Features

Apple Arcade: I want to believe

Does Apple’s ‘Netflix for games’ mean Apple is finally getting serious about gaming?

A few seconds of daydreaming followed the reveal of Apple Arcade – a fleeting hope of a retro-gaming wonderland (leave me alone – I’m old). Then I started to mull. Despite (embarrassingly) writing off Apple gaming at its very birth, I was soon won over when I actually experienced the thing.

Touchscreen wonder Eliss sold me on the new form factor. The sheer diversity and innovation within iPhone games was a world away from tired “the same, but more polygons” thinking that had infected traditional consoles; and I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer I worked on all day, in order to play indie fare.

Things peaked around 2012. I visited a gaming day set up by EA and chatted to many developers, all of whom openly enthused about iOS. They could do what they wanted, without interference. Updates weren’t canned because a platform owner wanted to fiddle with a game. The market was massive – and growing fast. But gradually, rot set in.

Bad apples

I still believe iOS to be a remarkable gaming platform, capable of great things, but it’s beset with problems, many of which are of Apple’s making. The company ignored Game Center, and then killed it, in one fell swoop obliterating social gaming on iOS. Then hundreds of superb games were wiped from existence during appageddon.

The MFi controller scheme was botched from day one, and even today Apple doesn’t surface MFi-compatible games in its stores – even on tvOS, where only masochists enjoy using Siri Remote. And then there’s the thorny issue of money – the race to the bottom, and then to freemium, which bulldozed premium gaming on iOS, resulting in some of the best quitting the platform.

The Apple Arcade announcement, though, fills me with hope. There was the odd curious remark – an Apple exec saying the service’s games would “appeal to the kid in all of us”. Games are by default inherently no more child-oriented than TV, music, or books. But still, it finally felt like Apple was taking gaming seriously. Games were now important in and of themselves, rather than a shortcut in demo form to show off the powerful nature of a new iOS device.

Second bite of the Apple

What Apple’s proposing is like Netflix for games. For a monthly fee, you get unlimited access to over 100 titles, free from ads, tracking, and IAP. Many will be exclusive to iOS, and none will feature on other mobile platforms or subscription services. Big names are attached, including Hironobu Sakaguchi, Ken Wong and Will Wright.

Anything you try can be downloaded for offline play, and will work across iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. Progress will seamlessly sync across iCloud. And Apple is putting its money where its mouth is, contributing to development costs, and working closely with games creators.

There remain reasons to be concerned. If people subscribe, will they still dip into premium fare Apple hasn’t deigned worthy of inclusion? How many will subscribe in the first place? Will Apple just get bored of the whole thing, like Game Center, or is this really a new beginning?

Time will tell. The worst-case scenario is access to 100 great-looking games, probably for a tenner. So that first month at least will be an iOS gamer’s dream come true. And right now, it’s great to see Apple – rather than considering this exciting, vibrant medium ‘lesser’ than music, film, television, and literature – finally playing the game.

Apple Arcade will launch in autumn 2019 in over 150 countries. It will be available within the App Store, and compatible with iOS, tvOS, and macOS. Monthly pricing has yet to be announced.