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So, with the recent craze in waifu games, I've decided to try my hand at making one. I have a semi-intricate plot with twists, and some events planned with their own snippet of story. Problem is, I have no idea if it's even necessary. I mean, a lot of people are going to be in it for the waifus, and not at all for the story. So, should I even bother?

Background: a waifu game is a game where the main point is to collect fighters or characters, typically sexy anime girls. Examples are Azur Lane, Girl's Frontline, and Valkyrie Crusade.

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    @Galastel It's a re-anglicisisation of the Japanese rendition of the English word 'Wife'. It's generally used to refer to fictional characters that one is romantically attracted to. A 'waifu game' is more officially known as a Dating Simulator or a Romance Visual Novel. – Matthew Dave May 28 '19 at 16:09
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    I think what the OP is referring to is a gacha game. I'm not sure how precise the linguistics or lexicography in question is. – ShapeOfMatter May 28 '19 at 16:14
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    A monad is a monoid in the category of endofunctors :) – ShapeOfMatter May 28 '19 at 16:17
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    This isn't a writing question, just low-hanging fruit. If you asked whether a (fill in the blank) should have a story, writers will say "YES! it is always better with a story." No exceptions. – wetcircuit May 28 '19 at 16:46
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    Fully agree with @wetcircuit. In that way, the question even seems off-topic and would fit better into some SE network about video game design. A better fitting question would be something about finding the right structure or emotional level for your waifu story, for example. – PoorYorick May 28 '19 at 17:11
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Do it for the sake of storytelling

If you're asking yourself "should I bother", then you're not thinking of it as a passion project, like an artist would, but you're thinking of it as a way to make a quick buck, like a CEO would. It's not a bad thing, fine art seldom pays the bills, while cookie-cutter media is quite profitable.

Just look at how many iconic video games are getting remastered, or how many movies are getting a sequel or live action adaptations. It's an easy, quick, but soulless way to make money.

Talking about Japan specifically, how much anime is generally adaptations of already existing manga/novels, and is essentially a 25-minute long advertisement for the source material. Investing in an original franchise is a risky move, that could cost a company bankruptcy, since their profit margins are already quite thin.

But you're not a CEO, you're not under this kind of constraints -- unless, of course, they are self-imposed. If you think you have a good idea, an idea that's worth showing others, you should develop it, and leave it for others to witness:

Iceland’s love of the written word has deep roots. Runic inscriptions from times of the Icelandic settlement show that the settlers could read and had thoughts they believed were important enough to (quite literally) set in stone. This feeling that our thoughts are important enough to be printed, to be preserved for generations to come, has not left us.. (source)

Take pride in what you created

Even if you don't succeed, your game doesn't sell or become popular, you can still take pride in the fact that you put honest work in bringing your vision to reality, that you saw it through until the end.

You can have cute, an intricate story, and elaborate gameplay all at once

Nothing is stopping you from making a narrative-heavy "waifu game". You can have a visual novel with an intricate plot and cute heroines, and try to break the stereotype that "cute" means "dumb". Just look at Puella Magi Madoka Magica, I haven't watched it myself, but from what I've heard, it's pretty heavy psychological stuff.

You can have gameplay mechanics and story-lines change based on what girls the player has unlocked or is using, sort of like Pokémon (you're trying to collect all the heroines) and Fallout (quest-based, open-world) or Deus Ex (branching storylines based on your decisions). Deus Ex in particular has an intricate story with some interesting themes, and Adam Jensen does fit some definition of cute (*winks at the camera*).

You could have additional story-lines available as DLCs/microtransactions, too.

Gameplay, narrative, fanart

The games you mentioned are gameplay-heavy: the focus is on obtaining girls, not on the story. Azur Lane has some visual-novel-like cut-scenes between the levels, giving you some kind of idea as to who is the villain, and what they're doing, but the narrative is quite bare-bones. People don't play those games for the story, they're playing them because they're addicted to the gacha mechanic (see this article on "whales", those 10% of people who are heavy spenders).

On the other hand, look at how much fan-art Kancolle or Touhou have, even though they're gameplay-heavy. If you create an interesting world and/or characters, fans will definitely want to expand on that. You may end up with a community that will keep your game alive. From there you could plug a crowd-funding plea, too, to fund further development.

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If what people are primarily looking for in X is Y, then you had better make Y excellent. If you don't have great Y, then mediocre Y + a great story isn't going to cut it.

But if everyone (including you) has great Y, then ALSO having a great story is what is going to make your work stand out from the pack. It's the attention to the optional details that makes the casual consumer into a passionate fan.

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There are plenty of genres that exist solely for a particular purpose or to deliver a type of scene.

  • Pornography (no comment).
  • Slasher (mostly films, all about gory ends to stupid or unfortunate people).
  • Romance (two people get together, often against all odds. Characterization matters in this genre, but not plot).
  • Action (fight! fight! fight!)
  • Some children's books (I'd say see the Rainbow Magic series but I wouldn't wish it on anyone...if you have a child into it, you'll already be familiar with the single plot in every book)

In each genre of this type, badly written books (or movies or comics) sell. Works with no plot at all, confusing sequences, cardboard characters, even stories that break the laws of physics (yet aren't SF) or have zero logic.

And works that are so-so written will also sell. If you grab the reader/audience in a certain way. Or if you're backed by a publisher/producer with great marketing. Or you get lucky.

Honestly though, poorly done material usually doesn't do well. Some things take off like hotcakes, but they're the exception. I keep thinking of the awful (horrible writing!) 50 Shades of Gray, which was a blockbuster novel and is becoming a movie. But I can't think of another one. Except for outright porn (where the actors matter more than the story), works without good writing are generally ignored.

I'm not familiar with gacha or waifu, so I don't know what the market is like. You may do better getting something (anything) out there while the market is hot and there isn't much competition (if that's the case). In general though, a thoughtfully composed work is going to do better than one slapped together.

If you choose to write a real story you can attract viewers (players?) in two basic ways.

  1. Bring in more viewers who enjoy the genre but also care about quality. Let yours be the one they talk about. The one they tell their friends to try.
  2. Bring in viewers who have so far been turned off from waifu. An obvious audience here is women/girls. If the genre is about "collecting" sexy female characters, that's not going to attract most women (even gay women are generally annoyed by that premise). If your version has a real plot, characterization, and an interesting story beyond treating characters like Pokemon cards, you'll attract viewers (not just women) who like videogames and anime but so far haven't found much to bring them into waifu.
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How crucial is a storyline in a Waifu game? It depends. (a lot of my answers start like that)

I've played 'waifu' games with absolutely no storyline, but knock-out backstories for the characters you can romance. I loved them.

I've played 'waifu' games with expansive storylines that made me want to burn my computer and bleach my brain.

So let's try to be a bit more specific. (Yes, I've played enough of these games to get specific).


If you mean like a dating sim type, where you have to 'level up' certain character traits (these are typically 'strength', 'intelligence', and 'charisma', or some variation of them). These are the games where you typically have 3 choices, and each has a preference for the 'trait' you need to level up to romance them. They'll usually be in some kind of bar or club or something to that effect.

These are the kinds of games where you need to learn what a 'sweatdrop' means she needs on a date, and you need to remember awkward details. Some of it is realistic, like her birthday and what day she's free (in numbers, because they can't be bothered to code text recognition).

Story lines in these kinds of games are...well, kinda not the point. It's about 'doing' stuff, about 'levelling up' as a character. It's recognizing certain things and acting upon it.


Now, if you get more into...light novel type games, where you only click the text to progress the story? Then the storyline is the whole point. Skimp on the story, and you shoot yourself in the foot. But make no mistake, I've played games like this without a storyline... Please don't.

These games are more typified by the branching progression system. Where you can play through the game a dozen times and each time get a different ending, or end up with a different girl. In some games, I've ended up with more than one (and sometimes they play that off as kind of awkward afterwards).


Right, but then you have the 'mod' type games. Where you have a pre-existing game (The Elder Scrolls 5 Skyrim, for example) and you make a small 'update' of sorts, so people who already have/play the game, can add your mod and get extra content.

In these types of situations, it really depends. In some cases, adding a storyline is kind of pointless. Sometimes it's just about updating possibilities, like having kids (the old fashion way) or just being able to see the scene playing out. Sometimes it's adding a 'prostitution option' to dialogue.

In above cases, the game play is your storyline. Adding 'story' isn't always needed, sometimes it's just about adding options to choose from. So, it isn't about what's said, per se, but just that the NPCs (non-player characters) can do things they couldn't before, and those actions are the story added. But, in this case, you have the pre-existing game they can otherwise do, if the mod content is boring.

This, therefore, holds less important than a stand-alone game where the game itself is what draws in the players.

EDIT


I just thought of a comparison that might make my point a bit clearer (yes, I ramble, yes I am aware of it). Let's look at Pokemon Red/Blue versus Pokemon Sun/Moon.

In both games your goal is to collect all Pokemon, and to beat the Pokemon League, right? Well, in Red/Blue, you'd be right. In Sun/Moon, you're just scratching the surface.

In Sun/Moon, you can also play with your Pokemon more directly. Give them treats, rub their heads, build islands for them, offer them more items...there's just so much more you can do.

These features don't add 'storyline', but it makes the game more immersive, and makes you want to keep playing, because you can 'do other stuff' other than just battle.

You see what I'm saying? If you apply that to any game, you give your player more reason to keep playing, because they have more functionality to keep them coming back. Without adding storyline.

Games don't 'need' a storyline to be great. Just look at Minecraft (the original, not the last updates where suddenly there's 'things'. Sometimes people just want stupid fun, where they can unplug and just do a thing to unwind.

Same goes for 'waifu' type games/content. Sometimes they want meaningful interactions (typically women, but not always/only), sometimes they just want fanservice (and yes, you know what I mean by that).

It depends. Who's your core market/audience? What do they want? Do you want to put in both 'story' and 'fanservice'?

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    Never doubt that women like these games too ^_^ Just saying. – Fayth85 May 28 '19 at 22:13
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Yes, you should absolutely care about the story, and the gameplay as well, because those are what will keep people actually comming back.

Art (and music) should always be secondary to making the gameplay good, and the story as well, even if you are using art as the premise of the game or as part of the gimmick. Even in waifu games, the art is there to draw the player in initially, and add some extra reward to help keep the engaged in the actual game.

Looking at this from a simpler angle, if the player is only there for the barely SFW art of attractive girls (or guys, or animals, or robots, or whatever else the target audience is interested in), then why play the game? Why not just look at screenshots of the game? If you want to create more than just an irritatingly complex photo gallery of your art, you need to have something beyond that to keep the player wanting to actually play the game, and a good story is the second most reliable way to do that (gambling via micro-transactions is the most reliable, but that's risky legal waters in some parts of the world).

Think about what thoughtful reviewers actually mention liking about 'normal' games (RPG's, MMO's, even FPS or RTS games). While art and/or music is often on the list, it's almost always icing on the cake. Nobody sane is playing Dead Space, or Destiny, or Borderlands, or GTA, or even stuff like Mario or Sonic games for the art, they are popular games because they either have engaging gameplay, a good story, or both.

Taking this story focus to the extreme, I would encourage you to look at why Ōkami is as highly acclaimed of a game as it is. On the surface, much of the appeal is the sumi-e art style, and part of the game mechanics even directly involve art (you literally paint your best attacks, and also use the same mechanic to interact with much of the world). Despite that though, what really pulls people in consistently isn't the art, it's the fact that it's a good story that's uniquely different in numerous ways from your run-of-the-mill RPG, combined with that unique (and good) art and 'unconventional' (not really, it's just that every other game that did this kind of thing was either a flop or only a cult-classic) game-play gimmick that makes it as good of a game as it is.

You can also easily find examples of games that were lacking in some way despite good art that did horribly. Generation Zero is going through this right now, the art is amazing, and the story is decent (not amazing, but not really bad either), but the gameplay has issues, and the game itself is buggy as hell, so a lot of the people they drew in with that amazing art don't play it anymore, or only play it rarely (or are not playing it until it gets fixed).


Where this gets interesting though is when you are trying to focus solely on something everyone else is already doing very well. You do, of course, need to cover that aspect, but if that's your only draw, then there's no reason for people to even try your game, because your competitors are just as good. Looking again at Ōkami, the art-style didn't make the game amazing or keep people playing, but it did draw people in to what was otherwise a mostly standard RPG with only a few gimmicky unique aspects to it by making the game look different in a big way. You'll have to find a similar balance yourself whereby you can actually draw people in with your advertising (mostly art in this case of course) but then retain players through other means (ideally other than gambling, because that brings all kinds of potential legal troubles). That player retention is actually more important for getting new players than the initial pitch, the truly successful games out there consistently get more new players because of referrals from happy players who like the game than they ever will from their own advertising.

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    "If the player is only there for the barely SFW art of attractive girls [...] then why play the game? Why not just look at screenshots of the game?" -- my thoughts on porn games. Why make me play through a (generally) terrible and/or buggy mess of a game, when you could far more easily make a gallery with all the animations? It's like going to a strip club, but you have to beat the stripper at chess before she undresses! – Friendly Neighborhood Demon May 29 '19 at 13:53
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This depends on if its a Relationship building game, or a Collectors/Min-max game.

In a relationship game, the stories are the key parts. You want to have multiple branches and unique characters that the player can collect or interact with. This increases your games replay value and allows you to appeal to a wide range of people who have different waifu preferences. These games are generally story driven, with little focus on complicated mechanics or a grinding cycle.

At the opposite side, is the collectors games. Your Waifu characters are high powered, super rare and used to help you reach a so called end game. In these games, the aim is to push further and further into farming the content and getting everything you can. Stories in these games are secondary to the Waifus (the thing you are collecting) and the mechanisms of the game (how you get more waifus). The stories in these games serve to unlock more content and introduce the player to new mechanics, characters or unlockable areas (all hidden behind a paywall or huge progression wall). They are important. but you want them in place so your players don't get too confused about what is happening and why everyone is trying to murder each other. It also helps you to sell a "main" waifu character to all your players.

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Being a writing forum, you'll no doubt get a lot of answers here saying "of course story is important." You might get a more balanced point about how much story work you need on Game Development. (But this is still probably a good place to ask about how to work on the story, once you've decided how much you need and how you're going to present it.)

That said, I'll expand a bit further here anyway.

There are a lot of different motivations for playing a video game of which enjoying a good story is only one. Further, most players will have a mix of these motivations in various proportions. Components of your game such as "the story" can work for or against various groups of these motivations, and how they do so will also depend on their implementation. (E.g., whether the player is forced to read the story or whether he can easily ignore it.)

The Gamer Motivation Model developed by Quantic Foundry might help you with analyzing how much work you want to put into story versus other parts of the game and how you want to present what story you have. (I have no connection with Quantic Foundry beyond following their blog.)

Their model offers six basic motivations, each with two sub-motivations:

  • Action ("Boom!"): destruction; excitement.
  • Social ("Let's play together"): competition; community/co-op.
  • Mastery ("Let me think"): challenge (requiring practice); strategy (requiring planning).
  • Achievement ("I want more"): completion; power.
  • Immersion ("Once upon a time"): fantasy; story.
  • Creativity ("What if?"): design; discovery.

If you look at things in this light; you can ask yourself what combination of these you're aiming for in your game and how story (and the other elements) can support this. (You may find it helpful to take their survey to see which of these are emphasized in your own gaming motivational profile.) While "immersion" is obviously related directly to story, most of the others can be supported by story too, if not in as obvious a way.

For example, the "discovery" part of creativity might involve piecing together the story from various clues. One of the things I loved about Fallout 3 was reading through the messages, notes and diaries left behind in abandoned shelters to piece together what had happened there; even the junk left behind in a single room might tell a story with no words at all, if I could figure out what it was. This also might involve the "completion" part of "achievement." And telling that particular story this way, as opposed to making all players sit though cutscenes, let less story-oriented players simply enjoy the environment and get on with whatever else they were looking for.

There are of course other models too you might wish to find and look at, too.

Also remember that, as with any writing, it's normal to have large amounts of your writing work not appear in the final result. Especially for stories set in different worlds from the one we live in it's normal for authors to do extensive development and writing-up of the world's background, and even stories set firmly in the current world such as many television shows still have a large "bible" documenting much more about the characters and stories than ever goes into the scripts. It could well be the case that the story your developing is necessary to give coherence and structure to the world you're creating even if none of what you write it is ever read by the person who plays your game.

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    I don't think this would be on-topic on Arqade but it would be on-topic on Game Development.SE. – F1Krazy May 30 '19 at 10:55
  • @F1Krazy Good catch! I've corrected the answer. Thanks. – cjs May 30 '19 at 11:03

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