Posted by: ZenithTheOne 27 October 2017
The explicit purpose of this article is to highlight the unethical, anti-consumer and illegal practices of developer/publisher SakuraGame, responsible for selling cheap adult-oriented games on Steam.
Note: The translations of information used in the creation of this article have been provided by multiple interested parties. Translation of Japanese language tweets by t japan has been provided by VerdelishJP. Translation of the ChuApp article has been provided by Anonymous. Any other translations found in the article have been provided by contributors that wish to remain anonymous and by LewdGamer’s own in-house translators.
For updated developments on the case, please scroll down to the bottom of the article.
If you are an avid connoisseur Steam games with sexual content, there is a big possibility that you have heard of a publisher and developer by the name of SakuraGame. As of the end of October, the company has released over 15 censored, adult-oriented titles on the distribution platform for extremely low prices (as low as $0.99) and offering attractive return policies to those that were unsatisfied with the product they have received. While this practice may initially seem very attractive and friendly to any prospective consumer, the way SakuraGame manages both of their development and publishing responsibilities leaves a great deal to be desired.
Steamspy’s entry on SakuraGame showing the low average prices of their developed and published games.
While we believe where SakuraGame comes from has little bearing on the practices they employ, we decided to cover their history in order to provide some context for our readers. SakuraGame’s origins are shrouded in a bit of mystery. An article on the Chinese-language website ChuApp, also discussing SakuraGame’s practices, sheds some light on where the company known to most as SakuraGame originally comes from.
SakuraGame is a Chinese developer/publisher that started off as a developer in August of 2016, when they released the visual novel and management game Super Star. Afterwards, they went on to release a side-scrolling action game, Dragon Knight. They continued to release updates for both of the games before finally dipping their toes into game publishing.
Super Star, however, is not an original title, but a renamed Chinese mobile game previously known as 我的明星女友 (My Celebrity Girlfriend) released in 2014 by 电脑商情报游戏天地 (Chengdu Ai-Shan Technology Limited) under the name Lv1 on the iOS App Store. As ChuApp claims, individuals investigating job application information for Lv1 found out that SakuraGame is, in fact, Chengdu Ai-Shan, a company originally named Blue Sky that received large government funding and moved into developing mobile games as Chengdu Ai-Shan. Allegedly, according to media reports Blue Sky used to be positioned as a market leader in terms of revenue. Since 2013, due to the rising market and large government investments, Chengdu Ai-Shan skyrocketed, and as the cost of living is very low in Chengdu, many game companies moved to that area. In fact, the Party wished the city to become a city of game developers. In 2014, there were 1,000 game development studios, with companies like Gameloft and Ubisoft among them.
Unfortunately, the good days did not last long for most of the established companies in Chengdu. The main culprit of the decline was the fact that all of the studios were copying other games and not making anything original with a sense of individuality. Simply put, these titles had no appeal. The government reduced their support, which led to many developers closing down their businesses or leaving the city. By 2015, only 200 studios remained.
My Celebrity Girlfriend
The Curious Case of SuperStar
Backtracking to the aforementioned August 2016 timeframe, SakuraGame has released their first title, known as Super Star, a game about managing a mysterious girl that suddenly appears in the protagonist’s home. Upon release, the game received multiple criticisms regarding game bugs and an incredibly awkward English translation, sometimes bordering on incomprehensible. While the quality of the game and its English translation is very poor, traced character art and CGs of Nene Anegasaki, from the popular Japanese dating game series LovePlus, as well as the use of several pieces of non-commercial art without the original creators’ permission, have made a lot of Steam users voice their complaints on the game’s discussion forums.
Left: LovePlus / Right: Super Star
Seemingly to divert criticism away from all the things wrong with the release of Super Star, SakuraGame cut down the price of the title from $7.99 to $1.99 and said they would refund the difference resulting from the price reduction.
Super Star price reduction.
Even though the developers did nothing to remove the copyright infringing content, the newly reduced price of Super Star was met with widespread approval, especially from Chinese Steam users. This move would later encourage SakuraGame to publish all future titles with a low price threshold in order to create mass appeal for their low-quality releases; however, this event in September 2016 did not spell the end of trouble for Super Star.
In May 2017, Soviet Games, the developers of the very popular free-to-play visual novel, Everlasting Summer, started a thread on the Super Star Steam Discussion forum stating that SakuraGame has taken backgrounds from Everlasting Summer without permission and used it in their game, while also selling it on the Community Market. Representing SakuraGame, Blue Sky promptly apologized for what happened and removed the piece of background art from the Market and game. Another developer, going by the nickname of Shippou, joined the discussion, explaining that the art they use in the game was commissioned and they were only later notified that it has been made by other people. This claim is unfortunately unverifiable, as direct contact with the publisher is only possible via people claiming to be their official representatives on Twitter and random developer blogs where said representative leave comments offering the developers paid deals for the publishing rights of their games.
Just below, you can find one such translated message left by SakuraGame on the DLsite blog page of Japanese developer Another Story:
Hi Another Story, we are a video game developer/publisher. We are very interested in your game, and would like to buy the rights to publish outside Japan. Our company was built in 2006, and we have a lot of international sales experience. We also began selling our own game in 2016 on Steam. We’d like to begin selling Japanese indie games internationally on Steam starting this year as well. We believe our sales records are quite good, and have received good reviews from our currently partnered companies as well. Below is a link to the public sales figures of our company:http://steamspy.com/dev/SakuraGameOur testers play Japanese indie games all day long, and among them we’ve found your game to be fantastic. I was shocked at the quality of it. Our company would like very much to open up Japanese indie games to other countries, with the help of the developer, and we believe we have a good record of previous attempts to do so. If you’re interested, please contact us. We await your response. Thank you very much!Here is our publisher site:http://store.steampowered.com/search/?publisher=SakuraGame
SakuraGame the Publisher
Following the release of Super Star, Dragon Knight, Hell Girls, and emboldened by the public’s approval for their own low-priced mobile game ports, SakuraGame decided to start publishing mostly third-party Japanese erotic games with heavy, usually incredibly unfitting, censorship of sexual content, offering buyers uncensored patches via official or unofficial means on the Steam Discussion forums. The Japanese language Twitter account used by SakuraGame to offer business deals to Japanese developers elaborated how much they are willing to pay for the rights for a particular game.
Hi, SakuraGame is a video game developer/publisher, and would like to receive the rights to sell your game overseas. We would be willing to pay up to $30,000 for the rights.Contact: email@example.com
From May until October of this year, SakuraGame has published over ten different titles, all plagued by similar problems, ranging from game crashing bugs, missing game assets to the most prevalent ones being the use of slightly edited or unedited machine translations used for the English script of every published game. The worst offenders of these are text-heavy visual novels having virtually incomprehensible stories.
Crimson Memories exemplifies the kind of translation quality that can be expected from SakuraGame.
With the abysmal quality of games released by SakuraGame it was only a matter of time before new tides of criticism would flow their way. The company was ready for that however, and shortly after the release of Hell Girls, they implemented a very generous refund policy going past Steam’s very own refund policy. You can view the full text of the policy below.
The initial reveal of the policy has earned the publisher almost unanimous and widespread praise from Steam users and has been applied to every new game they released ever since. Despite the show of goodwill towards any prospective buyer, SakuraGame has never gone back to improve any of the third party titles they published, leaving them in the same messy (and sometimes unplayable) state they were initially when they first appeared on Steam.
More recently, t japan, the Japanese developer of 3D animated erotic visual novel, New Glass, also had a run-in with the infamous SakuraGame. Using the same method of getting in contact with developers as we described previously, SakuraGame reached out to the developer offering to publish his game on Steam. In the translation of the tweets below, t japan lists the timeline of events as he describes his encounter with the publisher and notes that the Steam page for New Glass has been put online even before he officially signed any kind of contract with them. Of particular note in the description is the lack of professionalism when forging new contracts with new developers.
SakuraGame complied to t japan’s request, but before the actual page was removed it was modified to “Blank,” with most details about the game removed. The page was modified just after t japan voiced his complaints to them about the store page being up without him having signed contract. It is safe to assume SakuraGame decided to modify the page instead of outright removing it to either escape criticism of having acted without the developer’s consent or to have the page as a backup in case t japan decided to go through with the deal with them. Whichever the case may be, the whole exchange related by t japan shows that SakuraGame either does not care for proper business relations with their developer partners or they are running on extremely low amounts of competence. After the New Glass page was finally removed, the Japanese developer deleted all of the tweets regarding the case, in order to avoid causing an unnecessary uproar.
Despite the low quality of their published titles’ releases and the nonexistent quality assurance, coupled with constant present criticism aimed at them, SakuraGame makes a good amount of money on almost every single title they publish. According to Steam Spy, the most popular SakuraGame titles sell in the hundreds of thousands, with the highest title, Tricolour Lovestory, having more than 200,000 owners. Even with the atrocious state of some of the published games, the titles under SakuraGame’s “care “are still selling in the tens of thousands of units thanks to extremely low prices and the air of approachability and generosity created around them, thanks to the policies they created way back in January. These two factors, as demonstrated by the high review approval rating they have for most of their Steam titles, are readily used by them as a shield in order to continue their activities unabated.
SakuraGame exemplifies some of the very worst methods and practices put into action by any developer and publisher on the Steam distribution platform. The developer/publisher is principally anti-consumer, releasing shoddy, bug-riddled, lazy and unpolished translations of games en masse for a quick profit at a very low sales price. They have shown the willingness to put stolen art assets into their own developed games and even went so far as to put a title up for sale without the developer’s expressed permission. They’ve exercised appeals to people’s emotions and use tactics close to bribery in order deflect attention away from their actions, instead of delivering a competently-made product. SakuraGame continues to avoid addressing people’s concerns regarding the quality of the releases they publish and proceeds to release more games in a borderline broken state.
Even with the increasing number of evidence of SakuraGame’s unsavory and unethical schemes, we are sure that this will be just a tip of the iceberg if the company continues down this track. At the time of writing of this article, SakuraGame’s publishing wing has games lined up for release well into November, and even December, if one counts the now-removed New Glass by t japan. In a more recent development, an English language Twitter account began contacting English-speaking developers offering to help them sell keys for their game and stating that they are able to sell anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 key in “one sale”.
In light of the information uncovered, LewdGamer will cease all coverage of SakuraGame published and developed titles. Despite the attractive low price and even more alluring return policy set on SakuraGame’s released titles, we urge any potential buyers to stay away from their low-quality efforts of what could actually be decently-made products underneath the mismanaged translation. We also urge any developer to carefully consider any partnerships with the company, given how they treat the games under their publishing branch.
As we consider the matter with SakuraGame an opened and ongoing case, we will be sure to update this article if any major developments occur.
[UPDATE 11/02/2017] SakuraGame has launched an English language website promoting their company and publishing/translation services. The website’s About page states the publisher has been using automated machine translation for the titles released by them. The page also features a form section where developers seeking SakuraGame’s services as a publisher can fill in information on their game including where they would like it to be published, what engine the game is made in, the breakdown of development costs etc.
Additionally, SakuraGame mentions the possibility of publishing games on other platforms besides Steam, such as Japanese DLsite and DMM as well as the newly established Chinese WeGame. [/UPDATE]
[UPDATE 11/15/2017] YouTuber Musical Anti Hero, who has been leading his own investigation into the actions of SakuraGame, was fortunate enough to get in contact with a Foreign Operations representative of SakuraGame, referring to himself as Tim, and conducted an in-depth e-mail interview with them. The YouTuber inquired about fake game ratings (which have since been removed) on several of their Steam store pages, multiple cases of copyright infringement in Super Star, the low sales prices of all of their developed and published games, as well as the translation quality they offer and the situation that has arisen with t japan’s New Glass being put up on the Steam store without their permission. The questions asked by Musical Anti Hero as well as the answers provided by SakuraGame’s Tim can be read in the screenshots following this paragraph. The full exchange between both parties has been also documented in screenshots found here.
While SakuraGame’s Tim has provided a lot of irrelevant, tangential or misinformation-filled answers to Musical Anti Hero’s queries, he did address the situation with New Glass as a misunderstanding and the publisher “jumping the gun,” putting up the game’s Steam store prematurely. The interview concluded with Tim stating he is appreciative of the criticism and would like to receive more feedback in the future, should the company make more errors. Musical Anti Hero’s take on the interview can be viewed in his own video linked below.
In even more recent developments, SakuraGame’s official homepage has been updated with a Chinese and Japanese language versions, with the Chinese iteration listing an additional job recruitment page. Several minor and major differences exist between the About pages in all of the languages, however, the most striking one is the lack of explanation on what kind of game translation services SakuraGame provides on the Japanese and Chinese versions of the page, which is clearly stated as being automated on the English version.