We had a chance at Anime Expo 2009 to sit down with Enrique Galvez, President of Rockin’ Android, a localizer of doujin games from Japan for the English speaking market. He was very happy to answer the various questions we had about the new company, including its origins and future plans.
Q: What made you interested in localizing doujin games?
A: For starters, I’ve been a huge fan of gaming in general since I was a kid, with my Sega Genesis, my Sega Saturn, PC Engine… [known as the TurboGrafx-16 in North America] Specifically, I’ve always been a fan of Japanese games.
So, about five years ago, I was in Tokyo, and I saw that there was this whole underground scene of doujin soft — mostly visual novels, and there were a lot of games that were like total copyright infringement, as you well know. But I still found it very fascinating that these kids, individuals, fans per se, were doing these games on their own. So I started looking into it more and more, and then two to three years ago, I started seeing more original titles come out. In the beginning, you had characters from different animes being put into different types of games — totally copyright infringement. A lot of these independent developers took it upon themselves to create original properties, and this is where I got more excited about the market. So, two years ago, I wrote up a business plan, and this last October, I decided to go forward with it.
My first license was through a doujin group called Orange_Juice, and the game was called Suguri. This was one of my favorite doujin games. We’re also working with doujin soft circles PlatineDispositif as well as Team Gris Gris. Now we are working with six doujin circles, but these three are from October.
Q: Are you planning on releasing any games that are not action-based?
A. I am also a pretty big fan of RPGs, so that’s one thing we’re looking into right now. As an independent publisher, the problem is the localization, and translation. Obviously, if you’ve played our games you’ve noticed that we’ve picked out games that didn’t have a lot to translate. On the other hand, a visual novel or an RPG do have a lot more to deal with. So, we are actually looking into that — both visual novels and RPGs. As a matter of fact, we will most likely stay away from properties that are too adult, because I used to be friends with some of the guys at Hirameki, and they dealt with some of the adult titles as well as regular titles. For some reason, they didn’t do too well; I might say that the market wasn’t ready for it yet. And I think the market is slowly acclimating to it. So, we are considering definitely moving into RPGs, visual novels and even puzzles.
Q: For translation costs, is it translation costs in terms of time or in terms of money that you’re more worried about?
A: I’ll give an example. We have a wonderful title called Chelsea and the Seven Devils coming out next year, and this game is a Castlevania action-adventure type of game, but it also contains quite a bit of dialogue and text. So that game alone would take us about four to five months to localize. So, it is a time and money issue; as you very well know, the longer it takes, the more it costs. We’re sitting on the game [while translating] and we want to get it out as soon as possible. So we are definitely going to be licensing RPGs. That will happen. Visual novels are second on my list for non-action-oriented games.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your distribution methods — both online and packaged versions? What made you decide to go with Direct2Drive and GamersGate?
A: For starters, originally, when we took a look at the games, and knowing how finicky American fans are, we decided to start doing DVD-ROM releases as bundles because we felt that for the American audience, this was more bang for their buck and it’s easier for them to get into these types of games with a low MSRP. I wrote into the business plan two years ago that I wanted both digital distribution and physical releases, because I did not feel that it was fair to put these games out in digital format only when you could do both. I think it exposes the brand and the characters more.
Regarding Direct2Drive, I approached them at Game Developers Conference. This was actually the same day that Curious Factory approached them. We sent out a press release literally two weeks before the show that we were going to [publish doujin software] and it spread like wildfire in Japan. So this company that could’ve done it before didn’t do it until they saw an American publisher do it. Now, Direct2Drive took us really seriously because we had a really strong marketing plan, because I personally come from marketing. Right now, Direct2Drive is very happy with our numbers and very happy with our handling of our releases. So to summarize, we approached them, they loved the games and it happened very easily.
And then, GamersGate, from Sweden, approached us and they were very excited about the games, and they’ve been really pushing our games very hard, and so we’re very excited about working with them as well.
Q: So is GamersGate more for a European audience and Direct2Drive for a US audience?
A: Technically, Direct2Drive is more US and GamersGate is more worldwide.
Q: Have you considered perhaps some of the more well-known online distribution channels like Steam?
A: We also actually attempted to approach Steam, but to be quite honest, it would almost seem that we might be little too small to get their attention, yet. I almost believe that we’re getting so much attention in the industry right now that Steam will come to us at some point.
What’s really interesting to me right now and what I would really like to push is distribution through XBox Live and the Nintendo Wii. We spoke to both companies and they’re both very interested in what we’re doing. So, it might take about a year or so, but we’re going to get our developer’s kits and we’re going forward with that. It might take a while, but that’s something we’re excited about.
Q: Do you also have a team to actually make these games play on English systems, because there’s a lot of games in Japan that don’t play properly on US systems?
A: Yes we do. Specifically, the team we have will be working on the Nintendo Wii and XBox Live. As far as localization for the US market, the games are simple enough. One thing I made sure of was that they would translate well for the US gamer before licensing them.
I actually played close to about three hundred doujin games out of the four hundred or so that are out there for the last three years or so. For the last two years, I took it more as work and would make notes about each game — whether I like it, first of all, and how they would play for an American audience. I felt that was very important. I also felt it was important to involve the anime community as much as possible when releasing this; if you want word to spread, you bring it to the anime community, because you have a cross pollination of gamers, manga lovers and anime lovers. All of our games have very cute anime character designs, so it’s perfect to first promote it to the anime community, and then promote it to the comics community and the overall mainstream gamer community.
Q: Do you approach these doujin groups directly or… ?
A: Absolutely. I got a friend translator and just started cold calling these [groups] and said “I want to meet with you.” To be honest with you, these guys are very cool; they’re otaku and I’m otaku. From the first meeting, it was like “what kind of developers do you like?” We just got along so well. They knew that I knew what I was talking about, and I also had experience in the anime community for the last fourteen years through several different companies. It was very easy, because of my attitude and my experience. I came prepared, not only with sample box art but with marketing plans as well.
The good thing is that after the initial meetings, these doujin circles introduced me to other doujin circles and the word spread. Now, we have circles contacting us. In the last week, we had two circles contact us about carrying their games and localization their games for the US market.
Q: Have you considered some of the bigger doujin circles like Shanghai Alice, Tasogare Frontier, French Bread, etc.?
Absolutely. I’m a huge fan of all of them. I have actually met with ZUN twice already. I researched ZUN online first and found out that he loved beer. The guy loves beer and is a beer connoisseur. When I was first meeting with him, of course I brought him imported beer, and I brought him a Corona banner. We actually get along really well, but the thing about ZUN is that ZUN is really not prepared for a US market just yet. He definitely has had many offers in the past both from France and some different countries. He’s definitely content with the Japanese market and he does not need it to grow any larger than it is, because he does have a daytime job and it would only make more work for him. At this point, he’s very satisfied. But, I will say that we’re chipping away at him slowly, and I think in the next year or so, we might be able to do something with him.
Q: Have you thought about bringing over doujin music?
What a great question. I personally love doujin music. Let me put it this way. My first Comiket, in 2007, when I walked into the doujin soft/doujin music room, I imploded my mind. I must have bought 30 different CDs and I became a fan immediately, but I don’t know how the market is going to do in the US for this type of music. One of the things I talked to Orange_Juice about was “could we please license your soundtracks?” It is something I would like to do but it’s probably not something that will happen overnight. It’ll probably take a few years to grow the market to a point where we can include doujin soft music as well.
We are looking into starting a separate division that will carry imported doujin soft and doujin music that we have not licensed, just to see how the consumer reacts. Hopefully it will be positive enough that we will slowly be bringing in some of these techno and rock remixes these guys do.
Q: What about original songs from doujin music groups?
That’s a good question. I hadn’t really thought about that, but now that I think about, there’s some really good stuff out there, that some of this music is good enough to stand on their own. And if produced properly and released through the proper channels, beyond the anime community, they can get more exposure. The question is, no one’s really tried it before and I think it would be something really interesting for Rockin’ Android to look into more and possibly attempt in the next year or two.
Q: For a high risk market, do you think it would be possible to do some sort of iTunes release?
It’s really difficult. We looked into iTunes for the Suguri soundtrack and it is really difficult, but right now our particular website has really picked up a huge amount of hits since we opened up in March. So, we’re actually going to revamp our site and we’re going to start offering our games directly as downloadable games. We might actually use that platform as a way to maybe acquire some of the music we’ve been discussing here, in order to test out the market to see how it goes, kind of like the JapanFiles model.
We would like to thank Enrique Galvez for taking the time to answer our questions.