Apple probably expected its gaming service to be a global success by the beginning of 2021. Almost everything the world-famous technology company touches turns to gold, but in recent years we’ve seen them struggle while trying to step outside the comfort zone of their phones, computers, and tablets. Apple TV hasn’t yet found a foothold. Apple Pay hasn’t yet carved a niche in the market. Six months ago, Apple Arcade looked to be at risk of becoming a total disaster. Despite receiving favourable reviews and plenty of positive press coverage when it launched in 2019, the platform has had a hard time attracting subscribers.
With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps expectations shouldn’t have been so high. The idea of streaming video games rather than owning them is still relatively new. We know it can work because of the global success of online slots websites, but the idea takes time. People didn’t initially feel comfortable placing their bets through the internet rather than doing them in person, but now sites like Rose Slots have had so much success that they’re even launching regionally-tailored sites like Rose Slots for Ireland. Here in the 2020s, it’s impossible to imagine the global casino market without the huge role that online slots websites play in them, but it’s taken over a decade to reach this point. Apple hopes that it won’t take until the 2030s for video game streaming platforms to achieve the same feat.
We should put the struggles of Apple Arcade into context. The problem with persuading gamers to ditch consoles and discs isn’t unique to Apple. We’ve seen Google try to achieve the same thing with Google Stadia, and the company has experienced the same issues. Even Amazon is yet to see a return on the same idea with Amazon Luna, and Facebook is thought to have shelved plans to launch a similar platform after watching its biggest rivals fail to gain a foothold in the market. The specific issues vary from platform to platform, but Apple’s biggest single issue thus far is that while the company’s subscription price is comparatively low, the “budget” feel of the service extends to the range of games on offer. There hasn’t yet been a “classic” Apple Arcade game. Thanks to a big push from the company at the beginning of April 2021 that may be about to change.
Having changed its internal strategy on game development – a move that’s seen funding cut for several developers – Apple has decided to introduce classics from the past alongside its plethora of brand new games and to increase the pace of releases. At the start of the month, the company added a whole 32 new games to the platform. This might prove to be the shot in the arm that the service has been crying out for since subscriber numbers stalled a year ago. The standout name in the collection is “Fantasian” – a new game made by the same people responsible for the incredibly successful “Final Fantasy” series and presented in the same style – but beneath that, we have a collection of bonafide classics, could-be-classics, and experimental games that move away from the “family-friendly” feel of the company’s previous output. However, there is a “family-friendly” aspect of the new range.
One of the biggest criticisms that are often directed at modern video games is the use of loot boxes. Players never “have” to buy loot boxes in order to complete or enjoy games, but loot boxes contain features that enhance the playing experience or provide desirable perks that can’t be obtained through standard gameplay. That factor holds a lot of appeal for players – especially younger players – and results in a lot more money being spent on a game than the initial cost of acquisition. As Apple Arcade doesn’t generally charge a high price for its games, the company could possibly be forgiven for making loot boxes a crutch for bringing in revenue. Instead, they’ve done away with them completely. If you play games like “Star Trek: Legends” or “NBA 2K21” on any other platform, you can expect to be invited to pay for more content several times during an average gaming session. Within the confines of Apple Arcade, those same games will never ask you for another dollar.
Not every game that’s been added this month is a headline-grabber. We don’t imagine that there will be new players queuing up to use the service because Apple has added, for example, “Backgammon Plus,” “Checkers Royal,” “Flipflop Solitaire,” Really Bad Chess,” or “Tiny Crossword.” That’s not the point of those releases. They’re there to give players a little something to pass the time with. “World of Demons,” “The Oregon Trail,” “Monument Valley,” and “Threes,” on the other hand, might prove to be difference makers when it comes to players choosing where to put their limited subscription budget. There are a lot of options out there – some would say too many – and not every platform is likely to survive. With this update, Apple Arcade just improved its odds of doing so dramatically.
The ultimate objective for all of these “new” video game streaming platform is to create something akin to a Netflix platform for gamers – a service that players can’t imagine living without. Very few movie or television fans would feel complete without their Netflix subscription, and they’d be missing out on great content if they let it go. Nobody’s reached that point yet. There isn’t yet a compelling reason to give up your PlayStation or Xbox in favour of subscribing to one of the streaming platforms. That day will probably come eventually, though, and Apple is very keen to ensure that it’s Apple Arcade that eventually comes out on top in the battle. They still have some ground to make up on Google Stadia, and with Amazon’s Luna service still being so new, there’s likely to be a second push for that platform to get ahead, too. Apple Arcade is still in the fight, though, and given where they were six months ago, that’s no small achievement. Let’s see if they can kick on from here and give us something that resonates with the general public.