Apple Arcade’s future: Kids win, but devs fear ‘smell of death’


Apple Arcade's future is kids games with big names
Games with an established brand aimed at children -- like SpongeBob -- are apparently the future of Apple Arcade.
Photo: Apple/Nickelodeon

Apple Arcade now focuses so heavily on family-friendly titles from well-known franchises that some indie game developers feel abandoned, according to a new report. Some even predict doom — or at least creative stagnation — lies in Apple Arcade’s future if things don’t change.

Cupertino’s shifting priorities leave the developers, who Apple once wooed for the service, with few incentives for creating new Apple Arcade games.

Apple Arcade’s future is kids games with big names

Apple Arcade, the subscription-based service for iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV, brings unlimited access to more than 200 games. It offers games in almost every genre: casual, racing, RPG, sports, puzzle, story and many more. All are playable on iPhone and iPad, and most can be enjoyed on Mac and Apple TV, too.

When Apple Arcade launched in 2019, the creative work of independent developers fueled the service. Apple contributed to the cost of developing games, and made per-play payments. Some great indie games were released back then, like Sayonara Wild Hearts and Creaks.

But years later, the company has narrowed its focus. “Very few original games are being greenlit unless they are attached to a big family-friendly IP,” reports

A glance at the top 20 most popular games on Apple Arcade might explain why. Titles like Hello Kitty Island Adventure, Disney Dreamlight Valley and Sonic Dream Team dominate the list. Apple seems focused on making the games its subscribers play the most.

Much of the rest of the list consists of what Apple calls “App Store Greats.” These are popular games released years ago on the App Store, then added to the subscription service with in-app purchases stripped out.

It seems the future of Apple Arcade is more of the same.

Some devs sense ‘the smell of death’

Developers of completely original games don’t sound happy with the direction Apple Arcade is going. For one thing, the Mac-maker apparently doesn’t always do a good job of communicating its shifting priorities to devs — or even communicating at all. said:

“One studio boss told us that after months of glowing feedback on one particular game, the Arcade team suddenly withdrew its interest in the title, citing a change in strategy. When the developer asked for feedback and offered to reduce the budget and re-tool the game to better fit Apple’s needs, the Arcade team simply stopped responding to their emails.”

Apple’s typical secrecy doesn’t make disillusioned devs feel any better about the situation, either.

“They have this opaque metric that they call a qualifying session, and bonus pool payments are made based on that,” an anonymous source told “But no-one knows what a qualifying session actually is – it has something to do with if the game was launched, how long the player played for and how often they return. But it’s a black box, really.”

Apple also reportedly contributes less toward the cost of developing games. Plus, ongoing payments to games that are part of the service have dropped. says some devs fear these will continue to drop until smaller developers can’t make money.

One developer even said Apple Arcade had the “smell of death” around it, and claimed the Apple employees didn’t seem certain the service had a future.

Future of Apple Arcade could be kids, kids and more kids

Apple Arcade bans in-app purchases and sketchy tracking of users. These are unfortunate features of all too many iPhone games for kids — the ones that are “free” but nevertheless generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year.

As such, Apple’s gaming service can be a haven for parents who don’t want their children to run up big bills in iPhone games, or just nag them to make in-app purchases.

If that’s the typical subscriber to Apple Arcade, then it’s not surprising that the future of the service is more kids games. And being able to add “SpongeBob” or “Lego” to the title is always a bonus.

But this strategy closes the door on so many possibilities. Consider Sneaky Sasquatch, a huge hit that sits in Apple Arcade’s top 10 most-popular list year after year. But it’s not part of a huge, well-known franchise so it’s not what Apple is looking for now.


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