Home Tech ‘Games are more important to Apple than ever’: what’s next for Apple Arcade?

‘Games are more important to Apple than ever’: what’s next for Apple Arcade?

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'Games are more important to Apple than ever': what's next for Apple Arcade?

W.hen Apple launched its gaming subscription service, Arcade, in September 2019, it attracted a lot of attention, as it does with everything the company does. Offering 100 premium (i.e. not ad-infested) mobile games for a monthly subscription fee of £4.99/$4.99 (now £6.99), and the promise of more titles to come, it was an attempt to bring the Netflix business model to games. .

It offered an alternative in a mobile gaming market where free and ad-supported games dominated. The dominance of giants like Genshin Impact, Clash of Clans and Candy Crush previously made it difficult for premium paid game creators to find an audience, but Arcade offered a range of select titles that could run on Apple’s iPhone devices. , iPad, Mac and Apple TV, without ads or in-app purchases. The games also worked offline, eliminating the hassle of being kicked out of a game on the London Underground.

Five years later, the market is very different. Consumers are being bombarded with new subscription services in TV, movies and games, while legacy platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime are aggressively expanding into Apple’s territory with their own gaming offerings. So what does this mean for Arcade? Is it still a priority for Apple?

Alex Rofman is Senior Director of Arcade, a 15-year Apple veteran who has been in and around mobile gaming since the beginning. “2023 was an exceptional year for us,” he says. “All of our critical metrics reached record levels. Two of the highlights for me were the release of Hello Kitty Island Adventure, an incredibly popular IP that had yet to find its home in the gaming world, and What the Car, which won mobile game of the year at the awards. He says last month. “

‘Extremely silly and original’… About the Car trailer.

There is always a lot of scrutiny over Apple’s strategic thinking; In fact, the company’s opacity around its business decisions has effectively created an entire stratum of technology analysts. But Rofman outlines a fairly simple approach to setting up Arcade. “These were games designed just to be fun and engaging, not built around a business model, not around timers or video ads,” he says. “We weren’t necessarily looking to replicate major genres on mobile, we weren’t looking to bring a Match-Three that was better than Candy Crush… we focused on games that wouldn’t have had a chance if it weren’t for Arcade. “

“At Apple Arcade we can bring extremely silly and original premium experiences to a very wide audience… I have a hard time imagining how to make players laugh, if they are interrupted by ads,” says Tim Garbos, co-founder of Triband. , the developer of What the Car.

If we look at Arcade today, innovative titles like Assemble With Care, Card of Darkness, Neo Cab and Mutazione still take up space on the cover. But there is also a special emphasis on family games such as Hello Kitty, Tamagotchi and Disney. This makes practical sense for a large demographic of Apple users: tech-savvy parents with bored kids. “Free-to-play games are not particularly family-friendly,” Rofman says. “They don’t necessarily have offensive themes, but parents can’t hand their iPad to their kids in a free game and feel comfortable that there won’t be $100 worth of currency purchases or whatever.”

Bright spot… Neo Cab. Photography: Chance Agency

This, along with the growing number of older, lovingly received App Store games such as Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride and Threes coming to Apple Arcade, appears to represent a change in direction from the initial catalogue. Back then, it seems like Apple thought Arcade would be for fans of interesting, offbeat indie games who just couldn’t find them on the App Store: award-winning, well-reviewed titles from producers like Annapurna, Die Gute Fabrik, and Devolver Absolutely. dominated the selection. They are still present, but not in the same quantities. Family games have taken over.

But Rofman wants to reiterate Apple’s commitment to interesting independent companies. “Arcade is a place for games that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and I think that’s a really important part of our strategy,” he says. “We fund the development of new games so that developers can create them without risk. What the Car is a perfect example of this. Another is Sneaky Sasquatch: its RAC7 developer is two guys who have been making games together since they were in high school. They don’t want to have a studio. Seeing the success and growth of that game has been truly amazing. It’s very much aligned with Apple’s values: it’s an incredibly deep and challenging game, but there’s no violence. There is nothing offensive. That’s why we believe that Arcade is an outlet for independent studios with creative and innovative ideas. That is still important to us and always will be.”

There have been dissenting voices. In February, the industry website mobilegamer.biz went live an article in which anonymous developers expressed their frustrations with the service. Some pointed to a number of canceled projects, which can have a devastating effect on smaller studios. Others claimed that royalty payments for games are falling and that Apple appeared to be deprioritizing the service. Rofman, naturally, defends the company’s track record. “Regarding the article, developers with games where the player base is growing can expect their bonus pool earnings to grow as well, since they are based on engagement,” he says. “But as you can imagine, despite the incredibly high quality of our catalog, not every game in a catalog of over 200 titles is going to increase its player base month after month.”

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He also questions the idea that Arcade is a victim of Apple’s apparent lack of interest in gaming. “Gaming is more important to Apple now than ever,” he says. “This can be seen with the investment we have made in silicon. Finally, Macs are capable of running high-performance games, in a way they weren’t 10 or 15 years ago. And certainly, with the latest iPhones, you can now run a high-performance, immersive game on a device that fits in your pocket. “I think you will continue to see investment and focus in the gaming space, because games are amazing and our devices are great gaming devices.”

“Vision Pro opens up a whole new world of possibilities.” Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

In the future, Apple Arcade will include games created for the company’s vaunted Vision Pro. The spatial computing device launched with 12 native games – a mix of new titles and familiar games augmented with spatial elements. “Space games are probably the biggest thing right now,” Rofman says. “If you think about it, since the invention of touch games, there really hasn’t been much innovation in the types of games we all play. Graphics are better and TVs are getting thinner, but in terms of gaming styles and input methods, there hasn’t been innovation in a long time. “Vision Pro opens up a whole new world of possibilities and we are just at the dawn.”

The Vision Pro will be a niche product for a few more years, possibly forever. In the meantime, Apple should continue to support independent developers and showcase a wider range of new unlicensed titles. Whatever problems it faces, Apple Arcade plays a vital role in the mobile gaming ecosystem. People put it in competition with Netflix and Amazon, but really what it’s moving towards, in terms of content, is the Nintendo Switch: familiar but challenging games in a safe, carefully curated environment, stripped of invasive in-game monetization gratuitous. Rofman feels that 2023 was a banner year but, with competition increasing and developers struggling, it will be 2024 when Apple Arcade’s ambitions will really be put to the test.

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