural differences in what become least or most appealing towards demographics. Just because something is popular in Japan it doesn’t have to hold to the same standards that apply towards whats popular in your own culture. Say, for example, what the Japanese fans think is moe or interesting doesn’t have to mean that the Americans fans would have to find it the same as well because even Americans can have there own “moe sense” that is entirely alien to the Japanese. Sometimes I fell its almost as if some people just want to imitate the Japanese in what they say and do (even I’m using too much Japanese slang…lol) but I suppose it can be more interesting to go along with the flow from the influence of things that are foreign. In the end moe is only a feeling that is based upon personal preference and whatever it is that works for someone won’t necessarily work with someone else.

  • Not the first time that the industry was in crisis. Back in 2003-4 there was a boom in eroge publishers because the “moe” culture started to take off and demand surged, much like the video game crisis in 1987. And then the market simply couldn’t sustain all of them, over-speculation bubble burst and many of them fold. Unfortunately eroge is such industry that if you can’t adapt to the taste of the crowd, you will be phased out. There are a few companies that I considered still making innovations within the industry. But most of them have already resorted to cookie-cutting and starting to saturate the genres. As gloomy as the outlook of the situation is, there will always be some demand for such product. And as long as the anime sector still stands, there will be some synergy with the eroge business. But this should serve as a wake-up call to the keymakers to the industry of how dire the current situation is.

    – Ex-eroge critic

    • The profit margin for eroge isn’t very high for several reasons: 1. They only publish in small volumes(overstock is very bad because the games only have a shelf life of about 2 months). 2. PR cost is high if you want some decent publicity for the product. 3. There are several other games from other companies(each month) that falls in the same genre. Unless the demand for the genre suddenly increases, they are basically carving out from the same pie.

      And price reduction won’t work because it will basically deteriorating into a “price war”. Small and upstart companies will be driven out of business because of the lack of liquidity and cash flow to sustain loss. And the consumers won’t be too happy when the price starts to go back up again.

      – Ex-eroge critic

  • I don’t get it. Are they saying that moe is hurting the industry, when they themselves said that it is a very broad term, so it has no absolute meaning to everyone. I don’t see how it can be a sure problem if it don’t even have a a real meaning just something that changes with each person you ask.

  • I don’t really see that he was blaming the moe boom for the industry being in trouble. The industry was always going to hit a wall because the market is too small to support more and more companies producing material. If gamers almost demand moe from a handfull of safe titles, then the obvious solution is tried-and-true vertical integration. Many companies should become a handfull of larger companies through mergers and they should do their own sales, distribution, and promotion. If the chain is all under their control, finding ways to profit shouldn’t be a problem.
    I agree that the market probably can’t handle the number of titles coming out every month. With the relatively small target audience, it’s obvious that a large percentage of these titles will fail, resulting in little or no returns on investment. Less titles with more top-shelf large productions from larger companies would work just fine.

    That’s my take anyway.

  • its like this.

    adopt NiseMIDIdoronokai’s (or whoever the fuck gets more faps per pic) art into 3d, like those dragonball things on the 360, give it gameplay like dragonage(except include very graphic sex scenes with penetration, hell, internal even) and customization like smackdown vs raw and soul calibur 4 combined and i will fucking get a plane ticket to japan myself to buy it. I FUCKING SWEAR!

    • ^ Now that’s something I would do as well, as long as I don’t have to worry about being thrown in jail for my purchase being deemed as “obscene”.

      Really, I keep learning Japanese only to better understand the VN titles that i like, be it ero, moe, non-h, whatever. I think that great games are a combination of lots of factors, and would not throw out a potentially great game only for its style. Its an oversimplification to state that in the first place. Besides, a larger portion of society has serious misgivings towards all “H” material without even knowing great titles that really are a category of its own. (Fate S/N?) A larger fan-base would need internationalization or a change in public appraisal of eroge itself… Just my thoughts.

  • I think plot and character development is something they should focus more on to build strong title or perhaps even series. If you look at the bigger picture this allow it to expand it to other form of product and media which will bring more customers in the end.

  • What’s wrong with offering the same kind of game? The distributor already said that is what the customers want, so why make something different?

    Take, for instance, Sankaku Complex. Put up sexy pictures and the page hits come. Put up inflammatory articles that make people flame each other and the page hits come. Why do something different? You want pictures of kittens and penguins instead?

    • Needs prohibitively large PR investment.
      There are many companies translating eroge, but they do not seem to swim in cash. Also, several western companies have been trying to make western-style porn games – and no one of them makes much money as well…
      So it seems, that at moment the English eroge market is much smaller than Japanese one. The only way to increase this is through huge investments – and the industry is not in the position to throw money around.
      Also, as soon as eroge would start becoming more mainstream in Western world you can expect Equality now & co to start real crusade.

      • Illusion never tried, dumbass. It was just some guy that sold a Japanese copy of Rapelay on the English version of Amazon.com. Illusion was never interested in the English market, and they’ve been hostile to companies like JAST who were interested in localizing their games in English long before the fiasco even happened.

        Get your facts straight, moron.

        • About this translation thing…

          as a literate of a Japanese kanji, I still think that some games are best in their original language.

          I mean, sometimes the Japanese in story-oriented galges are so poetic and beautiful that I doubt that any translation can fully simulates the feeling I get from it.

          Games like Little Busters, Fate, and many more. In fact only ero-oriented games use plain Japanese nowadays.

    • Yup, that’s the ticket. Translating into foreign languages is the most effective way to multiply your potential audience by a huge factor.
      And another idea: provide a non-hentai option (some already do this). There are a lot of people out there who like the general principle of the thing but who are simply not looking for porn.

    • lmao so true.
      why can’t they realize that by simply translating some of the eroges to other languages they’ll be able to sell them to the untapped markets in other countries? especially U.S dammit…

  • Heheheheheheh

    It's no different than any other VERY finite market that's selling over and over to the very finite market.

    Hey, just because you released a game last year, doesn't mean you can expect to sell a game this year and the next and the next.
    The gamers are merely a year old this year. We haven't necessarily expanded in numbers magically. It's not like there is magi cal growth in the market, even if there is magically more in the industry.

    I see the same thing in the wargame industry (which is also brutally small in customer base numbers). If this year the number of game makers were to increase for wargaming, it will just mean they will all be selling fewer wargames to the same number of wargamers.

    Some demographics don't increase, sometimes they just age.

    If they are stupid enough to just continue on or are just too chicken to take a risk at being the next great thing, then let them suffer the lame sales.

  • You must have not studied economics.

    “We’ve done everything in terms of marketing, and now companies are simply eating into each other’s profits…”

    means that since there already is a saturated market,if eroge makers like Circus are competing on price, then you’re just lowering margins for the whole industry and the producer is losing out/consumer is gaining.

    In this case, it doesn’t follow the Law of Demand.

    • Going international costs money, and then international consumers complain about everything anyway. Look at Higurashi. People complained about the price, the distribution, even the title. EVEN THE TITLE.

      I can understand complaining about the price for a digital-download only (I’d pay that for an actual physical copy but I’m hesitant to pay it for a digital copy; I’ll fork over the money anyway though, because I want to make up for pirating Umineko).

  • I feel they’d get a bigger consumer base if they were cheaper. However, if they were cheaper, it might only even out. You have more people buying the game, but the amount of people you gain may only the same amount you made on the smaller number of people.

    At the same time, I’d have to wonder how necessary eroge games are when theres more then enough free pornographic material, both 2D and 3D, readily available online.

    I also wonder how many people pirate the eroge due to the high price point.

    • >>At the same time, I’d have to wonder how necessary eroge games are when theres more then enough free pornographic material, both 2D and 3D, readily available online.

      You’re forgetting that a large number of eroge aren’t just plain porn. People don’t play them JUST to fap, they play them for the story and in some cases, the gameplay.

      I have no interest in the actual pornographic content of eroge but I started playing/reading them because of the engaging stories (Saya no Uta, mind blown, fuck yeah).

    • Sir Romance says:

      “For instance, it seems like we’re seeing a lot of moe style games these days…”

      I see no problem in moe personally, but it shouldn’t make up 100% of all eroge. The companies should focus more on story and new ideas while still keeping moe and appealing characters in check. Generic stories we’ve seen a hundred times before should be minimalized.

      Also, ever notice how eroge that don’t follow a strictly moe approach seem to attract more attention? It’s obvious that much of the fanbase wants something different.

      There is no problem in cute cliche imouto characters if they have a good plot (and art of course) to go along. We can get something for everyone if we demand variety.

        • Doesn’t matter, you are wrong, moe is more popular than non moe.

          Call it fad if you want, I love moe, I liked moe before the word was popular and will like it for the foreseeable future. I for one I’m frenetic that moe is all the rage.

          In fact thanks to the recent rush of yuri anime and the news of the hanabira anime a.k.a. second cumming of christ, I’m euphoric!

    • I can only speak from personal preference, but imho, a h scene in an eroge, provided it’s a good one, is way better than any other form of pornography. Probably because they actually hire talented seiyuu, so the human component is of professional quality. (as opposed to the lame voice-acting in 2d movies, or the even worse normal acting in 3d ones)

        • Not only are there legal issues involved, there’d be more cases like Equality Now if more were in English and they could read more of them. The west has different cultures and customs than the east, and the creators do not know how to make games. It is hard to relearn your upbringing in your native environment of 30+ years and relearn a new one in less than one development cycle.

        • Yes, downloadable would be a good work around most of these problems. If they offer an English (or any other language) txt option or whatever in their games you can’t say they’re necessarily breaking any laws. Not sure how it all works once payment enters the process, but it seems to me it’d be do able for a very small amount of extra investment.

        • Let them be downloadable; No shipping costs, no distribution costs, no discs.

          Translation? The people who play these games usually LIKE the Japanese voice acting, so there’s a cost right there, and you only need to play one or two people to translate. There isn’t very much overhead.

        • Eroge are a small niche market in Japan, and interest in such things is even smaller internationally (the people here really don’t give an accurate sample of the population). Going international would require extra translation and distribution expenses, and considering the content of most eroge, would likely cause a large deal of controversy and legal issues in most countries outside of Japan.

        • AsakuraZero says:

          Schrobby. actually hitted the nail, i will just add that japanese market in general (incluiding the normal game industrie even anime) still suffer from the old Japan island effect (forgot the right way to express it), they dont want to do any international market at all, they rarely care. they should stop hatting us at least for money

        • The eroge industry uses cheap outdated game engines. Either they invest to deliver a better experience or they cut the prices. Innovation or bust, there is no other way out.

          Most companies only sell to the japanese market. They say they’ve done everything in terms of marketing? They are either lying or delusional.

          Compared to the world market the japanese one is tiny. If they have problems with bans or other some shit they should do something against this instead of hiding behind lame excuses.

          The games only sell for a very short time? Make either better, cheaper or smaller ones or sell international. Or all of the above.

          If they want to earn money they have to work for it. Surprise.

        • True enough, ppl should stop blaming Moe just because they’re phobic to cute girls and simplicity, and only into bakunyu grannies. If they still think Moe kills the seriousness and storyline, they should at least pay attention to underrated titles like Komorebi.