Posts by Tag / TOPIC: Apple Arcade (4)

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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.

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Five Bucks a Month

Let’s review. What does five bucks a month get you in mobile gaming?

On Apple platforms, five bucks a month gets you Apple Arcade, which is a curated library of games still rolling out but supposed to total over a hundred this fall - and several of the games out so far are well-reviewed. There are no ads, no in-app purchases, and no behavior tracking. Games can be downloaded and played offline, though you can also share your progress between devices via iCloud. Games can be shared between up to six family members and can be played with popular game controllers.

On Android platforms, five bucks a month gets you Google Play Pass, which is a curated library of over 350 games and utility apps that are already out (and apparently more to come each month). Many of these games and apps are quite well-regarded. They also have no ads or in-app purchases and can be shared with up to five other family members.

And in Mario Kart Tour, five bucks a month gets you the Gold Pass, which gives you some in-game items and features in a single game that still also requires a persistent internet connection for its always-on DRM and which still also has a microtransaction-backed gacha-based unlock system.

I think it would have been obvious the Gold Pass was a bad deal anyway, but the timing of the announcements here casts it into really sharp relief. It’s so disappointing to see Nintendo fall to such sleazy depths, and I really hope it stays contained to mobile. I’ve still got Mario Kart 8 on my Switch and I’ll be playing that instead.

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Mobile Gaming Just Got Way More Exciting

I was recently lamenting to a friend the fact that right around when mobile technology was getting powerful enough to deliver console-quality experiences and designers were figuring out how to make good use of touchscreen controls, the horrible exploitative freemium monetization schemes took off, and we missed out on the possibility of a really amazing mobile game ecosystem.

The example that breaks my heart the most is Dynasty Warriors: Unleased which clearly could have presented a great musou-lite experience on the go, but was buried in layers of loot box crap. Similarly, I enjoyed both Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and Fire Emblem Heroes a lot as games until their monetization schemes overshadowed the gameplay.

But now, as predicted by John Gruber, Apple is launching a subscription-based game service with access to a bunch of games with offline play, no IAP, no ads, and no data collection without player consent. And there are a bunch of quality devs and high-profile games confirmed for the service.

This is REALLY EXCITING. By lining up the incentives in this way, Apple is finally taking huge steps to fix the damage they’ve caused to the mobile gaming ecosystem. We might finally get some amazing mobile games and I can’t wait to see how it goes.