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Bringing Your Visual Novel to Market: The Tips for Western Success
by Lex Allen on 12/27/12 03:05:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 
Can You Really Make Money Selling Visual Novels?

You can make some money, but you're not going to make a million dollars. Actually, you'll be lucky to make a $1,000.00 on your first novel. If you make $3,000.00, it would be rather excellent. There are a few developers right now that are making a modest living, but you can't expect to quit your day job after one game. I should also note that these developers have not stayed true to the genre, often offering RPG, puzzle, and other genres to make the games more interactive.

If you can make more than $10,000 on your game, it would be rather excellent. More likely, you will only make a few hundred or a few thousand dollars if anything on your first game(s). Analogue: A Hate Story and To the Moon are exceptions, as they managed to get extreme press coverage and somehow managed to get on Steam. Cherry Tree High Comedy Club also managed to make it onto Steam. With the introduction of Greenlight to Steam's approval system, the acceptance of visual novels onto the platform has become even more unpredictable, mysterious, and is for the most part a virtual lottery. Most visual novels are failing to get “Greenlit” and have been completely blown off the charts (and not in a good way).

Who are the top visual novel developers in the west?

Currently Winterwolves is the leading visual novel developer (by number of visual novels produced) with Hanako Games following behind. Hanako may or may not sell more games per title, but Winterwolves is releasing 3-4 titles every year. Sakevisual and Sakura River have also been considerably active in the past year. 
Always Remember Me is the top selling affiliate game on our site of all time. I'm not sure why exactly, but it does follow my popular features list that often go into creating a successful title (the game has a female heroine, stat-raising, currency, and dating).
Analogue and To the Moon are likely the most successful western developed visual novels to date in terms of units sold, but To the Moon is more of a fringe genre, and received considerable coverage because the Plants vs Zombies music lady contributed music for To the Moon.

Choosing a Genre:
There are exceptions, but your game should be a dating-sim! This is the traditional model for visual novels. If you don't make a dating-sim, you should have some minor dating elements at least. Often, the first thing people search for in their novels is whether the genre is otome (girl pursues boy) or bishoujo (boy pursues girl). Most
importantly: Adding RPG elements
will likely be one of the leading variables that will push your game out of the red and into the green.

Visual Novel Game Tips:

1) Build your game with a cross-platform engine for Windows/ Mac/ and Linux. I think Renpy is hard to use, so I really recommend Multimedia Fusion 2 Standard. Most of your sales will be on Windows, so if you have to use an engine that is not cross-platform, make sure you use one that ports to PC. Some developers are making some sales through mobile, but you should be focusing on the Windows platform.

2) It may seem obvious, but your game should not require any keyboard controls. Period!

3) Games with female heroines, dating, stat-raising and RPG elements tend to sell more novels than those that don't.

4) Make your game as interactive as possible. Visual novels are hard sells and kinetic novels are suicide! Your visual novel should include OPTIONAL puzzles, RPG battles, stat-raising, currency, paper doll (dress up), cooking, pets, and other elements. Do not alienate traditional players by making them do mini-games that they may not be good at.

5) Although it may seem obvious, a visual novel is no place for a 3D shooter. Ayu at Sakevisual posted an interesting poll about this here. Out of the 193 people that took Ayu's pole, only 11% said they didn't want any mini-games. However, you need to remember to keep your game simple, or you will quickly and surely alienate your market. For example, let your players win the dateable characters that they want. There's nothing worse than playing a multiple times only to find that you didn't get the partner you wanted because you didn't wear a pink dress or the polka dot tie.

6) Visual novel players expect to be able to customize the game through a menu system. Players should be able to change the volume of background music and sound effects. They also expect to be able to save anywhere.
7) Don't waste your time on voiceovers. Voiceovers will not help you sell more visual novels and most people won't appreciate them. They will also take up excessive space and will make your downloads corrupt more easily when downloading. This will hurt your number of successfully completed downloads. If you want to make your game special by adding voiceovers, then it will likely result in decreased profits.

8) You should concentrate on around a dozen long paths, not dozens of short paths. In Curse of Slate Rock Manor, we had about three dozen short paths, but this ended up being a problem because they were a little too short and required the player to see a few of the same starting branches over and over again.

9) You need to be able to skip text! Scrolling backwards through text is important, but skipping forward is more important, so if you can't scroll backwards for whatever reason, make sure you can at least skip text, even if the feature is limited.

10) Your graphics need to be high quality. With all of the cheap professional content out there, visual novel players will not excuse poor quality artwork. That being said, if you can't afford an artist, you may need to design your content around what art assets are available.

11) Make sure that you are a decent writer. This means that other people need to think you are good... If not, you'll need to find a writer.

12)   Designing your game with software such as Freemind will help to avoid holes in your design and your plot. You don't want your universe to break over inconsistent information in your game.
Innovative Payment solutions

13) You will make the most money on niche products by charging $19.99 - $24.95 on your games. You will not be able to ride the viral mass market appeal train because there isn't widespread demand for visual novels, and you by yourself will not be able to set any new trends.

14) You can also offer TrialPay as an alternative payment solution. TrialPay allows users to get your game free by purchasing something that they would have bought anyway. You sign up for Trial Pay and choose what you want to be paid, and the user is given various choices of things to buy or sign up for (like a credit card). The user buys something from a company like flowers.com and flowers.com pays you what you want for referring the customer.
This works well because some gamers view games as having no value and should be free. If they get your game for free by buying something that they believe has value (or they would have bought anyway), you can easily get past this consumer spending bump.

Monetize your demo

15) You should always include a link from within your game to the purchase page of your game as well as your other games. You could also consider forcing open the sales page on the demo when the user exits the game.

Sell Others' Games

16) You may be able to make more money by selling other peoples games. Most visual novel developers are currently using BMT Micro. I've been using them for a few years and they are excellent.

Crowdfund

17) Do not expect social networking and crowdfunding to be a silver bullet to funding your game. If you don't have a following already, it is unlikely that you will be able to successfully crowdfund since nobody will find your game with out proper media coverage. If you decide to crowdfund, make sure that you have a playable demo. I cover this in detail on my blog.

Preorders

18) Preorders can be done successfully by offering significant discounts or extras to those who preorder. A discount is much better than an extra, but you may lose money by preordering at a discounted rate, especially because people that preoder your game at a discount probably would have bought your game anyway at retail price.

Where to Find Visual Novel Assets:

19)  In order to make your visual novel, you are going to need backgrounds and characters at a minimum for the visual assets. You will also need sound effects and background music. High quality assets can be downloaded cheaply from Dlsite.com (English). They may be hard to find, so I have included links to the higher quality artists here. Character Sprites, Backgrounds

BE WARNED! Hard core visual novel players will recognize some of these assets as being used in other games, but for most people, they will be new to them. You can use the assets initially to develop your game and swap them for commissioned ones later if your product is strong enough to warrant it.

20) You can also consider sites like fiverr.com. Many people are willing to do commissions for just $5 (chibi sprites for example). Be nice and tip them extra if you can. This may be against fiverr.com's terms, so make sure that you check that first.

21)  If you need money, you could also look at peer lending sites like Prosper.com if you are unable to get a business loan. I have done this myself and it is much easier then going to a bank and filling out countless forms and providing endless documents. Borrow With Prosper!

22) The dominant art style for visual novels is anime/manga. Do not deviate! Cinders was able to stand out by offering a different art style, but I would advise against this unless you are able to create something unique AND amazing.

23)  If you don't think that your game is good enough or long enough to sell, release it for free. This will help you to build a customer base.
Affiliate Networks and Visual Novel Distributors

Your best bet is to work with other visual novel developers, but posting to these sites will help.

VisualNovelGames.com (of course us!)
Do you disagree with something in this post? I love comments! Also, feel free to e-mail me using my contact form:

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Comments


James Orevich
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This is absolutely brilliant and thorough information on exactly what I was looking for.

I'll be looking into your links/network immediately.
Thank you so much for your post.

Lex Allen
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Thanks! I hope this will bring you some luck with your product. A lot of people have argued with me about the information that I posted, but I wrote this based on my personal and peers' experience.

Rob Graeber
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I'm kind of surprised how in the beginning you say that (dating sim-style) visual novels don't make a lot of money. Then go on to list strict rules of how to make a successful visual novel, basically equating it with dating sims.

If people aren't making much money currently, then what you need IS experimentation.

You've recognized there's a market for dating sims, but it doesn't seem big enough. To the Moon appealed to me because I considered it a rpg game minus the grinding gameplay, if it was marketed as a visual novel I wouldn't have been interested.

Lex Allen
profile image
I could see how this could be confusing. Dozens of western produced visual novels have had a chance to experiment in the market, and based on how well they've done, I have posted the results that I've found. Of course, I could be wrong about everything. My position is that the market is too small to be commercially viable consistently, so you will need broader appeal by tapping into other genres, all while being careful not to miss the niche you are developing for initially. There are a few exceptions that I have noted like Cinders and Analgoue which didn't really deviate from the genre, but their success was highly unusual.

To the moon isn't really a visual novel, but it probably fits into that genre better than any other. I included it because the success of any story based game is significant to those who want to make visual novels. It seems far from an RPG to me, because there's no inventory, battle system, nor weapons or spells, or other elements that are generally associated with RPGs. The only thing RPG about it is that the graphics are predominately tile-based and it has 2D sprite movement in isometric view.

The labels "visual novel" and "dating-sim" mean different things to different people, and this invites a lot of confusion.

When writing, I include dating-sims under visual novels as a subgenre (though many people would argue that you can't do that). In general, dating is very popular in visual novels, which is why I included it as a desirable element. To be clear, a visual novel could have minor dating elements without necessarily being considered a dating-sim. I know that's really nonsensical, but a lot of this has to do with getting caught up in labels.

I hope that helps to clarify some things.


none
 
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