The market for premium, paid games still exists even in an Apple Arcade world

Sayonara Wild Hearts and Apple Arcade with a DualShock 4 controller
Sayonara Wild Hearts and Apple Arcade with a DualShock 4 controller (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

iPhone XS Max with App Store

App Store (Image credit: iMore)

When the App Store first came out, things were pretty great. We had tons of creative and unique apps and mobile games, which were either free without ads and IAPs or a buy-once-keep-forever kind of thing. These were the days before subscriptions became the norm. I remember buying a ton of apps and games at the time because I was always looking for new things to check out and write about for work. I had a passion for mobile gaming at that point and thought the flame would never go out.

Eventually, down the road, my passion vanished.

At some point, the App Store was transitioning into the freemium phase — everything was free to download, but riddled with in-app purchases. We're talking about paying to get rid of super annoying ads, to access basic features or content, or even to get a leg up on other players with "pay-to-win" game items.

Every Wednesday night, I would check to see what new games were available on the App Store, but it soon became more "free" games than paid ones. I just wanted to pay a few bucks for some quality games that weren't full of ads or IAPs, but the trend has shifted. As I said before, "my excitement for mobile gaming just continued to decline into a visceral abyss."

Then Apple announced Apple Arcade, and I got excited for the future of mobile gaming once again. After all, Apple Arcade gives you unlimited access to dozens of premium mobile games (with some exclusive only on Apple Arcade) for a mere $4.99 a month, and it includes Family Sharing.

But what if subscription fatigue hits, and Apple Arcade is one of those on my chopping block? What happens to all of those great games I was playing? As much as I love Apple Arcade, I sometimes still prefer just paying once, rather than an ongoing fee, to have access to one really good game forever (or at least a nice, long while).

Apple Arcade's "all you can play" is not one size fits all

Even though Apple Arcade is a few months old now, it still feels like an experiment. It allows game developers to experiment with new gaming experiences and make them available to Apple Arcade subscribers. It is also still in the infancy stages, testing the waters to make sure such a subscription model is viable in the long run.

On the surface, many will think that $4.99 a month for unlimited access to dozens of games for up to six people is a great value. And while it is a good value, it doesn't fit everyone's needs.

At the moment, there are over 100 games on Apple Arcade. If you want to get the most out of your $5 for the month, you'll probably download a ton of games at a time, and then play each one for a little bit before moving on to the next title. It's like a buffet — a sample of everything should suffice.

The problem with this method is that each game may not be getting the full amount of attention it deserves. Having access to so many games can be a little overwhelming, and you may not even know where to start. You may love everything, and want to play every game until they're all beat, which means just continuing to pay for the service until that's accomplished. Or you may not love anything at all.

Maybe there's just one game you really want to check out, so you sign up for a month and don't plan on sticking around. But once you beat it, if you unsubscribe from Apple Arcade, you won't be able to replay it or try for better scores. Is a single game worth an ongoing subscription fee if it wasn't designed for that (the opposite of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft)?

So even though Apple Arcade's business model seems like a good idea, it doesn't fit everyone.

There's still a market for premium, paid games

SpellTower+ Tower Mode on iPhone 11 Pro

SpellTower+ Tower Mode on iPhone 11 Pro (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

There's a lot going on in my life these days, so it's hard for me to keep up with the mobile gaming scene each week. But some recent notable games that came out recently are SpellTower+ by Zach Gage and Maze Machina, both of which I have personally bought.

SpellTower+ is a modern reimagining of a classic that I played frequently back in the day, and it's one of those games that I come back to whenever I want to relax and unwind. However, despite my love for the game, I don't think I would pay $5 a month just to be able to play SpellTower+. That's why I'm glad that Gage decided to release SpellTower+ as its own download, instead of something that's part of Apple Arcade. And when the first opportunity came up to either watch an ad or pay to get rid of ads and unlock the full game, I did not hesitate. This is one example of a game that I truly enjoy and would prefer to just pay once for it and be done with it.

Maze Machina is the other title that I've purchased recently because it's from the same developer behind Card Crawl, Miracle Merchant, and Card Thief. I bought all three of those other games, and I know the dev makes solid mobile games that are worth purchasing. So when I heard that Maze Machina was a new title from him, I bought it immediately. Again, this is another game that I will keep coming back to when I want an escape for a brief amount of time, but I'm not sure I would continue to pay each month for it.

Suzy Cube on an iPhone XS

Suzy Cube on an iPhone XS (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

To bring it home, these two games are from well-known indie developers who have garnered respect in the mobile game community. They're both well worth a one-time purchase to download and play for as long as you want. But if they were on Apple Arcade, and these were the only games I was interested in, I'm not sure it would be worth the subscription fee to keep accessing these games.

That's why as great as Apple Arcade is, I still believe that there will always be a market for premium, one-time purchase games. If there is only a handful of games (that have high replay value) that you're interested in playing, it's cheaper to just pay a few bucks for each of them versus continuing to pay $5 a month for several months or longer just to access them.

How do you like to game?

Right now, I am subscribed to Apple Arcade, but I will still buy games that interest me as they come along and aren't on Apple Arcade. I think that the two complement each other nicely at the moment, as Apple Arcade gives you a lot of variety for the monthly price, but there are still quality games that are worth a standalone purchase. But the one thing that makes premium games win, in my opinion, is the fact that if I decide I don't want Apple Arcade anymore, I lose access to all of those games. Meanwhile, with premium games, they'll always be available for as long as the developers support them because I paid for them.

Are you still subscribed to Apple Arcade? Or do you prefer buying single games to access whenever? Let us know in the comments.

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.