May 31, 2022 - Technology

Apple's gaming service lands another Japanese all-star

Video game screenshot of aerial combat involving a bird, fireballs and pink lasers

Air Twister. Screenshot: YS-Net

Apple surprise-announced today that one of Japan’s most revered game developers, Yu Suzuki, is making his next game for the tech giant’s mobile gaming subscription service, Apple Arcade.

Why it matters: Apple is an enigmatic but major player in gaming, with resources to do seemingly whatever it wants and tap some all-star talent in the process.

  • Apple doesn’t make games or dedicated gaming hardware and doesn’t report its gaming revenue.
  • The Wall Street Journal estimates that in 2019, Apple generated $8.5 billion from games in its app store, at least $2 billion more than Sony, Activision, Nintendo and Microsoft earned in that same time period.

Details: The game from Suzuki and his team is called Air Twister and features a princess-warrior who flies through fantastical environments to zap airborne enemies.

  • It’s an arcade-style throwback to Suzuki’s earliest works, particularly the mid-'80s shoot-em-up Space Harrier.
  • It is credited as coming from YS-Net, Suzuki’s independent development company.

Suzuki is an industry pioneer and Hall of Famer. From the mid-1980s on, he oversaw the development of dozens of acclaimed games, including After Burner, Virtua Fighter and Shenmue, all for iconic Japanese publisher Sega during its rivalry with Nintendo.

  • He left his full-time role at Sega in 2011 and raised over $6 million over Kickstarter to release 2019’s Shenmue III, but he had not revealed a new project since then.

What they’re saying: “When I went to the Apple headquarters, we had a talk — and we actually had a really good talk about what if I was to do a really straight-forward game you want to play over and over again, like old-school arcades,” Suzuki told Axios through an interpreter during a video call today.

  • He declined to elaborate on whether he set up the meeting or if Apple approached him.
  • But Apple's openness to do business was clear. Another developer on the call, who was showcasing an Apple Arcade-exclusive sequel to the long-running Cooking Mama series, told Axios that the project started with the plan to make something for the subscription service, with the game idea following.

Between the lines: Apple keeps quiet about how it builds its game business, but it’s clearly finding a way to tie its Arcade service to some game creators and brands who have name recognition with hardcore console players.

  • One of Apple Arcade’s most acclaimed releases, 2021's Fantasian, was made by a team led by Final Fantasy architect Hironobu Sakaguchi.
  • Last September, Apple Arcade launched a game from Konami’s classic but recently neglected Castlevania franchise.

Yes, but we can only guess how well this is working for Apple.

  • The company doesn't share Apple Arcade subscription stats.

What’s next: Air Twister is set for release on June 24.

  • And even before that, another classic Japanese series is en route: A new Frogger will be released on Arcade later this week.

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