Welcome back for Part 4 of our series dedicated to Diversifying Your Platforms! As we’ve discussed in previous weeks, diversifying your publishing platforms can help an author reach a larger audience that won’t necessarily sit down and read through more traditional formats. Today we’re going to be discussing Visual Novels, or, as they’re sometimes called, VNs. You might be asking ‘What are Visual Novels?’ Visual Novels are text-heavy video games, where the focus is on the story. Unlike a typical script, play, or movie, Visual Novels usually carry an element of interactivity to them. This interactivity can both enrich your story, but also make it harder to write. There are multitudes of stories a person can tell using the Visual Novel format. The key understanding, like last week’s blog about YouTube, is that your expectations as a writer are different. You must, instead, become a director: thinking about visuals, music, and interaction are new components you may or may not have the skills for. Benefits of the Visual Novel Format:
  • Interactivity: VNs are one of the few interactive platforms a writer can participate in. Interactivity increases player focus, which helps keep the reader interested in the story as they have higher stakes.
  • Popularity: VNs are high-ranking forms of entertainment, especially considering some independent marketing numbers. Steam Spy reveals, for instance, that the Walking Dead Telltale series on the Steam platform alone has roughly 2.5 million players. That’s a single platform, digital numbers only. When’s the last time a piece you wrote had 2.5 million people interacting with it?
  • Genre Range: Visual Novels come in a variety of formats and genres. Recettear is a semi-popular VN based on being an Item Shop merchant in an RPG. The Zero Time Dilemma franchise is a trilogy of science fiction and horror-based puzzlers, where the hero must solve Saw-style traps to stay alive. Some Visual Novels are spicy, some are more grounded in reality. Just like fiction itself, there’s a wide enough niche for any kind of story. Consider even Dream Daddy, which could be argued to be a niche game. It still wound up with nearly 200,000 owners that are actively playing it today.
  • Platform Range: Every new game console that releases carries with it its own opportunities to develop for it. There are a gamut of popular programs to help one with programming: You can start as simple as the RPGMaker series, or as difficult as raw C++.
  • Franchise: The Visual Novel is another piece of media for what could be a very successful franchise, if spun the right way.
Visual Novel format also has a few drawbacks to consider:
  • Production Costs: The very act of writing, designing, and programming a video game in and of itself is more expansive and more time consuming than writing alone. (Though, like anything, this varies depending on your individual skill level and your individual familiarity with each platform.) Obviously you need a qualified artist, one who’s familiar with your subject. Along with this, you’ll need a quality coder (if the game is small) to help. You’ll need mixing and editing programs, sample music, etc. The start-up costs for all this can be prodigious… not to mention the hourly pay for each of these artists and specialists can eat a chunk of change.
  • Changing How You Write: Writing an interactive script is way different than penning a short story or a podcast. You have to think about every aspect of your script and whether it’s feasible to you and your budget. Every new character is another piece of art for your artist to pen, or another voice actor to find if your game is voiced. (Which most VNs are, nowadays.)
  • People Are Hard to Manage: It’s possible to be a two man team and get tons of work done on your project… but even if you start a company with some of your best friends, if you don’t stay on target, your vision may not be seen through. Your crew is important, but the project will have to be more important if you want to actually get anything done with it. Your loved ones can be difficult to handle in a professional environment. Visual Novels are a product of a lot of different expertise, but if your artist won’t listen to your feedback or won’t work like he should it can and will strain relationships.
  • Audience Engagement: Just like all mediums, video games, and in particular Visual Novels, require a following to continue being relevant. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: consistency is key. A series with a schedule is important, as is keeping up to date on your programming schedule. Actively engaging with your players and contemporaries by going and tagging their game channels, leaving positive comments, creating teaser videos, and talking with video game blogs and news sites all help to cultivate an audience for your product. It’s important to understand that though Visual Novels by their nature are attractive to a greater variety of people, just like any creative outlet, they won’t just magically attract viewers all on its own. Cross-promotion with blogs, podcasts, and separate social media platforms can help grow your audience.
Are VNs for you? That’s up to you to decide. Do the research and think about how your writing and resources can be applied to this new format. If it’s an easy fit, then consider it. If it’s not, consider if you have the time or resources to devote to it.   Sources/Further Reading: https://steamspy.com/tag/Visual+Novel