Apple Arcade and the future of mobile gaming

When I first heard Apple was considering a subscription video game services, I saw a lot of obstacles in their path.

First, a lot of the most financially successful and, lets face it, popular games these days have long since casino-style optimized for ego and instant gratification, and I didn't see any way they'd give up their in-app purchases just to be part of Apple's subscription service.

Second, if Apple used the typical subscription model of paying share of revenue based on share of attention, it was hard to see participating game companies not optimizing to grab as much attention as possible in the worst ways possible, which is the problem Facebook created with Newsfeed and YouTube with recommended.

But with the announcement of Arcade, Apple kinda, sorta, deftly sidestepped both those issues, and a bunch of other ones including questions of how they'd attract the existing AAA titles and the biggest franchises — they decided to game different.

Rather watch than read? Hit play on the video above!

By gamers for gamers

I'm live in Cupertino California fresh out of Apple's Show Time media event at the Steve Jobs theater — scratch that, I was live in Cupertino but it's taken me a bit longer than I hoped to get to this video, but I've also managed to learn a bit more than I did immediately following the event, including chatting with Apple about its just-announced video game service. So, I'm hitting pause, hitting restart, and playing this one over all over again.

Meet Apple Arcade. It's NOT the Apple Music of Games. It's not a place you go to get all the games you know for one low monthly price.

Instead, it's a place you'll be able to go to get all new games, games that never existed before, games that Apple is working hand-in-hand, with hand-picked creators, to craft specifically for Arcade, for one monthly price that… yeah, we still have no idea if it'll be low, super low, or not so low or not.

As far as pricing goes, Apple won't have more to say until we get closer to launch this fall. Which, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, is when Apple typically announces all its big new hardware for the holiday shopping season anyway.

Interactive storytelling

If there was a singular theme that ran through Apple's event this week it was the power of story. Giving creators the platform and support they need to create the stories they needed to create. As Oprah said, Apple has a billion devices in our pockets, y'all, and that gives them not only tremendous reach but tremendous resources.

And video games are absolutely art, just like TV shows, just like movies, just like great journalism, they help tell the stories of our time, and in an interactive way that's unlike anything else. But not all great video game stories have fit into existing business models, including and especially the free-to-play model that's come to dominate mobile gaming.

Sure, out of the 300,000 games on the App Store, some paid games like Monument Valley, have had some success. But that everyone keeps pointing to Monument Valley shows how extraordinary those types of successes have really been.

And there's a difference between being the biggest and really being the best, between having the most games and helping make the games most people care the most about.

That's what Apple Arcade aims to fix.

Co-op creation

Apple isn't just letting paid game developers opt into Arcade. Apple isn't even curating Arcade so only their favorite games get in. Arcade is more like a partnership where Apple is actively working with developers to create brand new, exclusive games for Arcade. Games by some of the best in the business that you won't find anywhere but Apple Arcade.

It's not first party games, like Apple's old Texas Hold'em. RIP. Which is still a mistake, I think, because Apple not making games means Apple not hitting game framework bugs first, and leaving them for developers to find and flounder with, which is terrible for any platform. Having skin in the game game is absolutely better for everyone.

But hopefully, this will be close enough, because Apple is contributing towards the development, not doing it all themselves. And it's not even really exclusive in the classic sense, because these aren't highly anticipated mega-hit franchises tied down to help propel the platform. These are… if not experiments, then dreams. The games these developers have always wanted to make but not been able to until now. The kinds of games that probably couldn't exist, much less thrive, in the traditional markets, including and especially free-to-play.

I don't want to call it art-house gaming either, but Apple is acting like an old-fashioned patron of the arts here, trying to get more of the games they love onto the platform for everyone else to love as well.

Creators like Hironobu Sakaguchi, Ken Wong, and Will Wright, and studios like Annapurna Interactive, Bossa Studios, Cartoon Network, Finji, Giant Squid, Klei Entertainment, Konami, LEGO — who's making Lego Brawls —, Mistwalker Corporation, SEGA — who's making Sonic Racing —, Snowman, and ustwo games, who created Monument Valley, have already been named.

Bringing the arcade to Apple

Now, the popular narrative is that Apple doesn't get gaming, just like Apple doesn't get services, so... an Apple gaming service? Apple does have hardcore gamers at every level of the company, though. They've simply determined that their focus should be on casual gaming, on mainstream gaming, on gaming that's accessible to everyone.

Apple Arcade in the App Store running on multiple devices

Apple Arcade in the App Store running on multiple devices (Image credit: Apple)

Apple is investing heavily in Arcade. I saw so many new faces at the event, new people to Apple if not the industry, at pretty much every level, staffed up and dedicated to making Arcade not just go for launch but great for launch.

Arcade is expected to launch this fall with over 100 new and exclusive games, all compatible with iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac, so you can game from your pocket to your living room, and everywhere in between.

Unlike Apple Music, though, there won't be an Apple Arcade for Android, and unlike TV+, there won't be an Apple Arcade for Smart TVs made by Samsung, Sony, LG, and the like. At least not yet.

I think that's more a function of how different games are from static content, though. Streaming audio and video cross-platform is easy. Making games, not so much. Even with Unity or Unreal, much less with the kind of dedicated, purpose-built frameworks Apple and developers are no doubt targeting to get the best possible experience.

Local and private

Apple isn't Google. Where everything about Stadia is firmly rooted in the cloud, the stream, and the moment, Arcade is much more Apple.

No bandwidth other than the initial download. No latency other than the speed of your neurons competing with Apple's A-series chipset architecture at the speed of electrical impulses,

The potential for Stadia is amazing, especially with its hooks into YouTube and Google's other services, but we don't really know who or what or how good it will be yet.

Apple Arcade, well, we all know iOS gaming already. Hell, we can all play 4K on Apple TV and 60 fps Fortnite on A12 right now. And with all of Apple's security and privacy protections built in from the very start. We also know some, if not many, of the titles.

What we don't know what if any social and cooperative play options will be available and how well the sort of quantum fluxed currents state of Game Center will handle them, and, of course, we still don't know the price.

But Apple has until this fall to figure all that out.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.