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Visual nov­els are get­ting a big push late­ly on Steam. It seemed the flood gates opened at some point, and we are now awash with the medi­um on the plat­form. I gen­er­al­ly view this as a good thing de­spite vi­su­al nov­els (VNs) not be­ing a main­stay of my gam­ing time the past few years. Not every­one seems to think that this rise is such a good thing, as one writer from Playboy — of all places — laments this rise in promi­nence when he ex­plains that sex scenes make him feel weird when try­ing to rec­om­mend cer­tain vi­su­al nov­els to friends. This ar­ti­cle seems to ig­nore the pletho­ra of dif­fer­ent genre spe­cif­ic VNs re­leased over the decades. One of the more pop­u­lar va­ri­eties, otome’s (think ro­man­tic Choose Your Own Adventures) are ac­tive­ly mar­ket­ed to­wards women, and fea­ture more feels than flesh — gen­er­al­ly.

We are not here to­day to talk about how hor­ri­bly mis­guid­ed this poor chap at Playboy is, though. I had been laugh­ing this off on so­cial me­dia when I found out that there *is* some­thing to be a tad wor­ried about in vi­su­al nov­els. And it isn’t cheesy ro­mance or awk­ward sex scenes. It’s everyone’s fa­vorite mar­ket prac­tice: mi­cro trans­ac­tions and DLC abuse.

Now I do want to state that I do not think every in­stance of mi­cro trans­ac­tions in a game, or DLC to ex­pand con­tent, is by de­fault a bad thing. It is my re­lief to re­port that in my re­search, what I am about to de­tail is not the mar­ket norm right now — at least on desk­top. To short­ly state as to not di­gress, I feel it is a fair deal most times when I see items like a VNs sound­track or art­work avail­able as DLC for an ex­tra charge.

My line gets drawn when I see DLC items like char­ac­ter epi­logues, or game modes, be­ing divvied out as DLC.

Meet Exhibit One. Its name is Mystic Destinies: Serendipity of Aeons. Mystic Destinies of­fers it­self as a free to play vi­su­al nov­el, though it is re­al­ly more of a demo. It of­fers the first chap­ter of each char­ac­ter for free, and to ex­plore the rest of a char­ac­ters arc you need to buy their sto­ry DLC. This, in and of it­self, is not some­thing I have a prob­lem with ei­ther. I can ac­tu­al­ly see this as a good way to have peo­ple try a VN in the first place, then only pay for the sto­ries that they like. But Mystic Destinies abus­es this.

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How so? The Epilogue for each char­ac­ter is an ad­di­tion­al DLC. Each character’s sto­ry is $4.99, with their epi­logue be­ing an­oth­er $1.99. Granted, it is only two dol­lars, but this is how they get you with mi­cro trans­ac­tions. Get you into a sys­tem where you want to spend just a bit more. I don’t even un­der­stand what led the de­vel­op­er to this dis­cus­sion. Frankly, I would have just tacked the ex­tra price into the to­tal cost of that character’s arc.

I don’t care if the sto­ry of this par­tic­u­lar VN is the equiv­a­lent of War and Peace, these are not prac­tices that I would sup­port. Again, not the idea of a free to play base VN with a spe­cif­ic character’s full sto­ry as DLC. But that is the kick­er. You want the *full* sto­ry for that char­ac­ter. I would not want to sig­nal to any­one that split­ting off an epi­logue is a prac­tice that should be­come a norm.

Speaking of split­ting off bits of game, let’s ush­er in Exhibit Two for to­day: Army of Tentacles: (Not) A Cthulhu Dating Sim. When AAA pub­lish­ers have tried to cut off ex­tra game modes as DLC, peo­ple right­ful­ly got a bit irked. Because of their niche ap­peal, there are not as many peo­ple around to cry foul when a vi­su­al nov­el does some­thing sim­i­lar on Steam. Army of Tentacles has the dis­tinc­tion of of­fer­ing it’s New Game+ mode as an ex­tra $3.99 tack-on pur­chase.

I’ve seen games, even in­die games (see Rabi-Ribi), in­clude new game modes as af­ter re­lease sup­port for a ti­tle as a free in­cen­tive to new play­ers to pur­chase, as well as a way of get­ting old­er play­ers to come back and rec­om­mend the game af­ter the buzz of it’s re­lease date is gone.

Offering some­thing like a New Game+ mode as an­oth­er one of these mi­cro trans­ac­tion­al ad­di­tions is one of those things I per­son­al­ly would not want to sig­nal sup­port for in the mar­ket ei­ther. While it’s a free mar­ket for prac­tices to thrive or fail as they will, this is cer­tain­ly one that I would not like tak­ing root in VNs, or games at large.

It’s only been semi-recently that the abil­i­ties of the Steam mar­ket­place have al­lowed desk­top vi­su­al nov­els to ex­plore these mi­cro trans­ac­tions and DLC av­enues. This has been much more of a norm on mo­bile, though sad­ly that is ex­pect­ed these days. That is a damn shame too, as tablets are ar­guably the best plat­form for en­gag­ing VNs on.

The worst of the mo­bile mar­ket prac­tices are just as present on many otome games on the mo­bile mar­ket. Some of the worst of­fend­ers, like It’s Our Secret Fake Marriage (the things I do for the name of re­search), only let you ad­vance through the sto­ries with a cur­ren­cy — like en­er­gy or sce­nario tick­ets (dif­fer­ent names, same con­cept). Each tick­et would get me rough­ly 1 – 2 min­utes of sto­ry ad­vance­ment, with up to five free tick­ets re­gen­er­at­ed at a rate of one tick­et per few hours. To buy tick­ets, you spend 85 coins a piece, with coins start­ings at $0.99 for 99 coins.

Oh, there are ways to earn free coins. These in­sid­i­ous games al­ways have ways. Just give them your email ad­dress, share them on Twitter, in­vite your friends, and in­stall LINE and shill on there for them. Don’t for­get to rate the game five stars for a bonus!

Despite com­ing to ex­pect the mo­bile mar­ket to be a waste­land of con­sumer friend­li­ness al­ready, it nev­er ceas­es to amaze me the depths of some of it. These prac­tices may be the or­der of the day on mo­bile, but that’s be­cause most of those con­sumers al­ready ac­qui­esced to them long ago.

Thankfully, the over­whelm­ing amount of vi­su­al nov­els on Steam of­fer fair (to me) DLC pur­chas­es. The dig­i­tal art­book, the OSTs, and the voiced “Plus” ad­di­tions are not the prac­tices I am wor­ried about. The slic­ing off of game con­tent like char­ac­ter epi­logues and game modes is al­ready some­thing we see in the AAA realm, and some­thing I would be wary of sup­port­ing in the vi­su­al nov­el are­na.

When it comes to con­sumer prac­tices, some will push things as far up to the line as pos­si­ble. The biggest de­fense against these prac­tices is the con­sumer be­ing aware and not sup­port­ing what they find egre­gious. Don’t let cur­rent out­liers be­come fu­ture norms.

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Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand