Seize the Lightning! Carpe Fulgur Imports Japanese Indie Games to the U.S.
Carpe Fulgur translates to something along the lines of "Seize the Lightning" in Latin. Sometimes that is enacted with golf clubs by idiots. But the three intrepid indie video game localizers who work under that name are trying to do it the right way: metaphorically. They are translating and publishing Japanese games for the Americans market—games that have seldom been seen before because every other company thinks it's mad to release them here.
The two founders of the company are Andrew Dice and Robin Light-Williams, the lead editor and translator respectively. Dice previously worked for CCP Games, purveyors of the mighty but recently controversial MMO EVE Online. Both were disappointed in their present careers and decided to go out on their own, "seize the lightning", and pursue their dreams of localizing (translating and otherwise preparing a game for release in a new country/language) and publishing unknown/indie Japanese games for the American market. They recruited a college student to do 2D art and UI work for them, commencing work back in 2009.
In 2010, their work bore fruit with the PC release of Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale. It is a hardcore JRPG by Japanese indie developer EasyGameStation, epic in scope with beautiful hand-drawn graphics. These games usually only come out on consoles in the US, and even then are considered niche. PC JRPG's are all but nonexistent stateside. Neither Carpe Fulgur nor anyone else following the game suspected what would happen next.
The game sold like beer in the sixth inning of a baseball game.
By the end of 2010, Recettear had sold 100,000 units through Steam, Impluse, and GamersGate. For an ultra niche foreign indie game localized and published by three guys without any advertising, that's akin to getting to the moon on a surfboard. Dice wrote an excellent piece about what that milestone meant for the company on his blog earlier this year.
The upshot is that while it does mean the company is financially secure in the short term they did not make as much money as they probably could have. While digital distribution outlets like Steam make it easier for small developers and publishers to distribute their wares and achieve sales without having to spend money on marketing and manufacturing, they rely heavily on deep discounts. Right now Steam is having a two week sale on most of the biggest games in their catalog. Great games that used to cost between $20 and $50 are being sold for $3.76. Steam has events like this of varying sizes all the time. Recettear is currently on sale for 50% of its $19.99 normal price right now. Many of its 100,000 unit sales came when it was part of the one-day Indie Story Pack promotion in November of last year. It was bundled with four other games and sold for $5, netting its creators next to nothing. EasyGameStation, as the developer of the game, got the largest cut of the money, leaving Carpe Fulgur with even less.
But "even less" is still quite a lot for a company of three people. Now, in 2011, the Carpe Fulgur team are making moves. They've announced two new games: EasyGameStation's Chantelise (above) and Fortune Summoner: Secret of the Elemental Stone (below). Both are Japanese indie RPGs with beautiful graphics and quirky gameplay, just like Recettear, and are expected to be done by the end of the year and available on Steam, etc. If either of those games do as well (or better) as Recettear, the future will be bright indeed for these princes of indie Japan/US localization and publishing. No one else has been bold enough to do what they are doing, and their success would be a great sign for indie games and video games in general.