One of my favorite business stories of the past twenty years or so has to be Sir James Dyson. Here’s a guy who was tired of his vacuum cleaner losing suction before he felt it should. So, he created a cyclonic internal engine so that it wouldn’t lose suction or get clogged as easily, however it didn’t gain traction despite being a brilliant piece of technology. Consumers didn’t see the immediate benefit and the previous leaders of the home appliance market simply wanted to keep a hold of their market share. With that in mind, Sir Dyson went into business for himself and innovated something new to go with his engine: a clear, removal container for the dust your vacuum picked up. All the home appliance manufactures laughed at the idea. After all, no one actually wanted to see how dirty their house got right?
Nearly eight billion British Pounds later, there’s no argument on Dyson being the better vacuum: it always was. So, why did it take literally seeing how dirty a house could get to sell it to consumers? Keep that thought in mind as we turn to one of the most interesting visual novels in development right now: Summertime Saga.
Now, originally, I was thinking of discussing one of the demos here, but I decided against it because a review of the demo would overshadow any other point I’d want to make…mainly because the game is pretty bad. And yes, I am well aware that I’m talking about an unabashed porn game…but there’s also such a thing as bad porn. The characters are all bland as Hell, it plays straight every conceived porn trope known to man, and I haven’t even touched on the major narrative thread here being incest. Just on the premise of good literary tastes, this one should be DOA. That fact that it isn’t says more about its creator DarkCookie than the title itself.
The typical development cycle for a visual novel goes something like this: game is announced, updates are provided every once in a while, but ultimately, it’ll be done when it’s done. For the most part, visual novels in the West is sustained more by the developers’ community, so it makes sense. Nobody wants to cause any undue pressure that could backfire onto their own work one day. DarkCookie takes the exact opposite approach. As of right now, there have been thirteen alpha builds released for free via the developer’s Patreon page. Patreons get behind-the-scenes access to each build and can have input on what routes should be focused on, new characters to interact with and generally advise on what they like and do not like. DarkCookie also has regularly art streams to interact with his audience and show what he’s working on next. To date, there have been three-hundred art streams over the year-long development of this title.
That’s insane. However, insanity can be beneficial when it’s properly channeled. Currently on Patreon, DarkCookie is netting just over $16,000 a month for the development of Summertime Saga: overtaking Winged Cloud as the highest grossing visual novel Patreon campaign for the moment. On that alone, I feel I need to hold a parade for this guy, but more importantly his business model clearly works and it’s one that more visual novel developers need to understand and adapt?
Remember Sir Dyson? Here’s the answer to the question. The reason he didn’t become successful until people could literally see the dirt inside of their vacuum cleaner is because up to that point, no one really knew what the inside of a vacuum cleaner looked like. Remember, at that time, entire industries were built so that the average person DIDN’T have to look inside of a vacuum cleaner. The dirt would go in the bag and when it was full, toss the bag. When something was wrong, take it to a vacuum repair man. If both of those didn’t work, buy a new vacuum. That had to change first.
It seems like strange psychology, but the reality is that most people actually do what to know how dirty their floors get. The first reason is obvious: if you see how much dirt the vacuum picks up, you can be more confident than your floors are clean. The second is that if you can see how the vacuum works, you can usually find a way to fix it yourself. Yes, Dyson is getting a good chunk of cash on the front end, however you save in the long run. Finally, at the end of the day, people know hard work when they see it. They may not acknowledge it when one could argue they should. But, they do recognize. Anyone who has used a Dyson vacuum knows how much work went into it just by handling the thing.
As you have probably guessed, you can apply the same logic to DarkCookie. By playing his cards face up and encouraging input on every aspect of development, he’s ticking off all the same boxes of success Dyson did. Yes, his audience in seeing a lot of bugs, incomplete paths and plot ideas, and even possibly failed ideas that will have to be aborted in the final product. But in seeing this dirt, they know exactly what they’re getting and they’ve invested in DarkCookie as a writer and developer.
‘But JP! Doesn’t most visual novel developers with Patreon accounts done this already?’ In short? No. Most EVN developers with Patreon will give you some behind the scenes access; mostly through art previews and early access to their work. However, this involvement usually stops just short of the dirtier side of development. Maybe it’s just because of the content DC is working on, but the usual apprehension that comes with creators showing their work doesn’t seem to be their with him. And it has produced fantastic results.
There is a lot that can be learned from DarkCookie: most of which will probably be distilled into ‘people like porn, so of course he’s successful!’ But, that take away is wrong in my opinion. Yes, people like porn, but people also like to support hard work. That is something most people don’t see in the development of most games: not just visual novels. You don’t see the amount of work that goes into it, just the end results. If people can see the metaphorical muck on your hands and the blood on your face from doing what you love, most seem much more likely to help you where they can and the current structure of crowdfunding and social media fully supports an open approach to game dev.
Of course, I could be wrong. Someone on Patreon or another crowdfunding vehicle would have to try DarkCookie’s approach for a standard game and not just pornography. However, I do think he’s on to something as other adult developers have adapted to his methods and are also finding success on Patreon. This certainly won’t be a system for everyone, but for those who are willing to be as open as DC is, there could be a great amount of success on the other end. Until we find out one way or the other, I wish DarkCookie good fortune going forward. I may never play Summertime Saga, but he’s certainly busting his ass to make it happen and even I can respect that.
If you want to see more of DarkCookie and Summertime Saga, check out his Patreon page. From there you can get links to all of the livestreams and a very active wiki chronicling the game’s branches and characters. Until next time, JP3: OUT.