Interview: Fuwanovel (fan translated visual novel repository)

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I interviewed Tay of fuwanovel to ask about his thoughts on visual novels, the community, piracy, distribution, and the possible future of the medium. Fuwanovel is a fan translated visual novel repository website.

How did you get into visual novels?
I think I was “hooked” by visual novels for a few different reasons, but mostly because they were therapeutic and helped me parse out my depression. The most nefarious part of depression in my experience is that you tend not to recognise it in yourself until you’re about to bottom-out (that’s why supportive friends, loved ones, or significant others keeping an eye on you is so important). That’s pretty much what happened to me. I booted up Katawa Shoujo, and pretty soon I was feeling some levity and happiness, and I realised – all at once — I had been really, really “down” for weeks. I remember leaning back in my chair and saying out loud, “I think I’m depressed. Huh.” Visual novels didn’t cure my depression, but they were therapeutic and helped me parse out my emotions.
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How did you get first get involved with the community of VN fans and what made you decide to build Fuwanovel?
Katawa Shoujo was a fascinating, weird, and awesome experience and I wanted to find more games like it. I signed up for a handful of VN communities and tried to get some help in understanding the hobby’s landscape … and I was amazed and surprised by  how negative and rude people were to me just because I was new. I was asking questions like, “Hey, I just tried Katawa Shoujo and loved it. What other games can I try that are similar?” and getting responses like, “Katawa Shoujo is the worst thing to happen to eroge. Now we have a bunch of idiots and weebs running around needing their a#& wiped”. I couldn’t believe how rude and toxic a lot of people were. I found a few, decent friends who helped me learn the hobby, but I decided I was going to shop around until I found a community that was actually welcoming.
I knew about Fuwanovel (a lot of people were talking about it around that time), and one day I decided to stop in and take a look around. Fuwa was a small, and very welcoming group, and the zeitgeist was “break away from the negativity and build a positive home for VNs on the net”. It was exactly what I wanted, and since it was re-building I knew I had a chance to contribute and maintain that same mentality.
How do you feel the medium is perceived?
As far as outside gamers go, I think Visual Novels are misunderstood just as often as they are misrepresented. A lot of “outsider” gamers see them as “porn/hentai games” or “dating sims”, and are intrinsically suspicious or put-off by the anime art styles. But. I think the trend is changing thanks to the rise of talented Western devs and the transition of games onto Steam. I see outside opinion slowly moving from “porn games” to “intriguing oddities”, and I just hope the VN community can work together to push that rebranding even further in a positive direction.
Within the hobby, it’s a little harder to say. We’re a diverse bunch. I think there’s a lot of cautious optimism as VNs make their way onto Steam (especially if an 18+ patch is offered separately by the dev, which matters a lot to purists). Sekai has made a big splash in the zeitgeist, but I think all the big companies have contributed meaningfully to a sense of momentum. Take, for example, the aggressive release calendars of “the big three” over the next 18 months. For all the cynicism you find in VN circles, a lot of people are sitting up and taking notice.
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What upcoming VNs are you most excited about (translated Japanese & Western)?
Western VNs: I’m going to be following and playing all the NaNoRenO games (I really wish I could participate, but I’ve got a little too much on my plate atm). If you don’t know what that is, google it or head over to Lemma for more info.
Translations: Fuwa publishes a TL update every week (thanks, Zaka!) and I’m following just about every project on the list. Here’s the problem: my VN fund has recently been emptied (I had to save up for a long time to afford to import Fate/Hollow Ataraxia, and buy Eden) and since I purchase all of my VNs, I kinda need to keep the hype in check until the VN money tree regrows some branches  : P
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2014 saw a burst of new Indie and translated VN’s on Steam. Do you think the demand for the genre is growing?
I hope so, but without insider knowledge of the VN companies it’s impossible to tell.Hopefully this is an indicator of increased demand, but it may be something else altogether: I ran several surveys throughout the years and found that a lot of players pirate VNs only because there isn’t an easy way to get the games (kind of like movie piracy and the advent of Netflix). Steam is definitely that “easy way”, and so sales may just as much be coming from former pirates. In that case the bump is still useful: we’re finally starting to see a more accurate picture of the extant fanbase.
What effect do you feel Kickstarter and Patreon are having on VN development?
I think these crowd-funding tools have done wonders for each project’s public perception, raised a lot of money, and accomplished a major feat by converting many torrent-users to paying customers. That first point (being able to control the public image and perception of demand) is a major boon for the devs, and they’re utilizing it well. I’m not really qualified to say any more than that. Personally I think it’s unfortunate that devs have to use those platforms (I’d rather give my money directly to the devs and let them keep the (substantial) fees skimmed off the top by the platform), but I get it. If it’s working for them, then I’m happy.
What do you think of fan-translated Japanese VN’s?
The best thing we can do in niche hobbies, like visual novels, is help transform consumers into producers. The more fan translation groups (and original devs) out there, the stronger the hobby will be going forward. A rising tide lifts all ships. This is especially true when a patch’s quality is sufficiently high that the team can be hired by one of the licensing/distributing companies.
If you’re asking about quality of TL… I have some personal experience with translation (I learned Russian in my early 20s and have done a lot of personal and commercial Eng < > Rus translation), and I know how hard it is and how widely TL quality can vary. Speaking specifically about VNs: I think we’re doing ourselves a disfavour if we shame new TL groups when their patch products aren’t as polished as an experienced teams’ results. What I’d like to do is help catalyse a standardised system to categorise patches: it’ll give readers an idea of TL quality, and it won’t shame TL groups’ efforts. I know the mantra has long been “one TL for one game”, but I see no problem if a group wants to develop a higher-tier TL patch over a lower-tier one for the same game. We’re seeing it more and more often these days. Life’s too short to make everything personal and constantly attack budding TLers efforts.
What’s next for Fuwanovel?
Fuwanovel has grown and changed a lot over the years, and we’re always trying to innovate and come up with new and better ways to support VN players and devs. Recently we made a big announcement that we’re pivoting away from game torrents (it was a big decision, but it was the right one for us to make), and replacing them with several cool new features (with more in the pipeline):
VNR Hub (http://reviews.fuwanovel.net) — We’re building a VN Reviews hub which both hosts and links to external reviewers all across the net. The goal of the hub (besides consolidating reviews all in one place) is to support VN reviewers and help maximise their traffic. All of the reviewer feeds are truncated (we only post a short blurb and a link back to the original post), and we hope to add as many reviewers as will sign up. We’ve got 10 blogs up so far, another 5 should be added within a week or two, and we’re actively searching for more. The hub is a little rough around the edges — it’s a work in progress – but we think it’s a cool idea and we hope to breathe new life into the VN reviews scene. (If you’re a VN reviewer, or you have a couple reviews on your blog, go to the hub and send us a message! We’d love to add you)
Overhaul of Front Site + Mobile VN Database – We’ve pulled the front site apart piece by piece and have some awesome (and gorgeous) changes we’ll start to roll out over the next few weeks. On the PC database front we’re planning on adding >100 new games and updating each game page with information about where to purchase the games, where to download the patches, patching guides, and how to support each dev. The mobile database will be our best effort to collect all the VNs being released on iOS and Android, and helping players find the best and most interesting ones to play.
Fuwanovel Academy – I think Fuwa’s the best place for new VN players to learn about the hobby, and we’re putting together a new suite of resources on the front site to help them figure this stuff out. We’ve got 5 lessons which will take a player from zero to playing their first VN in minutes, and then flesh out more advanced and nuanced hobby information. We’ve got a dictionary/lexicon. And we’ve got a player mentor program which at this point is just an experiment, but it aims to connect new players with experienced players who can answer their questions and nerd out with them about the games they’re playing. There’s a lot more coming after this, too, so be sure to keep an eye on the forums or the Fuwazette news blog.