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Apple Arcade and Gateway Games

As excited as I’ve been for Apple Arcade, leading up to launch I noticed that a lot of the most-talked about games were ones I’d rather play on a big screen with a controller. Decently big names like Rayman, Shantae, and Sonic, or indie stuff with plenty of hype like Sayonara Wild Hearts or Assemble With Care. And a lot of emphasis was placed on the idea that these games were new and exclusive (although in many cases the exclusivity only applied to mobile - Sayonara Wild Hearts is also on PS4 and Switch, for example).

It took me a bit to figure out why I was so looking forward to a game subscription service when every game on the service that I’d actually heard of was something I’d rather play on a different platform. But I think I’ve figured it out.

The sort of person who pays attention to Apple Arcade announcements is already a nonrepresentative sample of the population. But even for most people in that slice - when they think of mobile games, I suspect they think of annoying wallet parasites that are maybe good for killing a few minutes in line or whatever. I think most of these folks associate the problems with these games with the mobile platform itself. They see them as just what mobile games are, rather than seeing them as the result of the combination of low-friction micropayments, persistent online connections for metrics gathering, and a race to the bottom enabled by poorly-designed storefronts.

So when they hear about mobile games unshackled (and indeed, actually blocked off) from those particular market pressures and tied instead to a subscription, that’s not enough for them to see the possibilities. For these folks, you also need the legitimacy associated with the names and designs that have earned respect on PC and console - even if those types of games don’t really work well on mobile.

My excitement came from the fact that I’ve seen plenty of evidence that designers know how to make good mobile games if they can just get away from the freemium/gacha bullshit. My optimistic assumption was that beneath the games that were getting all the marketing, the ones that were there to get you to pay attention to Apple Arcade, there would be excellent mobile experiences proving that mobile can be a great gaming platform with its own particular strengths and demonstrating how to make use of them. And once you’re paying for the subscription, you’ll try out those other games because why not, it’s free, and you’ll find something wonderful, and you’ll realize what mobile games can be.

This is how Apple Arcade could be the start of a mobile gaming revolution. This is why it’s more exciting than Google Play Pass, which is arguably a better value in some ways but only bundles games/apps that were already available on Android. That’ll only work on you if you’re already open to those games - it doesn’t open new doors, bring in new players, which a subscription-based platform will need to have to be successful. This is why Apple invested so heavily in flashy exclusives, and it might pay off. I mean, jeez - if it worked on Penny Arcade, it can work on anybody.