If you’ve been even remotely paying attention to the new releases on Steam in the past few weeks, you’ll have noticed a rising trend. More and more titles are hitting one of largest digital markets, and a ton of these games are visual novels.
If someone says visual novel the odds are you’ll think of Long Live the Queen. Credit where credit’s due too, it is an awesome example of an all ages visual novel that came to Steam via the Greenlight process and subsequently stole the hearts of of its players – not to mention 95% of its user reviewers to boot.
It might just be one example, but it proves that the audience for an excellent visual novel is there. And the capacity for visual novels to be something other than porn is also clear. Looking at Long Live the Queen and similar titles, other developers must be thinking the same thing. Because out of the last 25 New Releases on Steam as of writing, 3 are visual novels. For a “niche” medium, that’s incredible.
Granted, not all of these are superb games but the overarching trend could bring great things in the future. The Steam community wants more visual novels. Trouble is, Valve’s policy on adult content is pretty straightforward and very strict. In other words, it’s a no-exceptions standard that games with adult content are strictly forbidden. That means no sexytime or nudity. Specifically, Steam’s Terms of Service (in relation to the Greenlight process) are as follows:
Your game must not contain offensive material or violate copyright or intellectual property rights.
This means that if a visual novel wants to come to Steam it has to essentially make at least an “M” rating (if it were under ESRB review), and a lot of visual novels are doing just that. Recent titles that are performing splendidly such as fault milestone one and Go! Go! Nippon! were written to be “all ages” titles and most are well-received, if at times only within a small audience.
But other games like Huniepop and Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius have to alter their content/images/scenes to remove explicit content. Though the content of the game may still be pretty hardcore, it can be sold on Steam – and even support “de-censoring” patches.
It’s not just the “indie” devs that are taking their adult games and making them “all ages.” Mangagamer and now JASTUSA are modifying their titles for the Steam marketplace, and the results have been very positive. Rather than focusing on the ethics of censorship and the debate between graphic violence being permissable while sex is forbidden, it’s more productive to look at the gains publishers have made in the arena.
JASTUSA, though it may not produce games as quickly or prolifically as other shops, still boasts an incredible library of games. Many of them are prominently adult. Some of them are little more than “porn with a plot,” even though the plot might be really, really good. But a significant number of their best titles are for all ages and would easily pass Steam’s Terms of Service.
Mangagamer is another prominent distributor of visual novels from the East. Their library is almost entirely pornographic, and some of it quite graphically so. But they too boast a fairly wide variety of all ages titles. Some of which have recently been finding their way to Steam. Many of whcih feature female protagonists, something that has been gaining traction in the West.
Part of the reason JASTUSA hasn’t had a Steam presence until its all ages release of Littlewitch Romanesque: Editio Regia is that Japanese publishers largely dictate the terms of the licensing and distribution – and that includes selling a title on Steam.
Mangagamer has had a little more luck lately with the all ages release of Princess Evangile being only the latest Mangagamer title to hit Steam. According to its latest press releases, Mangagamer intends to continue distributing all ages versions of its games including future titles announced recently. You can check out Mangagamer’s latest statement here, but note that the site is NSFW.
All ages visual novels can definitely be successful. We need only look at the examples of 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Long Live the Queen! to see that. Whether they will continue to be successful largely depends not just on the quality of the games that come to Steam, but also whether publishers can choke back their irrational fears and allow them to be marketed on Steam.