Apple Arcade – not just for exclusives anymore!

On Friday, Apple stealth-announced a large expansion to Apple Arcade, expanding the service by over 30 games, and for the first time diverting from the ‘must run on all Apple devices’ plan. Specifically, there are now three types of Apple Arcade titles: “Arcade Originals are playable across iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. Timeless Classics and App Store Greats are available on iPhone and iPad.” Killercow has a super-useful Airtable document listing all the gamesAnd this makes a lot of sense – for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, from what we’ve heard, non-phone/tablet usage is miniscule at this time. As we wrote to our paid Plus subscribers when we deep-dived into Apple Arcade in December: “We [believe] the iOS store is the vast majority (95% or more) of the reviews and play time on Apple Arcade. (Apple Arcade is also available on tvOS and MacOS, which have 1-2% of the amount of reviews.)” And I guess the new M1 Macs can run iOS apps anyhow

Secondly, the original concept behind Apple Arcade – ‘all original, custom commissioned games’ – always seemed a little odd. There were already a host of great premium (one-off paid) iOS games that would fit wonderfully with the service. These would have been cheaper and easier to license – alongside a modicum of originals.

So this is precisely what has been added: lots of classic casual titles like chess, backgammon, and Zach Gage’s ‘board games with a twist’ titles, plus already-hit titles like Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition, the original Reigns, Monument Valley, Fruit Ninja, and many more. (Apple got around the ‘Apple Arcade titles have to be in a separate part of the store’ issue by making two App Store entries with different game names: the Apple Arcade version of Monument Valley is called Monument Valley+, for example.)

The initial Apple Arcade line-up faltered a bit because it overemphasized artsy one-off narrative games. (Which are great in a minority, but semi-overwhelmed the line-up.) And its ‘everything to everyone’ platform approach created issues around game controller vs. touch interface. Titles like Crossy Road Castle are awesome, but use onscreen pad/button controls, which just aren’t that intuitive to the average player.

So there’s been a refocusing – which also includes a tranche of sudden-drop Arcade Originals, such as NBA2K1 Arcade Edition, Star Trek: Legends (looks like an expanded F2P game without IAP – interesting), and The Oregon Trail reboot, plus Sakaguchi’s Fantasian. It it has impressively expanded what was already decent value for $5 per month, while providing a lot of replayable, native touchscreen experiences.

Perhaps it’s not for core console gamers, but Arcade is bundled into all Apple One subscriptions, and you get three months of Arcade free with all new Apple hardware purchases right now. And in some ways, Apple is cleaning up a problem it indirectly created. You can’t play many mobile games without ads and microtransactions up the wazoo. And this is a great way to build a catalog where the commercial prompts are silent.

Possibly, some of you think I overfocus on Apple Arcade. But, two things in conclusion. Firstly: now you can get your premium iOS game licensed for Apple Arcade, even if it’s already available on the App Store (I wonder how wide they’ll go in this category?)

Secondly: I do think both Xbox Game Pass and Apple Arcade (and PlayStation Now, in time) are harbingers of major long-term changes to the game business. Not a cataclysmic one, but one that requires careful monitoring – especially for anyone making ‘buy once to play once’ games.

[Simon is founder at GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? You can subscribe to GameDiscoverCo Plus to get access to exclusive newsletters, interactive daily rankings of every unreleased Steam game, and lots more besides.]