JP3’s Soapbox: Winged Cloud and Reading Comprehension
Commentary, News

JP3’s Soapbox: Winged Cloud and Reading Comprehension

This last week has been a busy one with fraud and rumors of fraud. However, a fairly big story also broke about Sekai Project this past weekend. While making announcements for new licenses, the group also announced that they would be publishing Sakura Dungeon: Winged Cloud’s next game. This struck many as a little odd since MangaGamer was the group’s publisher. Looking to get questions answered I reached out to both Sekai Project and MangaGamer and, to be fair, Sekai responded and MG decided to do a public announcement. Here is the response I got from Sekai’s Public Relations:

Yes, we are once again working with Winged Cloud. I unfortunately do not have the details of the split with MG, but we all sincerely wish them the best with their other titles and ventures. That having been said, we will be handling all Winged Cloud titles moving forward and are happy to be working with them once again.

And here is MangaGamer’s public statement about the separation:

Regretfully, we must announce that MangaGamer will no longer be publishing Winged Cloud games, including the previously announced title, Sakura Dungeon. Due to intractable creative differences, we have been forced to let Winged Cloud go, and will no longer be able to offer support for their current or future titles.

Fans may still purchase Winged Cloud titles from us from now until February 29th, and those who do will be able to have access to the MangaGamer Editions, which were updated from their original source by our quality assurance team. These editions will no longer be available for public purchase after February 29th. Sakura Santa on Steam will be transferred to Winged Cloud’s new publisher and updated to their version of the title. If you would like to retain the MangaGamer version of the game, make sure you uncheck “automatic updates” for the game by February 29th.

Now, I know that there are some who do not approve of hypothesis and educated guesses when it comes to the backrooms of gaming as a whole and this subsection of it in particular. However, that would resign those said backrooms to the shadows and allow developers to push any narrative they wish without question. So I admittedly am going into this knowing my hypothesis may not be completely correct, but that doesn’t mean it is completely wrong either. And after employing a rare skill known as Reading Comprehension with all of the statements and looking at the timeline, I think I’m pretty close to how it went down between MangaGamer and Winged Cloud. And, if I am right, then it says a lot not only about Winged Cloud, but also about Sekai Project and MangaGamer.

Preview Image of Sakura Adventure

To start with, I believe Winged Cloud is finished with their next Sakura title. How can I make such a bold claim? MangaGamer’s statement cites ‘intractable creative differences’; so, ‘creative differences’ over what? Sakura Santa is out; there’s nothing to go back and fight over now. The same goes with the Sakura titles released under the Sekai Project banner. The only thing left to clash over would be what WC has planned next: the much hyped Sakura Dungeon and something they’ve been teasing on their Patreon called Sakura Adventure. I’m sure due to current events the release window has been altered by Sekai Project, but make no mistake about it: one of these two games is done and will be released very soon.

So, if this was caused by the latest WC title, what exactly was the creative difference about? Again, by invoking our skill of reading comprehension, we can pull the answer from MangaGamer’s statement. Specifically, from this part (parts bolded done by me),

Fans may still purchase Winged Cloud titles from us from now until February 29th, and those who do will be able to have access to the MangaGamer Editions, which were updated from their original source by our quality assurance team.

Words mater a lot in this context and MangaGamer did not have to include this little dig at WC in their official release. I’m grateful for them doing so though, as it is the definite clue in this entire story and points to the source of disagreement being with the quality of WC’s work. I first thought it dealt with the actual content of either Adventure or Dungeon, however MangaGamer’s own catalog dismissed that theory. So this has to strictly deal with their technical quality and WC’s own lack of standards. With all of this in mind, let me share my hypothesis with you.

Sometime last month Winged Cloud sent MangaGamer’s QA team their next game. The quality was so poor the QA team sent it back and requested that WC redo the bulk of it in order to be even halfway decent. WC balked at this and the argument commenced with WC wanting to release it as it was and MangaGamer wanting significant technical changes to it. At some point, WC threatened to end their partnership if MangaGamer didn’t’ release the game as is and MangaGamer agreed to simply end the partnership, which sent Winged Cloud crawling back to Sekai Project. This could have been fueled by the development of Sakura Santa and any QA disagreements both sides had for it, but I’m willing to bet good money that some version of this hypothesis.

If I am right, then it says a lot about the parties involved. First things first, if I’m right about why MangaGamer cutting ties with Winged Cloud; good for them. WC doesn’t make good visual novels, but they do make profitable ones. Even if those profits are in decline, there is still plenty to milk from the Sakura series before it runs dry. With only one game in, the easiest route to profitability for MangaGamer would just be to pacify WC, not bug them about QA and watch the money roll in. I don’t believe that’s the route they took and I am pleasantly surprised by this. It’s nice to see that a publisher actually lives by an actual quality standard instead of paying it lip-service, and while I doubt this will send me into a buying spree for them it gives me a great deal of confidence for their release of Umineko and Tokyo Babel.

On the flip side of the coin, we have Sekai Project. Everyone at Sekai knows exactly what they’re getting into by letting WC back into the fold and I’m willing to bet they weren’t let back in without the publisher getting a bit more of a revenue cut than they had before the original split in 2015. If WC is as mercurial as they seem to be, that larger cut comes at the cost of not only walking on eggshells around WC, but also publishing whatever the group shoves out and hoping their fans will continue to swallow it.

It’s not much of a gamble as the last few Sekai VNs I covered were rife with technical issues. Most Sekai fans are most likely grudgingly used to it by now, but it does risk whatever reputation the group has managed to build with developers both in the West and in Japan. From the Western end, I can’t imagine any developer currently in partnership with Sekai who isn’t a little ticked that WC is back because profit rules all. As for Japan, if Sekai is willing to lower their standards and release something just to make money off it, why should a foreign company trust them with the license to their work?

But Sekai is clearly willing to make the gamble and I do hope it works out for them, however the group and the quality of their releases will have to be watched carefully moving forward. Finally, that leaves us with Winged Cloud themselves. Here’s an interesting question for you guys; why doesn’t the group just publish their own games? They’re making ten thousand plus a month on Patreon and are still selling relatively well. However, if you want to be your own publisher, you have to be willing to build the necessary infrastructure and manage your relationships between members of the press, your current fan base and with people who have not played your games, but might if given the right conditions (a sale, packaged in a bundle, given as a gift, etc.) Winged Cloud isn’t willing to do that and because they aren’t will always need a publisher.

I believe it was last year when Winged Cloud promised more interaction with the public and opened up a new website and Twitter account. The Twitter account has been unused since June 2015 and the website hasn’t been updated since March 2015. I cited their Patreon earlier, but an interesting statistic on that is that at the beginning of the year, it was pulling in around twelve thousand dollars a month. The drop to ten thousand happened because between November 2015 and February 2016, there were no updates to the Patreon page. That changed shortly this month, presumably after WC returned to Sekai, and the page exploded with preview images of both Sakura Adventure and Sakura Dungeon.

This isn’t a knock on the group because not everyone can self-publish, those who can, may want to look into book printing to see how they can go about it, but, there is nothing wrong with partnerships. However, if you cannot publish on your own, then it behooves you to trust your publisher enough to listen to their critique and follow them in order to ensure the quality of your work. Because it is clear that WC doesn’t care about the quality of their work, it also makes it difficult to believe they have respect for either Sekai Project or MangaGamer and the fact that they’ve spent the past four months bouncing between the two shows that they have a habit of pissing people off. Decline is inevitable when you aren’t concerned about putting your best foot forward, but it speeds up when no one wants to work with you. And as much as I don’t like WC’s work, if my hypothesis is right they really might want to considered getting an industrial crowbar to dislodge their cranium from their rectal cavity. While they still might be able to pull in some money now, no one group is so valuable that the gaming world will stop without them.

I would say that I would keep track of this story, but I really am done with the Sakura series so it’s more of an interesting note about the business side of visual novels than a story worth following. And while there is a chance my hypothesis is wrong, I hope everyone can at least see how I came to the conclusions I did and understanding my current feelings on everyone involved. JP3: OUT.

Written by JP3 - February 20, 2016