The Darker Side of Eroge Development

The eroge in question: Otome ga Tsumugu Koi no Canvas

Controversy erupted across the online Japanese eroge community when scenario writer Kazutaka (Twitter) wrote a scathing article on her personal blog attacking a previous employer for their sloppy management and lack of morals. Having worked previously for major Japanese game corporations, among them Square Enix and Sega, she turned freelance before establishing her own business, currently working on a project called Topology. This post is a translation of her 5 April 2012 article, which details the problems she faced writing the scenario for a certain unnamed eroge.

I have tried to remain as faithful to the tone of the original post as possible, including style, tone, and words used. Due to the nature of such an article and translation, there will be some points in here that may not be immediately obvious to English readers, so I added some translation notes at the bottom with numbers in square brackets. For questions, please contact via e-mail or @KylaranAeldin.

Translated with permission from the original author. Images in this article are NOT from the source material.

Looking Back on My Contracted Development Work [1]

I can’t say what it was, but a game I worked on last year was released. Since I’ve got a few things to say about it, I’ll put my thoughts together here. Thank you to my friends who responded to me on Twitter and those who gave me advice without getting fed up with calming me down. Having said that, allow me to record everything that happened.

It wasn’t like I had a problem with last year’s client specifically. I got the impression that no matter who I worked with, most likely nothing would be different. There’s a common saying that “being able to write what you want to write under different kinds of limitations is what makes a pro,” but there’s a limit to even that.  Take this to heart.

The Client: Willplus/ensemble

As someone who used to be a consumer, what I felt keenly was (<- I didn’t need this line, did I? I mean, even the consumers can be pretty hor— Depends on the project. [2]) First of all, project management is far too sloppy. Second, there’s a lack of morals.

In regards to the game I was involved with last year, I wrote some of the planning, the game’s world, character specifics (not only their backgrounds, but clothing and other visual details), plot, scene outlines,  written concept design (backdrop approx. 30 sheets, CG approx. 90 sheets) [3], publicity messages (most of the text used on the web), on top of the scenario itself.

After I did the work, the scenario was dubbed a “development secret” and hidden away from its original parent, then altered. I wouldn’t have cared if the work turned out better because of the changes, but the result was mistakes in the Japanese, errors, and issues of inconsistency. I don’t know if it was just due to textual bugs, but the characters were completely stripped of their cores. To me, it seemed like they had turned into completely different people.

Though each writer is different, even if I write drafts hundreds or thousands of times, I do it all for the sake of that moment where I can go: “That’s the one thing I wanted to say.” But that something (much less the scene itself) I wanted to say was degraded into some awkward watered-out version in numerous places, as if those parts had been written by an elementary school kid.

Just so you know, all of this was a violation of my rights as the author.

Nevertheless, I was treated as a mere contract worker, and the client… I’ll just say this clearly now, but due to the fact that there was another salaried creator working as “director” from a small company, the instructions would frequently change depending on my boss’s mood. In actuality, the time schedule and volume of work doubled, and I ended up having to shrug it off as “flexible work hours.”

I was honestly pretty fed up. I kept quiet because there was nothing I could do at the time of development, even if my motivation dropped. But as the project continued, I realized the director, who didn’t have any preferences of his own, took the stance that nothing mattered as long as the product sold. (You’re probably tired of hearing this, but I’m the one who did everything from scratch up to the core structuring of the game.) This led me to interfere with the work, even if they objected.

I think it was the right decision. The reason is because the director was the last product’s producer. It would’ve been better if he had reflected on the criticisms of his previous work, but instead he boasted about how there was “no need to worry about the criticism. All that matters is the sales.” I lost all my drive in an instant.

See, if I had just given up and stayed silent, I would’ve been equally guilty, so I told him I thought what he said was strange. I said, “Throwing a boring product in the faces of customers through marketing isn’t business. It’s fraud.” At first I tried to beat around the bush. However, in the end I knew that it was hopeless as long as I didn’t say it directly, so I personally inquired about the problem to the producer’s boss (probably the vice-president?).

If their next release doesn’t do well, I don’t think there’s a future for their brand. By the way, their last product was celebrated (?) as a “land mine” [4], and, to the same extent that I’ll admit they did a good job of selling 15,000 copies, I’m equally fed up with them. That means there were 15,000 victims. So long as that director’s philosophy doesn’t change, unless they grab a really good writer, they won’t be able to survive. I won’t write for them.

“No need to worry about the criticism. All that matters is the sales.” “Players these days are impulsive and won’t appreciate the work (=they’re idiots), so even if we make something good (I’ll bet you) they won’t realize it (meaning we’re going to cut corners).” “Cut out all the depressing scenes. People these days are weak-minded. (I deleted all of the compelling scenes you wrote without your permission.)”

I’ll say this again: I was an outsider, so I did my best to scrape together what I had been commissioned for and struggled to make it all coherent. But in the end, the situation became so ridiculous I quit. Not in the sense that I left the project and gave up. Actually, I did the opposite. I stopped listening to him.

As I mentioned before, the project grew, so one part of the text ended up being written with the help of the client. (Maybe they outsourced it to someone else? Unbelievable, but they wouldn’t tell me who wrote it.) The finished writing was elementary school level. (Except for Y’s route, which was done by a writer I trust and turned out wonderfully. Thank you!)

The most well done scenario? Inui Yuki (a.k.a. Girl Y).

Oh, by the way, the reason only my name is written on the ED credits is because I’ve asked that other people not be put on the credits, just so I could write this blog article. Even I can’t criticize someone for writing like an elementary schooler if their name is publicized (though I don’t know who wrote it). On the other hand, I asked that the writer of Y’s route be credited, but they didn’t accept my request.

Let me get back to the topic at hand.

I have no idea what the company was thinking trying to “fix” the scenario, but I took it upon myself to rewrite what someone else had written at my own discretion. Although there was less than 2 months until the development deadline [5], I couldn’t just let it go, and managed to make it 50% closer to what I wanted it to be after pulling off a miracle. Of course, the others were furious, but I was equally as angry and didn’t care. I figured I’d never get work from them again, and even if they did I wouldn’t accept. If I compromised just to receive work, I’d be doing a discourtesy to the voice actors and other staff, so I steeled myself.

In the end, we managed to save the game from becoming a failure. I did everything I could to make all the routes the best I could make them. Even if it was last minute, I think it can be considered “neatly,” or at least skillfully, brought together. It’s just that, as I wrote earlier, there were various limitations, and with my final scenario labeled as a “development secret,” they removed any trace of my personality once I had been relegated to the bench.

I would’ve looked the other way if the reason was because my writing didn’t fit the brand’s image, but my hunch is that the company was too proud and made an example of the parts of the work I had done in defiance of their wishes by erasing them, even if those parts were interesting. …Well, at least that was my impression. I don’t know what actually happened. It could be that the director thought those cuts would balance out the product, and if that was the case all I can say is that he has a terrifying sense for making games.

No matter how you look at it, I picked a fight because I wanted the product to be interesting. I received no pay for half a year and came close to abandoning the project, but… The ones paying to play the game are the users. I would have been grateful if just 1% of my view on this got through to the director, but I’m sure the fault lay in how I poorly I expressed myself.

After all is said and done, the people I worked with regarded the company’s performance importantly. “I have a family that I must protect (so I have to prioritize the company’s results, so even if it’s boring I’ll forcefully market it).” Are you guys in middle school? Everyone has to make a living. “More importantly, if you really cared about your family, don’t work for an eroge company!” is something I also thought. That has to do with their individual sense of values, so I can’t say any more.

This is just my opinion, but the ones that developers should be valuing the most are the users. No matter anything else, even if we sacrifice our private lives, we should make something that’s for the sake of the users. If you weren’t prepared for this then don’t go into a job where you make products. …At least, that’s what I think. Recently, I’ve unfortunately noticed that there are few people, including freelancers, who share the same stance as me.

That’s why I started my own company. I wanted to find some staunch, like-minded [6] companions. Anyway, I’m writing this as a reminder to myself.

In conclusion, it’s worth noting that Ensemble’s website (screenshot above) has been updated with a special message regarding the controversy, in which they admit that one of their projects is involved. Several issues are addressed in this notice, including an explanation that the previously controversial points had been solved between company and contract worker.

Translator’s Notes

[1] The Japanese word here is 受託開発, which refers to development work outsourced or entrusted to a party outside of the company.

[2] She uses the word “PJ” here, which I take to be an abbreviation of the word ‘project’.

[3] 字コンテ refers to a sketch or outline of the concepts underlying a scene, character, etc. except written instead of drawn.

[4] “Land mine” is a term used in the Japanese game community to refer to a product that utterly fails to meet expectations; a waste of money.

[5] The phrase “master up” refers to the completion of a game’s development, after which work shifts to producing and selling the actual product.

[6] 筋金入りの仲間 refers to companions who share the same strong convictions.

18 Responses to “The Darker Side of Eroge Development”

  1. It’s really sad that a niche as small as anime can still have managers who don’t give a damn about the final product. This is the kind of stuff you’d expect to see in more standard organizations or larger entertainment companies, but an indie eroge developer? That’s quite disturbing.

    In my eyes the reasons that narrative based eroge is so compelling is because they tell stories that don’t have to appeal to millions of people. A certain amount of risk can be taken when only 15,000 people have to appreciate it enough to have it be made. By feeding the buying audience nothing but mediocrity I think the product will eventually bore them and they might stop buying altogether.

  2. […] translation of her 5 April 2012 article is provided by Behind the Nihon Review, which details the problems she faced writing the scenario for a certain unnamed eroge. That […]

  3. Nice translation. And great article thanks.

  4. These stories just seem to periodically pop up from the industry and I always find them sad. Though what may be an encouraging sign is that many of these animators and writers are starting to find their own personal voice and that could move them towards better things in the future. These guys work too hard for how little they earn, and they don’t deserve this treatment at all.

  5. You’d imagine that if the character designs are attractive and there’s a certain number of sex scenes involved, the company wouldn’t interfere a lot with the rest of the writing, so it’s sad to find out otherwise.

  6. @Shadowmage

    I think she’s right to point out that it’s going to hurt their brand. At the same time, I think her complaints echo the Japanese business scene as a whole– so many companies are afraid of doing new things because of the cultural “addiction” to some ideal of job stability and pre-90’s consumption patterns.

    @moichispa

    Thanks!

    @Reckoner

    Lots of Japanese companies are like this. They have one of the weirdest systems of labor, I swear.

    @AH

    Yeah, I think this might have been a case of unwarranted interference because the writer was female or because she was a contract worker.

  7. Good job translating all the raging!

  8. Not to sound too contrarian, but you could replace these complaints with any other creative field and find hundreds of examples like this. But at least she learned the proper lesson: have your own company and write better contracts.

    Side point: yes, they workers will market a game if they’re in marketing. There’s no point in complaining about their values, they work in marketing, they pretty much have none already.

    If the company doesn’t handle it products, it’ll go out of business. People will lose jobs and a lot of people will be angry. That’s, unfortunately, is life. But you get the feeling the Japanese business community isn’t the biggest on “honesty”, quite a lot of the time.

    Nice job translating this. This shouldn’t be a controversy, but it’s probably more interesting than it is rather than the nature of the controversy.

  9. On a more positive note, it’s great that our society now has the flexibility to allow people to make their own companies instead of suffering under incompetent managers. Really, managers should manage the people, not the product…

  10. @Mushyrulez
    Yeah, I think that’s a good point. Perhaps it says something about the Japanese corporate structure as well, which is notorious for being overly rigid, and not giving its employees enough breathing space for creativity.

    No matter how you chop this up, this is a sad story. You can try to rationalize it as a difference in expectations between an author and her producers, but it’s easy to see why she feels betrayed herself, and feels for the fans (consumers). When she says “that means there were 15,000 victims” who bought the other game, that’s seriously strong language.

  11. Company cares more about profits than producing good product.

    In other news, new study indicates that water is wet.

  12. I played the game and actually found it quite nice. However, after reading, rage is building up in me from thinking about the piece of sh$% that this game almost became. Thank goodness it was rescued by that wonderful woman.

    I’m neither a veteran erogamer or a good critic, but hearing (reading) a eroge company director say those things is insulting. Sure, as an eroge I like cute character designs, but what really gets me pulled in is the character interaction, the cute events and the overall plot. If you think it’s hard for a player to spot a good game, just make the game SO good that it’s exceeding obvious. Ratings, reviews and word of mouth will eventually make that thing stand out. You would think that making a very solid game with a interesting story and nice characters would be the foundation of making your sales. Anyways Mr Company Director who I don’t know, I hope you die a gruesome death and the devil eats your corpse.

    I highly respect that woman, but I don’t actually know her name >__>. I only could only refer to her, she, etc. LOL

    Thanks for the nice translations XD

  13. @Aedes

    Rage!

    @sqa

    I don’t really know which instances I can describer a “company” as “honest” but I don’t think I’ll ever bother with that label when it comes to business. That said, you’re completely right in that this shouldn’t have been as controversial as it was, but isn’t the part where she wasn’t given pay for half a year a surprisingly scary part? I mean, think about working on a project where you’ve lost your pay yet are still dedicated to completing it.

    @Mushyrulez and Sorrow-kun

    I think her whole point was that he’s a director (who in creative works is generally the one in charge of the artistic direction of the entire product that’s being made, which means he probably had the actual right to butt in. I think her point was that his sense of ethics was lacking, which meant that he was probably disqualified as a game developer.

    @kuo

    You should probably try starting a business with that outlook.

    In other news, bad troll is bad.

    @Aero

    Yeah, I think the saddest thing about that was the fact that it felt like the director had no pride in his work. Like one of those people that wanted to work for a major game label but wasn’t good enough or something so had to resort to eroge, and now utterly degrades his customers. That or, maybe she’s taken this story and embellished it. We’ll never know.

  14. So it’s a “troll” to suggest that it’s obvious that corporations only care about money. Interesting.

  15. @kylaran in followup to kuo

    Speaking from experience as a mid size enterprise. I want to put out that there is a feasible relation between quality and quantity of sale.

    My business produces consumer to enthusiast level goods, and I decided to gauge my target demographic and drastically drop the quality of our goods being exported several months back. We replaced all of our RAM slots from 1666mhz stock to 1333mhz. (marginal difference, almost unnoticeable for most purposes)

    Closing our Q1 2011 fiscal, profits had dropped dramatically. (~15% range)

    Business is, at the end of the day, the practice of mutual exploitation. In order to guarantee stable profits, the equal standing relationship between producer/middleman/consumer (3 way exploitation) must be kept. Should one of the party try to overtake ground of the other, nothing positive will come out of it.

    I can’t say for sure that my experiment’s results will translate directly into ensemble’s future. But if ensemble wants to operate a profitable operation, they’re going to need to step their shit up. Because from what I can remember, Damakuma or whatever sucked shit.

  16. Edit: Overlook the word drastically, I got carried away.

  17. […] The Darker Side of Eroge Development » Behind The Nihon ReviewApr 28, 2012 … The eroge in question: Otome ga Tsumugu Koi no Canvas. Controversy erupted across the online Japanese eroge community when scenario … […]

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