The last decade has seen a rise in prominence of anime based on story-based PC games with moe characters, known as bishoujo games. 2012's Little Busters, Total Eclipse, Love, Elections & Chocolate, Fate/zero and Madoka Magica are all either based on bishoujo games, tied to related franchises or linked by creative talent. And yet the industry is being squeezed by piracy, shifting technology and competing media.
Japan's Business Journal recently spoke to Sakai “nbkz” Nobukazu, the lead producer of the company minori, which produced the famous series ef, about the problems faced by the industry.
nbkz outlines the production of a game, which requires a minimum of five people to put together the text and art for a professional quality game - scenario writer, a director, one artist and two assistant artists. However, that sort of staff would find it difficult to complete a game in a year, so more staff is needed. If a company hires more staff or raises the production quality, some titles can run into hundreds of yen in costs - Supipara and ef both went over 100 million yen in terms of production costs.
Making game has also gotten costlier over the years due to expenses of creating higher quality CG, keeping pace with advances in computer display resolution.
At the same time, the market is shrinking. At the peak, around 2000, a game that sold 100,000 copies was considered a blockbuster. 30,000 copies sold meant a big hit, and games that sold 20,000 copies was a success. Now, sales of 10,000 copies is considered a success.
Piracy is considered a problem, but real culprit could be the changing face of media consumption. Bishoujo games rose with the proliferation of PCs and willingness for a person to sit in front of one, playing a solo game. However, with YouTube, social media, social games, and an increasing diversity of gaming devices, that's no longer how most consume media. The result is that bishoujo games are largely only bought and played by hardcore bishoujo game fans.
The consequences have included a squeeze on the industry and its workers. Asked about salaries, nbkz notes " On average, I’m thinking about 3 million yen ($32k) a year. It’s rare to find people who make 4 million yen. 3 million yen means a monthly salary of 250,000 JPY (~$2,700) without bonuses. Only companies with good sales numbers can afford to pay their workers that much. Of course, if someone makes a blockbuster, everyone on the staff will get more money. If you’re a famous artist, you’ll have other sources of income, too."