[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he Grisaia Trilogy is a series of three visual novels (The Fruit of Grisaia, The Labyrinth of Grisaia, The Eden of Grisaia) which have proved immensely popular in Japan. They’ve released on Vita, PC, and even seen a spin-off game and anime series. In all, things are looking great for Grisaia. Its recent Kickstarter campaign also seemed to have everything going for it as both a strong brand backed by the always-successful crowdfunding publisher Sekai Project. Things started off great with the campaign being fully funded in under 24 hours and the march to dominate all stretch goals seemed easy as can be. Unfortunately, early on Kickstarter chose to remove higher-dollar pledges because they promised a dakimakura (pillow cover) featuring one of the anime characters in a state of undress. In many ways this shakeup seemed to haunt the Kickstarter through the rest of its run.
Of course, as I don’t work for Sekai Project in any capacity this is just my assumption, but it does seem that brush with having the campaign in real trouble caused the team to reevaluate how they approached Kickstarter. Near the start of the campaign they suggested aspects like being able to discuss the possibility of an 18+ release of The Grisaia Trilogy, even though all reward tiers are explicitly stated as their all-ages releases. After the dakimakura incident, however, they effectively pressed onward without giving any direct mention to the alternate version of the games within the Kickstarter space. Then, on January 5th, Denapasoft tweeted they would be carrying these adult versions in their shop – and that fans could expect to hear more before Sekai Project’s campaign ended.
Good News everybody! We'll be carrying the 18+ version of the Grisaia trilogy and also will be selling the dakimakuras!
— Denpasoft (@Denpasoft_pr) January 5, 2015
As a quick aside, for those who do not know it is basically established that Sekai Project and Denpasoft are currently two branches of the same company. Neither seems fond of saying so outright, as it seems Sekai Project really wants to keep itself separate from an “eroge” (erotic game) image, but that’s what currently appears to be the case. For example, if you buy a game through Denpasoft’s website your credit card will be charged to Sekai Project! In any case, the news only made it out via Twitter (although many backers went and discussed it in the page’s comments). Fans were excited to finally have confirmation that there would be both versions available, even if the 18+ one had to be sold off site and never mentioned outright on the campaign page.
Of course, Sekai Project knew that fans were getting antsy about the status of adult/all-ages releases. But that’s not the only thing that came up. There were also the PS Vita versions touted since the campaign launched – with the caveat that they required Sony approval first. The Grisaia Trilogy Kickstarter launched during December. Even if Sekai Project contacted them at launch that would have been a horrible time to do so thanks to the whole holiday season. Whenever the question came up as to if they had been given the green light, they could only say “not yet.” Finally, on January 27th the team revealed that Sony asked them to apply again. This does not at all shut down the possibility of Vita versions but basically sealed the deal that confirmation of these portable versions would not occur during the campaign window.
Because of the expressed confusion and lack of information about the Vita version and 18+ versions Sekai Project added a $1 tier on January 21st. They only expressed it as a means for Vita-hopeful fans to pledge an inoffensive sum of money for the possibility that Vita copies will occur. You see, pledging $1 ensured that you’d be able to access Backerkit. Backerkit is a crowdfunding service which allows project creators to more effectively manage reward processing and backer data. It also allows users to pledge more funds after the Kickstarter campaign closes, which would therefore allow $1 pledgers to add $39 later (or whatever the price ends up being) to nab a Vita copy. And although Sekai Project never said as much, some people began to worry that perhaps an 18+ version wouldn’t even launch and therefore maybe they really should back during the campaign in order to secure any copy of The Grisaia Trilogy.
As a backer of the $120 tier, I couldn’t help but be distraught as each day backers chatted amongst themselves while Sekai Project was unable to offer any concrete details. In many ways it seemed that they were scared of causing any more issues. Obviously, there’s not much that they could have said to help backers out. As they’re currently working with developer Front Wing to hash out legal matters they couldn’t simply start throwing out more speculation. After all, backers already had their fill of that via the pending Vita release. Perhaps they had expected it would be a quick turnover like on Steam Greenlight. Nope, consoles aren’t the same ball game at all.
With a real dearth of information many also began to mention how they were considering or had already moved their pledge to the $1 tier. Heck, even someone I knew made the same move! I remained on my tier, but was quite curious as to how many folks really did find lack of information a big enough deal to only pledge at the lowest amount possible. With a variety of data gathered thanks to Kickspy I’ll be able to share my assessment of this information and the implications it may have on campaigns in the future.
Some people probably assume that the furor over Vita and/or 18+ games wasn’t coming from a sizeable portion of the backer populace. However, it seems the inability of Sekai Project to say much of anything did cause repercussions. Many folks out there did follow through and pledge a single dollar. Each day since that tier opened up it has been at least 50% of backing. That means while there are still people coming in and pledging far more, a large chunk were barely contributing at all. Granted, The Grisaia Trilogy long since achieved all stretch goals and was not in danger of losing them, but scraping up a majority of backing via $1 tiers is fairly atypical in the crowdfunding space.
The most surprising aspect of this is that a tier which launched with about a 10 day lifespan managed to become a dominant tier. Sekai Project is typically very smart about tier creation as they get their audience to spend higher than average amounts in bulk. Before the addition of the $1 one, the highest backer count was a toss up between $80 and $120! But with the supremely low price, and the concern of many backers, $1 shot up to take the lead. You can see the numbers in the chart below which reveals just how many supported the top three tiers. It’s honestly kind of incredible.
We already know that the $1 one was the “waiting tier,” but what of the others? For $80 backers were promised the entire trilogy of Grisaia games as digital downloads. For $40 more at $120 backers instead received a physical box set of those same three games. However, unlike many other campaigns this set excluded complimentary access to future digital releases. Some folks out there theorize that physical media is dying in all forms – especially video games – but it seems anything but the case on Kickstarter. When you add up every campaign other than these three standouts you get 1245 backers. The $1 tier alone nearly matched the summation of all those.
Here’s a closer look at exactly how much sway the $1 tier had each day it was available when compared to total daily backers. Some numbers may be slightly imperfect due to the timing intervals when Kickspy and Kicktraq update daily information, but for the most part are incredibly telling. Average daily backers for the time period between January 21st and January 31st were 158 – but that factors in the usual upswing in backing during the final 48 hours. Otherwise, the values were closer to 100 with over half at the barest minimum pledge possible. If instead all these $1 folks backed the next lowest tier (of $30) then Sekai Project could’ve had up to an additional $35,910 to play with rather than a paltry $1,197.
In some sense it doesn’t matter that over 1/4th of the 4348 total backers pledged to a measly $1 tier when so many others pledged in a much more expensive capacity. Just look at the spread of bucks that were raised in all and you’ll see that even if 1000 or more folks canceled pledges this campaign was still totally in the clear. But this is a trend that Sekai Project should not ignore. Over their many Kickstarter campaigns, as well as non-crowdfunded visual novel releases, they have built up a wonderfully devoted audience. Even so, that audience is not comprised of lemmings willing to follow the publisher to the ends of the earth. If things go wrong, or they are unable to get the information they need, they will react accordingly. It is not Sekai Project nor Front Wings fault that working out contracts and the like take so long.
Sony is not at fault either. It might seem like they’re the baddie in this Vita situation considering they’re gatekeepers to the platform, but one has to consider how many developers are constantly knocking at their metaphorical door. In this current console generation PlayStation has been deemed indie friendly and no doubt receives tons of indie game-related messages every single day. I personally don’t expect The Grisaia Trilogy to be blocked from Vita, either, but it’s certainly unfortunate that confirmation (or rejection) news couldn’t have arrived in a more timely fashion.
Even though this is the case fans simply want some degree of certainty about what their money is going toward. Without it we end up in a situation where over a thousand individuals were willing to bet a buck but not much more. Here’s hoping that all these campaign mistakes have taught Sekai Project to allot more time between working out legal dealings earlier on, if that is a possibility for them. The Grisaia Trilogy is an amazing series of visual novels but the fact that its campaign managed to rattle some of a diehard community is a little frightening. If Sekai Project does use a different crowdfunding site in the future, as staff have mentioned, then they need to keep that collection of fans fully invested – enough to follow them beyond Kickstarter.
Shouldn’t it be easy to continue massive success beyond Kickstarter? Theoretically yes, but actually mobilizing a group of individuals (huge fans as they may be) is harder than it sounds. Kickstarter has made a name for itself over the years. Many have grown to love and trust the website even in the face of challenges. With that said, there are very few other crowdfunding sites which play toward North American audiences and also have nearly the same degree of recognition. Even if Sekai Project retains 85% of its previous backers in a post-Kickstarter plan, they should still desire to attract new attention as well! If they use a site like Indiegogo, or even porn-friendly OffBeatr, that’ll be far more challenging than it would be via the popular confines of Kickstarter. In my opinion, their best option is to go the route of making their own personal crowdfunding site for future projects.
With all that said, I am a strong supporter of visual novels and intend to keep an eye on Sekai Project wherever they may go and hope they continue to bring even more visual novels to Western audiences. We at Cliqist will continue to cover Sekai Project’s future crowdfunding endeavors with news, editorials, and reviews.