Hey All! I wanted to do a quick post linking to the survey results from the large survey I did a while back.
These results have been around for a while but I'm just getting around to posting them here! If you are a player and are curious, feel free to peruse them. If you are a developer making your own game, also have a look through.
Many things from this post are reiterated in the survey introduction!
Surveys of the community are always really interesting and I really like doing them. But I always try to caution people against taking them too seriously. I've seen people hold up this kind of survey like some kind of divine revelation and they just cannot be taken as such.
There is so much about this sort of survey taking that is not scientific. People can respond more than once, people lie, people just answer in conflicting ways. The person who makes the survey always...a l w a y s inserts their own bias in questions and answers whether they want to or not. The fact that Person A made the survey instead of Person B could skew the results as well. Some people see that the developer of Game Y made a survey and are more likely to answer it than if it was the developer or Game X which means you get more of a certain type of player answering...
There are just so many variables. Too many for this to be truly scientific. As such, these surveys can only serve as a general guide. And while it's good to look at the results and contemplate them, I would caution anyone against taking these and trying to build your game around them like they're immutable fact.
It's really only a guide.
This survey was really made for indie developers - for myself, for some of my friends who helped make it...for any other indie dev wondering some of these things.
Sometimes it can be really tough to be in this business. We're trying to market to a community that sometimes feels like it doesn't want us. At the same time, many of us feel that if we abandon what makes indie games unique and start only replicating Japanese games...then what's the point? But sometimes it's what makes us unique that turns players away.
And that can be disheartening.
This survey was, in part, to try to figure out where are the places we can bend - and where should we stand firm. So there were a lot of really pointed questions trying to dig this information out of players.
Some answers and results ended up surprising while others were about what I expected. Anyway, I'll post the results now (it's a google.doc) and I hope you all enjoy looking through them!
Otome Survey Results
Hey everyone! I'm back with another survey! Surveys are such a fun way to get feedback and I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to fill them out. Also, I want to say thank you to everyone who sneaks in sweet comments about Changeling or Steamberry Studio! You guys always make me smile when I read through survey results.
I'm leaving the survey open so some of these percentages will change over time but I think we can get a good feel for the results as is. In a lot of cases, the "wining" option is way out ahead so that is likely to change much over time, no matter how many more people respond.
This survey was about some of the more technical aspects of sprites and how players feel about them. This was just largely to give me a feel for how people actually like sprites to function in-game. I could put a ton of other questions in here but these were the ones I was most curious about. As a developer, I've started to pay a lot more attention to things I don't think I paid as much attention to as a regular player and it can be really hard to take that dev hat on and look at things from a purely player perspective.
So it's always helpful to get feedback on these sorts of things from people. Thank you to everyone who participated!
The first part of the survey was about the placement of the MC's sprite!
I wanted to know players have a preference for where the MC's sprite appears! It's obviously the most common for the MC to be down in the left hand corner for PC games. Mobile games tend to not even give the MC a sprite outside their dress up games or CGs, though. And it's not that uncommon to see both mobile and PC games place the MC's sprite up on the main screen with everyone else.
Regarding MC placement:
80.4% of people prefer the MC down in the left hand corner
19.6% of people prefer the MC on the main screen with the other sprites.
I probably should have included a "do not care" option as well as a "I don't like the MC to have a sprite" option but it didn't occur to me at the time. Left hand corner is the most commonly used spot for the player character sprite in VNs so it's hard to know if that's the overwhelming preference just because of familiarity or because people have other reasons. But in the relevant comments below, a few people did give their reasoning.
For the left hand corner sprites, I wanted to know how big people like to see the MC. I've seen tiny shoulder-up MCs and much larger waist-up and 3/4 body sprites for the MC. I wasn't sure if players really had a preference. (Though this was another question I probably should have put "No preference" for, but did not. I made everyone choose. LoL)
49% prefer the sprite to be bust-up. I feel like this is also probably the most common size that I see in games.
31.4% prefer waist up MCs down at the left.
19.6% prefer shoulders up only.
So it does seem like people prefer to see a bit more of the MC - but most prefer not to see *too* much either.
The next question was about how much attention people really pay to the MC. Just because the MC is there, it doesn't mean people will be looking at them.
52.9% say they pay attention the MC's expressions somewhat.
39.2% said they frequently check and look at her expressions.
That's basically just over 90% of people saying they do pay at least some attention to what the MC's sprite is doing.
5.9% said they pay very little attention to the MC's sprite, while 2% said they pay no attention to the MC at all. That's a really small percentage that doesn't look at the MC's sprite so it seems like many more responders do pay attention to the MC when a sprite is present.
When it comes to changes to the MC's sprite to make her match story text and scene/setting descriptions, 51% said this is nice to see, but isn't totally necessary. That said, 35.3% of people said that sometimes sprite changes are necessary to have the sprite match the story. 9.8% said 'the more variations, the better' and 3.9% said it really doesn't matter.
I was actually surprised that such a majority said this was only a 'nice to see' sort of thing. I do think a lot of games don't pay too much attention to the MC's sprite beyond changing her expression sometimes but I felt more players would consider matching the story visually to be necessary at least sometimes. So the results here surprised me a little.
Anyway, here are a few comments of note from the free-answer space:
"I'm fine with corner or on main screen. I think corner allows people to self insert better, but I like the feeling of cast interaction that can come of the MC being on the main screen. Plus you get to see more of the sprite, though I suppose if we saw more in the corner, that works, too."
"I prefer alternation of MC's sprite in the corner and on the screen as the situation calls for it. Some moments work best when the MC is on screen, like action scenes."
"Most of the time I prefer no MC sprite unless there's family or such that makes a cohesive look necessary. Or possibly if other characters are going to make comments on MC's specific appearance frequently. Pretty much, I like there to be a reason for a sprite as I prefer to just imagine whatever I like."
"If it wouldn't be a disaster to add in you could always allow players to toggle MC visible or not for people who self insert. (Though I guess that's only work for corner placement.)"
"Customization makes me care way more!"
"My feelings on the MC sprite differ depending on how much of a "character" the MC is. If they're more of a stand-in for the player, I'm not really worried about them having a sprite, but if they have their own personality, I definitely love to see a sprite for the MC. Nora has a pretty strong personality for instance, she definitely needed one and I'm glad she had one! Not to mention her appearance changing is part of the story so absolutely, having a sprite was needed."
"Honestly prefer no mc Sprite."
"I love it when the MC is just as expressive and reactive as the rest of the characters in the story!"
And now on to the love interest section where I poke and prod about what you like the rest of the sprites to be doing and how you like to see them behave during the story. A lot of this was fueled by a few different observations of my own:
In large games, we frequently see sprites get a lot of pose changes. But they usually have very few outfit changes and very few expressions. Which is fair - when you have to draw all the expressions and outfits from 3 different angles, you want to keep those changes to a minimum.
For this reason the sprites don't always match what's going on on-screen because the game is pulling from a relatively small pool of images in the first place.
But by the same token, sprites that have a lot of variation in things they wear or expression they have, tend to be more static. If they have pose changes at all, it's often limited to head tilts and arm movement. This also makes more sense. It's way easier to deal with just the head or arms changing, even if it means redrawing sleeves or facial features more often.
I was kind of curious about what people pay the most attention to and what sorts of things people consider more important overall. So here we go!
When it comes to pose changes - including both full body pose changes and partial pose changes like head tilts and arm movement, 39.2% of responders said these are nice to see, but aren't necessary. 31.4% said that it's important, but not having does not ruin the experience if they aren't there. That means a little over 70% of people do not think a game is ruined if the sprites are static. Compare that to 21.6% of people who say that at least one alternate pose is absolutely necessary and 7.8% who say that several poses are necessary for the characters to feel real to them.
Pose changes can be a lot of work for a small team or single artist so it's good to see that a lot of people are still able to enjoy a game with sprites that are more static. Even so...it's important to note that 0% of the people who responded said that pose changes aren't important at all! It's definitely important to keep that in mind!
When it comes to hair and outfit changes, the opinions ran a little differently. 43.1% were in the category of considering them important but admitting it doesn't ruin the experience when there. This is definitely a larger group than the people who said pose changes are important vs just 'nice to see'. In fact, the next highest ranked answer was 29.4% of people who believe some hair and outfit changes are necessary to match the scenes and story content. Also a bigger group than the same answer from the previous question. Only 23.5% of responders labelled this sort of sprite variation as "nice to see, but not necessary." 3.9% of people said that a sprite must match the text at all times down to the smallest detail.
So over all, more people consider hair and outfit variations to be more important to pose changes when it comes to story immersion, which is pretty interesting to me since I feel like a lot of bigger titles focus more on those big pose changes and less on making sure the sprites always match the story.
At lot of times, even in CGs, you see characters sleeping in their clothes and or wearing their standard outfits no matter what is actually happening in the story. And this, in spite of the fact that players prefer to see the art match the story as much as possible.
The next question was about how much attention the player spares toward sprite expressions while they're actually playing the game. It can be pretty difficult to watch the sprites and read the text so I wasn't sure how often people looked up to see what the sprites were doing.
It was nice to see that 68.6% said they constantly watch sprites to see what their expression is. Considering how much work goes into creating and coding them, it's definitely a relief to know that people pay attention. That said, 17.6% of people only pay attention to sprites during important scenes. While 11.8% said they pay attention 'here and there.' 2% are just way too immersed in the story to pay attention to those sprites!
(I hear you, 2% - that happens to me sometimes too. LoL!)
I also asked about sprite animations! Devs are always looking for ways to make their games more engaging and immersive. Live2D is frequently employed to try to bring otherwise static sprites to life.
There are a host of common animations - from ear and tail twitches to boob jiggle (as if women don't go to great lengths to wear uncomfortable undergarments to prevent that). But the most common animations are blinking and that slow up and down bob to simulate breathing.
But animating sprites is time consuming and they need complex layering to get the animations right. Is it worth it?
Well that's still up for debate but the responders to this survey aren't that into animations. 39.2% said they're nice to see but aren't crucial to the experience. And 3.9% love them and want to see more. Compare that to 35.3% who said sprite animations aren't important to them at all and a whopping 21.6% who said sprite animations freak them out. That's a majority of 56.9% who either don't care about animations or who flat out hate them. 0% of people said they *need* animations or that animations are critical to their story immersion.
That doesn't mean devs shouldn't do animations or that animations are bad. But if you're a small team with a lot to do, it might bear asking yourself whether you should prioritise this over other sprite elements.
You'll see more in the answers below about how very little sprite animations actually matter to the players who responded to this survey.
When asked what is the MOST important quality of sprites, 60.8% said that having many diverse expressions is the most important thing. This majority has a wide lead over the next group of 25.5% of people who said outfit and hairstyle variations are the most important. 7.8% said that partial pose changes (such as head or arm positions) are the most important aspect of sprites and 5.9% said that full pose changes are important. 0% said that animations are most important.
The next question is based off my observation that there is usually a trade off between having a lot of poses but fewer expressions, and being able to manage more expressions and variations as long as the sprites are static. I wanted to know which two things people would rather see together. Unfortunately, for part of the survey I only had it set up for people to choose one answer. Even after I changed it, not everyone answered correctly - with some people still only choosing one option, or some trying to sneak in a third choice.
This whittled down the number of people who answered correctly a bit.
If we simply look at each item in terms of most votes to least votes, it aligns closely to the question above about the most important. 66.7% for expressions, 49% for outfit/hair variations, 23.5% for partial pose changes, 9.8% for full body, and 0% for animations. But, of course, we want to look at how they paired up traits.
Everyone who answered this correctly paired "many diverse expressions" with something else.
60% of correct responses said that diverse expressions and hair/outfit variations to match the scene are the two most important aspects of love interest sprites.
30% of responders said that diverse expressions and partial pose changes are the two most important aspects for immersion.
10% said that diverse expressions and full pose changes are the two most important part.
As you can see - having a lot of expressions is really important to people, for sure.
Here are a few other comments of interest from the miscellaneous comment section!
"Blinking/pose changes are nice, but expressions really do make or break them the most I think.
2D animated sprites are okay if done well, but having the option to turn the animation off is nice if they are animated at all."
"The one thing I can't handle is sprites whose expressions never change. If it doesn't look like THEY are reacting to the story, it becomes harder for ME to react to the story in any meaningful way. It's like any other visual medium (movies, TV Shows, graphic novels, etc.) in that way. Because characters' reactions aren't generally fully described verbally in visual novels, their reactions MUST be shown to each situation via expressions changing. Even if the rest of their appearance (hair, clothes, pose) stays the same 100% of the time, it is imperative that the facial expressions change. This is true for all sprites, not just love interests, but it is more important for the love interests (and the MC) to have a far wider range of expressions. Minor characters do not need as many expressions due to being in fewer scenes/situations."
"Blinking is fine while unnecessary, but breathing animations are too weird."
"Full body pose changes are easier to notice but can sometimes break the immersion, but usually its not for long so its ok."
"I enjoy change of outfit but changing of poses / full body changes aren't necessary and while I don't mind blinking and other animations it isn't specifically important to me."
The final bit was a short section on side characters. Games tend to handle minor characters and "Extras" quite differently. Some mobile games don't bother to give any side character a sprite. If it's not the love interest, they're clearly not important. Other games give major supporting characters sprites and use generic, repeat sprites for "extras." And some games use only silhouettes for side characters and/or extras.
I wanted to know, of course, what players prefer - and when they feel a side character needs a proper visual representation.
And as to that particular question, 86.3% said if a character appears more than 2-3 times and has more than a couple of lines of dialogue each time, they need a unique sprite. 9.8% feel that if they speak, they need a sprite. End of story. And 3.9% don't care if side characters have a sprite at all - just main cast.
So the majority definitely wants to see all but the most minor of extras depicted with a proper sprite.
The next question was about whether or not people are bothered by side characters (such as unnamed extras) reusing generic sprite. This is seen pretty commonly in the genre - especially if there are henchmen and soldiers. But I've seen it in other games as well.
When you have a large cast, it can be really difficult to create and code sprite after sprite. If you're paying a freelance artist, this can be pretty impossible to manage.
Fortunately, 45.1% said they aren't bothered when an unnamed extra uses the same sprite as a previous "extra". 25.5% said this does bother them
The remaining percentage was comprised of "other" answers. Some of these reiterated a yess or no stance, but a lot of them were largely "it depends" types of answers. Some said that as long as they're not a "shadow person" or "blob" then they don't really care if a side character reuses a generic sprite. Others said the opposite - they'd rather have a shadow person than see a repeat sprite.
Still others said that repeats are fine, but at least recolour them or make small changes.
One person mentioned they'd assume the game didn't have budget for more sprites if they saw repeats, which surprised me due to how often you see this even in big titles like Hakuoki.
This miscellaneous comments for this section were mostly reflective of the remarks above as well. It's clear there's a division between whether people prefer shadow people or repeat sprites for the more minor side characters.
Several people did express that they consider minor characters/extras to have sprites as a nice bonus and it's something they prefer to see when possible.
The last bit was the general miscellaneous comments at the end of the survey. Here are the ones I felt were particularly relevant!
"I enjoy seeing outfit/hair changes to sprites as fits the scene / situation / environment they are in, as it adds to the immersion, but it's not a deal breaker for me if those changes don't happen - unless it is absolutely necessary. So for example, if a character's sprite typically appears in raggedy jeans and an old t-shirt, with their hair all messy and in their face, and then the story takes them to a black-tie event (think tuxedos and evening gowns) as a guest, I would find it immersion-breaking if the character's sprite appeared in that same ratty outfit and hairstyle. Now, if they were there as a thief, or totally by accident, or if for any reason they WERE NOT a guest, the ratty outfit might fit. It depends on the circumstances. If a character is a student at a non-uniform school, and they only appear at that school or at home or in average everyday situations, it would be fine for them to appear in jeans and a t-shirt all the time. I just really want characters' sprites to fit their situations and circumstances."
"The more the merrier, but I understand time & money are a real thing."
"I think dynamically changing poses is more immersive than animated sprites honestly."
"Hands on 100% more variation on expressions/position/fashion and/or sprites for more characters over any sort of animation or blinking (i really thing that's utterly unnecessary and not at all a priority)."
So that's it! It was a fairly short survey, but as always there were a few surprises for me. I'm not surprised to find that people consider the expressions the most important part of the sprite - so much characterisation comes through the expression. And if the sprites aren't emoting then they're just eye-candy, really. And it's possible to be expressive....and eye-candy.
When you're playing a game where the sprite only has a repertoire of 10-12 expressions, you do sort of quickly learn them all. And it gets a bit boring to watch them cycle through them over and over during hours of game play. When sprites are really expressive, I know I always keep watching them to see if a new expression will show up as the character gets closer to the MC.
At the same time, I really did expect people to be so indifferent about animations. It feels like a lot of devs put a lot of time and energy into adding movement to their sprites to help bring them to life, so it's interesting to see that so many people are not that really into the animations.
Anyway - thanks again to everyone who answered this! I hope you all liked reading through the results. As I mentioned, I'm leaving the survey open so I'll be checking back for more answers here and there!
And one day I will compile everything from my crazy Love Interest survey and post those results for you so we call all see what the ideal LI is for otome players.
The backer-creator relationship established by the prevalence of crowdfunding in today's indie game scene is...well, pretty straightforward, actually.
Or it should be.
Most crowdfunding sites set up pretty clear expectations from the very start, and yet...there always seems to be some kind of Kickstarter drama going on on somewhere. Some developer that hasn't kept their promises or has ghosted their backers.
The visual novel - and otome - arena is no different. Backed projects are frequently forgotten, delayed, or left without updates for years. Often in spite of repeated requests from backers for updates - something, anything, even the smallest kernel of acknowledgement or indication the developer is just still in the world of the living.
For some people, dropped projects and ghosting are things they consider part of the risk. They continue to back projects despite knowing there's no real guaranty the project will be finished. Others have been burned once, twice...thrice...and they have entirely stopped backing projects.
On the developer end there seem to be a lot of opinions on what backers do and do not want (or deserve) as far as information about the projects during the course of completion. Sometimes these opinions are used to justify a lack of updates, a lack of transparency, or a lack of general communication.
Sometimes creators and backers clash over these opinions.
Sometimes developers seem to trap themselves in a box that limits them or even impacts their relationship with their backers because they create enormous expectations and anxieties for themselves - while backers are just kind of wanting to know how things are going.
So I just wanted to do a quick and dirty survey to see what backers really expect and believe they are entitled to as far as information, communication, and the frequency of those things.
And honestly? The results weren't shocking - most of what people said in the survey makes sense. The over-arching theme?
Communication. Communication. Communication.
So keep reading to see the detailed results and my thoughts on them.
NOTE: Some questions are left out of the result summary due to people answering them inconsistently, or the data just largely not being helpful or informative. Most of these were questions about the number of campaigns backed and the status of them - so it's not really pertinent for understanding what people want from creators in terms of behaviour and communication.
What's left are really the core questions that get to the heart of what backers want and expect from creators. 98 people answered the survey so you can get a pretty good feel for how many people said various things based on the percentages.
Have you ever backed a game on Kickstarter or any other fund raising site?
79.6% of responders said yes, and 20.4% said no. The 20% that said no were,
therefore, answering based on what they think they'd like to see if they ever do back a project.
What is the status of the most recent game? (for those who had backed a game)
27.6% of responders said the most recent game they backed is still in development with regular updates.
20.4% said their most recent game is in-progress with sporadic or infrequent updates.
4.1% said that the most recent game is in progress, but the last update was a while ago.
7.1% said that it is dead in the water with no recent updates, and/or the developer has vanished.
13.3% of people said the most recent game they backed is completed and delivered to backers.
The remaining percentage of people either had not backed anything or posted some other answer.
Do you read updates on development progress?
Some developers don't post updates because they don't feel anyone reads them. Maybe there is a lack of engagement on their update posts (such as very few "likes" or reblog/tweets) - or there is some other reason they feel people just aren't interested.
However, 100% - that is everyone - who answered this question indicated they do read updates with varying amounts of frequency. 57% said they almost always read updates, or read them most of the time.
No one said that they do not read updates, or 'almost never' read them.
People read updates. They may not read every single one. But they do read them. The idea that people don't read updates or don't care is honestly just not true.
What is the ideal update schedule for an in-progress project?
One of the most common reasons I've seen developers claim they can't update is because they're "too busy." They're just too busy working on the game to post an update to let everyone know they're working on the game!
But how true is that? How long does it take to update versus how often people expect to be updated? Well...turns out, 52% of people said they prefer once a month updates. That's not really a very gruelling update schedule. Writing a reasonable update or check-in can be done in 20 minutes. 20 minutes a month is surely doable for even the most busy of teams.
37.8% of people said that bi-monthly would be ideal for them, while 6.1% said weekly is ideal. Only 2% said quarterly would be ideal- and the small, remaining number of people said that "whatever" is fine.
So it's clear people want something regular, and at least semi-frequent, but the majority is fine with developers touching base only once a month while the game is in-progress.
Do you prefer short or long updates?
This also hearkens back to the "too busy" excuse. How much time do devs have to spend on an update to satisfy people. As it turns out, only 14.3% of responders said they prefer long and detailed updates.
An overwhelming 70.4% said they prefer something in between long and short, while 15.3% said they prefer updates short and sweet.
The gist of it is that it's not like developers have to spend an hour on a power point presentation for each update. A general run-down hitting on important points with whatever level of detail progress necessitates seems like it's probably going to satisfy most of your backers.
What sort of content do you think is most important to be included in development updates?
I've seen developers defend lack of updates by touching on information they don't want to include or that they think backers don't want them to include.
"I don't do updates because no one wants to see ______." Or..."I don't do updates because I don't want to post spoilers/personal info/etc even though everyone wants me to!"
So what do people want it an update? Do they want it stuffed full of detailed artwork and spoilers? Do they want detailed writing snippets of crucial scenes? Do they abhor artwork previews? Does seeing that stuff upset them?
As it happens, 54.1% of people really just want to know how the game is progressing. The most important thing for them is knowing how much writing was done, or how far along the script is, or the sprites are, or the coding is, etc. This majority feels a progress report is the most important thing - the thing an update *must* have.
A further 21.4% said they want behind-the-scenes information about the development process. I think for many people, there's a big overlap between this and a progress report.
A meagre 2% of people said that personal life updates are the most important part of of a development update. (Sorry devs - looks like people really just don't care that much about your life. They just want to know about the game!)
7.1% said screen shots are the most important. 4.1% did say artwork previews are the most important element of updates to them. 5% of the remaining people said 'whatever' the dev wants to include.
The remaining percentage was about divided between people who are fine with any of the above, or who think several of the options are 'most important.'
I think the real take away here is that most people want to know about the progress. They don't necessarily want spoilers, they don't necessarily want art (you'll see below, though, that they do like those things as an optional addition), and they don't want to nose into anyone's privacy. They just want to know how the project is going.
What sort of content would you just like to see included, but isn't totally necessary?
The reason for this question is related to the above one. Some devs think people just don't want to actually see stuff. They don't want art or previews or whatever. That those things actually upset them somehow.
And, well, it's not true. While this question focuses on things that are nice to see - but not necessary - it's obvious that even if most people think progress reports are the critical component, people like seeing all of it.
If a developer wants to include it.
In fact, 67.3% said artwork is great to see, but not totally necessary.
53.1% said the same is true of screen caps. 51% said Behind-the-scenes development information is nice but not totally necessary.
47% said writing snippets are nice but not necessary. 35.7% said personal life information (especially if it's impacting development) is nice...but not necessary. And 27.6% said progress reports with charts and graphs are nice but not required.
It seems like people like to see previews, artwork, snippets, and all that stuff. But it's not required.
Going back to the previous question, people really just want to know about the game's progress. And while it looks like they're happy to look at art and previews and such, they view those things as a great addition, but not really the most important thing.
How much do you want to know about the developer's personal lives when they update (such as illness or family drama) that is impacting development?
This question was included because honestly, development of a game takes a long time. And many unexpected things can happen during the process - losing loved ones, moving, becoming ill...
These things can't be predicted, but can definitely through off the development process. Developers can find themselves in a position where there is a delay, but they might feel uncomfortable giving out the reasons for the delay because those reasons persona.
When we were working on Changeling, we were pretty open about things like my move overseas, or Sprocket's illness. That was just our style. But would people have been fine if we had kept things more vague?
And the answer is...yeah. They probably would have.
55.1% of the responders said they don't need details about a developer's personal life, but would like to know something is up if it's impacting development. In other words, if you are ill and that has taken you away from development, people are saying they don't need to know what your illness is, if you went into the hospital, or even that you have an illness. What they want is to know that something is going on that has slowed things down.
That gives developers a lot of flexibility in how much they share about life issues that cause serious delays. Furthermore, 36.7% felt the same way but did want to at least know how serious the issue is so they could understand the impact on the game's development. But again, this option was fine for keeping the details vague - just letting people know whether something may be serious or not.
4.1% of people said they don't want to know anything about dev's personal life at all. And only 1% - one person - said they need full details and disclosure about a developer's personal life.
It's fairly obvious that backers don't want the details or the dirty laundry or the tea. All they want to know is if something is going to throw things off schedule - and how far off schedule it's likely to go.
How much a developer shares is up to them. AS IT SHOULD BE. So if you want to share details about an illness that has cropped up - great. But if you aren't comfortable with that, maybe try something like the following:
"Guys, a personal issue has cropped up and while the game is still being worked on weekly, I need to let you know that the amount of hours I can spend on it each week has been cut in half. Please don't worry, as the project will still be finished - it just will take longer. And I will continue to update you regularly on progress."
If you had to choose, which would you say is more important and satisfying as a backer? (Regular updates/communication vs steady progress)
This question was really geared to seeing what is most important. Obviously most people, based on previous answers, think progress and communication are important. But with this question I really wanted to see which way the scales would tip if these two things were pitted against one another.
79.6% of people said that regular updates are more important and satisfying than steady progress. I think it's important to note that these people aren't saying that steady progress isn't important. They're just saying that communication holds more weight for them. And I think it's also important to realise that, without regular updates, backers have no way of knowing if steady progress is being made at all.
That said, 20.4% said that the opposite is true, and that steady progress is way more satisfying to them as backers than regular updates.
I really just think that this shows how much worth backers put in communication. Regular communication, specifically.
How would you react to learning that progress has slowed or stalled due to events outside the developer's control?
One theory that goes around about why developers ghost their backers is that some kind of delay happens...and the developer feels anxious about updating people, worried that their backers will riot. But the longer they put off communicating, the more anxious they get about the situation. The more anxious they feel about how their backers will react to the delay and silence, the more they put off updating.
And eventually, breaking the silence is so terrifying that the easiest thing to do is just...go away and try to pretend none of it happened.
The thing is, though, this fear that backers will go ballistic if there's a delay doesn't seem to be true. 75.5% of responders said they'd be generally understanding if development slowed or stalled due to some reason outside the developer's control.
19.4% said they might feel frustrated, but would keep it to themselves. And only 5.1% said they'd be frustrated enough to speak up.
No one - not one person - said they'd be angry at and all delays and would make sure the devs knew about it.
That's not to say that repeated delays wouldn't start to frustrate people or cause grumbles of dissatisfaction. But given the vast emphasis on communication, I think that as long as developers communicate, they'll find that backers are pretty understanding and sympathetic - even when there's bad news.
Which of the following qualities are most important to you as a backer? (please choose only three)
I really wanted to see what traits are generally important to backers - what do they really expect from the people they support financially? The results are pretty unsurprising, especially given some of the other answers in this survey.
75.5% of responders said 'openness and transparency' is one of the most important qualities a creator needs. In other words, they don't want us hiding things from them. Some creators might try to spin "transparency" as bad because they'll say backers don't need all the details of the development process and what money is being spent where, or whatever.
But I don't think anyone is saying that backers need total transparency - no one is wanting company bank statements. I think most backers will be satisfied as long as it seems like you're being straightforward with them and aren't trying to conceal things or be secretive.
68.4% of people said 'willingness to listen and communicate' is one of the most important qualities a creator needs. That's not shocking considering the rest of the survey. Communication is clearly really important to people. It's not about whether you're giving good news or bad - it's about whether there is any kind of dialogue or communication.
49% chose 'honesty' as one of their top three. Not surprising. No one wants to deal with someone who seems dishonest, or someone who doesn't keep promises - much less someone consistently caught in lies, double speak, or inconsistencies. People want to know their trust is well-placed, and if they feel you're honest with them - even when it's hard - they'll keep trusting you.
42.9% chose 'professionalism' as one of the top qualities needed. It's understandable that this is ranked fairly high. Ultimately if someone is being professional, they're going to have a lot of these other qualities. They're going to be honest, they're going to communicate, they're going to listen, they're going to be respectful.
That's what it means to be a professional. Granted that sometimes the expectations for indie teams can be a bit different than for AAA companies. People expect us to be more available, more responsive, and more transparent, more open to feedback. But that's also due to the unique creator-backer relationship that we (the developers) initiate when we launch a crowdfunded campaign.
We can't pretend we're a AAA company, and we can't pretend we're not professionals. We exist in a unique space that we need to treat with due seriousness. When we try to behave like hobbyists or divas, we are likely going to disappoint and frustrate a large part of our customer base and community.
38.8% said 'openness to accepting criticism and feedback' is one of the most important qualities a creator can have. Openness to accepting criticism doesn't mean 'always doing what others tell you.'
A large part of being open to feedback comes down to being willing to validate someone's opinion and feelings. You don't have to agree or even apply what they've told you. You just need to be able to see their point as a valid one rather than rejecting it outright or getting defensive.
This is really hard to do for the best of creators. Hearing criticism is hard, and it sucks. No one hears criticism and says "Wow, that just made my day!" but all indie devs should strive to be able to see criticism as an opportunity to improve.
None of us is perfect - we all screw up. Sometimes quite dramatically and badly. That is a part of the human condition. But we all need to be able to try to listen when people offer criticism - especially when those people happen to have given us money for the thing they're giving feedback on!
38.8% chose 'determination to work through roadblocks' as a top trait, and I think that this ties into several others - such as professionalism. Game development is fraught with roadblocks and any developer must have the stubbornness to persevere through them all.
We can't just give up the first time things get difficult or we get bored with a project. That's not how this works. We have to deliver on our promises. End of story.
38.8% chose 'being respectful toward backers' as one of the most important traits. And I think this is important, too. It's important to respect everyone - always. Especially people who have given you their time, their trust, and their money.
That doesn't mean that you have to take abuse just because someone forked over some cash. We don't become indentured servants because we successfully crowdfunded. It's not a master-slave relationship.
But it's unwise to take for granted the people who allowed you progress forward.
Many projects would have absolutely no hope of being completed without crowdfunding. Treating backers like they're expendable, like they're just an opinionated wallet, or like they're trash...is 100% unacceptable.
The creator-backer relationship is a symbiotic one, and both sides need to be willing to respect the other for it to work toward a successful conclusion.
14.3% chose 'being friendly/friends with backers.' As you can see, this one is pretty far behind the others. Most people back projects because they want the game, or want to see it completed - not because they want to be friends with the developer. People would much rather have respect, honesty, and communication than friendship. Which isn't to say creators won't make awesome friends through their ventures. But just be aware that people aren't looking for a new buddy when they back you.
Any other thoughts you'd like to add?
This section is just going to contain some full or partial quotes from some of the people who responded. I did not post every single one, and some of them I took out one pertinent sentence or part of the quote to keep this section from being too long.
"I feel like it is important for devs to keep backers up to date rather than just silence even if it might seem intimidating. Even if there hasn't been progress I like to know that you are still there, you still remember us and the project. Rather than deafening silence. We just want to know what is happening."
"If you take money for a project, it's your job to finish the project period, end of story."
"Delays happen. How frustrating they are for me personally is determined by the open, respectful communication of the developer. Frequent updates with apologies for the delay? No worries! Irritation with backers after months of silence? I am immediately suspicious and upset. Even if little to no progress is made between updates, communicate with respect to your backers!"
"I really think communication is key. While setbacks can happen with regular communication most backers are fine waiting."
"An active developer keeps their fanbase satisfied and happy. Most backers are understanding of delays, as long as the developer is active and doesn't disappear."
"But the devs/PR need to communicate openly and transparently with backers in order to maintain a healthy relationship as well as a good reputation if/when their product finally is released."
"if there is a roadblock it's good to reassure backers by letting them know what it is and how you will overcome it, just to show you haven't given up!"
"Don't expect to be treated like professionals if you barely hit the criteria."
"I always feel like communication is the bare minimum you can expect from a dev, even if the project falls through."
"I'm pretty lenient with KS creators as long as there are regular updates of any kind."
"Please just no radio silence"
"It really is about transparency! I have only backed one game that stalled/has been dropped (maybe)?? But I still have no idea ! Being without an update is just a bit frustrating because it just makes backers hesitate to donate to promising stuff if there's no regular update (not regular /progress"
"I'm willing to wait - years beyond what the KS projects - for a good game and won't complain. Life happens, feature-creep is real, and so is burn-out. But I've been burned/given up hope on so many KS VN games I back almost nothing anymore and would rather wait until the game was finished unless I know people involved in the project personally through various Discord servers."
In conclusion, there are clearly a lot of things that backers value when it comes to their interactions with developers and creators they back.
But the thing that seems to be most important to most people is open lines of communication. They want developers to offer updates and information - but don't expect developers to be insanely detailed. They just want regular communication.
And that want it to be a two-way street. They want to feel like their voices are being heard.
As developers, I feel like we need to be careful to not take for granted the support we've been given. At the same time, we need to understand that our backers are not a scary force waiting for us to mess up so they can scream at us. On the contrary, they want us to succeed.
And they're willing to wait through the long development process as long as we continue to be open with them and communicate through both good and bad.
No one is a perfect developer - no one runs a perfect campaign or creates a perfect game through a perfect process. We all screw up - we all falter, stumble, and make mistakes. But I think that people are willing to be understanding, and will be willing to stick with us through the fumbling, and stumbling, and learning how to be a better dev - as long as we are always willing to talk to and respect one another.
So I hope this survey encourages people who were feeling nervous about interacting with their communities. And it helps those struggling with what to say or how much to say. In the end, any communication is better than none!
I think that is something we can all agree on!
Hello everyone! We wanted to quickly post the results of our launch giveaway that was being held on instagram, twitter and tumblr.
@plentyofsims from Tumblr!
@Andie_kouhai of Twitter!
You have 72 hours to reach out to us via twitter or tumblr to claim your prize! We don't hear from you in that time frame, we will re-draw a new winner.
A good visual novel - and a good otome - has several working parts that ensure people can become immersed in the game and enjoy it on an emotional level. Of course you have the story, the love interests, the general setting and art...
The writing style as a whole.
But the kicker - the one thing that can drive players insane or make them adore a project that might otherwise be lacklustre...
Is the main character.
The player is forced into the role of the main character, so it's important to have an MC that is relatable and likeable. Now, players have different ideas of what this means because they aren't necessarily quantifiable.
But the main thing to remember is that a character needs to act and react like a normal person. And they need to behave in a way consistent with their defined personality. Likeable doesn't have to mean passive and kind and relatable doesn't mean "exactly like the reader."
Most people are capable of relating, on some level, to characters who aren't like them as long as they perceive the character as behaving in a reasonable way that is consistent with the story's logic and character's personality.
The problem with VNs and otomes is that they often fail to give us likeable or relatable MCs.
Much of the time we're stuck with a bland, anaemic character who couldn't react her way out of a paper sack. A character that, for all intents and purposes, could be replaced with an inanimate object and not actually have that much impact on the story's larger themes and plot arcs.
And that brings us to The Lamp System.
This is basically just a silly system some friends and I came up with to determine what type of MC a VN has.
I want to say that while I personally view "Lamp" characters as bad, I do know that certain people prefer them because it helps facilitate self-inserting. It's impossible for me to write this without bias but I am going to try to talk about any pros and cons to each character type on this list.
The Lamp System (Shh. It is definitely a thing.)
As mentioned, this is just something some friends and I came up with to help categorise MCs. It was largely a joke but is actually kind of accurate, so I expanded it on it here.
This basically just looks at, well, whether or not you could replace the MC with a really pretty lamp and kind of get the same story. You can really see this system at work during critical scenes in the VN. What does the MC do in those scenes? Stand there, barely reacting? Actively participate? Can you stick a lamp in her place and largely not actually change what's happening?
If so...she might just be a Lamp instead of a human being.
But let's delve into the types a little more to talk about what makes them bad...or good. Or a little bit of both.
The Lamp (and not the kind that grants wishes)
The MC that started it all...
This MC is basically little more than a sock puppet that you slip on your hand while you play. You could replace her with a lamp (or a magic ring, or a semi-important artifact, or just an inanimate object in general...) in most scenes and it actually wouldn't change things much. Okay, sure, imagining the LI making out with a lamp is kind of weird and would definitely shift the story into a comedy...
But the major flow of events would largely stay the same because the MC doesn't do anything important besides exist. And usually, the game makes no real attempt to hide that she's a "Lamp." Lamps often don't even get faces in CGs - if they show up in the CG at all.
These MCs have very little agency, no story arc of their own, and they don't do a whole lot. They are an object of obsession and a catalyst for other people (the love interests and antagonists) to do things. Essentially, this type of MC is a MacGuffin. And you don't want your main character to be a MacGuffin because things happen to them (never because they've done anything interesting though) but they don't really actively participate in events.
What is a MacGuffin, you ask? To quote Wikipedia, "A MacGuffin is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or another motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The MacGuffin's importance to the plot is not the object itself, but rather its effect on the characters and their motivations."
The attraction the LIs feel for a Lamp is mostly unexplained and unwarranted. It often boils down to "You're interesting" or "You're different" if they attempt an explanation at all. And the player is left kind of going "Is she though??" Because, really, she's not. The only thing particularly different about her is her lack of normal emotional response to any stimuli. At all.
In the end, the Love Interests want her because they have to want her for there to be a story, not because she deserves the devotion. The LIs want her, and that is what drives the story. Her presence makes them do certain things or alters the flow of their life simply because she's there and they want her.
Your typical, bland, faceless, and personality-less MC is a Lamp.
Now, some players like the Lamp because they want to self insert into a blank doll while they read. They don't want the MC to have a set personality or any traits that they may not be able to identify with on a very personal level. They want to slip into a pair of one-size-fits-all shoes and walk in them for a while.
And that's really fine. Many developers write this type of character specifically to make her accessible to self-inserters. She's very watered down to the point that her defining characters are kind of hard to see. And that allows people to mold their mental image of her in any way they want.
The main issue with a Lamp MC is that they're shallow by necessity. You can't give a lot of depth to a character who can't have strong reactions or thoughts about most of the things going on around her - who can't choose her own path or do her own thing. And when your MC lacks depth, sometimes the story does as well because the MC sort of forces everyone to play in the kiddie pool with her.
When the main motivation for every love interest boils down to "I want that person" - it doesn't usually make for a particularly compelling story.
Three Lamps in a Trench Coat
This MC is a little better than the above MC. Sort of.
She appears to have a personality at first glance. You'll catch her having strong emotions or thoughts, and at the start of the story, she may even have some agency. She may have the beginnings of a story arc, or her own dreams and desires...
But all that disintegrates rapidly once she meets the Love Interest. The moment his story begins, it takes precedence and everything about the MC is watered down until she only thinks of him and only reacts to things when he's involved. She becomes a MacGuffin. And if you look close enough, it's clear she's just three lamps stacked in a trench coat pretending to be a person.
She slowly starts to acquire all the traits of a normal Lamp - sometimes to a slightly muted degree. She might do a couple of important things, but you could replace her in the bulk of the story and not really change much about the flow of the plot.
Three Lamps MCs still don't typically have much agency and mostly serve as a catalyst for other people to do things. They're a little more involved in the game's plot but if you really break down their role in the story...
They aren't the ones doing anything significant most of the time. They simply get swept along into someone else's story while people fight over them for no real reason. Like Lamps, they don't earn the devotion or obsession other characters have for them.
I feel like this MC usually stems from writers who are trying to be "progressive" and write a "strong" female character, but who aren't quite sure how to do it and keep her relatable. So the strength only lasts for as long as it takes an LI to express interest. Every now then, a choice scenario might give you a "strong" option to choose from, but that's about it. In the end, she is still a spectator in her own story.
These characters can be slightly more interesting than a Lamp - they give a sort of thin illusion of personality, so it can make players feel a bit like there's more depth to this MC while still keeping her empty enough for self-inserters to comfortably read.
The main issue with them is that they can be really frustrating. They start out interesting and you keep seeing these hints of agency, but nothing ever comes of it.
Many games will try to trick you into thinking they have a developed MC...but nope. Just three lamps stacked in a trench coat, pretending to be human.
The Were-Lamp - because "Chamelelamp" just didn't really work...
The Were-lamp is a step up from the the other two Lamp type characters.
She has a personality and is definitely not a lamp...sometimes.
Depending how much Lamp runs through her veins, at various points in the story, her lamp-like qualities raise their head and she retreats to the background of the story, standing there like a statue - usually when she needs to react to something, but having her actually do something was too tiring.
Or else, it happens when it's time to have her dutifully stand there and blush while being sexually harassed. (Okay, not all games dissolve into sexual harassment. Sometimes it's proper...ish...flirting. Regardless, the MC's job is to sigh gracefully or be embarrassed or occasionally somewhat participate in a vague sort of way.)
But, in the end, most of the time it's just because the Love interests are doing something interesting, and we can't have the MC stealing the spotlight from the heart-throbs. Put simply, when the MC's personality becomes an inconvenience to the writer, it vanishes. And suddenly you have a scene that could progress entirely with a lamp standing in for the MC...and it wouldn't make a difference.
Her thoughts are boring, she has no real emotional response to what's happening, she doesn't do anything. She just stands there.
Now, the MC doesn't have to be the focus of every scene, but if the story is told from her perspective, we should get at least something interesting from the fact that she's present for certain events.
For instance, if two characters fight over the MC, that's fine. But if she's witnessing it, there should be more to her participation than standing there. You shouldn't be able to re-write the scene with them fighting over a lamp...and have it be exactly the same.
Were-Lamps earn at least some of the devotion they receive, and they have some agency and control over their own stories. Some of their actions matter and they occasionally do stuff. But for a significant portion of the story, they are relegated to a spectator in the story of the LI.
Were-Lamps can be frustrating because they're so inconsistent. One moment they're a strong character and the next, they're a blank slate. I think some of the instances I've seen these characters is when the writer wanted to allow the player to choose the MC's personality but weren't sure how to implement that without epic story branching. So as a result, they created a bland character who really only exhibits personality and agency during choice-based scenarios.
The rest of the time they're kind of a Lamp, because the only moments they do anything significant are the moments the player can choose to do that. When the player isn't actively controlling her...she reverts back to her Lamp-like state.
It's hard for me to say there's anything good about a Were-Lamp. If devs want the player to be able to choose the MC's personality, they need to find ways to integrate this smoothly into their game - not have her behave inconsistently because she has no set personality.
Another big issue with these characters is that many writers think they're writing a strong, well developed character simply because the character shows those traits sometimes. But if she doesn't have a consistent personality and if she isn't consistently driving the plots through her own actions rather than by virtue of her existing and making other characters do stuff - can you really say she's a strong character? (By strength, I mean having a strong presence - not being 'tough.)
That said, a lot of players respond pretty well to Were-Lamps because when you compare them to the other two Lamp-types...they are still way more interesting. And they do impact the story, and they can have agency...sometimes. That can be really satisfying when you are so used to seeing Lamp and Three Lamps MCs.
That doesn't mean writers can't do better.
Definitely not a lamp/Fully human
The final evolution of the otome MC...
This probably doesn't need a whole lot of explanation. These are just normal, properly developed characters. You cannot replace them with an inanimate object and maintain any sort of integrity in any part of the story. Their personality is defined and consistent.
This MC is fully fleshed out and has her own story arc - or at least a semi-story arc - and the agency to affect the story herself. She doesn't just act as the impetus for other people to do things. She is more than a MacGuffin - she doesn't only encourage others to drive the plot. She can (and does) do it herself when it's appropriate.
She is a strong female lead.
As mentioned before, strength doesn't always mean "tough." And I think that's something some writers struggle with - the idea that a strong character isn't necessarily physically tough. It means someone that has the agency and ability to grow and influence the plot by virtue of their own actions.
They don't have to have a boy's name or a boyish personality. They can be gentle and kind and still be a strong character.
They can be shy, pure, and timid. But they're not passive. And by that, I mean that they are active participants in the story, not merely spectators. If they are involved in a scene, they are either physically participating or are at least mentally engaged so the player leaves with something interesting.
And most importantly, they are consistent.
They don't wildly veer between melodrama and emotional constipation because the writer never defined a personality for them in the first place. They don't just stand there when important things are happen. They don't merely serve as an object to be fought over, fought for, seduced, or assaulted.
They are more than The Girl in a story that is actually about a bunch of guys and the interesting things they do.
Of course, there are players who hate having MCs with developed personalities because if it differs from their own personality, they feel they can't self-insert.
I think that brings us to the only real conclusion we can come to about the lamp system.
Many different character types have their place in fiction - even Lamps, to a degree. As long as they don't impede the plot, or the development of the other characters. Unfortunately, Lamps often do. And that's their real drawback.
The important thing is for a writer to know what type of character they're writing and do it with intent because that's the only way to do it reasonably well.
It's one thing to write a Lamp intentionally. It's another to think you're writing a good character - to behave as if you're writing a good character - when you're really just writing a character who could easily be replaced by a very pretty lamp without making too much difference in your game.
In which Esh talks too much and people wish she would just get on with it...
Before we get into the results, I just want to talk about game length a little bit, and why this topic actually matters to me. Which is, admittedly, at least partially because I over-analyse everything.
This is a fairly long explanation that covers why I made the survey, my thoughts on the subject, and a few other things. If you want to skip this and get straight into the results themselves, you can just scroll down!
First off, I wanted to address multiple comments that 'quantity doesn't equal quality', and the like. This is something I definitely know because it is, of course, true. Even so, that isn't what this survey was about. Personally, quantity often factors into whether I will buy a game at full price or only on sale. It also is a factor in whether I buy game A rather than game B because game A is longer, so it feels like a better value.
Length is not the only factor. Very few game elements exist in a vacuum - all work together to create a product I feel is an acceptable trade off for my money. Length is just the only factor this survey happens to focus on. And I know it can be difficult to isolate one attribute and answer questions only about that one thing, but sometimes it's nice to do that for the sake of learning about the community and what players look for in games.
This is also why statements like "A game should be as long as it needs to be to tell the story" aren't always terribly helpful for developers who are trying to make decisions on the sort of project they want to make. No one is going to want to read a game page that says "This game is exactly as long as it needs to be" instead of informing customers of an actual word count or time estimate.
Knowing what players prefer in terms of length in a general sense - or knowing what their expectations are in terms of content per hour of game play - can be useful for determining how to price games as well as how to create Otomes that will be able to hit a specific price point.
If I know my audience likes longer stories, I know I need to craft a multi-layered, complex story that deeply explores the characters and their motivations because that's how you make a longer game play experience. If I know that I want to price my game at $25, I know I'm going to need to hit a length that players feel helps justify that price.
It may not be the only factor involved in determining value, but I think few people are going to pay $25 for a one-hour game even if it has beautiful art and is the perfect length for the story being told. One of the main points of this survey was to look at how much length is a factor in this area.
An Exercise in Thinking About Things Way Too Much
Most Otomes and visual novels - or, at least, many - set an expectation in the game description for how much content you're paying for. For larger publishers and studios, this is usually listed as an amount of playable content, or a general "play time". A lot of indie groups list a word count or a word count + amount of hours.
As a player, I find that I normally finish a game in much less time than the estimate. As a developer I had to come up with a strategy to create estimates for my own game. This proved kind of tricky as my first estimates turned out to be inaccurate once our small group of beta testers got their hands on the game. The very first time I sent out the common route to testers, it took way longer than my estimates which made me consider that I was assuming too high a reading speed.
The character routes were even more all over the place with some people finishing a little faster than I estimated, and others taking nearly twice as long as I estimated. It left me kind of...confused, really.
I have no idea how most developers calculate how long it will take players to get through their games. The only method I could come up with that seemed reasonable was to research average reading times (which, depending on the source, range from 200 words per minute to 300 words per minute) and just crunch some numbers based on word count. (More on this below) For 685,000 words at 300 words per minute, that comes out to 38 hours of playable content for Changeling, which is the game I've been developing.
This time estimate simply assumes the player reads every scene that exists one time. So time spent skipping through content that has already been seen on previous play-throughs is not factored in. It's literally just the time it will take people to view every word in the game one time assuming a reading speed of 300 words every minute.
But then this got me wondering - would people consider this a pretty average length Otome? Long? On the short side? Do players have a way to correlate word count into a amount of time or is it just a nebulous number that doesn't mean much to them. On top of that, if someone who reads way faster than 300 words per minute plays the game and finishes it in a much shorter amount of time, would they be disappointed or assume I had inflated the time to make the game appear longer? Would a slower reader get frustrated if the game took them way longer than the estimate? (See what I mean about over-thinking things? LoL)
In various communities across the web (not this one I don't think - but some others), I've seen people comment that they don't like Western visual novels because they're so short, but what is "short" in terms of visual novels and/or Otome games? Some people have said they considered "long" to be if it's longer than 425,000 words (which is the word count of Lord of the Rings - which has, oddly, become a sort of a benchmarks for length). Others consider anything under 200,000 to be "short."
I've clearly been trapped in a loop of "Hmm...I wonder..." for a while now. How important even is this for players in general? Is it something people really spend much time thinking about? I've become more aware of the time it takes me to get through a game because of making my own, but does the average player think about it? I was really curious where the Otome community stands on, well, all of this.
Hence the survey.
Math? Heavens To Betsy!
Remember one thing. Voice acting will always slow down a play time without adding additional story content. People speak much slower than most of us are able to read - at about half the speed, actually. So if you're listening to someone say the lines, this will increase the time it takes you to play through the same amount of content.
That's why some games will seem to have a very low word count for the amount of time they actually advertise.
One thing I noticed in the survey (and I'll go into this more later on) is that I don't think most players have any way to relate word count and a play time/time estimate to each other. This is partially because, I think, of the differences between reading speed and speaking speed. As I mentioned above, voice acting slows a game down. The same person who can finish a particular visual novel in four hours will most likely take about eight hours to finish the same game if it is voice acted (assuming they listen to the lines completely.)
I'm just going to quickly show how I crunched numbers to find the length in time for all the playable content in my game - and how to apply this to other games! Remember, length is only one factor among many in determining the value of a game. Quantity does not eclipse quality for most players but it is a factor - and a really important for some people.
Now, it's difficult to settle on an average reading time, but most sources list somewhere between 200 and 300 words per minute. Some sources go lower, others go higher. I think it's good to pick something toward the top of the typical average range as a starting point.
You can convert words per minute (wpm) to words per hour (wph) by multiplying wpm x 60 (because there are 60 minutes in one hour).
wpm x 60 = wph
At 300 words per minute, it will take players about 1 hour to read 18,000 words.
At 200 words per minute, you will read 12,000 words in 1 hour.
And so on.
This is, of course, assuming a constant reading speed.
If you have a word count (wc) and want to figure out how many hours it will take to finish all the content in that game, divide your word count by the wph. This will give you the amount of time in hours that it will take you to read every word in the game one time (again, assuming a constant reading speed).
wc/wph = Total Time to Play
Therefore, a 50,000 word game played by a person who reads at 300 wpm will take 2.7 hours to complete.
A 100,000 word game will take about 5.5 hours to complete.
A 200,000 word game will take about 11 hours to complete.
A 400,000 word game will take about 22 hours to complete
A 500,000 word game will take about 28 hours to complete.
As mentioned above, the same games with voice acting will take twice as long (or more). On average, people speak at about 100-150 wpm. If we use those numbers, it's about 9000 words per hour.
A 100,000 word game will take about 10 hours if it is voice acted and the player listens to each line fully.
A 200,000 word game will take about 22 hours voice acted.
A 400,000 word game will take 44 hours.
A 500,000 word game will take about 55 hours.
Remember, non-completionists will finish all these games sooner because they aren't going to be hunting down every scene variation and ending. In addition, this method does not include any time re-reading or skipping through previously seen content.
If you want to convert a play time into a probable word count, you can multiply wph by the time in hours it'll take to play the game and get a rough estimate what the word count should be in order to achieve that play time. This one is a little tricky since it's difficult to know how developers are calculating a given time estimate. If they're doing an average read time based method, this equation will give you a ballpark estimate. If they're considering the voice acted speed of consumption rather than a reading time, that will increase their time estimate (people speak at about 100-150 words per minute). In addition you really don't know if a developer might be trying to factor in re-reading or skipping through scenes to their time totals.
Regardless, here's the math:
Wph x hours in length = wc
So an un-voiced game that boasts 20 hours of playable content should have 240,000 - 360,000 words assuming the developers used an average reading time commonly stated throughout internet sources.
The Survey (dun Dun DUN)
And now that I've rambled on about all the above stuff, I want to get into the survey results! But first...more rambling. OwO;
This survey was very, very much geared toward allowing everyone to speak their individual thoughts. Because I really wanted to get into everyone's heads on this topic, I didn't want to shoehorn respondents into multiple-choice answers that reflected my personal biases, interpretations, or calculations. I wanted to see how everyone else thinks about this stuff. Surprisingly, a lot of people had similar things to say even where I allowed them to type their own answers (which was most of the survey.)
But I noticed one thing came up frequently - something I hadn't really considered, to be honest, and would never have considered *at all* if I had not allowed people to just speak freely. And that is how much importance people put on individual route length in addition to (and sometimes rather than) the length of the full game. Many people broke their answers down into a more route-based metric. Which, of course, makes total sense when you consider that the amount of love interests can vary anywhere from 3 to 12. There's a big difference in a 12 hour game where each love interest has a four hour route - and one where each love interest has a one hour route due to the sheer number of LIs.
That was a really good point that the survey really doesn't take into consideration in any way because I didn't really think of it in those terms. So that's something I'll address below whenever it comes up!
Results...Finally! (I.E. OMG, Esh do you ever shut up?)
1. How important is length to you when deciding whether to purchase a game?
The point of this question was just to see if anyone rules a game out because it doesn't meet some kind of length standard of they'll be more inclined to purchase one just because it's long. I've seen people say that they only play long games, or they don't play short games because they don't have time to get into the story before it's over. So I wanted to know how important length really is to the average player.
For 68.7% of the respondents, length is a factor in their game purchasing decisions, but it's not the most important thing they consider.
24.7% of people said that it's one of the more important things they look at before making a purchase. That's not a huge amount, but it's not a small chunk either.
6.8% did say length does not play a factor when they decide to purchase a game and less than 1% say it's the most important factor.
2. How strong a correlation is there between the length and what you consider to be an acceptable price?
This question is looking at the relationship between perceived value of a game and how long it is. The goal was to see if people specifically determine a game is a good value based on the length alone or mostly because of the length. Again, I've seen comments indicating people sometimes feel a game isn't worth the price because it's too short. So I wanted to examine how strong a role length plays in determining if a game is too expensive, or is a good deal.
Unsurprisingly, most people (93.8%) consider length when weighing if a game is worth the asking price. Of those, 53.4% say it's just one of many factors, while 40.4% say they won't buy a game if it seems too short for the price.
Only 6.2% of people said they will buy a game regardless of price or length as long as they like the premise.
The point here is that length is a factor when it comes to people thinking a game is worth the money - and for some people it can be a deal breaker if these two things don't seem to align.
3. If you have a specific metric for determining if a game's cost matches the length, please share! (optional - 32 people answered this)
This was aimed at people who, above, indicated that length has some impact on how they view the value of a game.
Of the people who answered this question, 59% gave some sort of price per hour as a metric. 43% gave a standard that roughly equates to $1, €1, or £1 per hour of game play. 9% were willing to pay more than $1 per hour of game play. 6% were willing to pay around $0.50 per hour of game play.
Other answers included things like considering price per route, or comparing games to other, more popular games, like Amnesia and Hakuoki before considering to buy. A few people also mentioned that they read the reviews to see what other people think of the game and use that as their main metric.
Interestingly, several people mentioned that they make a difference between indie games and those made by larger companies. The expectations for indie games were generally much lower. This was a theme I saw in several other questions as well.
4. Do you prefer a game's length to be stated as a word count, a play time (in hours), or both?
63% of people said they prefer the length to be stated in terms of play time/playable content only.
26.7% of respondents said they like to see both word count and a time estimate listed in the game description. That's a huge chunk of people - 89.7% - that like to see the time estimate in there.
8.9% said they prefer to see a word count rather than a time in hours.
1.4% of people said they really don't care one way or the other.
It's safe to say that, by listing both, developers would certainly have their bases covered. But anyone tempted to list only a word count should consider that really big group that likes to see a play time estimate included so it would definitely be wise to include it.
5. What does "play time" mean to you? For instance, is it the amount of time it takes to play through each route to the good ending one time. Or is it the amount of total playable content including all endings and scene variations? Or does it mean something else?
68% of the respondents to this survey consider a game's "play time" to be the total amount of unique content in the game counting all endings, scenes, and unlockable content. Many of these people specified that they do not consider time spent re-reading common paths and scenes, or skipping through previously seen content to count toward a game's total play time.
16% of people said they consider "play time" to account for a single time through the common path and each subsequent character path to the good ending. They do not consider all playable content (such as additional endings and scenes) to count toward a time estimate for the game.
9% of people specifically stated that they only consider per-route play times and don't like to see a time listed for the game as a whole, but as a per-route number.
The remaining responses were really too vague to understand how the respondents really views play time as a concept. But one person did indicate that they view play time for larger companies to be the total playable content and play time for indie studios to be a single play through to the good endings.
The next three questions deal with how people view "length" in Otomes. What is a "full-length" game, what is a "short" game, and what is a "long" game. I could have given people predetermined ranges to choose from. But those ranges would have been reflected my own interpretations and views. I really wanted to allow people to put this in their own words, because it helps me see how people look at and judge games. I feel like the answers here would have been way different had I forced everyone to select from choices rather than allowing people freedom to really speak their minds. Seeing the wide range of answers was really eye opening and super interesting. My observations are that players really struggle to equate a specific word count to a specific time it will take to play the game.
Many times people seem to relate a word count and a time frame that didn't match up using a reading speed metric. I wasn't sure if this was because people are unsure how those two things relate, or if it's because they were assuming the game had voice acting.
And, again, many people broke this down into a "per route" based answer, demonstrating just how important it is that each route be given attention versus just looking at the total game time.
6. What do you consider a "full length" otome to be in terms of word count and/or play time?
The range of times here was massive, as was the range of word counts. I was really surprised by both how short people were willing to go - and with how long some people went with their "full length" definitions. I was also really surprised by the word counts and times that people were connecting together. Sometimes people would pair a really low word count with a really high play-time - and vice versa.
The range was pretty incredible at 1-50 hours or 15,000 - 400,000 words.
14% of people gave a time under 10 hours or a word count that correlates to time under 10 hours of game play.
About 12% of people said they consider a full game to be at least 10 hours.
6% of people said they require at least 15 hours of game play to consider a game "full length" and 1% specifically said 16 hours.
About 25% of people said they consider 20 hours or more to be a full game. Several people in this group broke it down by route (5 routes, 4 hours each). One person specifically mentioned 22 hours
6% of people said they require at least 25 hours of game play.
13% said they require at least 30 hours and one person specifically said 35 hours.
4% of people said they consider that hit the 40 hour mark to be full length and 2% said they consider a game to be full length to be 50 hours or more.
7% of respondents said they expect a specific amount of time per route, but didn't specify how many routes so I couldn't calculate an overall game time and place them in one of the above groups. Most commonly, people in this group said 3-4 hours per route.
The remaining people gave answers that were too vague to gauge anything from or didn't seem to have a strong opinion on this issue.
7. What do you consider a short otome to be in terms of word count and/or play time?
For this question there was, again, a pretty high range for what is considered a short game. Far few people mentioned just a word count (or a word count at all). The range of time was anywhere from 1-30 hours being the cut off for being considered a "short game."
Some people gave a fairly big range within their answer - such as saying anything under 2-10 hours was a short game. For these people, I used the upper number. To determine which group to put them in. So if you said you consider anything under 2-10 hours as a short game, you went in the "under 10 hours" group.
18% of people said 1-2 hours is short (or gave a word count that correlates to that time).
Nearly 12% of people said 3-4 hours or less is a short game.
12.4% of people said they consider anything under 5-6 hours to be short.
3% of people said anything under 7-8 hours is short.
24% of people had 10 hours as their cut off. Anything under 10 is a short game.
2% said anything under 12 hours is short.
7% said anything under 15 hours is short.
6% said anything under 20 hours is a short game.
2% said 25 hours and below is a short game.
1% of people said anything under 30 hours is a short game.
4% of people specifically mentioned a per-route metric but didn't mention a specific number of routes, so I couldn't calculate a total game time. The route lengths ranged anywhere from 10 minutes per route to 2-3 hours per route.
8. What do you consider a "long" otome to be in terms of word count and/or play time?
2% consider a long game to be anything from 2-10 hours.
11% consider anything 10 hours or longer to be a long game.
Nearly 12% consider anything above 20 hours or longer to be a long game.
About 23% of people consider anything 30 hours or longer to be a long game.
15% of people consider anything above 40 hours to be a long game.
6% of people consider anything 50 hours or more to be a long game.
3% of people consider anything above 60 hours or more to be a long game.
4% of people consider games between 70-100 hours to be a long game.
7% of people gave a route specific metric instead of an overall game length. This ranged from 40 minutes to 9 hours per route being considered "long" which is a pretty significant range.
9. Considering your answers above, what do you consider to be the perfect length for a visual novel?
55.5% of responders consider their definition of "full-length" to be the ideal length of a Otome game while 25.3% prefer their definition of "long" Otomes.
No one prefers any definition of "short."
9% said some variation of "it depends" with the reason usually being that a good story is a good story regardless of length, and they consider that a more important factor.
2% said that they are fine with any length.
The remaining answers didn't really answer the question at hand. Several people did note in their answer that they don't have time for long games anymore even though they might prefer them.
10. When a specific play time is advertised, how does your play time usually stand up to the estimate?
41.8% of respondents say they tend to finish a game faster than the estimated time given specifically because they read faster than average.
2.1% of players say they finish the game faster than the estimated time because they tend to skim scenes rather than reading thoroughly.
7.5% say they usually finish a game faster even though they feel they read at an average speed.
26.7% say it takes them about the same amount of time as what's advertised.
15.1% of people say it takes them longer to finish a game despite that they feel they read at an average speed.
6.8% take longer to finish a game but are aware they read slowly.
I think the main takeaway here is that, given how everyone reads at different speeds it's really hard to accurately estimate how long it will really take someone to play through a game. Estimates are just that - estimates. A lot of people are going to zoom through an Otome while others will sashay through the story taking their time to savour every moment.
That said, 51.4% of players are likely to finish a game faster than the game developers expect them to.
11. Do you happen to know how fast you read? If so, how fast? (optional 60 responses)
This was connected to the post above as I was really curious to see how fast or slow people actually read. 59 people answered this question, but 10 responded with some variation of "I don't know."
49 gave some kind of indication of speed, but only 22 gave an exact number.
61.1% of the ones who listed some kind of speed indicated they read very fast/above average. Of those, 18.3% posted speeds that were at speed-reader level, the highest of which were significantly faster than most other respondents. 42.8% were just somewhat above average. 26.5% of respondents read at average speeds.
12% of respondents say they read slow, or below average.
There was an almost 700 word per minute difference between the slowest reader and faster reader who answered the survey. This makes finding a central tendency a little difficult using just an average.
The biggest group within the data set of actual given speeds was the 200-300 wpm range, and the median reading time was 300 wpm.
12. Do you prefer a game to take longer than expected, or be shorter than expected?
53.4% of people said they prefer the game to be longer than expected.
22.6% say it really doesn't matter.
14.4% say they don't want either. They want the game to be as long as they expect it to be. So hopefully these guys fall into that percentage that say this is their experience!
7% of people expressed that it either depends on the game or they don't have a preference.
2.7% of people say they actually prefer the game to be shorter than their expectations!
13. How does it affect your opinion if the game is shorter than the advertised play time, if at all?
The answers here fell mostly into a few categories.
23.9% of respondents to the survey would have completely neutral feelings about a game that was shorter than the advertised play time.
19.8% of people said their feelings would be dependent on the quality of the content - if the content was good, they would still be happy with the game (or if the content was lacking, they would feel cheated).
15.7% said their feelings would depend on how much discrepancy there was between what was advertised and what they experienced; if the play time was significantly different, they would have a negative reaction.
19.1% of people said they would have a slight negative reaction toward the game, feeling slightly or mildly disappointed/sad that the game didn't fully deliver on the advertised content.
19.8 % of people indicated they would have a stronger negative reaction to the point of being angry or feeling ripped off by a game that didn't deliver on the advertised content.
Even though many people factor the length of a game into their purchase, nearly 60% of people indicate they would potentially still be fine with a game that didn't manage to deliver on an estimated time. At the same time, 40% said they would definitely have some kind of negative reaction, so that also cannot be ignored.
14. How does it affect your opinion of the game if it is longer than the advertised play time, if at all?
40% of people indicated no opinion, or completely neutral feelings if the game turns out to be longer than advertised.
34% indicated they would their response would depend on the quality of content or the amount of time it went beyond the original estimate. Most of these people said they'd be glad to have additional content if it was good content, but frustrated if the game felt it was padded out with unnecessary filler.
6% of people said they'd be annoyed or frustrated with the game and typically felt that they'd grow bored with it if it was too much longer than expected.
27.3% of people said they'd be glad and potentially feel like they'd gotten more for their money if the game was longer than what they expected.
One person thought this question was stupid. LoL
15. Finally, do you have any other thoughts regarding play time, game length, word count, or anything else on this subject that wasn't covered by the rest of the questions? (optional - 54 responses)
Since this was a bit of a free-for-all, lots of various things were brought up, expanded on, or addressed. There were a few things that were mentioned multiple times so I wanted to bring them up here (though several were mentioned already.
First, a lot of people mentioned throughout the survey - and again here - that they're more interested in route length than overall game length. Many reasons were given for this but a few things came up several times. For one, if people are given only an overall word count, they can't be certain how those words are allotted in the story. If most of the content is in a common route rather than the character routes, the romance aspect of the story might be unfulfilling because it's not given enough story time, for instance.
In addition, people brought up the number of LIs in relation to the word count. If the individual routes are too short in relation to the rest of the game, people indicated they would feel dissatisfied with the game as a whole, no matter what the total length is. An example that game up several times was that it would be more satisfying to have, for instance, four routes of four hours each than eight routes at two hours each.
Another thing mentioned throughout these comments as well as the rest of the survey is that while people generally prefer longer games because they tend to mean more detailed content, longer games that long exclusively because they are padded with unnecessary filler are not particular fun. Developers need to learn to tell complex, detailed stories, not just stories that are long because they're full of boring fluff content.
Finally, several people left comments that indicate they're often unsure what all is included in estimated play times - do they count re-reading or skipping through seen content? Is the common route counted multiple times? Do they include extras and bonus content as well?