Otome Games and What (U.S.) Women Want

by Vehura
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Yesterday, Anime News Network posted an article about otome games and the fact that they have not “taken off”in the United States and thus they “fail.”

I then saw a tweet where someone translated the original article (tumblr post with translated comments here) where the person from the article seemed to be talking about “In Your Arms Tonight,” which is a Voltage game and happens to be one of my favorite Voltage games.

It also seems like this person didn’t really pay attention to the story of the game. So, now I have to make a case for In Your Arms Tonight while also pointing out things that the person in the article said that I think is an over generalization of the International community because, for some reason, the focus is specifically on women in the U.S.

In Your Arms Tonight’s English release happened back in 2012.

So, we are starting off talking about a game that was released 5 years ago when otome was still in its infancy in the West. Hakuoki had been released at the beginning of the year and it was the firing point for otome in the West.

In the original article, the game is described as thus “a heroine who was ordered to do house work and treated like a slave. She realises that her husband was cheating on her and then has her own affair with handsome men to get revenge and satisfy her loneliness.”

I don’t think this person actually really paid attention to the game at all.

She is not ordered to do housework and treated like a slave and she doesn’t cheat and have affairs to get back at her husband and to satisfy her loneliness.

The main premise of IYAT is thus, the main character, to fill the status quo and make her parents happy, marries a man who is the son of a friend of her father. She doesn’t really know this man, it is not a love match. She is getting married because she’s old (in her early 30s) and it’s something you just have to do.

After three months, she begins to notice that her husband doesn’t really respect her and he doesn’t seem to even want to try with her. She runs into an ex at a reunion party who at first is very aggressive about wanting to get back with her, but also backs off somewhat when she tells him she’s now married. Some of her co-workers are nice men who take into account her feelings and that gives her something her husband doesn’t. The young 20-something bartender, who works where the MC and her friends hang out, is also hitting on her and she doesn’t understand why. And to make it even worse, she catches her husband kissing another woman and getting into a car with her.

What is she to do? Does she stay with her husband and try to make it work? Or does she try to seek out her own happiness with another person?

The relationship chart of the first five characters in the game.

When it comes to her husband, she’s a bit passive because, even after three months of marriage, she still doesn’t know how to be around him. But outside of that, she is assertive when she needs to be and people take notice.

The fact that she has friends blew my mind when I played the game. A Main Character actually having one friend, let alone three, in an otome game is few and far between. She also goes to them for advice and they all have different ideas of what she should do.

Now you may ask, but wouldn’t she also be cheating? And the answer is, yes. There’s no way to soften the blow. If you are in a relationship with someone and you are seeing other people and you have not agreed with your SO that you are both okay with this, then it is cheating. In some of the routes, she has filed for divorce and thus, since she is still technically married, she is cheating. Some of the routes, she is still trying to make it work with her husband anyway, only for the advances of a man who actually treats her kindly and with respect makes her falter.

But either way, from what little I know, that game sold as well as any other Voltage game at the time, but didn’t really take off like some of their other older properties because, well, I don’t know. Since the MC was old, most of her love interests were older (one in his 40s) and possibly some younger players (who make up a large part of the fanbase) don’t want to date older men and can’t related to the issues the MC was going through.

However, I recommend trying the game if I have made you interested. Genji is the title character and the Mc’s ex from High School, is a bit of a brat. But once you read his story, you might be able to understand where his haughty attitude stems from. His younger brother, Soji, straight up made me cry (and it’s really rare that I cry when I play otome games). We played his route on my stream and I finished it off stream and I’m glad I did because I was sobbing so hard. Kippei is also super amazing and is the MC’s manager at work. Hell, the husband, has a route in the game and from what I hear, it’s actually good. I have yet to read his route because he angered me so much, but now with time, I think I might be okay to read it.

In fact, this whole thing is making me want to play the game again!

But let’s move on from that and back to the main article at hand.

What does the word “fail” actually mean in the context of otome game sales?

When they say the game “fails,”  are they wanting the game to do as well in Japan? Is the profit they want to make from the game to cover translation/localization costs only or do they factor in the cost of the original game as well? Is the license + translation needed to break even as much as the original release need metric?

Without really knowing what the metric is that indicates failure, I have nothing to really understand what makes a game fail.

It was suggested that a company wants to see five digit sales within the first month of release and with the numbers we can see (Steam Sales) this number usually hits only four. Otome games, which are already niche in Japan, are still very niche here too. Most companies rely on word of mouth or even the small handful of otome gaming sites (myself included) to spread the word about their game’s release.

A list of the most expensive games on Steam complied by Steam Spy. Clarification Note: Three games on this chart (Backstage Pass, Amnesia:Memories, and Roommates) are regularly given discounts to make them sometimes as low as $3, which could explain their high amount of owners compared to other games on the chart. – Thanks Natasha for the info!

Marketing is a big proponent on selling a game and if companies don’t have the money to focus on selling their game to the masses and only people within the community, then it’s hard to see numbers grow.

There is also the sigma that exists that romance is a woman’s genre and thus is silly and/or lesser. Romance media, such as movies, is seen as something only women want to see and that they usually will “drag” their SO, if that person is a man, to watch said movies with them.

And then there is what do U.S. women want in a love interest? Well, the fact here is it varies.

The international market is just that, international.

You aren’t selling the game to just U.S. players, you are selling the game to all players that can read and understand English. And we all have different tastes and different things we want in a story.

But, just like any other game genre, there are things that do well for some and not others. Just because there are some players (myself included) who would like to see more Main Characters with strong personalities doesn’t mean that there is not a market, internationally, for those who don’t.

There is room in the genre for all to be happy and have choices. To assume that we all WANT a sassy, strong willed MC because that is the stereotype that goes with Americans, is a bit short-sighted.

This all comes down to “it’s complicated,” but I don’t want it to be seen to companies that may be thinking about releasing their game outside of Japan as “Don’t try, your game will fail because of how your main character is written” which is not the case.

And then there is mobile in general which, for the most part, is a lot of new players introduction to otome. Mystic Messenger brought in a LOT of new players. Almost everyone has a smartphone in their pocket which means mobile otome games are extremely accessible and to take them completely out of the pass/fail equation is something we cannot do.

Overall, this is probably me being defensive because this is a genre I love and want to see grow. So then the question becomes what can be done to get the numbers that will designate “success?” Once again, without any facts on what this number truly is, there is no way to know what can be done to “fix” it.

I want to see the community grow out of niche. I want to see more English releases in the market. All I can really do is try to help the community grow in the small ways that are within my reach.