The problem with Apple Arcade? It’s just not that special [Opinion]


Can Arcade ever become the service Apple promised?
Photo: Apple

Apple Arcade’s slate of more than 100 games for $4.99 a month looks like one of the best deals in gaming at first glance. But Apple’s new game subscription service fails to live up to the expectations of many iPhone and iPad owners.

That’s not because the games are bad. Or because there are hidden fees we weren’t expecting. It’s because Cupertino billed Apple Arcade as something special … and it just isn’t.

Apple Arcade does solve one problem: the increasing popularity of subscriptions and in-app purchases in the gaming world. Almost every game out on mobile today comes with one of the two, if not both — except those that are part of Apple Arcade.

Every Arcade title is yours to download and play as much as you like once you’ve paid your $4.99 monthly subscription fee. Each comes in its entirety, with nothing left to unlock by handing over more of your hard-earned cash.

What your $4.99 doesn’t get you is a product worth shouting about. Apple Arcade is fine if you like to burn through simple, mobile games. But if you were hoping for something more — something that would push mobile gaming forward — you’re out of luck.

Apple Arcade is … OK

Some Apple Arcade titles prove worthy of your time. Oceanhorn 2 is perhaps the closest you’ll get to The Legend of Zelda on iOS. Sonic Racing might be even better than Mario Kart Tour. Some Apple Arcade games are good enough to have landed console releases, too.

But these aren’t the kinds of titles gamers line up for on launch day. They aren’t the kinds of games you might preorder months in advance, and count down the days to their release. And they certainly aren’t the kinds of titles you’ll remember next year.

They are very much made for mobile. You won’t sit down in front of the TV and sink hours into Apple Arcade games in the same way you would with the latest Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. They’re fun for half an hour or so, but not a lot more than that.

And we’ve been playing games just like these on iOS for years. Apple Arcade has not yet introduced us to something special that truly changes mobile gaming.

We expected better from Apple Arcade exclusives

“Play extraordinary.” “Games that redefine games.” These are some of the tag lines you’ll read on the Apple Arcade webpage. Apple said similar things during its Arcade preview at the Worldwide Developers Conference back in June — then again during its iPhone 11 keynote this month.

Hyperbole like that gave us a reason to expect more from Apple Arcade. We didn’t just assume the service would be groundbreaking; Apple wanted us to believe it. Cupertino promised us an experience unlike anything we had seen before on iOS.

And it’s not that we can’t get better for $4.99 a month. EA Access costs the same, yet delivers massive franchises like FIFA, Battlefield and Need for Speed. Sure, Arcade offers a lot more games, but it seems Apple prioritized quantity over quality.

“We’re pushing the boundaries of what’s possible to create the games … of your dreams,” the Arcade webpage continues. Ha!

Were we crazy to expect better? I don’t think so.

iOS can compete with consoles

We’ve already seen better from other developers. The likes of Epic Games and Tencent, with titles like Fortnite and PUBG Mobile, are proving that console-quality games are possible on iPhone and iPad. Not just in looks, but in gameplay, too.

These game companies really are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on iOS. They put the true console experience, not just a mobile version of it, in the palm of your hands. Fortnite for iOS, in particular, is identical to its console counterpart.

And there’s more to come, with games like Call of Duty Mobile on the way. But Apple Arcade will never be home to titles like these — and that’s where the real problem lies.

Apple Arcade won’t attract the biggest games

Apple won’t convince the likes of Epic Games and Activision to include their games in Arcade. The companies make too much from in-app purchases, and they’re not going to throw that away.

We don’t know how much developers will earn from Arcade. But you can be sure it won’t be anywhere near as much as the $500 million that Fortnite made on iOS during its first year, or the $1 billion raked in by PUBG Mobile since its App Store debut.

The only games we will ever see in Apple Arcade, then, are those that probably won’t attract millions of dollars in revenue by themselves. Games that might go unnoticed in the App Store without the exposure Arcade offers.

Apple Arcade isn’t a complete bust

Still, there are some compelling reasons to subscribe to Apple Arcade.

If you have kids, you can give them all the games they can play — without worrying about them racking up large bills on in-app purchases — for next to nothing. If you have a bunch of Apple devices, you can play your games almost anywhere, and pick up right where you left off at any time. And you won’t have to look at a single ad in an Arcade title.

But as things stand, Apple Arcade is simply not the revolutionary service Apple promised us.


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