Apple Arcade Looks Great, But it Probably Can’t Save Mobile Gaming

Apple Arcade Looks Great, But it Probably Can’t Save Mobile Gaming

The mobile gaming industry is in a tough spot. As free-to-play games have overtaken their premium brethren, the design of those games has changed—and not necessarily for the better.  The newly announced Apple Arcade aims to improve iOS’ gaming ecosystem by providing a paid subscription service filled with quality, premium, offline games. But will it work?

When game developers discovered that free-to-play games—laden with enticing microtransactions—made more money than pay-once premium games, the industry started to shift. Now, most of the big-budget games in the App Store are free to play, but are excessively grind-y or limiting, encouraging you to buy in-app purchases that make it faster to progress. This doesn’t exactly make for a fun, engaging experience, but if a developer can get even a small number of players to shell out large amounts of cash, they can make more money than they did with the $5 premium games of yore.

That’s not to say there aren’t great premium games in the App Store. Games like Monument Valley, Papers Please and FTL have long been lauded as some of the best games on the platform. But you’re more likely to find indie titles and console ports in this category these days. Larger companies, more concerned with their bottom line, have all but abandoned this scene.

The newly-announced Apple Arcade makes a big push in the opposite direction. Pay an as-yet-undetermined amount for a monthly subscription, and you’ll be able to play over 100 new and exclusive games from the App Store, with new ones added regularly. All games will be usable offline (hallelujah) and will be playable on iOS, the Mac, and Apple TV, so you can take your experience anywhere. They even announced a number of partnerships with different developers, including big names like Konami, Lego, Giant Squid, and SEGA. In other words, Apple is trying to bring quality games back to mobile, and they’re taking the opposite approach that Google has with its game streaming service, Stadia.

I’m very intrigued by Apple Arcade, and as someone who enjoys quality mobile gaming, I’d very much like to see it succeed. But in order for that to happen, developers will need to make a good return on their investment in order for the platform to be viable long-term, which won’t necessarily be easy with this type of subscription model, not to mention Apple’s penchant for skimming 30% off the top. Without knowing much about pricing or the games, it’s hard to make predictions—but if the past is any indication, Apple has its work cut out for it.

Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and tech nerd who has been building PCs for ten years. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn’t get grease on his mechanical keyboard.

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