SPOILER WARNING: If you have not already played Doki Doki Literature Club it is highly advised that you do so before reading this article. The very nature of the game makes it impossible to talk about without going into heavy spoilers. It’s free on Steam and short; you have nothing to lose.
I know, I know. I’m late to jump on the Doki Doki Literature Club bandwagon, but after finishing the anxiety-inducing experience a couple days ago, I can’t help but want to talk about it. Not to mention, it’s just a crying shame we don’t have a single article on GoombaStomp dedicated to this truly unique game.
The breakout indie visual novel released back in September of last year and has maintained a steady “Overwhelmingly Positive” rating on Steam ever since. On the home front, Doki Doki Literature Club made it into numerous GoombaStomp lists including our Top 20 Indie Games of 2017 and even our Top 25 Games (in general) of 2017. To say the game is a success would be a gross understatement.
A Game Worthy of Praise
While playing through Doki Doki Literature Club, and especially after finishing it, I couldn’t help but be astonished that such a game is free to play. Even after a few moments of playing it’s clear that no small amount of effort went into creating this title. The art assets are meticulously drawn and the music brilliantly composed to match in order to evoke powerful emotions from the player. I was so affected by finding Sayori hanging in her room that I would replay that horrifying scene in my head over and over whenever I closed my eyes.
Then there’s the script and basic concept. Even before getting into the game’s second act where everything goes to hell, the writing for each character is so well crafted as to make each and every one of them feel real and relatable. Once again, Sayori’s admitting to her depression was so visceral that I had to remind myself to breathe, making her eventual suicide hit all the harder. That level of writing continues throughout the rest of the story, instilling true fear and dread into my heart all the while.
There’s also the various “easter eggs” littered throughout the game that only have a chance of occurring. Things such as Natsuki’s eyeballs falling out or a startling blood red filter coating the screen have a ? odd of happening, while a disturbing bootup image has the minuscule chance of 1.56% (which I got… lucky me). These are things that many players won’t even know about, much less experience, without doing external research or talking to others. To know that and still put in the effort to effectively implement such events despite that fact takes no small amount of dedication.
Taking all this into account, it baffles the mind that such a well thought out and painstakingly put together experience can be delivered to the public for the low, low price of “Free”. If anything, the 9.99USD price tag of the fan pack seems like a more than reasonable price of admission. Even if Doki Doki Literature Club is the massive publicity stunt for creator Dan Salvato’s next project like many are hypothesizing, that is one risky and involved advertisement. So why does the title not charge a cent to its name?
By lowering the price of a game it obviously makes the barrier to entry that much lower as well. In Doki Doki Literature Club’s case, though, being free isn’t just a good idea, but downright necessary. The reason for this lies in the spoiler warning that prefaced this entire article. This game is almost impossible, if not impossible, to advertise.
Selling a Game Without Selling It
The nearly universal opinion in regards to starting Doki Doki Literature Club is to go in as blind as possible. What’s the best way to convince someone to play a game without telling them anything about it? Two simple words: “Trust me.” Sure enough, that phrase has been a key driving force in igniting Doki Doki Literature Club’s explosive popularity, but that alone wasn’t enough.
Even among the closest of friends, sometimes trust just doesn’t cut it, especially in today’s day and age where we are constantly assailed by innumerable entertainment options to choose from. But when that paywall is removed and that barrier to entry brought down, the gears start to turn. What could possibly be so special about this game that Joey can’t tell me anything about it? Thoughts like that begin to swirl until curiosity gets the better of you. It’s free, I might as well check it out.
It’s this cycle that Doki Doki Literature Club not only thrives on, but lives off of. While Monika is a fascinating character in-game, she’s not all that eye-catching of a poster girl, and the title Doki Doki Literature Club doesn’t necessarily scream “engrossing, meta-defining adventure.” It doesn’t differentiate itself on its own from the plethora of other visual novels flooding the Steam storefront over the past couple of years. The game description gives no indication of what would make it enticing and even among visual novel fans, being an Original English Language Visual Novel (OELVN) is somewhat of a stigma that would deter many from playing under normal circumstances.
Since Doki Doki Literature Club can’t advertise itself, it relies on its players to do the advertising for it and the lack of a price tag facilitates that. This tactic has drawn players from all walks of life and all gaming interests, many of whom would never have given the game the time of day otherwise.
The effect consumer voices have on a game’s success is nothing new to the gaming industry, or any entertainment industry for that matter. A positive response leads to more sales and negative response lead to less sales, it’s that simple. Doki Doki Literature Club took a bet, though.
Team Salvato had confidence that their product would take hold in the minds of its players. Rather than setting any expectations they let their product talk for itself (literally) and that confidence paid off in spades, but it wouldn’t have if the game wasn’t free. Even if the price was as low as 4.99 USD, Doki Doki Literature Club would not have reached nearly the critical mass in popularity it has today because that adds an extra barrier to overcome; a barrier that is not so easily overcome with a simple “Trust me.”