The recent events regarding Bokuten ~ Why I Became an Angel’s removal, and then reinstatement to the Steam storefront has probably left you as confused as many of us. Thankfully, MangaGamer is willing to shed some light on this strange saga.
For fans of visual novels, the events of the last week or so have been a bit head-scratching. Bokuten ~ Why I Became an Angel from publisher MangaGamer was pulled from Steam with no warning. Even MangaGamer themselves were caught unaware by the sudden removal of a game that released over six months ago. Initially, many felt that Valve had unfairly targeted MangaGamer. Something that, unfortunately, many feel has happened in the past and that I covered in regards to The Expression Amrilato last year. Then some new information came to light.
Reports began to emerge that some pieces of 18+ content were located in the Steam build of the game. If true, then perhaps Valve did have a reason to pull the game. Then again, when you consider that Valve allows other MangaGamer titles that have adult content in them on its storefront, it certainly sends mixed signals. What could possibly be in Bokuten that would warrant such a response? That’s what I wanted to find out.
I reached out to MangaGamer’s Head Translator and PR contact, John Pickett, and asked if they’d be willing to conduct an email interview about Bokuten and it’s removal from the Steam platform. Graciously, John and MangaGamer were willing to speak with us. So, I present to you, dear reader, quite the comprehensive interview regarding this saga. From what Bokuten is; to the timeline of these events; to even a response regarding Valve’s claim that Bokuten “features adult content with underage characters.”
Who is MangaGamer, and how long have you been publishing visual novels?
We’re a company that was founded around 2008 in Japan by a group of Japanese Visual Novel developers who saw potential in the Western market for Visual Novels and set out to develop it so they could share visual novels with the world. Since our early beginnings 12 years ago, we’ve worked closely with a variety of talented localization staff, all of whom are passionate fans who love visual novels themselves.
What is Bokuten – Why I Became an Angel?
Bokuten is a very interesting and unique visual novel. One of the core ideas that first spawned its creation was, “What if there was only a finite amount of love in the world?” So in the world of Bokuten, Angels are the ones who have realized this and use their powers to find the fragments of broken hearts lost with every failed love and return them to the person who lost them so that they might once again find happiness and increase happiness in the world.
Throughout the game, the player takes on the role of jaded, cynical Tomoe, who’s roped into helping Aine perform her duties as an angel. This forces Tomoe to confront a variety of different romantic relationships, none of which are perfect, and ultimately make the decision to let them give up on the relationship or to return their broken heart and have them keep trying to make it work. Though, of course, regardless of which one you choose, there are consequences, and Tomoe must bear witness to them and ultimately decide what he feels happiness entails.
How long has MangaGamer been working with the developer, OVERDRIVE, on bringing Bokuten to the West?
OVERDRIVE is one of the founding partners of MangaGamer, so we’ve been working with them since the very beginning. It was decided early on – when we first saw the proposal documents for Bokuten’s development back in 2012 – that this would be a story we definitely wanted to bring to the West.
Bokuten launched on December 19, 2019. What was the initial reception for both the All-Ages and 18+ versions of the game?
Like a lot of OVERDRIVE’s titles thus far, the game was something of a cult hit – it didn’t necessarily reach as many people as others have, but it left a strong emotional impact on everyone who has played it.
In addition to the Steam release, Bokuten was released on Discord as well, correct?
Correct, when we made the decision to create an all-ages version of Bokuten, we knew we wanted it to be able to reach more people so we decided to offer it through Discord in addition to Steam.
What are the differences between the All-Ages Steam version and the 18+ one offered through your website?
Obviously, the biggest difference is the removal of adult content, or what might be considered explicit content. This includes images such as event CG and sprites, of course, but it also meant that several scenes had to be cut entirely or, in some cases, even rewritten. This is generally not our preference, which is why we always ensure the completely uncensored version is available on our store, but we recognize not everyone enjoys adult content, and we want visual novels to be accessible to the general market as well. Most visual novel stories stand on their own, and when we do an All Ages release, we try to look for titles that have a strong base story.
For those who might be curious, what purpose does the 18+ content in Bokuten serve? Is it there just for the player’s enjoyment, or does it serve a narrative purpose as well?
The adult scenes do play a decent role in Bokuten as they reflect back on and build upon Bokuten’s themes of love, relationships, and happiness. Some shine a light on the health and happiness (or lack thereof) of the relationships Tomoe finds for himself, others demonstrate the strained state of the love and relationships between those Tomoe must make a choice for, and so on.
Does MangaGamer offer a patch to convert the All-Ages version of Bokuten to the 18+ version?
In a way, we do. We offer members registered with our site a free downloadable product that modifies the All-Ages version to be equivalent to the 18+ version. We feel it’s only fair to do so since the pricing is comparable between both versions.
Opinions of people towards adult content can change over time, and we don’t want anyone to feel like they’re missing out on anything where applicable.
What goes into creating an All-Ages version of an 18+ visual novel?
Some cases are easier than others. Some titles, like Da Capo 3 R or Eden* are originally developed as all-ages titles, which were later given adult expansions. For those, it’s very easy to simply work with the base original. In others, like Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome, the game was already developed with an option to turn the adult content off, so it’s more a matter of determining what assets that toggle effects and using that as a baseline to create the All-Ages version. In others, like Cho Dengeki Stryker, the adult content is simply less prevalent and relevant to the developer’s story anyway, but in a game like Bokuten, it’s a bigger challenge. Regardless of the circumstances, though, the developer’s vision is important foremost. We always confer with the original creators and discuss how to adapt their original creation for a more general audience to ensure it’s still portrayed as they would want.
What are some of the hurdles you have had to clear to make the All-Ages version of Bokuten a reality?
First and foremost, we had to decide if the story of Bokuten could still be told effectively without the adult scenes. By the very nature of its introspective on relationships, it explores several hard topics – including a homosexual romance, romance between partners with a significant age gap, and romance with a woman who has been sexually abused, just to name a few. We wanted to ensure that we could retain the care and impact of each of those stories even if certain scenes were removed, and our team determined that we could, but that we would have to rewrite some passages to do so.
From there, it was just a matter of working with OVERDRIVE to make all of that happen.
On July 28, 2019, Bokuten was removed from the Steam storefront. Did anyone from Steam attempt to reach out to MangaGamer before the game was removed?
When Bokuten was first removed from Steam, we were contacted by a fan who was trying to buy Bokuten on Steam and wanted to know why his transaction failed mid-purchase. That was how our company and our staff first learned that Bokuten had been banned.
What was Steam’s initial explanation for removing Bokuten?
The first Steam representative who contacted us told us something along the lines of, “It has come to our attention that you have added sexual content to “Why I Became An Angel” that would not have passed our content review process.” – a claim which was later made public.
This claim, of course, was entirely false since we had not updated the build for Bokuten since its content review and release. Evidence that we had not updated the build in any way, shape, or form was clear and easily accessible in Steam’s database, which the representative could have checked beforehand, so we were completely baffled. We promptly e-mailed them back with our evidence refuting their claim and appealing for Bokuten to be restored to the storefront.
Has Discord reached out to you about any of Bokuten’s content?
No, Discord reviewed the content in the All Ages version and hasn’t had any problems with the content present there.
In a response to the Daily Dot, Valve’s Vice President of Marketing, Doug Lombardi, had stated that Valve “missed content hidden in the game’s depot that features adult content with underage characters.” Could you tell us what these assets were?
The assets in question were the event CG from a few adult scenes, along with the thumbnail images for those scenes. We had intended to replace all of those with blank (black) image files, since removing the files completely would cause the game to crash, and while we did do so for the majority of such assets, a few of the ones from scenes we were still debating whether to cut or rewrite near the end of the process slipped through our checks as well as Steam’s reviews. This was an oversight, and we had no intention of including those assets in the All-Ages version, but it’s still worth noting that the data for those assets was completely inaccessible to users without reverse-engineering the game.
When did MangaGamer become aware of these assets, and did Valve ever offer to send MangaGamer a copy of their findings as proof?
It had been over a full day since we replied to Steam with our appeal when I was first approached for an interview by the journalist from Daily Dot. At that time, we were still waiting to hear any feedback from Steam. While I was speaking with the journalist, she mentioned the official statement provided by Doug Lombardi. That was the first time we heard anything about a claim that adult assets were in the original build, and I responded with the knowledge we had at that time about our team’s extensive efforts to remove all adult content from the All Ages build.
After the interview, we decided to conduct our own investigation and discovered that there were adult assets left over in inaccessible game files within the original build, so we promptly corrected this oversight and reached out to Valve once more.
Does MangaGamer agree with the assertion that the character in question was underage? Is this a common concern when it comes to 18+ titles on Steam versus other distribution platforms?
No, we emphatically disagree with the claim that the character was underage or that the content was in any way obscene in such a way that did not have artistic merit. Mr. Lombardi’s claim is a libelous statement, and it saddens us to see a public face of Valve making such false claims.
Unfortunately, this kind of language has been all too prevalent in correspondences from Valve when characters depicted with anime or Japanese style artwork are involved. It definitely suggests a perception bias or a cultural bias amongst those responsible for reviewing content.
When submitting a game to Steam for approval, how much of the game’s assets and files do you have to show to Valve? Is it similar to a review by a rating board such as the ESRB?
The two are pretty different processes. With Steam, you must provide the entire build – everything that goes into the game as it would be distributed to customers – along with a description of what you, as the publisher, believe might be considered problematic content.
With the ESRB, you fill out an itemized form in great detail describing several examples of the most extreme instances of content that falls within any of the categories on the form, such as violence, drug use, sexuality, etc. You then have to create and submit a video reel demonstrating those scenes as well as a longer clip that provides a general overall view of the game – how it plays, how users interact with content, how graphic the visuals are, pacing of potentially offensive content, etc. Then later, you provide them with a release copy for review and verification that everything was reported accurately.
It’s the difference between a thorough, well-established review process (ESRB), and a vague review process that is subjective and difficult to figure out.
Mr. Lombardi additionally stated, “While not accessible in the game itself without an externally acquired patch, we were distributing that content depot through Steam, therefore the game would not have passed our content review…” Is the patch he is referring to the 18+ patch available on MangaGamer’s site? What exactly does that patch do when applied to the All-Ages version of the game?
Again, I would like to make it clear that the content in Bokuten and in Bokuten’s build did go through Valve’s content review, passed their content review without issue, and had not been changed since release.
That being said, the patch Mr. Lombardi most likely refers to would be the adult patch available for free on our site to registered MangaGamer users. This patch uses assets available in the 18+ version sold on our store to modify the all-ages version to reflect the developer’s original vision for the product, ensuring that MangaGamer users can enjoy the content they would otherwise have access to for the same price if it was purchased from our store.
MangaGamer has released 18+ content on Steam, such as the Funbag Fantasy series. What about Bokuten prevents an 18+ version of it from being appropriate for Steam’s storefront?
Nothing other than Steam’s interpretation where they consider the content to be obscene in some way.
Is the 18+ version of Bokuten still available on MangaGamer’s site?
Yes, thankfully, the adult version is still available on our storefront and will remain so. So we strongly encourage everyone who’s maybe had their interest peaked to visit our storefront and check it out. We’re currently offering a special 50% discount on Bokuten, too, so we hope people will take advantage of this opportunity.
Has MangaGamer requested that Bokuten be reinstated on Steam?
We’re happy to announce that as of the time this is published, Bokuten has been reapproved and restored to Steam!
Do you have anything you’d like to say to people out there who may be unfamiliar with MangaGamer or with Bokuten?
We hope you’ll give visual novels and Bokuten a try if you haven’t already. The amazing story packed within this game will speak for itself if you let it, and it may open your eyes to a whole new genre of games to enjoy.
Lastly, do you have any advice for other developers or publishers who have faced issues with 18+ content on Steam?
If you’re having difficulty publishing an adult visual novel on Steam, please reach out to us. We’re happy to work with other developers and publishers to provide a place to retail your titles on our storefront as well. Otherwise–pray you get lucky every time you hit “submit for review.”
So, what do you think? Did this interview give you some insight into what happened with Bokuten?
Personally, this did help answer some things I’ve always wondered. The difference between the ESRB rating process and Steam’s own process being one such thing. At the least, I do think it gives us a clear picture as to the events that transpired. This does raise the question, though, of “could we have avoided this?” In short, I think so.
While a full opinion and dissection of these events are beyond the scope of this article, I do think the majority of this would agree that both MangaGamer and Steam could have done better in this case. For MangaGamer, it just comes down to ensuring no more 18+ assets slip through into the All-Ages version. In the case of Steam, it comes down to better communication. Fans should not be telling a publisher their game has been taken down. This should have been handled through Business-to-Business communication with Valve giving MangaGamer a detailed report of what was wrong. Is it all bad though? No, there’s actually some good that came out of this.
One, MangaGamer owned up to the issue and addressed it as quickly as they could. Which is all I can ever ask from any professional organization or business. Just be responsible. Two, Steam put the game back up for sale. Yes, we avoided another Maidens of Michael situation here. That is worth celebrating. Have we addressed the larger issues that could lead to another situation like this down the road? No, not yet sadly. But, even small steps in the right direction should be acknowledged.
Once again, I’d like to thank MangaGamer and John Pickett for being willing to communicate with us. If you want to follow MangaGamer then you can do so via the below social media links: