Monthly Archives: November 2017

Here’s Another Manhattan Anime Con

I’m going to Anime NYC this weekend, but I’m not going to be there for most of the con. Such is when real life collides with hobby.

Anime cons in the NY area is really a mixed bag. Outside of the city there has been a handful of small events, and a couple big ones. In the early 00s we’ve had the CPM-associated cons, then NYAF, then part of the NYCC, and now not much else. Basically in 3 years of absorbing NYAF, NYCC had become kind of a hollow shell for anime content. I went there more to see bkub and random JP vendors than anything. Anime merch game in general is kind of lame out here, and most things you can buy online anyway, similarly priced without having to deal with a sea of people. I suppose NYCC is still OK for freebies (I’m long out of this game) and exclusives (too niche for me). The last NYCC I attended years ago all I remember was playing janken to get GSC photo posters of their figures.

The difficulty of running an anime con within NYC is multifold. It really comes down to not having a big enough space that’s affordable and have the amenities, and in a good spot. Javits Center is really the only place big enough and central enough, but it’s near a bunch of crummy construction things and tunnels. Things have improved somewhat over the years–now there are more food and open spaces nearby, plus a subway stop–but it’s still one of my least favorite event venues, with the only real benefit being all the things not in Javitz center that’s in the same city. That’s an attendee’s point of view, but the cost of putting a bunch of kids in a same spot in a city like New York is pretty high, high enough to make this kind of a challenge, I suppose.

Maybe an alternate approach for otaku exhibitions in an old and busy city is to break down the events by subcultural tribes, which is what teases New Yorkers more regularly. It’s like, instead of a circus coming into town you just have a clown march on one day, and go to the zoo the other day, and watch some broadway show the next. Yeah, there are some obvious downsides to this approach but so does every other approach that we know.

Anyways, I’m mildly excited to finally see Chihi, True and Ishida Yoko overseas, and going to a live with Chihi performing in it. I’m also kind of interested to get an autograph for Chihi but if it conflicts with my RL plans, maybe I won’t…

I wonder if Agent Hazap will send anyone there. Time to practice their salute? LOL.


Loot Box Situation, Whale Perspective

The Star Wars Battlefront II Loot Box Whine situation is one thing, but I have thought about this a lot over the years, as a transition from someone who only knows about gacha games into someone who whales in gacha games. I have my own take on this, which is microtransactions will invariably be a part of life for a lot of gamers, because that’s where the business is going no matter if you are AAA or the most indie of indie game makers. As business models revolving around various styles of microtransaction matures, we should see more significant and mature design philosophies and best practices emerge.

That is if people who make games get a clue. I think for the most part, the people who cut their teeth on the various app stores with F2P models do today, at least as a business. They wouldn’t be in the business otherwise, since that field is quite competitive. It’s a different ball game with AAA for sure, as the constraints are different.

I guess I can start with some disclosures. One of my dayjob’s department (which I’m not related to or work with) actually publishes F2P games and deals with some microtransaction. They are big on narrative driven games powered by subscriptions, where a customer on the plan can get new content on a regular basis. Subscriptions are really the way to go for certain markets where the mentality is a lot more entrenched against gacha, or due to government regulation on gacha, things are more limited.

The fundamental psychology behind player emotion, satisfaction, and gacha is interesting, but the game design side is also very interesting. Most of the interplay between psychology and design in gacha-style games are no different than any other game. You want mechanics that evoke positive emotions and behavior that drives player interests forward, and you build a content delivery system along that to create positive feedback and further emotional and behavioral reinforcement. On the flip side, you want players to have agency yet gate content reasonably with some metric to reward user attention, play time, skill and spend.

There is actually space for negative reinforcement too, I think, but in very limited cases–I see this the most in Korean and Chinese online games now where player simply just grind for the most part, in a sad way that mimics an outlook of reality that is unpopular in the west. In short, simple and repetitive completion rewards those who can put in the most time playing, and reinforces a sense of fairness and achievement through predictable, simple labor as a form of escapism. The model is attractive because the development is simple and the content is piled on linearly. In a way I feel this is the approach Battlegrounds II is taking.

On the flip side you have a game like Deresute, where gacha is the beginning and the end and it’s really like gambling, in that the stuff you want is gated inside the UFO Catcher machine of bling and glam. It’s great fun to hit a jackpot and this is part of the game’s draw. On the far side of the digital idol-casino-resort is all the rhythm game machine you can play rhythm games, or a game of house, or watch idols dance. Each section of the game is its own draw that are tied together thematically by a cohesive franchise.

Basically, try this thread.

I think a basic understanding in terms of free play versus paid play tend to come down to being able to get what you want easier. In these idol gacha games for example, the goals tend to be the collection of some or all idols, and/or creating strong teams or specific teams or outfits for the rhythm game part. Free players just gain idols at a slower rate than paid players, and strongest cards are gated more so for free players (needing to roll). The strategy is either you spend your currency in ranking to get fairly strong but effort-based characters or you save more of it to roll. The efficacy comes down to pricing and availability of the ingame currency, as well as how competitive the game is for events (which is tied to how strong or desirable the reward is). This is where you balance player perception of “P2W” by making a big enough of a separation between winning competitively in rhythm games and winning in the casino in your idol-casino-resort. (It isn’t in Battlefront II but western gamers don’t know the difference, partly because the play paths are unusual for a AAA game and it’s obfuscated (intentionally even) by the game design choices.)

This really leads to one thing: explaining the loot in the box. In Japan rates and results of gacha is available by law. There are some loopholes to this (see: building ships in Cancolle or Azur Lane). There are some downsides to publishing your rates, too. But there are upsides, which is people can figure out how to play your game right in terms of how the gacha mechanics play in player progression. This isn’t clear in Battlefront II by design. Furthermore, having the probability and rewards available is just less sketchy and people can take you to your word in terms of rolling the die, and gives developers and publishers more credibility. You want this to not be like actual gambling in reality, in that people are doing it because they don’t know what they’re doing, that it’s done sometimes coercively, that people don’t trust the system (especially when it’s unregulated). You kind of actually want it to be like actual gambling, in that it’s fun for some, and the odds are well known. In other words, microtransaction games can be the best of both worlds–or at least a bit better than each of them separately. Developers can get paid no matter of their games’ scale, and game designers and players can embrace the RNG for mutual benefit.

I think this has to happen first by devs knowing how to extract pleasure for microtransactions in a non-zero-sum kind of way. Which is to say, you have to treat all your customers like customers, because paying customers are only going to have a good time only if nonpaying customers are also having a good time. It’s not like video games have real marginal costs, so this is entirely possible, and is actually what happens in many of the best F2P games. It’s a real pity that this hasn’t been the case in the earlier days of microtransaction, firmly planting the concept in the negatives in public.


Hometown Tax, Buppan Bros

Two more ideas for this blog post. First, ImotoSae’s tax accountant.

I’m all for sadistic Nunu whispering “Oniichan” to my ears. That aside, the Hometown Tax or Furusato Tax or whatever, the idea is piggy-backing on the rural revival ideas partly described via these lines of thoughts, but without the actual tourism. The tax-deductible donation system is originally intended for people who moved to the big cities from the countryside, so that they can financially contribute to their hometown’s municipality. What’s more, the beneficiary can, in return, gift the person who designated part of their income tax to the municipality. This has become a weird scheme in which people are basically buying things via their hometown tax, because you don’t actually have to designate the money to your literal home town. You can donate to just about any Japanese municipality, even an urban one. You can read about the full situation here. I mean, just go and look at the home page of Furusato tax, it’s like a full blown shopping site.

Here are some things that was available for “purchase” with the donation (tax deductible!):

It’s not to say it isn’t already cool to get wagyu beef or snow crab legs from a humble donation (well, some of the gifts are quite expensive in order to get, but they are tax deductible). What’s kind of fearsome is that some of these goods are simply things you can’t buy, however, and are worth a lot if they are fungible. If you ever wonder how the hometown tax ends up relevant in a super otaku anime, now you know.

As for filing income tax as a freelancer or consultant in Japan, yeah it’s more about figuring out the deductions, but also knowing how much you have to pay to cover for insurance and various fees. That stuff is just administrative though.

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The BBT of anime, Anime-Gataris, has a moment in this past week’s episode where the Gataris meet Beibei (baby is the pun in the title, right?), a Chinese otaku braving Summer Ket along with our youthful protagonists. This is something kind of endearing to me as an experience, because it’s like a special bond you form with other folks in your same predicament, may it be a hostage situation or braving summer of Japan outdoors from 3am to 1pm, in a line. And you think Comiket lines are bad? LOL.

It’s kind of weird in that, not only I’ve had similar experiences (minus the Japanese speaking part), I’ve seen/been a part of it enough times that I don’t even bother anymore. I mean, usually I want to sleep, you know? Also, too bad Beibei and the Gataris are not Producers, because we would exchange IM@S business cards as part of the ritual. It’s pretty cool how you actually end up keeping in touch with some of these folks over the years because you got their contact info at an offkai or in the goods line. It’s one of those funny fandom quirks that ends up being really useful and a neat part of the fandom. It’s not a unique part of the fandom, I guess, because it’s pretty common for cosplay and art circles to have vanity/business cards, but it’s something to think about.


Letting Yourself Go: Netjuu Is Neat / Sakura Quest In a Nutshell

Lets herself go” is exactly what I’d say is happening to Morimori. I’ve been watching Netjuu and while it’s not my favorite of the season (ImoSae is by far my favorite) I think there’s a lot to be said about this show.

This reminds me a lot of another anime I watched recently: Re:LIfe. There is an element of fancy that largely sets on a mundane configuration that makes more sense as J-drama material than anime would. In this case, it’s probably easier to do a MMORPG look in anime than it would with live actors, and on a certain level anime and voice acting do a better job than, say, showing the same deadpan shock face of Aragaki or something.

I think what makes Netjuu work is not just the delightful voice acting that Evirus pointed out (and it’s not just Noto and Ueda, much of the cast is good as well, but man are those two great like this), but it’s a nice headtrick compared to the other video games relationship stories of recent. Gamers is the one that sticks out to me, and along those lines there are others you can think of, probably. It’s cliche to have a romance budding from MMORPG buddies–10 years too late I’d say–but in some ways the deal of having an ikemen becoming interested in you to begin with out of a chance encounter, and then having to overcome that l33t NEET barrier is what drives, well, mainstream hits like Densha Otoko. It’s a makeover. It’s just nice that gaming is so in nowadays!

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Related to my last post, check out ChaosT’s post on Sakura Quest, as if you didn’t watch the show. There are a few other notes I want to drop, mainly on immigration and population growth.

Using USA as an anecdote, population growth by demo generally slant towards immigrant sectors. I think the trend globally has been that towards established economies, population growth via natural birth have slowed when breaking into demographics and ignoring immigrants.

From an outsider point of view, it’s a no brainer as to what’s happening to Japan. Maybe nobody really knows why some people stop having so many kids or whatever, and this is something that could be caused by varying things differently for different people groups. And maybe it’s not satisfactory to just call Japan’s isolationist and xenophobic tendencies as “racism.” It’s a lot deeper than that term now has come to mean things. I can only speak for myself, but the feeling has long been that some of the people of Japan would rather perish than to change their ways, and now they are getting their wish. It’s a form of racism, I suppose, but it’s not really about discrimination, and it’s not even an unwillingness to compromise–it’s more like they’re unable to seek alternatives. It’s like a form of racial segregation gone wrong, or in evolutionary terms, when a society or set of cultural customs become unable to change in a way to continue its existence, it will eventually goes away and become extinct.

It’s not insidious per se. It’s like in a hypothetical world where everyone rides buses, only white people can sit in front of buses. Unfortunately for the hypothetical bus riders, it turns out sitting in the back of the bus drastically improves your survival rate in bus accidents, and these buses have accidents all the time. And the hypothetical people deciding who gets to sit where on the bus aren’t evil about discriminating against non-whites, compared to their greater desires to have white people sit in front of the bus for some other reasons not connected to continuous survival of white people in this example. Hopefully the people in this hypothetical can take a lesson from Sakura Quest and get bus-on-demand via their iOS apps; the racism can be dealt with later when people stop dying.


Anime Pilgrimage and Tourism

SDS blurs Cool Japan and otaku pilgrimages! I don’t know, they’re not the same to me. Maybe from a 10000-mile view in the USA, you can hand-wave the two, since it’s kind of neat to go to Japan’s countryside and enjoy its traditional cultural entertainment neglected by its changing domestic demographic be in an anime, but please.

I think a more reasonable starter is this Kelts write-up of the Bonburi festival, and you can compare it to the Crunchynews take as both were invited to attend this year’s festival in Kanazawa via JETRO and PA Works. I like Kelt’s write-up because it gets at the key issues that resonate with me. I like the CR write-up because, that’s what it is like when you go as an anime pilgrim. (Although with that said you can do much better than to just post screenshots next to the photos you take. This is why HPT is…a mistake….)

  1. Good luck booking a room at one of the traditional ryokans! In general, there are not enough accommodations in Japan for foreigner visitors. By this I mean housing availability is domestic market-based; you have to have some amount of savvy to deal with it. Part of it is a matter of being able to find places to book even if they are available, as there are few centralized sites you can access overseas, in English, and be able to remotely lock in a reservation. A good number of the more traditional places can be only booked by phone, even if you know where to look. I’ve not booked any hotels by phones since the 1990s. Festivals (and in some of the more touristy parts of Japan, it’s seasonal) generally have high demands for out-of-towners, so those rooms sell out fast–in other words, because the demand spikes, it’s hard to justify building a lot of capacity when only a couple days out of a year that the rooms will sell out. This applies pretty much all across rural Japan, as only business-type hotels tend to be the kind of accommodations available on demand within not-months-out for any peak season. So on the bright side, if you want to pilgrim out of season, there will be places to stay even last minute. On the other hand, when the nice traditional experiences sell out half a year ahead sometimes, it’s hard to book and go for anyone, foreigner or not. Tokyo itself is a different story, in the sense that foreign tourism actually significantly impacts the hotels in the region (see: busloads of Chinese people, although this might be more significant out in proper tourist destinations like Hokkaido and Okinawa). Tokyo in general needs more hotels if you ask me, and Japan overall needs better booking portals, especially out in the boondocks.
  2. What is there to do besides taking photos? When I went to Oarai I did that, I ate and stayed the night there, and I did a stamp rally (which would have taken a full day)–only because I was able to book a ryokan there. It kind of goes to #1. To have that full “Kino’s Journey” experience you need to stay at least a night or two. And frankly unless all you want to do is take comparison photos (some people I know do mainly this on pilgrimages, and it actually irritates me), it can be challenging to find things to do. A few gaijins can stick out like a sore thumb at any local small mom & pops shop, say, for dinner, but this is kind of the charm some want from such an experience: that awkward exchanges with other pilgrims or locals who know you’re a pilgrim. At the same time, it’s easier at some places because they’re very used to seeing it year round. Oarai is a good example because it has long been a big pilgrimage site, and it’s not far from Tokyo. I imagine Yuwaku not so much. One of the things that makes Sendai attractive as a pilgrimage location is that there’s all the amenities and things to do a bigger city offers. There is actually nightlife at Sendai, for start.
  3. The degree of success of these otaku pilgrim pitches vary, but I think Oarai is exemplary because you can go during off season and still find pilgrims, even in 2017. Will you find pilgrims in Yuwaku during January? I have no idea. In some ways, this was one of the recurring, unspoken themes in Sakura Quest: PA Works throws some parties, it’s a huge effort for the organizers, but its impact is not lasting. Rural Japan will continue to shrink.

I feel the real spirit of otaku pilgrimage is actually completely missing in this discussion–you’re a tourist in all of these cases, so go and have fun, broaden your sights and knowledge, and experience something new. It takes a degree of adventure but also a degree of reservation, if only to give respect to the locals and do as the locals do. If there’s something fun and enjoyable you can do once you get to the place you want to go, things should work out by themselves. If you’re a culinary tourist type like myself, Japan in general should be pretty fun!