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Japan Only Ninetail

“For Sale in Japan Only”: A Japanese Developer’s Perspective on the Eroge Embargo


I previously wrote about a display bug in Dual Tail’s strategy eroge Venus Blood -Hypno- that prevented interface text from displaying correctly in non-Japanese Windows. Fan hacker binaryfail generously donated a patch that fixes the issue. I sent this patch to Ninetail (parent company of Dual Tail) via Twitter, requesting that they include the fix on their official support page. Project manager and game designer Keimaru responded to me in broken English. His response, edited by me, is as follows.

Thank you for the patch you’ve provided that makes Venus Blood Hypno display correctly in non-Japanese Windows.

However, Japanese eroge are limited to sale in Japan only. As hosting this patch on our site would imply that we endorse sales of these titles overseas, your request puts us in a difficult situation.

We are very pleased that our game is loved by overseas players.

However, as we have to conform to industry standards that regulate sales of these titles overseas, we can’t officially recognize this patch.

We’re perfectly fine with this patch being used and distributed unofficially by fans.
Thank you for your love of our games.

I thanked him and went my way. A commentator on Reddit later informed me that Keimaru had posted a much longer comment in Japanese. This comment showed such sincere and thoughtful consideration of the issue —  from a Japanese developer’s standpoint —  that I decided it needed to be relayed to the English audience.

Japanese eroge developers are well known for their reluctance to get involved with the Western market. Packaging and splash screens prominently declare “For sale in Japan only”. Westerners tend to dismiss this policy as apathy for foreign fans, even regarding the practice with contempt as just another manifestation of Japanese isolationism and xenophobia. When eroge companies block foreign IPs, they automatically assume that the company has closed its doors to Western release (despite evidence to the contrary). “The companies are just being xenophobic,” they say with bitter contempt. “Might as well just fan translate their titles, since they’ll never officially release their games in English. They don’t want dirty gaijin playing their games.”

It’s about time that we get the other side of this story, and who better to deliver it than a prominent and well-loved Japanese developer: one puzzled about how to respond to a bug that prevents foreign fans from playing his games? I’ve provided my translation of Keimaru’s Twitter comments below. I regret that my translation skills could not fully convey the honest simplicity of the original message, but I did my best to at least get across the ideas and intent.

We’ve been aware for some time that Venus Blood Hypno has a bug affecting users of non-Japanese Windows. This bug causes Japanese characters to display incorrectly, making certain interface elements unreadable. We had reports very early on from users of non-Japanese Windows about this, but we weren’t able to resolve the issue. Today however, a DLL file that fixes the issue has been sent to us from what appears to be a user from overseas.

On one hand, we’re incredibly thankful! On the other hand, this presents a bit of a dilemma…

In the past, certain distributors bought up Japanese eroge and sold them overseas without consulting Japanese developers. This led to an international scandal, causing considerable turmoil within Japan as well. Since then, we’ve been obligated to display warnings like “For sale in Japan only” during game start-up and on the packaging.

This user’s request raises a worrisome issue. While there’s no issue if users want to play these games in Japan on a non-Japanese OS, if this is a request from overseas to support foreign OS’s, then that’s an entirely different matter. At that point, isn’t it no longer just our company’s problem?

Should we respond to this request and support users that we were never supposed to be selling to in the first place, since selling to these users risks another incident? Is it even ok to support them? I’m not sure…

Honestly, I’m torn. What to do…? If we officially support this patch, that would have to be our decision as a company [our stance on the matter]. To be honest, we could just leave things in a gray area, where we let good-intentioned users do as they please in the shadows while we stay silent on the matter…

To be blunt, when we received very early reports of the bug from users we believed to be Chinese, our user support team felt they were really skirting the line with regards to the JP ONLY clause, thinking ‘I hope these people are playing within the country.’ They puzzled over how to handle the issue.

If a user buys a game in Japan, returns to his home country, and plays it on his own PC purely for his own enjoyment–is that ok? Where’s the line? As just one company of many in this industry, it’s extremely hard to make such a decision.

This nagging feeling… is there anyone who could resolve this issue? No, there probably isn’t.

A conclusion arrived at after some debate: after things have settled down let’s quietly fix this. The issue seems like it would be resolved with the previous version of the KiriKiri engine. It–it’s not like we’re fixing it because the overseas user told us to! We’re doing this voluntarily, because we feel like it (guh). However we’re pretty busy so it might be a while before we get around to it.

I don’t know about you, but Ninetail just earned one new (and very loud) fan.  For an example of Ninetail’s outstanding work on games, see my Venus Blood -Gaia- review! (NSFW version, SFW mirror)

A safe-for-work mirror of this article can be found on my personal blog.

Special thanks to those of the Fuwanovel community who provided feedback on the translation, especially Majikoi fan translator dowolf.

Original English quote:

https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609300971026427904
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301060453187584
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301099590254592
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301211351617537
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301257237311488
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301320453877761
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609301481934622720

Original Japanese quote:

VBHには非日本語OSだと、文字表示が崩れて不可視になるバグがあるらしく、かなり初期の頃に非日本語OSユーザーさんから問い合わせは来ていたのだけど、根本的な解決はできてなかった。・・・が、今日、海外ユーザーさんらしき方から、それに対応するDLLが送られてきた。
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609347515243065344

実際、うおーすげーありがたい! と思う反面、ちょっと悩ましい問題が・・・
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609347694646030336

過去に日本のエロゲーは、一部卸業者に勝手に国外に持ち出されて、販売されて、それが取り上げられて国際問題になって、相当国内でもいろいろあって・・・ それから わざわざ日本国内販売only JPonly と書くことが義務付けられたのだけど・・・
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609348225280028673

今回のユーザーさんが、国内で非日本語OSでプレイしている、ならばまぁ、OK! てな感じですむんだけども、これが国外から非日本語OSに対応して! て話になってくると、ちょっと状況がだいぶ変わってくるんじゃないか・・・ウチ一社だけの問題じゃなくなるんじゃないか・・・と悩みが・・・
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609348934620704769

つまり、本来販売すべきでない、すると問題が起こってしまう可能性がある販売経路のところのユーザーの求めに応じて、対応するのか? していいのか? という・・・ うーん・・・
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609349366516547585

正直、判断がつけられない。うーんどうすりゃいいんだ・・・ 公式で対応してしまうと、そういう会社としての判断にならざるを得ないし・・・・ ぶっちゃけ、ユーザーさんが善意でこっそり勝手にやりました、メーカーは無言で良いとも悪いとも言わない、あたりがグレーなままでいいんだけど・・・
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609350183961300992

ぶっちゃけ、今回かなり初期の頃に、中国系のユーザーさんっぽい方からも問い合わせが来てて、うーん・・・国内でのプレイ・・・だったらいいな・・・ というJPONLYの部分に対して、ユーザーサポートもかなりスレスレ感があったりもして、ちょっと対応に苦慮もしていたり・・・
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609351058582732800

そもそもユーザーさんが日本で買って、国外に帰郷して自分の個人の楽しみで自分のPCだけで遊ぶのはセーフなのかどうなのか、どこに線引きがあるのか、一企業として判断するのはひっじょーに難し
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609351483679637504

このモヤモヤ感・・・解決してくれる人はいるのだろうか・・・いやいまい。(反語
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609351709635145728

いくつかのやりとりを経て結論。ほとぼりが冷めたころにこっそり勝手になおしとこう。元の吉里吉里でも解決してるらしいし・・・べ、べつに海外ユーザーの求めに応じてなおしたんじゃないんだからねっ あくまで自主的に、そう自主的になんだからねっ(苦しい言い訳)ただ立て込んでるので先になるかも
https://twitter.com/keimaru_9tail/status/609364091585495040

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  • Kit

    The last few lines of the quote come off as adorably tsundere.

  • snooze

    Very interesting, but this shouldn’t be up to a company to point out. The government should already have laws in place for a standard for exporting eroge, instead they seem to have slapped a sticker on it saying “for sale japan only”.

  • erobotan

    this is all because of those damned feminists!!

  • Wow, this guy seems pretty awesome. I especially loved his Tsundere comments toward the end. XD

  • I still don’t get it, what’s the issue here? I’m literally not seeing the problem in letting people import their games, or even upload the damn patch on their website.

    “In the past, certain distributors bought up Japanese eroge and sold them overseas without consulting Japanese developers.”

    Do they mean re-sellers? don’t resellers buy the games from them?

    Too confusing.

    • rayeraye

      I’m guessing one of the events they are responding to is when Amazon was selling physical copies of Rapelay to some english speaking countries and the media raised a shitstorm once they found out. I’m guessing most places want to only allow content to be offered on niche sites if at all to help avoid the ever-present gaze of those who want to regulate everyone’s morality.

    • Resellers are typically authorized to buy the games wholesale at a greatly discounted price and sell them at a large markup (balancing out to the MSRP). In this case, overseas sale of professional Japanese-language eroge is not authorized. This is likely why J-List’s prices are so high (often $120 for a title that retails in Japan for $75). They’re having to pay full price and pass the retail markup to the consumer.

      This was a decision made by the Japanese eroge industry to self-regulate themselves, in response to foreign outrage and demand to regulate production and export of offensive pornography like Rapelay. It’s not a legal requirement, but it’s a binding requirement in its own way.

      The eroge industry imposed these rules to avoid legal intervention. Restrictions were also imposed on domestic production, but these were quietly subverted, for the most part. Certain tags like “loli” have become scarce, however, forcing customers to look a bit harder for the content they’re interested in.

      • Makes a lot of sense, yeah.

        Thanks a lot!

      • Vipsu

        J-List prices are likely so high because they too need to profit from these games.

        Friend of mine pays like 100-120€ per game when he orders these from Japan to here in Finland. Delivery is like 20€ and taxes depend on the price of the game probably around 15-30€.

  • rayeraye

    Thanks for posting this! I was really looking forward to this game initially and had to pass once it was released because the display would’ve made machine translation of the text a no-go. I’m glad to know it wasn’t necessarily an actively aggressive move on their part and more just another side-effect of the puritanical reactions of the western world. I’ll have to try out this patch.

  • voltlighter

    Thank you for writing this. I’m about a month late to the party, so forgive me in advance.

    I’ve always wondered though why eroge companies seemed so hostile to foreign fans. “Why don’t you care about us as potential customers? We’re fans of your work, why don’t you want to sell to us?”

    In reality, the developers simply want to lay low and keep doing what they’re doing for an audience that appreciates their work. I don’t know what, if anything, placing a label on the games that says “FOR SALE IN JAPAN ONLY” even does, but it’s not the label that matters. It’s that by using the label, they are distancing themselves as much as possible from the potentially hostile western market. Not only hostile for their company, but for all eroge developers.

    The first thing that comes to mind is the many examples of games that have been censored in the process of being “localized”. If Japan were to throw open the doors to the international market, we might not have issues with our localizers anymore… because the games will have been censored from the start.

    Maybe we can hope that one day, western society will progress to be less shameful and more positive about sex in general. Maybe we need another generation or two to get there. However, for foreign fans, there isn’t really anything we can do to change the situation as it stands. In fact, it may be for the best to leave things the way they are.

    As the Japanese would say, “it can’t be helped.”

  • Вениамин Володарский

    Thank you for this post! It’s great that Japanese companies answer to you. Usually if I write even in English, they just ignoring me.