Let’s have an honest look at anime and the studios, the poor animators working 90 hour weeks, and how games might possibly be the saving grace of anime.
Anime for decades has mostly been an expensive advertisement for the original manga or light novel. Why is that? Because anime on it’s own doesn’t make much money, especially outside of Japan. Anime mainly relies on the Japanese market of otakus to buy merchandise or a physical copy of the show (a DVD/Blu-Ray anime season set can be $460 or more).
Anyone who has had a hard time choosing what to watch on TV probably knows that the anime market is highly competitive since not only are shows fighting to be best of the season, they’re fighting for attention over older masterpiece classics that fans already love.
Overall, anime takes lots of effort and money while being pretty unlikely that the studios and the businesses that fund the anime will earn a lot of money. This is why many times anime studios function more like creative advertisers for manga or light novel series and often don’t get a significant cut of the profits. But what can they do? The system works against them.
Though if you looked at changes in the overall entertainment space, you’d notice a slight shift. Gaming has become more anime.
Have you heard of Overwatch? It was made by one of the largest gaming companies, Blizzard Entertainment, who developed World of Warcraft. Doesn’t Overwatch have much more of an anime feel than World of Warcraft?
You also might have heard of League of Legends, which features a magical girl that is clearly inspired by Sailor Moon. The owners of Riot Games and League of Legends have even announced they’re producing an anime about e-Sports adapted from a Chinese novel, tying the anime and gaming community together in one show.
Before these gaming giants in the industry realized that the global anime scene is massive and underserved both in shows and games, Dungeon Fighter Online (DFO) was there. Since 2005, DFO has served fans a free MMORPG online game, anime adaptation, and gone to meet fans at anime conventions worldwide while pioneering a modern anime/gaming crossover path that others are following whether they know it or not.
For back story, DFO has had over 400 million players (that’s more people than the entire population of the United States). The game plays like an “arcade-type belt-scrolling action game mixed with RPG elements” and it has 14 classes with further subclasses and awakenings. It’s rated very positively on Steam as one of the best free to play MMORPGS.
At USA’s massive 2016 Anime Expo, Dungeon Fighter Online brought cosplayers who are also fans of the game, with the maxed out characters to prove it. Tasha and Doremi of the popular Spiral Cats cosplay group came as the Thief and Knight character and sold thousands of copies of their cosplay set posters to fans over the weekend.
Dungeon Fighter Online went further than just going to Anime Expo and other anime conventions, they made their own tongue-in-cheek shounen comedy anime in 2009 called Slap-up Party: Arad Senki.
DFO understands that sometimes fans can’t commit to a full series like Slap-up Party: Arad Senki but enjoy good back story, so they release a visually impressive character animation trailer every time a new character class is released.
They also release a small distributed online series focusing on fun side stories that deliver the visual beauty and price point (free) that global anime fans crave.
Dungeon Fighter Online has recently launched as free to play on Steam so it makes sense that they’re giving their fans lots of yummy free content and supporting the online creative community of artists, cosplayers, and fans. We’re likely going to see more of this brand model where companies actively invest in the fan community and create multiple types of content (anime series, online shorts, cosplay tutorials) in the next few years.
So why is all of this gaming movement toward anime, cosplay, and online series a benefit to the anime industry?
Inventing the story or show content is the hardest part of the creation process and you want to sell it in as many forms as possible to make money so you can feed yourself and create even more awesome content. The Japanese anime industry can only make a moderate amount of money off it’s original content with DVD/Blu-Ray sales and merchandising in Japan, but gaming adds in a global sales opportunity that can help fund the industry. Look at series like Love Live which have created a mobile app game which has earned millions in revenue and the app game Puzzles and Dragons has partnered with almost every popular anime, helping them earn more money to create more shows and content.
With more opportunity to make money, there are more investors funding projects and with gaming companies trying to hire the best studios to make their anime adaptation, it makes the demand for good animators higher, hopefully helping animators earn a livable wage. Dungeon Fighter Online is an example of gaming studios who are crossing the anime/gaming divide and we’re seeing more and more companies following suit.
If gaming continues to brings to anime new opportunities and ways for anime studios to make money globally, the anime market can only grow bigger and more internationally inclusive.