Monday, August 29, 2016

LewdGamer's Interview with Nutaku: Highlights and Analysis

LewdGamer's interview with Nutaku was at times oblique and opaque. I cut through the smoke and mirrors with highlights and critical analysis.

[Feature image from Usabilla]

LewdGamer's interview with Nutaku is now published.  LewdGamer's site administrator was invited, all expenses paid, to Nutaku's offices in Montreal, Canada to discuss the difficult questions that fans and spectators (including me) had been raising about their business model.  LewdGamer's article includes a video question-and-answer session (inexplicably overlaid on Sakura Dungeon gameplay footage), as well as an editorial that discusses the issues separately.  I found the editorial oblique and opaque (at times intentionally), and I found the interview's audio format to be a poor vehicle for conveying information.  I present my highlights and analysis to hopefully bring clarity to this discussion.

For context, I recently presented my case against Nutaku, where I accused Nutaku of:
  1. Censorship
  2. Willful coverup: Intent to hide the fact that they censored from their audience
  3. DMCA abuse: Attempts to erase image galleries created by users to demonstrate this censorship
A month has passed, and Nutaku has failed to address the third allegation.  The article also discussed the complex factors that motivated Nutaku's decision to censor, some of which are also mentioned in LewdGamer's editorial and interview.

Nutaku caught abusing DMCA takedowns to censor evidence of censorship

My information comes from personal research (usually sourced with hyperlinks), discussions with LewdGamer, and discussions with industry contacts (including Nutaku and MindGeek, Nutaku's parent company).

Without further ado:


Nutaku's marketing and ability to attract an audience is superior to their competitors.

Much of this could be attributed to superior search engine optimization (SEO; optimizing their site's keywords to draw in new visitors who searched on similar keywords).

Confusion persists over which browser games are managed by Nutaku vs. the original developers (DMM).

Nutaku's standard operating procedure when one of their games breaks is to point out that it's not their fault; they're a distributor and the original developer is responsible for maintaining the game.  LewdGamer specifically brought this topic up in the interview, and the Nutaku representative explained that some of their browser games are managed by Nutaku, while others are managed by the original Japanese developers (DMM).  Nutaku was unable to list the games that it managed directly.

Inexplicably, LewdGamer failed to point out that Nutaku has a responsibility to its users to designate--prominently, on game homepages--which games are managed by Nutaku and which are managed by a 3rd party.  Furthermore, Nutaku should include contact info for those in charge of each 3rd-party managed game so users can communicate directly with the developers, as necessary.  That problems are happening, and are not being solved quickly, suggests that Nutaku is failing in its role as messenger.

The translation quality for Nutaku-managed browser games starting with Flower Knight Girl has been improved.

Nutaku has been criticized for the poor translations of many of its titles.  I can vouch that the translation for Girls Kingdom, the only game of their's I play, is barely coherent at times (i.e., machine translation level).  Nutaku responded that they've "resolved" this issue and future browser games that are managed by Nutaku will feature competent translations.  Browser games that are not Nutaku-managed may continue to suffer from poor translations.

Nutaku promised to notify users about content alterations made to future browser games.

This is Nutaku's big concession.  They've listened to the complaints from users, and they've finally decided to announce specific content alterations made to comply with regulatory guidelines.  As always, I'll be documenting and disseminating these changes.

Eroge with a censored official English release, a comprehensive list

Analysis and fact-checking

Payment processors, banks, and credit cards issue content guidelines that Nutaku must follow to avoid fines.

This is fact.  See my report for the supporting evidence.

The aforementioned guidelines are purposefully vague and nebulous.

Yes, I would agree.  The entire financial chain isn't interested in policing content.  Turning away clients is bad for business, after all.  Their main interest is complying with widely-varying regional and local laws so they don't get sued.  They purposefully make the terms broad and somewhat conservative so they have the ability to respond flexibly as the circumstances warrant, as many of the laws are based on "community standards", which are ill-defined and ever-changing.

Most companies take advantage of the vague guidelines to make gestures of compliance without sacrificing their creative license.  These companies will feature games with "problematic" content, but will avoid explicit mention of this content in text or images on shop pages.  This is the industry-standard method of dealing with this problem, and Nutaku is only beginning to come to terms with this.

Having physical offices in Canada has little impact on Nutaku's decision-making about censorship.

This is a claim that is unverifiable.  You could take their word on it, but some of these payment processor guidelines sound suspiciously similar to Canadian legal requirements.

Nutaku must tread more carefully because it is "higher profile" than other eroge publishers

This is an implicit claim that was briefly touched on in the wording of a question by LewdGamer, and has been brought up in my private discussions with them as well.  Oddly enough, a parallel argument was ALSO made to me that bigger companies can get away with more because the financial system will make "accommodations" for bigger players.  Which is it?

Denpasoft (Sekai Project) is rumored to have encountered payment processor issues with NEKOPARA, who deemed the focus on catgirls to be "bestiality".  Their solution?  Find a different payment processor.

At best, this is an unsubstantiated claim.

Nutaku's connection with MindGeek

From LG's article:
[Nutaku is] still part of a larger corporation (which is no secret), thus the company is not a privately owned organization like JAST.
LewdGamer was purposefully opaque here, which is very odd for a journalistic outlet.  Nutaku is a subsidiary of MindGeek, a massive international porn conglomerate, as I explained in my report.

MindGeek's compliance department makes the censorship decisions.

From LG's article:
Nutaku has a compliance department that deals with other adult related companies, which they have to comply with in order for games to be processed through their system. Really, this exists to minimize potential risk factors and fines. The compliance department plays an important role in the games (free or otherwise) that go through the system. Communication between [Nutaku] and this department ha[s] been improving over the past few months. This means we might be in for a few surprises down the line as Nutaku pushes their stance...
Again, LewdGamer was opaque here to cover the connection with MindGeek.  If the compliance department were a subsidiary of Nutaku, why would Nutaku have to argue their case to them?  The takeaway here is that MindGeek is calling the shots, and Nutaku has to follow procedure or face the consequences (whatever those may be).

So perhaps it's not the payment processors that are the issue here.  Instead, it could be MindGeek's compliance department which is demanding some of the more ridiculous censorship like censoring nun outfits in Osawari Island.

I'll be keeping my ears peeled for further developments, as LewdGamer has promised to further elaborate on some of the larger issues affecting the market.  In the meantime, follow me on Twitter to stay up to date, and share this article in your online communities if you find my unique brand of coverage useful and informative.

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