Wanting another opinion on genres, I spoke to Insert Credit's doujin front man, Chaz. Though he openly proclaims his regular "Doujin Roundup" simply recaps news from Japanese forums and websites. "I just dig through piles of porn adventure games and discussions about porn adventure games, find more suitable material, read as much as I can in Japanese, then update the site."
And his conclusion after such adventures? "Doujin games are not only an entertaining and fresh take on games, but also a fascinating field of social and cultural study about the interests and concerns of a more and more influential part of the Japanese population. They also present an interesting case of IP management, as most games adapt universes and characters from either professional licenses or other doujin games without permission, yet this recycling fuels new interest in the original IPs and, therefore, isn't seen as a plague but on the contrary, as [good]. Doujin softs are home to great genres that have been abandoned or marginalized by mainstream companies, such as shooters, fighters, brawlers, the importance of good writing, and 2-D representation ... and porn adventure games. As most of these successful doujin titles are not free, they prove a viable economy can exist around niche products that target their audience intelligently, even in the [risk averse] game business."
The usage of others' modern IP is quite different to Western indies, but also commendable considering it allows one to play exceedingly high quality fan work, sometimes based on games that aren't continued. Being a fervent fan of Skygunner on the PS2, I've been paying close attention to Gunners Heart. The PC disc retails for 1890 Yen, but a free demo is available. The game is a wonderful 3-D shooter based on Skygunner, with some extremely high production values, and should definitely be investigated.
But commercial doujin soft can prove problematic to acquire when living outside Japan, with only some stores like Himeya making purchases in the U.S.A. easy. Within Japan, according to Mr. Roni, dedicated stores are big business, while development isn't. "There are chains of doujin shops like White Canvas or Melon Books. It is easy for a Japanese guy to get his game distributed in these. They aren't very demanding, [with] both good and bad in the shops. [Success can't be gained through advertising], everyone has the same chances to make a name on the scene. However, it's only wishful thinking for [someone] to live off his work! The doujin scene is not an El Dorado, [but there have been exceptions]. The average game sells between 100 and 500 maximum. There are no rules or regulations, the game can either succeed or fail. Commercial logic is completely absent. It's a hard job without pity, and to become known you need luck."
He elaborates considerably that Melty Blood's runaway success is not a common occurrence. Profitability is mainly for the specialty stores, which focus more on doujin Manga than games. While some groups do treat development like a job, they're paid very little. It's a path only for the passionate, like Murasame with Gundeadline, who wasn't concerned about money. Regardless of commercial ambitions, the biggest form of publicity and distribution, apart from the net, is at the regular Comiket convention. According to Roni, though, some, like the hugely popular Kenta Cho, never display their work there.
Despite having to purchase some games, there are still many more free titles released than commercial. This creates a huge archive of games to download. Despite hitting the net at the tail end of 2004, a defining landmark release that people are still strongly enamored with, is Doukutsu Monogatari (aka Cave Story) by Pixel. There has been a translation, tribute sites and a lengthy TIGS interview conducted alongside my own questions.