Monday, 29 July 2013

Thoughts on why we're probably not getting an English version of Sengoku Basara 4

"I can't wait until it comes out in English!"
"I hope this comes out in the US!"
"I'm gonna get this game as soon as it comes out here!"

Comments like these seem to crop up wherever the new Sengoku Basara 4 trailer is shown. Every time, someone has to break it to the eager fan that the game probably won't be coming to the west, and every time there's surprise and disappointment in their response. It's heartbreaking.

It often feels as though the English-speaking Sengoku Basara community is its own worst enemy. It's necessary to click the following link to read the rest of this post since it's not something everyone wants to hear.

On any given day you can check social media websites and find there will be more people talking about pirating the Sengoku Basara anime and games than about buying them, and far more people moaning about Capcom's shortcomings than making constructive comments. Even on this blog, I get significantly more hits from people searching for scans or an illegal way to watch the Sengoku Basara movie than I do from the wonderful people who come here looking for actual information.

It can be argued that these people aren't the main audience and their opinions should be ignored. Then surely a desperate effort to persuade Capcom Japan to include an English translation with Sengoku Basara 3 Utage would have united the hardcore followers of the series? Instead, it was hopelessly destroyed before it got off the ground by hurt fans arguing amongst themselves; by the time a second topic was made hardly anyone was left to lend it their support. A Facebook campaign aimed at Capcom USA was attempted as well, and it too fell far short of its goal.

If I were a Capcom employee looking into this fandom from outside, I'd write it off as being small, unprofitable and difficult to please. That's unfortunate when there are thousands of passionate people out there waiting desperately to be able to buy more Sengoku Basara games.

I started writing this post so that I would have somewhere to point those people when they ask why the next game won't be coming out in English.

The past

As most fans know, the Sengoku Basara games received two English language adaptations in the past. I'll summarise the current situation for those who are new to the series and wondering why everyone is so pessimistic about the new game making its way to the west.

The first attempt to localise the series took the original Sengoku Basara game and reworked it into a dark fantasy title called Devil Kings. Back then in 2005, Capcom was full of optimism about the series' potential in the west. Their only worry was that the Japanese setting would alienate a wider audience, so they spent a lot of time and money painstakingly stripping the game down to make it more generic. With missing content, a lack of Japanese historical references and characters with silly names like Puff, Q-Ball and Kahz, this strange adaptation both failed to attract new fans and upset purists who loved the original historical references. It was regarded as a failure.

The west missed out on the next few games. Yet fans kept demanding more Sengoku Basara, and in 2010 Capcom made their next attempt to push the series overseas with Sengoku Basara 3. Renamed to the more descriptive Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes for the benefit of English-speakers, this time Capcom pulled no punches. The localised version contained all of the gameplay and characters from the Japanese release. It was given a faithful translation through an expensive English dub with some relatively big names. It came out for Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3, and at a discounted price right from the start. The English version of the anime was timed to come out around the same time to draw more attention to the game (and vice versa). Capcom weren't holding back.

And Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes was a failure as well. In fact, it reportedly sold about the same number of copies as Devil Kings despite false rumours that it performed well. When you consider that the game was priced lower than normal even though the localisation would have been more expensive than it was for Devil Kings, it's easy to see why this would be a shock.

There were plenty of reasons given for the poor performance, from the dub-only presentation to complaints about the characters having their names in western order. It's also true that the marketing effort by Capcom's overseas branches was weak. I only knew that Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes was coming out here in the UK after an interview was posted on an American anime website I happen to read, which is absolutely ridiculous given how much I love the game. And Capcom's European office did little to change that: shops didn't know about it, and as soon as the sales figures failed to make an impact in the first couple of weeks the entire company started pretending the series didn't exist at events. There wasn't even any attempt to pull in extra revenue from the people who did buy the game; my plea that Capcom Europe should make the avatars and themes from the Japanese edition available for purchase on our local PSN fell on deaf ears.

However, it's a fact that there simply aren't enough Sengoku Basara fans in the west to justify continuing producing expensive failures. The anime discs included subtitles and a dub and they still sold poorly in both the UK and the US compared to similar titles. 'Dynasty Warriors'-style games get a lot of bad press in general, too, to the extent that gaming news sites weren't interested in devoting any significant coverage to Sengoku Basara to support its release. That's not Capcom's fault; after all, how many accurate reports about Sengoku Basara 4 have appeared to date on major English-language gaming websites? The mainstream media doesn't care about an over-the-top action romp based on another country's history when they could be hyping up the latest macho shooter game instead.

30,000 sales per game may well be the maximum that the series can support in the west. That's a huge number of people in absolute terms, but a tiny minority when you're investing heavily in a localisation and courting the media across several continents. It sounds as though the anime adaptation might have sold less than a tenth of that quantity in English-speaking countries, so there's no lucrative market for tie-in products to bolster mediocre game sales.

When your potential audience is so small, spending more on marketing is throwing good money after bad.

The future

If what Capcom's ex-Senior VP Christian Svensson has said is true, Capcom USA aren't interested in the Sengoku Basara series any more. It's done, and there won't be any more fully localised English adaptations. Since Capcom are scaling back their overseas operations, it's unlikely we'll see any efforts to bring the game over from that side of the world.

Which means that if you want to see Sengoku Basara 4 translated into English one day, you need to approach Capcom Japan.

The goal

After writing the first part of this section I stumbled upon the old Sengoku Basara 3 Utage campaigns I mentioned before. It was almost uncanny how similar my conclusions were to those of some of the participants in those discussions!

The series seems to have several distinct types of fan in the English-speaking world:

1. Japanese-speakers who will import the Japanese edition of the game and understand it.
2. English-speakers who will import the Japanese edition of the game and manage to play through hard work and fan translations.
3. English-speakers who will import the Japanese game if it has English subtitles so they can understand it.
4. English-speakers who won't import the Japanese game, but they'd buy it from PSN if there were English subtitles.
5. English-speakers who won't be satisfied unless there's an English dub.

The first group is irrelevant to this discussion, and the fifth group is out of luck. But the other three can be catered to if Capcom Japan include English subtitles with the game - either with the Japanese game disc or as a downloadable extra later on as part of a global PSN release. I think that the approach which makes the most sense is telling Capcom that English-speaking fans exist who would love to have English subtitles with the new game.

One thing which was apparent during my reading of the old forum thread was that a lot of people are unaware that creating subtitles costs money. Capcom would need to manually translate a huge amount of dialogue written in very challenging Japanese, then they need to overlay the text in the game, create new art assets where necessary and test it all works properly. Many fans are blind to the reality of how much professional subtitles cost due to the availability of people who will translate for free online; please don't take the hard work that those fans put in for granted. A decent subtitle script which flows properly in English and maintains the 'flavour' of the original Japanese takes a considerable amount of effort.

So, if subtitles cost money anyway, why not push for a full English dub and localisation?

Dubs, needless to say, cost an order of magnitude more than subtitles. If it supposedly costs $10,000 to dub a single episode of anime into English, localising a game like Sengoku Basara 4 would be tremendously expensive due to its large cast and the sheer amount of dialogue. When you consider the cost of translation, testing, redesigning the menu artwork and marketing, it's incredibly unlikely that Capcom is going to splurge on another dub, especially as many fans prefer the original star-studded seiyuu cast. You're not going to be able to convince Capcom Japan that there's any merit in continuing to fund a full English dub unless you are influential enough to be able to personally convince tens of thousands of westerners to go out and preorder a full-priced game.

Perhaps one day, after the fan base has grown and proven that a cheaper subtitled release can turn a decent profit, we'll be in a position to see a revival of dubbed Sengoku Basara. That's pretty much the only chance it has.

If a full localisation is out of the question, the best time to contact Capcom to get the message about English subtitles across is now - before they finish work on the Japanese edition. They haven't formally announced a release date for Sengoku Basara 4 yet so there's a chance a translation could still be squeezed into the schedule for the Japanese or Asian editions of the game, and the Playstation 3 is region-free.

I understand that some people still won't buy the game if it requires importing: they might want it on a different platform, or with a dub, or from their local Gamestop... the list goes on. And that's fine. What they want isn't going to happen, so they are going to have to move on and play something else until market conditions have changed.

I'm directing the remainder of this post to the people who would import the game if it came with English subtitles. Now is the time to act.

Things that won't work

1. Petitions don't work. Everyone knows that there's a huge difference between a person signing an online petition and that same person actually putting down the money to support the game a few months later. In any case, there aren't enough people who want an English translation of the game included with the Japanese release to make a petition worthwhile.

2. Kickstarter (or another crowdfunding solution) is probably not an option. It seems like the perfect solution: Capcom lists the English subtitle translation for the game on Kickstarter, sets a realistic target to avoid seeming greedy and watches the money roll in, then ships out Japanese copies of the game to everyone who supported the campaign. It would only take a handful of dedicated western fans to fund the entire translation and if enough people backed it, there's no reason to think that they couldn't fund a fully localised western edition with stretch goals, too. The reason that Capcom thinks this won't work is outlined here. In short, they're wary of the negativity that would follow a major company using a crowdfunding site to fund a localisation; indie gamers and publishers alike would condemn the 'abuse' of the system, and the press would spread rumours that Japanese companies were planning to use this method to avoid localising other games properly in future. And it makes Capcom look cheap.

The complicated situation that Sengoku Basara is in simply isn't well-understood in the western gaming industry. Even though it's unfair when there are so many superfluous Kickstarters funded every day, Capcom have a lot more to lose from damage to their reputation than the fly-by-night companies who exploit Kickstarter for their own vanity projects. The only chance I could see for this to work is if someone uses their connections in the gaming press to educate gamers about the situation.

3. Asking Capcom to persuade another company to license the game and release a translated edition overseas. It's a shame, because the most lucrative solution to having a small audience which can't support a budget release is to shift to making that small audience pay more (as with the Kickstarter idea). This is something several dedicated localisation companies could do in the form of a special edition - however, it's not how Capcom usually works, and I don't think they're going to change that now.

4. Posting stolen fanart, illegal scans and DVD rips on your Tumblr account. This may well 'spread the word' about the series online, but it weakens the series commercially and annoys existing fans or creators whose work has been misappropriated. It doesn't help efforts to convince Capcom that foreign customers will pay for more Sengoku Basara games, and it may even discourage Japanese fans and producers from wanting to support foreigners in their campaigns. Creating your own fan works is a much better way to stimulate interest in the series.

5. Re-posting Capcom's videos to YouTube for no reason. Capcom released the most recent Sengoku Basara 4 trailer on YouTube instead of using their own website - and within a week a bunch of people had re-uploaded the exact same video to YouTube alongside it. These copies have racked up thousands of hits from foreign fans, which means that when Capcom checks the statistics for their own video they'll get the idea that the game isn't popular with people overseas. This is part of what I said above about Sengoku Basara fans being their own worst enemy: gamers are going out of their way to avoid showing Capcom that people outside Japan are looking forward to the new game!

I don't include the unofficial translated trailer in this complaint as that one clearly shows Capcom that there's demand for a translation based on the number of hits it receives. The rest are a waste of time for everyone except the people profiting from the advertisements - please don't link to them and try to spread the link to the official video instead.

6. Posting angry messages directed towards Capcom USA/Europe on their social media platforms, Capcom Unity or on fan websites. None of the decision-makers at Capcom Japan will ever see them, and even if they do people rarely tend to reach out and help people who are rude to them.

What fans can do to help

A single letter makes a much stronger statement than thousands of emails or online petitions combined; letters show that the writer has invested time, consideration and money into communicating with the recipient. That being so, why not write to Capcom in Japan? Airmail costs a couple of dollars - if you aren't interested in spending that much trying to get your point across it's worth questioning how much you really want the game translated into English. Japanese imports aren't cheap. This seems to be the best mailing address for Capcom:

Capcom Co., Ltd.
3-1-3 Uchihirano-machi
Chuo-ku
Osaka 540-0037
Japan

It's probably best to address the letter to Kobayashi Hiroyuki, Yamamoto Makoto or the Sengoku Basara staff.

Writing the address in romanised Japanese as above is fine, but if you're able to write clearly in Japanese and prefer to use the Japanese address, this is the correct one to use:

株式会社カプコン 〒540-0037 大阪市中央区内平野町三丁目1番3号
JAPAN

Keep the 'Japan' in English or your native language so the postal services can figure out where to send it, and remember to add the name(s) of your intended recipient(s).

This next part is mostly common sense, but as fans can sometimes get a little bit too emotional I feel I should offer some additional tips for writing an effective letter/postcard.
  • Don't make demands, insult Capcom or complain about their decisions. In most companies, that kind of aggressive letter will end up in the trash long before the intended recipient ever gets to see it.
  • Don't make unrealistic suggestions. If what you want is clearly impossible from the beginning, there isn't much point in writing a letter about it. That just makes people feel bad when they can't help.
  • Instead, it's best to be polite and make your message positive. Saying "I'm looking forward to seeing Keiji in Sengoku Basara 4!" carries a much stronger message than the dramatic "If Keiji isn't in Sengoku Basara 4, I'll never buy a Capcom game again!". Even if you're serious about it, statements which sound like threats are a bad idea.
  • If you don't speak Japanese, no problem: use English. It's much easier for a Japanese person to read a simple sentence written in English than it is for them to decipher the weird Japanese which comes out of online translation tools. 
  • Keep it short. Capcom employees are all busy working on the game right now so they probably won't appreciate a long letter. A simple postcard from a foreign country with "Sengoku Basara is great! Please include English subtitles in Sengoku Basara 4!" will be just as good. 
  • Feel free to include a little drawing you've done, or a quote from the game. Or a full oil painting of the cast of Sengoku Basara dressed in your country's traditional attire if you're blessed with artistic talents. A personal touch shows that you really love the series, and it might help your message get noticed!
  • Don't expect a reply. The best you can hope for is that your message encourages the staff to think of fans in other countries in future.
If you can't write a physical letter or postcard, the next best thing would be to go to the Capcom 30th Anniversary page, or the Capcom Unity Japan Facebook page, and leave a polite, positive message of encouragement for the team. Write it in simple English and note that you'd love to see the game released in Japan with English subtitles. Even if you don't receive any response, someone will have read that message and others like it. It might be the first step towards something bigger.

If subtitles aren't your goal and you want a dub, getting Capcom's attention will be a little harder. The only thing I can suggest is petitioning Capcom USA/Europe to get Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes up on PSN (if it isn't already) and then trying to get a significant number of people to buy it to show that there's interest in the series. The game is long out of print and Capcom won't get any money from customers buying used copies, so this is pretty much the only way to show them that people still want dubbed Sengoku Basara games. Buying the anime, manga and art book will also help. If you're in a country where there's a legal stream of the Sengoku Basara anime series, convince your friends to watch it too to show that fans are out there.

Finally, if the game does come out with no translation attached and you choose to buy it anyway, I recommend taking a moment to complete the survey which usually comes with a unique code inside the box. Including a comment about English subtitles with your survey response will mean it goes straight to the people in charge of marketing future games in the series. They want feedback from their customers - let's give it to them!

Summary

It's extremely unlikely that we'll ever see Sengoku Basara 4 in English.

If you're one of the fans who bought the previous game, anime and manga releases, or if you're simply a new fan upset that you'll never get to try out this cool-looking new game, please do something to help the cause and convey your feelings to Capcom. If there are as many devoted English-speaking fans of Sengoku Basara as there ought to be it's critical to prove that we exist.

Otherwise, I highly recommend studying Japanese.

21 comments:

  1. I mostly agree with all this, so I would just like to comment on this completely unrelated part:

    "it supposedly costs $10,000 to dub a single episode of anime into English"

    Wow. I don't know anything about dubbing procedures and costs in the US - seeing that there's a very small market for dubs there I imagine it's overall more expensive than places like my country where we traditionally dub everything. Still, $10000 seems insane for just one episode.

    Until just a short while ago I was in the dubbing industry, at a studio that created professional quality dubs for series produced by companies like one with the initials "WB" or one whose name starts with "D" and ends with "y" or one whose name ends with "odeon" - in short, series that are a lot more high profile than your average anime. I don't want to name exact prices, but the average price per episode was nowhere near the equivalent of $10000 - more like, less than the tenth of that amount. Of course songs and other extras would cost extra, and translating from Japanese is more expensive than translating from more common languages like English, but it's still not in the $10k range. (Now I'm tempted to calculate how much it would cost to dub, say, Sengoku Basara 3, in its entirety, from Japanese, with all bells and whistles...)

    I know you're just quoting what the website said, so I'm not correcting you or anything (especially since for all I know it's true and anime dubbing is really that expensive in the US), and in any case this doesn't change the fact that dubbing is extra money and low sales numbers don't justify it. It's just that the amount really surprised me. ^^;;

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    1. I find the subject interesting since the US/UK anime industry is really struggling to keep dubbing a lot of titles these days, and it comes up frequently in discussions from that side of my hobby. It seems strange because countries like Germany and France seem to be able to sustain local dubs much better even for what I'd consider extremely niche titles. I guess having the infrastructure in place from dubbing lots of television shows/movies brings costs down (I'm not sure where you're from, but I'm guessing it's a similar situation).

      The link in my post is from a company which released a few unprofitable anime DVDs before abandoning their efforts so I trust it, though this alternative essay implies that the $10,000 figure also includes Blu-ray production costs nowadays. An older article (which is rather less well-researched) postulates that American dubs are substantially more expensive than those produced overseas (and also that they're higher quality, which I don't agree is always the case).

      I know that in the UK, anime companies used to dub locally back in the 1990s but they can no longer afford it for anything other than the occasional family movie.

      If you ever decide to calculate the cost of dubbing Sengoku Basara 3, it would be fascinating to know (hehe). Even though I wasn't a fan of the dubbed version of the game, I thought the quality of the translated script was well above average. I think they tried quite hard to give the fans the best dub that they could.

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    2. The alternative essay makes more sense to me - 5.1 mixing is more expensive than plain stereo (I don't think it's in the $10000 range, though, not for ~23 minutes), and if we add the non-dub related costs (licensing, packaging, printing, advertising, etc.) broken down per episode then yes, I can see how it may end up close to $10000. But then as I said I really don't know, so perhaps dubbing in the US is really so crazy expensive... ^^;;

      As for English language dubs, I think it's mostly the market size. Countries like Germany and France (or mine) traditionally dub foreign language movies, TV shows, etc., so there's a large market for dubs, and a number of studios competing for dubbing jobs. (France and Germany also have a longer and somewhat different history with anime and manga than the US/UK, and it seems to me that the market there is more solid. )

      In case of Anglophone countries like the US or the UK, they create most of their own entertainment, so there's already a very small market for foreign language movies/TV shows/etc, like anime. And with this market being very diverse, capricious and difficult to please, I think companies are actually losing money with dubbed anime, unless it's something extremely popular, not only with anime fans but with the general population (stuff like Naruto or Yugioh comes to mind).

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    3. I will have to corner one of the UK anime representatives at some future event and ask them to break down the current costs, so we can be certain. It always seems like they're gambling with every release: either skip a dub and limit the sales potential, or take a risk that it will catch on with the Naruto/Bleach crowd and pay for its dub several times over. I'm not entirely comfortable with my favourite hobbies relying so heavily on luck to remain profitable.

      I hope that Capcom at least broke even with Sengoku Basara 3 rather than lost money trying to please the fans...

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    4. (Er, the English version of Sengoku Basara 3 that is. I'm pretty sure they made an insane amount of money in their home market given how much of the merchandise people buy.)

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    5. It would be great if you could ask someone directly involved with all this, I'm very curious. It does seem to be a gamble, and a very costly one, and unfortunately generally the more you try to cut back on costs the cheaper quality you get, which also influences sales (and future sales, too, since people will rely on their experiences).

      I don't know how Sengoku Basara 3 did, but I also hope it wasn't a complete failure... but then, while I'm not a gamer at all and I'm not familiar with the gaming scene, my impression is that fans behaving badly aside, the game never really had a chance in the US.

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    6. I mean, how the game did in terms of actual revenue, I know that it unfortunately flopped. :/

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  2. Do you know how to send international letters from the UK?

    Its time for me to do something useful thus sunmer >:D

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    1. Yep! You can either pop into a post office and ask them to send your letter by Airmail to Japan, or you can put the address into the Royal Mail online postage tool and print out a prepaid sticker. The online method is easier but they have a minimum charge of £5 (I think), so if you only want to use it once it might be more expensive that way.

      Good luck with your letter :D

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    2. For reference, I sent a postcard today as an experiment and it cost just 88p for Airmail delivery, UK to Japan.

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    3. Excellent suggestion- let's be proactive and write to Capcom Japan for subtitles! Have you posted this on some sort of videogame forums? I remember a facebook petition for a translated Utage, so there is interest out there.

      I feel it's such a pity that my now favourite game series ended up Japan-only after the promising SB3 release, and since I won't suddenly become fluent in advanced Japanese because of this, I'll write! Yup.

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    4. I don't think I have the charisma to convince anyone who isn't already crazy enough to read my blog. If you send one, I think we have four people writing postcards/letters though, so every little will help!

      My plan is to try to drop the suggestion in whenever anyone expresses frustration at not being able to do anything to help the situation. Maybe someone will decide to make it into a full campaign. I'll try adding a note about it to my next news roundup tomorrow.

      I drew a (terrible) doodle of Katsuie on my postcard to show the Capcom staff that we're following all the news...

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  3. This is a great, really, but sadly, it won't happen. Having English dubs costs lots of money. Plus if they do that for the SB series, then people will start wanting the same thing for the non-localized Capcom's games. So yeah, while it's a great idea, it won't happen. SB will remain Japan exclusive.

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    1. The cost of a dub (discussed above) is why I'm suggesting subtitles on the Japanese edition (and possibly, on the eventual PSN release) ^^

      We wouldn't get a dub unless we had hundreds of thousands of people show interest...which isn't going to happen. Dub fans will have to take things one step at a time.

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  4. In my opinion, I prefer subtitles, so they keep the original VA and I still can know what they are saying.
    Another point is that WO3 (Warriors Orochi 3 from KOEI) had this setup in the west. And by the way, there is a quite number of people demanding a jap VA for Dynasty Warriors 8.

    Maybe a PSN release is the best option, it's more cheap and easy.

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    1. Yeah, I really hope they can try it one day; start off small with a subtitled version distributed on PSN, then if it becomes a hit they can experiment with a wider release. I'll never stop asking, just in case they listen...

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  5. I've bought the anime and Sengoku Basara 3 and even thought I don't have a PS3, I'd be ready to get it just to play Sengoku Basara 4 if it ever gets english subtitles. And for that cause, I'll be sending out a letter next week and I'm going to try convincing two of my friends - also fans of the series thanks to me - to send letters of their own as well!

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    1. Hurrah, more people joining the campaign :)

      I hope that Capcom decide to try releasing it subtitled for the sake of fans like you!

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  6. I apologize for leaving a message on a post that's over six months old, however, I need to thank you--I'm going to show my support to the series by mailing to Capcom of Japan; just a short letter. Sadly, I have no artistic abilities, and likely will just write something like "PUT YA GUNS ON!"

    Anyway. Thanks for the address, and for the idea.

    -PC

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    1. Thank you for the comment! Good luck with your letter, I'm sure it will bring a smile to the team and help them think of us more in future :D

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