It's been four months since I published my first article, "Piracy in the Visual Novel Community, Part 1: Information" in August. Yes, I was busy with my studies and life in general, but I also agonised over what to write. What was there to write? Most of us know that piracy is bad, or otherwise, acknowledges its illegality. Many of us have debated and philosophised about this very topic.
Then I recalled a certain part of the final (and optional) question of my survey, which was question 17:
Was there anything else you like to add in relation to the topic of piracy and/or piracy in visual novel gaming?
Hoping to find something to write about, I read through hundreds of responses. While I appreciate each and every response, I couldn't agree with some of them. A small handful of people pretty much had the worst attitude- they had misguided and overinflated senses of entitlement. Showing no remorse, they stuck to the notion of "why pay for anything I can get for free?" More people responded with legal and philosophical arguments, all of which were interesting reads even though I disagreed with some of them. However, the majority of the responders chose to justify their actions- some were quite defensive, while others acknowledged that they're just making excuses.
I took to categorising the justifications, and tallied up which ones were the most common. I wanted to write about these justifications, however predictable they may be. So instead of just reporting, I thought I'd also want to try and help the less-informed VN fans with some advice and suggestions of my own.
Top 8 Reasons Why Visual Novels Are Pirated
1. "It's not available in English."
Since I'm in the lucky minority of VN fans that have a high understanding of Japanese, I can't truly empathise with this reasoning. While I still think that buying a novel you can't read would be very pointless, I used to think that attempting to read a language you have an inadequate understanding of for non-learning purposes is just as pointless. Now, I'm of the understanding that not really understanding it is fine if you didn't pay for it, since you're not out of pocket. Plus, with the ease of access to translation tools like ATLAS, some readers are quite satisfied with working out the finer details of the game themselves with the little that those programmes give them. If programmes like ATLAS were to considerably improve, would that spell the doom for foreign VN companies? I'm sure many people will be satisfied with an understandble, yet subpar translation if it means saving money.
What I think English visual novel readers are really after isn't just the visual novels being translated into English. Otherwise, more people would have bought a copy and kept their pirated version so they can patch the game. What the customers here are really after is a localisation, which lead to much cheaper games. Bringing us to the next three top reasons nicely...
2. "The games are too expensive."
The fact that this reason came in second would be hardly surprising to even the newest of visual novel fans. Your average Japanese PC visual novel that isn't a limited edition is somewhere around 6500~8500 yen. First press and limited editions tend to hit the 10,000 yen mark, and can be even as high as 14,000 yen. According to the survey I conducted, 70.4% of of the responders are unemployed. With only 29.6% of the reponders being employed, it's not very hard to accept why a lack of money fuels the widespread visual novel piracy. Of that 70.4%, 59.5% are unemployed students. Being a tertiary student myself, it's easy to understand how there is very little time to get even a part time job and be able to adequately study. Catering to the Western visual novel market must be tough- we're young, busy students with no money! Also, it doesn't help that...
3. "The forwarding and shipping costs are too high."
Unfortunately, very little can be done about this. Short of the game getting localised, there's no tried-and-true way to completely avoid exorbitant shipping costs. Also, this can heavily depend on where you live. Being a long-time online shopper of overseas visual novels living in Australia (not the worst costs, but we have it pretty bad), I've adopted a few small ways to soften the blow. Hinano of "かわいいじゃなきゃダメなの!" fame posted a brilliant guide on forwarding and shipping services here. I recommend any visual novel shopper- beginner or seasoned- to check it out. My advice is to find one or two places, and stay loyal unless they skyrocket. Many places have loyalty programmes in which points can be used for discounts. It's not a lot, sure, but clever allocation of loyalty points can mean having a bit of extra money left over.
Another tip is to pick a place where they don't limit your shipping options to expensive methods like FedEx and EMS. An ideal place should at least offer EMS, SAL and surface mail. Of course, the cheaper the service, the slower your products will arrive and the less insured (or none at all) you are for damages and losses. J-Subculture has quite a detailed list on the charges of common shipping methods here. If you're big on limited edition bonuses, be sure to pick the right stores! The cheapest places often don't have rarer bonuses, so be sure to read the product details carefully.
4. "It's a pain-in-the-butt to buy games from Japan. If they were sold in-stores in my country, I'd probably purchase more often."
This is another reason that is hard to do much about. Again, short of a localisation, this is likely to remain an issue to you. Also, this reason usually came hand-in-hand with expensiveness, so some of my advice here won't be terribly useful in those cases. Don't want to get a credit card? No worries- if you're old enough, you can sign up for a debit card (behaves exactly like a credit card, except you're using only the funds you have). Most proxy services accepts Paypal, so a credit card isn't as necessary for online shopping as it once was. Paypal is safe and easy to use. Sure, none of this will never be as fuss-free as walking into a store and grabbing it, but if we want to support the industry, we've got to be willing to make a bit of an effort. If you've got some money to spare for a proxy service, they pretty much do all the work for you. Proxy services are invaluable for Japanese websites that won't let you buy their products with foreign payment methods. In my opinion, I can empathise with expensiveness and language barriers as being reasons to pirate, but not laziness.
5. "The demos are too short to determine if I'd enjoy the VN. Some don't even have demos!"
The demo excuse goes either way, really. A lot of people who cited this as their reason sounded genuinely frustrated with no/poor demos. I can understand this frustration as I have bought pricey VNs that were ultimately mediocre. Many more have mentioned that they tend to buy games after they pirate it and find that they loved it. In all honesty, I've bought a few games with this method myself. However, this clearly doesn't happen often enough as piracy is still a massive issue. You don't have to buy the game right away- wait a bit for somebody to review it. I know a few people who Google Translate Japanese Amazon reviews if they can't find an English one. It's not perfect, but apparently you can still get the gist of what they're trying to communicate. However, I concede that you really don't know until you play it for yourself. If you didn't enjoy it, you could sell it online to at least get back some of what you spent.
6. "I'm not the target market, therefore my purchasing or pirating hardly makes a difference."
Whose fault is this? The Japanese companies for localising when there is an obvious makret and limiting our options to the expensive, or us fans for giving them no reason to trust them because of our rampant piracy? The opinions on this are quite divided, and for a good reason. However, I think that us fans- where possible- ought to try and prove that there are enough buyers. If you see a localised release of a game you're interested in (and have the money to spare), definitely snap it up. The bottom line is, the only way we can prove we're interested is to spend money, which will (hopefully) lead to more comapnies taking their chances. Luckily, localised games are much, much cheaper. They can also be conveniently obtained online, and some companies even produce localised physical copies. Examples for us otome gamers? We have Hakuouki and Sweet Fuse, both by Aksys games, both obtainable online and even in-stores for some countries.
Essentially, continuously pirating affirms the companies' fears, but purchasing proves interest. So the notion of "hardly making a difference" to me is quite frankly, very wrong.
7. "I can't put an unofficial English patch on some visual novels, so I have no choice but to pirate them."
Very weak in my opinion, yet it still managed to snag a place on the top 8. Provided that money isn't another reason, all you'd have to do is purchase a legitimate copy of the game and use the pirated one for the patch. Of course, you'd still be pirating a game, but you should at least buy a legitimate copy.
8. "I don't want family/friends to find out I enjoy visual novels/Moe/Otaku culture/etc."
This excuse is so terrible, but it did occur more frequently than other categories such as "afraid of customs" and "importing costs", both of which are- again, in my opinion- much more empathetic excuses than this one. I admit, I hide my games in a lockable drawer, but if I were to pirate, I wouldn't do so because of fear of getting my hobby ousted. I don't want to go on some diatribe about the stigma of anime/moe/otaku culture, so I'll leave it here, but acting like it's something to hide won't improve things (conversely, there's no need to wear it out- just like any hobby). If you have the money and you truly enjoyed the games, I urge you to support the companies.
Phew, thanks for reading. Special thanks to the readers of Part 1, who patiently waited for this one. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!