Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"For sale in Japan only": A Japanese developer's perspective on the eroge embargo

Ninetail developer Keimaru comments on the puzzling issue of technical support for foreign fans--despite industry rulings that forbid sales to them.

A thorny display issue in Venus Blood -Hypno- prompts a chance encounter

I wrote previously about a display bug in Dual Tail's strategy eroge Venus Blood -Hypno- that prevented interface text from displaying correctly in non-Japanese Windows. Fan hacker binaryfail generously donated a patch that fixes the issue. I sent this patch to Ninetail (parent company of Dual Tail) via Twitter, requesting that they include the fix on their official support page. Project manager and game designer Keimaru responded to me in broken English. His response, edited by me, is as follows.

"Thank you for the patch you've provided that makes Venus Blood Hypno display correctly in non-Japanese Windows.

However, Japanese eroge are limited to sale in Japan only. As hosting this patch on our site would imply that we endorse sales of these titles overseas, your request puts us in a difficult situation.

We are very pleased that our game is loved by overseas players.

However, as we have to conform to industry standards that regulate sales of these titles overseas, we can't officially recognize this patch.

We're perfectly fine with this patch being used and distributed unofficially by fans.

Thank you for your love of our games."

Original tweets: [1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

I thanked him and went my way. A commentator on Reddit later informed me that Keimaru had posted a much longer comment in Japanese. This comment showed such sincere and thoughtful consideration of the issue, from a Japanese developer's standpoint, that I decided it needed to be relayed to the English audience.

Japanese eroge developers are well known for their reluctance to get involved with the Western market. Packaging and splash screens prominently declare "For sale in Japan only". Westerners tend to dismiss this policy as apathy for foreign fans, even regarding the practice with contempt as just another manifestation of Japanese isolationism and xenophobia. When eroge companies block foreign IPs, they automatically assume that the company has closed its doors to Western release (despite abundant evidence to the contrary). "The companies are just being xenophobic," they say with bitter contempt. "Might as well just fan translate their titles, since they'll never officially release their games in English. They don't want dirty gaijin playing their games."

It's about time that we get the other side of this story. And who better to deliver it than a prominent and well-loved Japanese developer--one puzzling over how to respond to a bug that prevents foreign fans from playing his games? I provide my translation of Keimaru's Twitter comments below. I regret that my translation skills could not fully convey the honest simplicity of the original message, but I did my best to at least get across the ideas and intent.

Keimaru of Ninetail addresses Twitter on the eroge embargo and the challenges it presents

"We've been aware for some time that Venus Blood Hypno has a bug affecting users of non-Japanese Windows. This bug causes Japanese characters to display incorrectly, making certain interface elements unreadable. We had reports very early on from users of non-Japanese Windows about this, but we weren't able to resolve the issue. Today however, a DLL file that fixes the issue has been sent to us from what appears to be a user from overseas.

On one hand, we're incredibly thankful! On the other hand, this presents a bit of a dilemma...

In the past, certain distributors bought up Japanese eroge and sold them overseas without consulting Japanese developers. This led to an international scandal, causing considerable turmoil within Japan as well. Since then, we've been obligated to display warnings like "For sale in Japan only" during game start-up and on the packaging.

This user's request raises a worrisome issue. While there's no issue if users want to play these games in Japan on a non-Japanese OS, if this is a request from overseas to support foreign OS's, then that's an entirely different matter. At that point, isn't it no longer just our company's problem?

Should we respond to this request and support users that we were never supposed to be selling to in the first place, since selling to these users risks another incident? Is it even ok to support them? I'm not sure...

Honestly, I'm torn. What to do...? If we officially support this patch, that would have to be our decision as a company [our stance on the matter]. To be honest, we could just leave things in a gray area, where we let good-intentioned users do as they please in the shadows while we stay silent on the matter...

To be blunt, when we received very early reports of the bug from users we believed to be Chinese, our user support team felt they were really skirting the line with regards to the JP ONLY clause, thinking 'I hope these people are playing within the country.' They puzzled over how to handle the issue.

If a user buys a game in Japan, returns to his home country, and plays it on his own PC purely for his own enjoyment--is that ok? Where's the line? As just one company of many in this industry, it's extremely hard to make such a decision.

This nagging feeling... is there anyone who could resolve this issue? No, there probably isn't.

A conclusion arrived at after some debate: after things have settled down let's quietly fix this. The issue seems like it would be resolved with the previous version of the KiriKiri engine. It--it's not like we're fixing it because the overseas user told us to! We're doing this voluntarily, because we feel like it (guh). However we're pretty busy so it might be a while before we get around to it."

Closing thoughts

I don't know about you, but Ninetail just earned one new (very loud) fan. For an example of one of Ninetail's outstanding games, see my Venus Blood -Gaia- review! (NSFW versionSFW mirror)

Special thanks to those of the Fuwanovel community who provided feedback on the translation, especially Majikoi fan translator dowolf.

Original Japanese


実際、うおーすげーありがたい! と思う反面、ちょっと悩ましい問題が・・・

過去に日本のエロゲーは、一部卸業者に勝手に国外に持ち出されて、販売されて、それが取り上げられて国際問題になって、相当国内でもいろいろあって・・・ それから わざわざ日本国内販売only JPonly と書くことが義務付けられたのだけど・・・

今回のユーザーさんが、国内で非日本語OSでプレイしている、ならばまぁ、OK! てな感じですむんだけども、これが国外から非日本語OSに対応して! て話になってくると、ちょっと状況がだいぶ変わってくるんじゃないか・・・ウチ一社だけの問題じゃなくなるんじゃないか・・・と悩みが・・・

つまり、本来販売すべきでない、すると問題が起こってしまう可能性がある販売経路のところのユーザーの求めに応じて、対応するのか? していいのか? という・・・ うーん・・・

正直、判断がつけられない。うーんどうすりゃいいんだ・・・ 公式で対応してしまうと、そういう会社としての判断にならざるを得ないし・・・・ ぶっちゃけ、ユーザーさんが善意でこっそり勝手にやりました、メーカーは無言で良いとも悪いとも言わない、あたりがグレーなままでいいんだけど・・・

ぶっちゃけ、今回かなり初期の頃に、中国系のユーザーさんっぽい方からも問い合わせが来てて、うーん・・・国内でのプレイ・・・だったらいいな・・・ というJPONLYの部分に対して、ユーザーサポートもかなりスレスレ感があったりもして、ちょっと対応に苦慮もしていたり・・・



いくつかのやりとりを経て結論。ほとぼりが冷めたころにこっそり勝手になおしとこう。元の吉里吉里でも解決してるらしいし・・・べ、べつに海外ユーザーの求めに応じてなおしたんじゃないんだからねっ あくまで自主的に、そう自主的になんだからねっ(苦しい言い訳)ただ立て込んでるので先になるかも

Original tweets: [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10]


  1. I think this was a very good and honest response from Ninetail. It highlights the problems Jp developers have due to legal issues beyond their control; problems that were ultimately created by people from outside Japan to begin with. OTOH, I do feel that developers blocking their websites from foreign access is going too far. Those that do that are only fanning the xenophobe stereotype.

    1. The Japanese eroge embargo is not quite a legal issue so much as an obligation to their industry organization, much like game publishers have to follow ESRB guidelines to use their rating system. It's not enforceable by law, but defying the rules would be detrimental to their business.

      It'd be interesting to chat with one of AliceSoft's staff members and ask them why AliceSoft continues to block foreign IPs despite their deal with Mangagamer.


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