[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he Grisaia Trilogy is just the latest in an increasing string of Kickstarter successes by Sekai Project. This visual novel publisher suddenly appeared on the scene when the market was still incredibly niche. In fact, only two really established publishers were still around (MangaGamer and J-List’s “JAST USA” brand). Sekai Project arrived at precisely the right time and have since helped increase the audience for visual novels as well as provide an ever-expanding library of great titles to English-speaking gamers. Even so, the team are not immune to mistakes. While The Grisaia Trilogy was funded to nearly 300% of its $160,000 goal our post-campaign analysis revealed they could have done even better had it not been for a series of mishaps which took place.
At the time of their Kickstarter’s closing there were many questions left unanswered. Word would come once BackerKit surveys made their way out. BackerKit surveys are out and, unfortunately, a whole host of questions are still hot on backer minds. Sekai Project created a small update post to touch on the most-asked questions but even that didn’t seem to quell everyone’s curious minds. There is just so much nuance to The Grisaia Trilogy’s campaign which lends itself to people having a wide variety of valid questions and concerns. For those who haven’t been following along, here’s as brief a recap as possible of the whole situation.
Before The Grisaia Trilogy went live on Kickstarter, they ran a Prefundia campaign to assess fan attitudes about a potential funding effort and gauge what people wanted. Around this time people questioned the possibility of 18+ and all-ages release and there were a few official responses to this. The most concrete statement came from freelance translator Koestl in a series of (now deleted) tweets which explained that an 18+ release must be viewed as a separate product not to be covered by the then upcoming Kickstarter. Yet, they would be released eventually, and might be offered with discounts to backers of the main campaign. Sekai Project quickly confirmed the unfortunate situation although Koestl assuaged fans shortly after with word that the “18+ games will come out if the trilogy is funded.” As things got closer, both fans and The Grisaia Trilogy staff suggested the possibility of a limited print run of said version, too. Eventually, Sekai Project settled on saying they’d not confirm anything and simply asked fans to wait until the campaign was nearly over.
Finally, the campaign launched in January. Along with that came a near-implosion of the campaign when Kickstarter removed all high tier backing due to a “questionable” reward. Because of this, the company were properly reserved about 18+ anything. It was not a part of the official campaign – end of story. Denpasoft however happily chirped away on Twitter that they would provide 18+ versions and would say more before the campaign ended. Despite all these overt promises and suggestions, both Sekai and (apparent partner/sub-company) Depansoft could not make good on those “before the campaign ends” timelines. At best, Sekai Project suggested folks who were waiting on information (Vita ports, 18+ status, and basically anything else) reduce their pledge to $1. The campaign ended, a BackerKit launched 3 weeks later, and it revealed that there is still no Vita release for certain and 18+ is purely digital right now. Basically, some of the most hot button topics during the campaign are still up in the air.
I cannot fault Sekai Project, Front Wing, or even Sony for the fact that we have no explicit confirmation or denial over this stuff. After all, it takes time for any legal negotiations to get worked out. With regards to Japanese visual novel companies, it can be even harder as they are barely testing the waters of Western releases. No one is trying to hold out on backers. This is simply a very unfortunate situation.
However, Sekai Project could and should have done more during their campaign to stop the flow of people backing with high hopes for what were only possibilities. My belief is that, since they did not have confirmation how exactly a prospective 18+ release would be handled, they should not have slyly referenced it at all. They should have kept their stance entirely static at the fact that they were releasing PC ports of the Vita releases and let that be it. Yes, some fans would be incredibly angry, but it would be better to leave things at that and only later reveal that 18+ digital copies were happening.
With this being the case, fans would have been excited to see that there was a possibility to get a version of the game they wanted after all! Instead, because of how they continued to tease fans with this version, fans began to believe they would get physical copies and Sekai Project did not stop this line of thinking. They all but encouraged it by leaving comments out there uncorrected and furthering them with various Twitter statements advertising their nearly confirmed status. Denpasoft in particular seems quite poor at responding to people, even when they should.
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
Another, perhaps larger, issue with the campaign was how much “official” information got out there but not via Kickstarter updates. Sekai Project’s team members were speaking about The Grisaia Trilogy a lot… on Twitter, Reddit, Sekai Project’s forums, and more. There was absolutely no one place to go if you wanted news. Instead, backers had to dig around on multiple sites regularly simply to be kept abreast of what official news just came out. By the way, I’m quantifying Denpasoft, Dovac, and Koestl as official sources. So many campaigns fall into the same social media trap. Yes, you want to keep active on all sorts of sites, but do not neglect the Kickstarter page itself!
So many questions were posed in The Griasia Trilogy’s comments section which went unanswered by Sekai Project. Instead, fans had to take it on themselves to answer others questions and attempt to source them from a multitude of locations. Backers should not be forced to do the heavy lifting. Give them the information they need by providing regular updates responding to the most common ones. Yes, celebratory posts are great too, but don’t leave people feeling concerned. Another reason so many backers are currently frustrated is because they felt that answers were never given. This is because even though they may very well have been discussed, it was on some random Reddit thread or response tweet which every backer simply didn’t see.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing as a backer myself is that Sekai Project has not learned these lessons just yet. In the weeks following their successful campaign they’ve still been unable to contain all important updates to Kickstarter updates. They’re still very active in their forums and elsewhere in the net but that activity needs to be summarized properly in updates on Kickstarter. They’ve begun running weekly updates which are a good start but still include something of a problem. Let’s look at their latest update to explain what I mean:
“Unfortunately, we are not able to offer this [18+ verison] as a part of the Kickstarter or BackerKit. They will be offered in the future depending on production and fulfillment costs, but it still requires further discussion with Frontwing.”
This is all they have said about a physical release. That, despite the fact that they must all be well aware of the types of questions people would (and have since) raised over this super succinct statement. They should have provided a statement which leaves no gray area. “You cannot use BackerKit to receive an 18+ physical version now or in the future.” The end. Because of the following sentence, some folks still believe they may get a discount down the road once these versions are greenlit. The larger issue is a continue stringing along of backers. Maybe we’ll see an uncut physical version – maybe not! Who knows? Apparently it’ll take until all games are completed to confirm or deny so, uh, get comfy waiting for a year or more. Dovac is still happy to talk in unequivocal terms as though the physical release is guaranteed, which continues to complicate matters.
At the end of the day, Sekai Project never 100% confirmed that a physical 18+ release would even happen. However, their mismanagement of a single concrete statement (and a heck of a lot of buzz about adult versions) made people believe it would happen. Crowdfunding is predicated on belief. People trust a project lead and provide money because of that belief they’ll be able to create something great. Sekai Project is holding up their end of the bargain, but they did so at a cost. By not properly spreading their message to everyone, and by allowing a large portion of their audience to believe whatever they wanted (helped by Sekai Project themselves), they’ve found themselves with a degree of frustrated fans.
The continued wishy washy nature of discussion on an 18+ physical release also needs to stop. Provide an official statement on Kickstarter and everywhere else that a physical release is not confirmed now and may never be. And if it is, that’s over a year down the road – and even then, that it will have no correlation to folks who backed the campaign. Unless that isn’t true. But how can I know that even this statement is considered accurate by the staff? I’ve only looked at at ten different sites and threads trying to discern what Sekai Project’s plans are. In the future, I hope Sekai Project ceases teasing fans with possible “additional” versions of games unless they have total certainty they can offer them. At that point, they should reveal everything (type of release, price, etc), rather than allowing folks to hope for things which don’t exist. It’ll decrease Kickstarter funding, for sure, but it’ll also lessen the heat Sekai Project receives. Finally, please get that staff wrangled up and ensure that any important points made on websites other than the Kickstarter campaign get added there so backers actually know what’s up.