This Week in Games
Top Epic App Store BETRAYALS!!!

by Heidi Kemps,

Hiya, friends of the column! It's been a bit of a slow news week, save for one really big story and a special interview. We'll get to those in a bit. As I write this, Sega is gearing up to announce more games that will be on the Astro City Mini micro-arcade-cabinet-console being released in Japan. Unfortunately, that announcement is happening at about 4 AM my time on Thursday… I'm probably going to wake up around 6, see what got announced, and go back to bed for a while. I'm a big Sega arcade nerd, but not a “wake up about three hours after I go to bed for announcements of old games” level nerd.

However, if you are a big ol’ Sega dork and up late on Friday night/Saturday morning, there's something you should definitely watch: a free concert by Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, the voice of many of the hottest vocal Sega jams! He is almost assuredly going to belt out a Daytona or a Sega Rally tune, along with many other Sega-flavored favorites. The concert will be airing at 7 PM Japan time, which is about 6 AM Eastern Time or 3 AM Pacific Time. Now THIS I'll (attempt to) stay up for. I hunger for a live rendition of the second Virtua Fighter anime theme right now like you wouldn't believe.

Oh yes, Summer Games Done Quick is going on, too! I actually haven't watched much this year, mainly because everything I want to see is either on at odd hours or conflicts with something else I have to do, but I'm hoping to remedy that tomorrow by catching up on some of the runs that sounded interesting. Being online-only this year means there are some submissions that wouldn't be as feasible in an in-person setting, like a Pump It Up superplay, which I'm pretty pumped (har har) to see.

Well then, let's sit down and analyze this week's major gaming story, followed by a special interview with the director of Sega's Sakura Wars!

EPIC VERSUS APPLE VERSUS GOOGLE: WHOEVER WINS, WE LOSE

This week's big gaming news story primarily affects the mobile gaming space, but could have far-reaching repercussions well beyond the handheld realm. Unfortunately, it really is a situation where it's hard to root for any of the parties involved.

Late last week, Epic dropped a little update for Fortnite on Android and iOS. This update added a feature where players can purchase V-Bucks (the in-game currency) directly from Epic at a discount, circumventing Apple and Google's payment processing systems. Mere hours later, Fortnite, one of the most popular mobile games in the world, was delisted from both the App Store and Google Play storefronts. And what do you know, Epic knew damn well that this would be the outcome, and had lawyers on the ready with a lawsuit against the two mobile tech giants. The end goal? Getting Apple and Google to open up their walled-garden platforms.

The major point of contention here is the fee Apple and Google charge on monetary transactions like in-game currency purchases through their respective App Store and Google Play services. Apple's fee is 30% for each transaction, meaning that every time you spend money to roll for your waifu, Apple gets a sizable chunk of the proceeds. What Epic is doing is attempting to circumvent this by allowing you to pay them directly instead of using the App Store/Google Play payment processor, and offering a discount to entice you to pick this option instead. Even with the discount, Epic gets more money because they don't have to give any of that money to Apple/Google.

Thing is, using these payment processors is kinda baked into the contracts for getting your games on these storefronts. It's not just games, either, it works this way for all apps – with a few exceptions. And plenty of over app developers have complained in the past, too, particularly in regards to Apple. But a lot of these companies also realize that Apple has them by the balls and if they want to make money at all they have to play by the rules.

Even some of the biggest, most popular apps out there have faced situations where they were forced to bend to Apple's will. Monster Strike, one of the most popular and profitable games on the Japanese app store for years, was at one time delisted for offering a feature that let you redeem codes obtained outside of the game for in-game items and currency, which violates an Apple policy. They were only reinstated after removing the feature entirely. Some games that offer similar features, like Granblue Fantasy, have to deliberately cripple their iOS versions by removing features that don't conform to Apple policies. (I was pissed when I played the real-life gacha machines at Granblue Fes only to find out I couldn't redeem the codes because I play on iOS.)

So right now, unless you've already downloaded them, you can't play the App Store or Google Play versions of Fortnite. It's worth noting that you can install Fortnite on Android devices via means outside of the Google Play store, and Google's a-OK with that – you just can't offer a Google Play storefront version that doesn't use their payment processor. Apple devices, though? You're SOL.

Taking on Apple and Google seems foolish, but Epic is in a very unique position, as they have the power, influence, and money to actually take a stand. They have hot products that both make a ton of money (Fortnite) and make other developers a ton of money (Unreal Engine), a massive global audience of fans they can broadcast their grievances to and potentially weaponize, and the backing of an unfathomably large multinational company (Tencent). Epic, more than anyone else in the business, has the ability to make change happen, and they know it. This wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision, this was very clearly planned, as Epic responded to their App Store delisting with a premade film parodying Apple's famous Ridley Scott-directed “1984” ad alongside their lawsuit.

Now, it's easy to see Apple and Google as bad guys in this. There's plenty of issues with their platforms’ business models, which really are not great for smaller developers at all. However, Epic portraying itself as some big, great superhero fighting for the rights of all the oppressed storefront denizens is, uh… well, it's kinda BS, honestly. Like I said, Epic's a big company with backing from a bigger company whose main goal here is less “a freer, happier mobile environment for all :)” and more “we want to make more money and continue making more money in the future as mobile devices become essential to life across the globe.” I mean, Epic acting as a paragon of storefront virtues when their own Epic Games Store platform on PC has had a fair few controversies over exclusivity and backdoor deals is pretty rich.

What's most concerning to me is that this could affect developers who don't really want to get involved. Apple has threatened to revoke Epic's access to development tools on their platforms on August 28th, meaning that Unreal Engine's ability to be supported on Mac and iOS is in jeopardy. That would end up screwing over developers who chose to use UE as a multiplatform engine for their games, all because Epic and Apple are in a slapfight over Fortnite V-Bucks. And that just plain suuuuucks!

While I'm interested to see how everything plays out, I feel like there's no particularly great outcome to be had here. If Apple and Google win, the high fees and restrictions on developers continue. If Epic wins, they get to rake in more money for themselves and Tencent while proceeding to ignore their own failings and causing problems for Unreal Engine developers who wanted no part of this mess. It's pretty ugly all around.

INTERVIEW: SAKURA WARS DIRECTOR TETSUYA OHTSUBO

Sakura Wars is among Sega's most beloved franchises in Japan, but the games have never had much of a chance to blossom in the West until recently. The Western release of Sakura Wars on the Playstation 4 marks the first time that Sega themselves have localized the series into English, letting players experience a wondrous steampunk Japan filled with amazing mechs, fiendish demonic foes, and plenty of charming characters.

We recently reviewed Sakura Wars here on ANN, and I was also given the opportunity to send the game's director, Tetsuya Ohtsubo, a handful of questions via email.

How long was Sakura Wars in the planning/development stages?

Ohtsubo: Concepts for new Sakura Wars projects had been internally pitched any number of times over the years, but for this particular one that finally came to fruition, it took about three and a half years from the official start of development in Japan to the launch of the Western version.

Why did you decide to go with an almost entirely new cast for the game? How did you develop each of the characters' backgrounds and personalities?

O: Since it's been over 10 years since the last game in the Sakura Wars series, we decided to introduce a core cast of (nearly) all-new characters to make it easier for those new to the series to get into it.

The character backstories and personalities evolved as we considered the game's overall balance and the role of each character in the narrative.

What was the reasoning behind switching to action-based gameplay?

O: In the current PS4 gaming scene, action-style games seem to have a lower barrier to entry than strategy-based games, so we thought this shift might encourage more new players to give it a try.

The game has several character designers involved -- how did you approach each of them to contribute?  (Also, why did you pick Tite Kubo as the primary designer?)

O: The first creator that we approached after the project was up and running was Tite Kubo. At the time, Mr. Kubo had just finished his series, Bleach, which had made him widely known across the world and had given him a lot of character design experience to draw from. (I know people tend to focus on the male characters in Bleach, but there are many wonderful female characters as well.)

As it happens, we at SEGA had a preexisting relationship with his publisher, Shueisha, due to multiple Bleach games we've published in the past, so with Shueisha's help, we reached out to Mr. Kubo. It was a similar story regarding the other creators, too—we flexed SEGA's business network to the max!

How did you decide which other Combat Revues would feature in the game? (I'm a little sad that Moscow's Combat Revue was mentioned but we didn't see them!)

O:The selection of global Combat Revues came after we considered various factors: the appeal of each city and its unique culture, how they'd be interacting with the Tokyo Revue, and their continuity and relationship to the history of the past Sakura Wars titles.

By the way, you may know this already, but the Moscow Combat Revue does make an appearance in the anime series, so please check it out!

Do you think there may be an opportunity to re-release the previous Sakura Wars games for a Western audience?\

O: Well, we definitely owe the existence of this most recent Sakura Wars game to the support of all our fans. I do want to believe that there's a possibility we could revisit the older games, too!

Who is best girl, and why is it Hatsuho?

O: Haha, Hatsuho is indeed a charmer. Thank you for selecting her as best girl. I think her appeal comes down to not just her traditional shrine maiden getup or her feisty personality, but also the disconnect you discover between that exterior and her real inner self. Well, that and Marei Uchida's captivating vocal performance. Each member of the Flower Division is, as the name implies, a flower doing her best to blossom and grow as a part of the Imperial Combat Revue. I strongly encourage you to absorb each team member's appeal to the fullest and share the heart and soul found in our game with the people around you.

I greatly thank Ohtsubo-san for taking the time to talk to me, and hope to see even more English Sakura Wars in the near future!

Okay! This column got a little rambly, huh? I feel like I should talk about that new Neptunia game that just got announced, but that series is one of those things that's never clicked with me, and if I try to talk about it the fervent fans will know I'm ignorant. So I'll just say hey, read our news story about it! And if you've got opinions on the battle for the soul of mobile gaming, we've got a forum below for you to sound off, so have at it! See you all again next week!


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