Konami has always been skilful in doing good and appreciated dating simulations; indeed, Tokimeki Memorial, one of its most famous productions, has often be associated with the entire genre, representing it for at least a decade in Japan. During the mid-90s, the first chapter (i.e. Tokimeki Memorial: Forever With You) in the series stormed the charts by selling more than 800.000 units both on PS1 and on Saturn (473.795 and 374.936 units respectively) and certainly reaching the million mark counting the other platforms where it came out (PC Engine, Super Famicom and PC, and later also on mobile phones and PSP): an incredible result for such a niche genre, usually confined to the personal computer market. This was enough to entitle Konami the queen of dating sims and to begin a very extensive brand exploitation, between anime TV series, spin-offs (bound to girls as well) and merchandising of any kind.
But it seems Konami has recently found another brand to milk properly among otaku audience.
A dating sim which was able in its first appearance to more than double the latest entry in Tokimeki Memorial series; a game that has made Japanese video gamers a bit crazier than usual when digital girls were around… An out-and-out mania which started slowly and grew over time becoming one of the most popular and wanted game of the past two years.
A very simple title, LovePlus (or Love+), and not so many expectations at first, even though the DS was chosen for the release; the game was introduced as a more interactive dating-sim than Tokimeki Memorial, which is actually more novel-oriented, and focused on the relationship to establish day by day with one of the three girls the player has to choose (for the record, Manaka, Rinko and Nene); in order to have a more realistic approach, the internal DS clock would have helped the days to flow as it did in Animal Crossing Wild World. But concerning the genre Konami had published just some Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side on DS (which had a remarkable success) so the outcome of the project wasn’t so obvious
In fact, LovePlus debut was modest: 47.854 units sold within the first 4 days in the market, in early September 2009; actually, the game had been sold-out straight after but continued to sell well for months and it eventually ended up with more than 240.000 units sold . This unforeseen result is even more important when we consider the usual commercial life of similar products: otaku games almost always run out of their market potential within the first weeks after the launch, being more front-loaded than every other game; dating sims are in the group, with tie-in of certain manga or anime (e.g. Suzumiya Haruhi) or particular title with digital idols (e.g. Project Diva), and they usually tend to sell the majority of their LTD in a very short lapse of time. LovePlus, instead, kept selling from September to Christmas holidays and even in the first months of the new year, with a small but constant amount of copies weekly. As stated before, neither Tokimeki Memorial 4, released on PSP in December, 2009, could sell so much, stopping at about 70.000 copies, less than one third of LovePlus total sales.
Meanwhile, the popularity of the game alongside its young characters has rocketted up to incredible levels.
Outside Japan LovePlus became very famous among the general audience thanks of SAL 9000, a man who got married with his digital girlfriend (i.e. Nene); the news spread almost everywhere on the Web, and even The Huffington Post and BBC talked about him. A smart marketing gimmick? Maybe, but since the launch the game had generated many discussions within Japanese boards and online magazines, and even wives were worried about the effects of a virtual relationship between their husbands and the digital girls (here another article about the same topic but in English).
Obviously Konami has tried to ride the success of its new IP by promoting a lot of initiatives aimed at reinforcing the fanbase who already had the game and at attracting new customers: last year some shops gave the possibility to celebrate Christmas with his own digital girlfriend and special branded cakes; a resort has planned dedicated rooms which are offered to people who want to spend a night or more with their virtual girlfriends; a special edition of the game bundled with greeting cards was expressly made for Valentine’s Day, in order to push the game further on; moreover, the merchandising related to LovePlus is countless: sticks for the console, action figures, a proper manga, an arcade game and so on.
Even before it turned one year, a new version of the game had been issued by Konami.
LovePlus + hit the shelves on June 24th, 2010 and immediately video gamers mobbed stores in order to obtain one of the few bundles with DSi XL were on sales (in total, three different versions with the console, a poster and other stuffs, still overpriced on Amazon) creating also some problems in the most crowded area in Tokyo. The expansion was obviously based on the original (same girls, same locations, etc.) but new features were implemented to expand the concept of virtual relationship: the tanning; Moero! Taisen Puzzle Dama, a (puzzle) game within the game; Love Fitness mode to train with the chosen girl; the Remaining Battery Alert, a cute way to inform the video gamer to charge the console; new download contents, new ways to court the girls and to interact with them after the engagement; more school-based events and so on… A paradise for otaku!
The game debuted with 119.187 copies, more than four times the opening of the original and eventually closed with 163.989 copies sold: not so bad for a deluxe edition!
The numbers are far from PS1-era, where a dating sim could manage more than 500.000 copies on one platform and over a million among differents, but surely Konami has found its golden goose again concerning the genre, waking up Japanese people interest for virtual love, after some stale years where this type of games sold moderately but not exceptionally.
Anyway, Konami doesn’t stop here: for the next Spring has already planned to release a new installment in the franchise, now known as Project Love Plus, on 3DS; the game will have the possibility to carry over all data from the previous games, and the software house has asked Nintendo for bigger cartridges to contain more dialogues and digital contents; evidently, Project Love Plus will benefit from the third dimension, especially in private moments… I hope without falling into another genre!