In Apple’s keynote speech on Tuesday, they released more details on their upcoming subscription games service, Apple Arcade. The service, which is similar in form to the popular Xbox Game Pass, will give players access to over 100 downloadable games that can be played without an internet connection.
They’re free of ads, free of in-app purchases, and if we’re lucky, will pave the way towards freeing mobile games from the rut that has given the app store a reputation for delivering soulless, cynical cash-grabs.
The service, which is $4.99 a month, gives unlimited access to a list of games that don't fit the mold of what you traditionally think of as mobile games. Games like the Zelda-esque Oceanhorn 2 and the dystopian Beyond a Steel Sky promise the chance to explore new and interesting worlds, while exclusive games like Rayman Mini, ChuChu Rocket! Universe, and Skate City may show that a phone can indeed be a place for gamers to find gratifying experiences.
Think about it -- what's the last mobile-exclusive game that really grabbed you? I don’t mean a game that kept you addicted – mobile games are great at that, having mastered popular psychological tricks like loss aversion and habit-forming daily rewards. I mean, when is the last time that a game exclusive to mobile devices has wowed you with its inventiveness, depth, or moment-to-moment gameplay?
There’s a chance that you thought of a great example. I can almost guarantee that this example didn’t make nearly as much money as games that try to sink their hooks into vulnerable parts of your brain and point you over and over again towards ways to spend your hard-earned money to get ahead.
The top-grossing games on the app store all rely on these mechanics. Some of the top sellers do offer a decent amount of fun, but it's not through amazing gameplay that Slotomania Vegas Casino Slots is the seventh-highest-grossing game on the platform.
Most developers want money, so the app store has been filled with cheap, forgettable games that exist only to capitalize on this predictable human behavior. The average iPhone owner won't seek out places that highlight the good, interesting, and engaging games out there, and they're hesitant to spend money upfront on a game that might not be good, so it's the freemium cash-grabs that will always make their way to the top of the sales charts.
In short, the app store is currently not an environment where quality games can regularly thrive. From a financial perspective, this doesn't hurt Apple one bit– they make money when games make money, regardless of quality.
Even so, it seems that Apple wants to do something more than that and has put its resources behind a new system. One that hopes to give gamers a much better mobile experience than they're used to. With the promise of more and more games being added on a regular basis, this could be the start of something great.
The question remains as to whether players will give the service a chance, and whether enough will be impressed by the service's offerings to stick around.