Greetings, my dear readers! 💖 First, I’d like to thank you all once again for your support as I’m getting past a rough time in my life. From all the messages, to items purchased from my sales, I appreciate you all so much! 🙏
As promised, here’s one of the two interviews that I had at Anime Expo, the first one being with the lovely folks at Cybird. I had the pleasure of talking to Yasmin and Hiroto, and it was such a fun conversation about how otome games have grown in popularity in the West! I won’t keep you waiting; here’s the interview! Enjoy~
What are your thoughts on the whole otome gaming scene?
Yasmin: I think that it’s grown a lot in the past 5 years or so in both Japan and in the West. Particularly in Japan there is this huge boon of not only otome games, but games geared towards women. You have the whole idol games boon, and then you have the straight up otome games, and then you have a mix between the two, like recently the Sengoku Night Blood release is a mix of both worlds.
In the West, the otome gaming scene has been growing rapidly compared to about 2 years ago when I initially started working for Cybird; there’s a lot more competitors on the scene, which is great for the fans, because they get way more materials to play! But for a developer’s point of view it’s literally “otome sengoku!” going on! (laughs) That’s how we refer to it in the company too, and I completely agree: it can’t just be good, it’s not even just voices, it has to be the whole package that’s really important. You have to get good story, good characters, good voices and good art. Right now, it’s pretty exciting to be a female otaku!
Have you followed the otome game scene both in Japan and in the West?
How would you compare both crowds in terms of how much they’re into the games, how they perceive the games, or how much money they spend on the games and merchandise?
Y: What I’ve actually noticed in the past 2 years is that I feel there’s been a bit of a merger between the two crowds, due to people getting in contact with fans from all over the world. They’re interacting with the same characters from the games with the same speed, so if there’s a game released, it might not be until a couple of years until it’s in English, but fans do react the same way when it’s released at the same time.
My department within Cybird is the localization of these titles for Western audiences, so some of the differences I do see if we keep the main character the exact same way as it was in the Japanese version, people won’t tend to like that as much and they’d want her to be more active and they want her to have more thoughts and among other things. (laughs) We’ll do tweaks like that in our games to make it more engaging for the player, but also not to change the entire story of it. We want to give the same experience to people both playing the Japanese and English versions, so we’ll have to appeal to them in different ways to achieve that.
But, I will say that the love for the characters is absolutely the same! Even the terms people use nowadays, like a lot of times people are calling themselves “trash” for a particular character, and it’s totally the same thing over there! The Japanese crowd will be all “I’m dying!” and saying things like “shindoi shinu!” (laughs) We’re all suffering! (laughs) We’re all suffering in the same way, and I think that’s pretty cool, actually! There’s some pretty huge gaps between the stuff that people in the West enjoy and people in Japan enjoy, but in the end, there’s that merging in the way they react to it.
Yeah, that’s pretty awesome! Even when people draw fan art or they buy goods and show it off online and tag it, Japanese fans will find it and they’ll be trying to respond in English, or if they’re not confident in their English skills, they’ll send a message in Japanese with a bunch of emojis to show that “YEAH, I’M ALSO ABOUT THAT THING!”
Y: I think that is so cool! And even stuff like Ita Bags! They’re now totally a thing here too!
I think this is the year that I’ve seen the most Ita Bags. And booths around here have them all over the place! In every aisle that I walk through, I’ve seen more than 5 Ita Bags, because people make their own to express their love for the fave character. It’s the thing now, and seeing them around so often like this makes me think “We’ve made it, man!”
Y: It’s crazy! I think a lot of stuff even has changed within the past year, because the way that people are purchasing their merchandise is completely different from last year. People last year would get a few badges here and there, and they would be happy with just that. But now, people really do want to collect stuff that has their favorite guy on it! And I always thought that American fans bought stuff differently, but now it’s a completely different story. It’s really interesting to be a part of the scene right now!
Yeah, for sure! I think there’s always been this misconception, and this is mostly from the male point of view, that women don’t play video games, or women don’t spend money on things, or that they’re not even customers that would buy video games. And I’m sitting here thinking, let’s talk about things that women normally like, for instance: shoes, bags, makeup… They buy a shit ton of those, okay? And they do it because they really like those things. So if we take otaku girls or otome gamers… They’ll BUY items in BULK because they really REALLY like a series or a character! A popular example of this is Yuri!!! on Ice BD sales; the series was #1 for EACH BD volume that was released!
Y: I completely agree! There’s a lot of spending power there that women have if you market towards them. And that’s exactly what these otome games are doing and it’s exactly what we’re doing. Case in point, we’ve been doing a special event at our booth every day, where our Nico over there (laughs) kabedons you! (laughs) It’s SO popular! Everyone is lining up around the booth and we gotta cut the line after awhile, because if not, the line would continue forever! And that’s how you get a girl’s attention!
With that being said… Is there any chance of selling any merchandise online? I know Cybird was at Anime Expo last year for the first time, and I walked by the booth and saw how great you all were doing. You were selling out of stuff left and right, so your debut at Anime Expo was a massive success!
Y: And that’s why we came back again this year! But yeah, due to the massive success of these few years, we’re definitely, definitely, seriously considering selling items online. We don’t know any details yet, but we’ve seen people really loving the stuff and they really want to buy it, so it makes sense to do this at some point.
Yes, for sure! I’ve seen people online saying “Oh no, I can’t make it to Anime Expo, but I want to give you my money so I can get all of this cool stuff!”
Y: We’re absolutely considering it! More details to come soon whenever we’re able to!
Going back to what you said earlier, about the localization changes in your games so that Western fans feel that the heroine is more of a woman of action… I feel that’s why people like games like Sweet Fuse or Alice in the Country of Hearts, because they don’t tend to go for main characters that are a pushover.
Y: Oh yeah, and I think that’s really important! Of course, you don’t wanna go crazy with it. In that sense, Ikemen Sengoku is really easy to work with, because even in the Japanese version, the main character is more active when compared to our other games. And so, when we put her in English, she became THAT much better! This is like the first game that we released that got a lot of people going “I want to date the main character! She’s AWESOME!” (laughs) And that’s just really great to hear!
There’s this running joke when people see mobile or Vita games with faceless heroines, and people are like “My face when she has no face” (laughs) and other hilarious stuff like photoshopping googly eyes and more! (laughs) People will play the game anyway, but people will definitely have their fun with that for sure!
Y: (laughs) In Ikemen Sengoku, there’s this option where you can have the main character with a face or without a face, so you can select between those. I did see a few people mention that they’re the type of person that prefers the heroine not to have any facial features.
I feel like there’s two different kinds of players: one who prefers to experience the story with the heroine being the actual main character of the story, and the other who prefer to insert themselves into the story to pretend that they’re the main character that goes through what the game has to offer.
Y: Yeah, there’s different types of fans, and it’s nice that we can cater in some sort of way to both of them. Because the otome experience is what you make of it!
Exactly, and in my opinion, I feel that otome games offer a bit more than regular visual novels, because there’s that option to get a difference experience from the game itself. You can choose to be the main character or you can choose to be an observer to watch the story unfold.
Y: Definitely, I agree! It’s the best of both worlds!
Do you have any plans on attending any other big events in the US?
Hiroto: For this year, I don’t think we have any, because all of the big conventions are during the summer, but next year, I can say that I would like to come to Anime Expo again. Also, I would like to come to Otakon in DC. Those two are the possible ones for next year. And if there’s any recommendations you have for us to attend any future events, we’d like to hear them!
Sakura-con is a pretty big one located in Seattle. I always see a ton of people talking about that one a lot around the time it’s going on.
H: When we announced that we’d be at Anime Expo, we got a lot of comments from people who are not living in the West coast, so I would like to do more events in other states in the future.
Maybe doing a survey to see where the interest is so that you can get direct feedback from fans might be a good move to get a better picture.
H: Yes! We’ll consider doing a survey in our games! We’re also thinking of doing events outside of America, in Asian countries like Singapore, since we’ve got a lot of fans there too. We’ll try our best to go to a lot of countries!
Now, I know you guys focus mostly on mobile games, but for games like Ikemen Sengoku, that title will have a Vita version coming out soon. Are there any plans to possibly release the Vita version of Ikemen Sengoku in the West?
H: We don’t have any plans for the Vita version in English yet, but Ikemen Sengoku just got recently released on mobile, so it kinda depends on the fans at this point.
I, myself, have a Vita—I have a Vita TV as well! I actually have 2 Vita TVs, because I’ve been using my first one so much that it’s kinda getting a little bit beat up, so I have a backup one. And I mostly play all of my visual novel games on my Vita TV for the best possible experience. I do import a lot of otome games for the Vita from Japan, thanks to it being region free, and so do a lot of fans as well!
H: How common is the Vita over here?
It does have a decent amount of people who do want releases on the system, but it seems to be mostly for niche games. Over here, it’s kinda known as the “visual novel machine,” and it’s the home for Japanese-developed titles, because that’s what plenty of people get the system for. Companies like Aksys Games, Idea Factory International, NISA, are taking note and they’re releasing visual novels on the Playstation Vita. Games are most often released digitally than in the physical format due to how the popularity of the system is over here. Some companies do take a risk with physical versions and even collector’s editions, and for the most part, it’s been a positive result. But besides visual novels and other Japanese titles, the Vita isn’t huge over here like the 3DS and Switch are.
H: Oh wow, that’s interesting!
Were you surprised at the amount of response that you got from fans between your appearance last year at Anime Expo and this year?
H: Oh yes, definitely!
Did you think it was going to be this big of a crowd?
H: We were expecting more people than last year… But not THIS much! (laughs) We’re looking at the line right now, and we did not think the lines would be this long! I don’t know what happened this year. (laughs)
You’ve been getting plenty of attention through social media! I think Cybird has been doing really well advertising and promoting your games and appearances at events on your social media sites, and this is the result of it. I’ve seen your posts retweeted on Twitter from some of my friends and fellow otome gamers attending Anime Expo, and yes, they were especially excited about the Kabedon thing! (laughs)
H: For Anime Expo, what I wanted to do was to have these Anime Expo exclusive drawings, like the Ikemen Sengoku illustrations, because I wanted to make something special for our overseas users. I’m really glad people are enjoying it!
You can pretty much see it from this crowd that people really appreciate this! I tend to mostly play otome games on the Vita, but once I saw you guys being more active, it really made me want to try out your games to see what the mobile otome game scene is all about. And from the few that I’ve played, I’ve really enjoyed them! I’m really impressed by what I’ve seen in the past few years. Thank you for your hard work!
H: Thank you!
Y: Thank you! That’s really great to hear! That’s why we’re trying to reach out to as many people as we can. This is great!
And that’s it for my questions! Thank you for taking the time to talk in your very busy convention time!
Y: Thank you for coming to see us!
I hope to see Cybird again at next year’s Anime Expo to talk about more otome games goodness! ✨ And who knows? They might just show up at other shows, events and conventions, so keep a lookout on their social media pages for more updates.
Until next time, goodbye and goodnight! 🤘