Apple Arcade: Bringing back the premium mobile gaming experience

Several years ago, I was big into the mobile gaming scene on the App Store. Not just because it was a part of my job, but because I loved seeing unique games by creative developers coming out every week. It was also amazing to see games that cost a few bucks up front and didn't pester you with loot boxes and other annoying in-app purchases (IAPs).

Fast forward from the beginning of the App Store to now, and we have hundreds (or thousands) of freemium games that are riddled with ridiculous amounts of in-app purchases. It's either that or games that are nothing but cheap ripoffs of popular IPs or re-skins of other games.

For the most part, I kind of stopped caring about the mobile gaming scene for the past year or so. I usually end up getting excited about some new game announcement, but then am severely let down once I find out it's free and laden with IAPs, making it a pay-to-win experience (I still don't have very high hopes for Diablo Immortal, to be honest). Or I get some PR email in my inbox about a game that looks cool, but then when I download it, I find out the concept is far from new, and it's free with, guess what, more IAPs.

My excitement for mobile gaming just continues to decline into a visceral abyss.

My excitement for mobile gaming in general just continues to decline into a visceral abyss, though there are a few exceptions of premium games that have come out recently, such as Alto's Odyssey (reviewed by Luke Filipowicz) and Journey (reviewed by yours truly). Still, it feels like these are few and far between, considering the overall state of the App Store game selection.

But when Apple announced Apple Arcade, I found a glimmer of hope once again.

What is Apple Arcade?

Apple Arcade logo

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

Apple Arcade is an upcoming game subscription service from Apple that will work on mobile (iPhone and iPad), desktop (Mac), and in the living room (Apple TV). So you could start a game on your iPhone or iPad, but pick up right where you left off later in your living room with Apple TV.

Though Apple has yet to announce the pricing for it, Apple Arcade will be available in Fall 2019 and will grant all-you-can-play access to over 100 premium games for one flat rate price. If you use Family Sharing, then this subscription can be accessed by up to six family members.

These games will have zero ads and absolutely no IAPs, bringing back that premium gaming experience that's been declining over the years in the App Store. Apple Arcade games will also be available to play offline, so you don't even need an Internet connection (an all too common thing I see lately), and there's a strong emphasis on privacy.

Yet another subscription to add to your ever-growing list

Apple Arcade logo

While I'm intrigued by the overall concept of Apple Arcade, and I probably will end up subscribing to it, I just can't help but think that this is yet another subscription to worry about. In this day and age, most of us probably have multiple subscriptions for various services, and honestly, it's starting to reach a breaking point.

I believe, however, that if you are heavily invested in the mobile game industry, if you love playing games on your phone or tablet, then this subscription will be absolutely worth the money (though that would depend on how much it will cost, which we don't know quite yet). Think about it — for one flat rate, you'll be gaining access to more than 100 amazing, beautiful games that focus primarily on storytelling, interesting new gaming mechanics and concepts, and the experience itself.

From what we've seen so far, I'd imagine that each of the games would run about $5 if purchased separately (Where Cards Fall, Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm, Sayonara Wild Hearts, LEGO Arthouse, etc.), so for one flat rate each month, it would actually be a bargain if you plan on playing a lot of the included Apple Arcade titles.

Apple has not stated how often new titles will be added to the Apple Arcade library. Presumably, it'll get new games on a regular basis. Once we find out how often new games are added, it may be a deciding factor in whether or not the Apple Arcade subscription is worth keeping. After all, some people can beat games rather quickly; and if you've gobbled up a bunch of the included games in one month, you'll want new titles regularly.

Exclusives will be locked behind a monthly paywall

Journey on iPad Pro with green DualShock 4

One thing Apple is doing to try to pull in subscribers is to offer exclusive games that will only be available through Apple Arcade. While I understand the business tactic here, I don't know that it's the best approach for the consumer, as it will prevent some who have zero interest in subscribing to the service from experiencing what could be an amazing, must-have game.

If there are games that are exclusive to the service, then the only way to access them is to pony up for at least a month of Apple Arcade, which may be more expensive than just buying one game outright (again, depending on the final price that has yet to be announced as of this writing).

I totally get the point of having exclusives to the Apple Arcade service, Believe me. But as a gamer, I'm just not sure I like the idea of having to tell someone that they'd need to subscribe to a monthly service just to play this one really cool game that I can't stop raving about. Hopefully, there won't be too many of those moments, as I hope a lot of the Apple Arcade games can still be purchased on their own, at least eventually, for those who just aren't interested in yet another monthly subscription (they add up, you know).

Apple Arcade and the future of mobile gaming

iPad Pro on iOS 13 wih green DualShock 4

iPad Pro with a DualShock 4 controller connected via Bluetooth (Image credit: iMore)

Honestly, as a whole, I think Apple Arcade could work in the long term if there is a constant rotation of new titles being added on a regular basis. I think adding a handful of new premium titles a week would be enticing enough (for me at least) to keep my subscription going month-to-month.

And as much as I don't like the idea of shutting out people from experiencing certain games, exclusives will definitely keep subscribers interested in keeping their memberships, since these titles won't be available on any other platform. If Apple Arcade exclusives are truly well-made and worth a subscription for at least a month, then I think Apple Arcade will work out in the long run.

I think Apple Arcade could work in the long term if there is a constant rotation of new titles being added on a regular basis.

Since my interest in mobile gaming has declined lately with the over-saturation of freemium, clones, and blatant pay-to-win junk in the App Store, I'm eager to see what Apple Arcade will bring and how it will change the scope of premium mobile gaming in general once again. This is especially true with iOS 13 and the support for DualShock 4 and Xbox One controllers, which will bring the overall Apple gaming experience in line with actual consoles.

I will probably end up subscribing regardless of price, but I hope it is something reasonable, perhaps no more than $15 a month, or around that mark. There's a lot of potential here with Apple Arcade and making mobile gaming a fantastic experience once again, but the price point needs to be right and there should be a lot of variety with the premium and exclusive games that it will offer. But I still think the majority of games that are going to be included in Apple Arcade should still be available for standalone purchase so everyone has the chance to enjoy a great game.

Christine Chan

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed. When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.