Apple Arcade launched in October of 2019 and is one of the best gaming subscription services out there with just one almighty catch.
The service is a monthly sub of £4.99 in the UK and $4.99 in the US. For that money, you get unlimited access to a curated list of games. There are currently over 100 games offered on the service. The games themselves are designed to work on mobile as well as all modern Apple devices, including; iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Mac OS. Pay the monthly sub, download the games, and play some games on the go.
So far, so meh.
Let’s go through the reasons why the service is really good. Firstly, the games. Mobile games get a lot of flack from ‘real gamers’ despite them raking in billions each year. There are some cracking mobile games, but admittedly a lot of free to play cash grabs that favour addiction over quality. Which is a shame, because we all have smart phones and having decent games on the go is enticing.
Apple Arcade offers that. The list IS curated, and not in a Steam curated way, but actually, you know, curated.
There are a bucket ton of excellent indie games. Some of these are exclusive to Apple Arcade, and some are multi-platform. However, all are fully fledged games full of variety. There are narrative-style games, puzzlers, builders, racers, action games, and RPG’s. Something for everyone. Apple has managed to help fund and produce a number of games from some really excellent studios.
Top Quality Developers
What kind of games are we talking?
Well, it has games from;
- The Chinese Room (the hilarious ‘Little Orpheus‘),
- Revolution (the much-anticipated sequel to ‘Beneath a Steel Sky’, ‘Beyond a Steel Sky‘),
- Devolver Digital (with games like ‘Exit The Gungeon‘ and ‘Bleak Sword‘)
- And…well, Konami.
Okay, ignore that last one. The selection is great. Some incredibly well-reviewed indies are available on the service, such as ‘Sayonara Wild Hearts‘, ‘Mutazione‘, ‘NeoCab‘ and ‘The Last Campfire‘. We have literally spent hours on ‘What the Golf‘. There are even some great titles for the kiddies (if you have them, of course) with LEGO, SpongeBob, and Sonic Racing.
The excellent Little Orpheus from The Chinese Room
New games are added every week or two with surprise drops that come out of nowhere. If we add up the cost that we would have spent had we bought these indies new on other platforms, the service has paid for itself several times over. Admittedly, you have to be an indie game fan, but that is less of an issue since we are talking mobile gaming here.
No Hidden Cost
Okay, so there is a wide range of games. Great. Is that it? Well no, Apple Arcade, for a gaming subscription service, the whole thing is rather consumer-friendly.
Unlike, say, Xbox Gamepass, you get a full game and future updates. New features are added to the service regularly. The excellent narrative adventure ‘Across the Alps‘ recently added an entire new story, doubling the experience. The store automatically updated.
There are no in-app purchases on any games by design. You just need to pay the subscription. This is a far cry from other services where, often, the games are added as an advert to buy the extra content. Games are quite regularly supported and patched after launch, which should be expected but still good to see.
The games are also all multiplatform and will sync pretty seamlessly between devices. Play on your phone, download the same game on your tablet or MacBook and, boom, continue where you left off. All cloud saves are fully synced.
All of the games also support the control inputs for that device – be it touch screen, mouse and keyboard, or, yes, even using the Apple TV remote (not recommended).
Of course, “real” gamers want controllers, so many games also come with controller support. Apple has updated its various systems to work out of the box with Bluetooth controllers, including the Dual Shock 4 for PS4 and Xbox One controller. There are some good accessibility options on games as well as an ability to rate and review.
Mutazione, another top indie title, now on Apple Arcade
So a good library, regularly updated, with some nice features to it. All for $4.99 a month? Are you guys on the Apple payroll? The answer is, no, but boy would we like some of that sweet sweet Apple cash [call us Stevie C, call us].
Come on then, what’s the catch?
The 400 Dollar Question
Pretty obvious really. You need an Apple device. Not only that but you need an Apple device that is up to date enough to run iOS 13 or later Mac OS/Apple TV OS that can support it.
This is the real kicker.
Apple has a market share of about 25.5% of the smartphone market. The iPad market, and Apple TV…even less. It means the price to entry is high and the Apple brand comes with some…baggage. Tech aficionados are not fans of completely closed ecosystems. Most smartphones targeted at gaming are typically Android OS based. The service is only available on Apple devices – making it limited to a very specific user base.
Apple devices are costly – to play on a mobile device the minimum you will pay is over £350. Can we really recommend getting an Apple device JUST to play this service? No – not at all.
You could buy a Switch and a stack of games for the same price, or an Android device with Xbox Gamepass and the incoming xCloud. Which is a real shame for the future of the service. If you really want the most of the service, you also might want more than one device and a controller.
We are too old to appreciate the pop music, but this is a fun play!
Your response to this might be, “duh.. obviously”, but it completely cuts the heart out of this subscription. This is the sort of service that we’d like to see more of from the industry.
Independent games and smaller studios could really do with the financial stability and investment that a corporation like Apple can give. At the same time, it champions a model that doesn’t rely on microtransactions or absurd monetisation. You pay the service, you get the full package of the game. Even updates and new content come through. This is doubly important in the mobile gaming sector where most monetization is horrendously predatory.
Sure, it’s annoying that we now need to pay for what used to be, you know, the norm. However, at least this gives a reminder that this type of gaming is still possible.
Apple Arcade – a Gaming Subscription Service with Limited Appeal?
The appeal is limited to gamers who are interested in these type of games AND who have a capable device. It is hard to see, therefore, how successful and how much of an industry player this can be. If you are an Apple owner – great. If not, you won’t be buying into an expensive ecosystem just for this service. Apple does not tend to reveal much about the success of their programmes. However, there are rumours already that Apple is pivoting the service to games that offer recurrent gameplay as opposed to single-story games. This suggests that maybe the service is not retaining subscribers on a longer-term which is the goal of all subscription services.
It leaves Apple Arcade as, possibly, the best gaming subscription service for consumers but with a substantial barrier to entry which will really stop it moving into the mainstream.
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Rudy Manchego has been gaming since the days of the BBC Micro Computer and spreads himself thin with a love of retro, indie and mainstream gaming. He’s one half of the Jambags Comedy Gaming podcast and likes nothing better than kicking back with a nice pot of lapsang souchong, a good game and a background podcast on the intricacies of Spanish cheese making.