Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Virtual Reality
Women Around the World Are Virtually Falling in Love with Voltage Inc.'s Japanese Romance Apps
While considered new to the United States’ app market, user-generated romantic storytelling apps have had a solid place in Japan’s mobile entertainment industry for over 15 years. Since its founding in 1999, Voltage Inc. has been the leading pioneer in the market for online drama and romantic storytelling. With user generated storytelling apps, such as My Forged Wedding and Be My Princess, aimed at a dominantly female audience created by a primarily female workforce, Voltage consistently ranks first in the entertainment category of app stores not only in Japan, but also 48 other countries including the United States. In addition to creating multiple award-winning romantic simulation games, Voltage has succeeded in cooperating with new communication platforms such as LINE, proving it can adapt to new technologies. In 2012, Voltage opened its first U.S. brand, bringing the Japanese virtual reality romance apps straight to a growing fan base. Tokyo Journal’s Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie met with Voltage CEO Yuji Tsutani to talk about the business’ success with female-oriented user games and the challenges of expanding into the U.S. market.
TJ: What has been driving the success of your business since 1999?
TSUTANI: We are focusing on story-based content because I learned filmmaking at UCLA's film school. Others in Japan are focused on battle games, casual games and puzzle games. They target mainly males. We started a story-type game and targeted both males and females. With male-centric games, we couldn't be a success because our competitors are bigger. So four years later, I shifted to focus only on female characters, and then I focused on romance. Our focus gives us a competitive edge. And now we're on smartphones, and a lot of women are able to be casual gamers on smartphones. Modern-day working women have a lot of stress, and this is one way for them to relieve that.
TJ: How have you applied your filmmaking background to this?
TSUTANI: I think our imagery is very film-like. 2D artists think of that surfaces, whereas filmmakers have to think about depth and perception, i.e. three-dimensional spaces. So regular 2D artists just line up characters, but in lm you have to think about placement. I’m creating a scene, a moment. These guys are inviting the female users, seducing them. Also, the storymaking is a three-act style, the same as in film.
TJ: What makes it work so well for the users?
TSUTANI: In Japan, there aren’t many companies making content specifically for women. They’re targeting males. Actually, many companies hire male employees ... and males [typically] make games about males. It’s natural. But we hire many females. In 1985, the laws changed so that women could work the same as men, but before that they could only work as assistants. In 1999, when we started our company, many more women started to work. And recently there has been a shift where women not only enter, but stay in the workforce. It has changed a lot.
TJ: What are your thoughts on female employees?
TSUTANI: I think they’re very happy. In Japan, there are many young ladies who can’t get into companies. Even if they do, there is a glass ceiling. So, some smart girls decided to join startup companies like us. That improves our business. The same thing happened in the U.S. I think we were a very small company [in the U.S.] — only 30 people, but in Japan we have 500 people, and small companies can’t hire good employees usually. But as we have a Japanese anime and manga background, it attracted good staff. It’s all a bunch of people who are passionate about what they do, and it makes our office unique.
TJ: I understand you’re an architect and you also studied engineering at Tokyo University. Does your background in architecture and engineering help you with Voltage?
TSUTANI: Yes. How to come up with ideas is very important. After I get a good idea, I have to make it happen. I have to create a complete building, or a game. So I have to handle many specializations — similar to architecture.
TJ: I understand that in your games users are able to make decisions that affect the outcome of the story. How many possible endings are there?
TSUTANI: About 10 endings.
TJ: Are you worried about increasing your customers in the U.S.?
TSUTANI: Of course. In Japan, it took 15 years to get 50 million users, and we’ve pretty much gotten all the users we can. So we came to the U.S. three years ago. However, in Japan it’s a more modest culture in regards to women, and in the U.S. it is different, so we have to change the characters. We have to make the female characters stronger. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #278 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.