Sorry, I'm late to the party as always
. I should really check these forums more often. Lots of interesting discussion, and on something that we've been thinking about as well.
I'd like to point out that Moacube's Cinders
seemed to have no issue with calling itself a "visual novel" despite its non-anime art style.
Cinders' page on moacube.com wrote:Cinders is our fairytale-inspired visual novel, ditching the passive protagonist and banal morals of the original story in sake of a more serious approach.
There's no mention of any other term to describe what "kind" of game it was and people seemed to love it.
Actually, we think that calling Cinders a visual novel was a mistake, and we're trying to avoid that with Solstice. It scares people away, unfortunately
There's some stigma involved with the term VN and it affects people's impression of the game before they even play it. If you send the game to press the and call it "a feminist retelling of Cinderella", they'll likely get interested and play it. If you call it a visual novel, there's a large chance they'll think "oh, one of those..." and won't even care to check it out.
Of course I don't know how well it did in terms of "typical VN audience" versus "people-not-familiar-with-the-term-visual-novel audience," but it did get a lot of press outside of VN-centric sites.
Cinders sold mostly to the existing VN audience, even despite the okay mainstream coverage. Features on Kotaku and the likes bring a lot of traffic, but almost no sales. Actually, we got more sales and interested players from mentions on personal blogs and tumblrs of VN fans.
Mainstream gamers are simply not interested in playing visual novels. In a way, you have to trick them to try it. And then hope that it's good enough so they keep playing.