Last week, Apple Arcade received its biggest update since its launch in 2019. More than 30 titles were added to the subscription service, including highly anticipated games like Hironobu Sakaguchi’s epic RPG. Fantasy. But while the quantity and quality of the added titles were impressive, the most important part of the announcement was a change of direction. Among those renowned exclusives were a number of classics, ranging from Monument valley to chess for Three, which help to complete the service. Apple Arcade has finally matured into something like Netflix for mobile games.
From the beginning, the launch of Apple Arcade has been completely focused on quality. While the App Store continues to become a space dominated by free games, Arcade provided an alternative where some of the world’s most talented developers could create great mobile games without having to worry about monetization. It launched alongside new games from the likes of Zach Gage and Ustwo, and has continued to add titles almost weekly. Subscribers get all of those games for a fixed monthly fee. It has been a solid service, but I always felt something was missing.
When you sign up for something like Netflix, it could be because of one of the service’s great exclusive titles like The Wizard or Bridgerton. But that won’t necessarily keep you hooked. Part of what makes Netflix so attractive is everything elseFrom reality shows to classic sitcoms, giving you something to watch once you’re done with the big tent poles. These are often not traditional exclusives – think about what’s important Friends and The office have become the era of broadcast TV.
Those kinds of experiences are something Apple Arcade really didn’t have before this change. Now, however, when you’ve finished playing a short narrative game like, say, Crunches or Assemble with care, there’s a lot more to keep it invested with recent additions like Good sudoku or Three.
Even better, while many of these games are available on other platforms or through the App Store, the Arcade versions are generally improved because they do not include any type of in-app purchase or monetization. You won’t find ad-laden puzzles or card games or have to open loot boxes in NBA 2K21. There is even Star Trek: Legends – essentially a character-gathering gacha game, which almost feels weird to play without being pushed into spending money. (This lack of microtransactions makes Arcade a very familiar service.)
It is also important to note that this change in strategy is additive. Apple has introduced two new categories to Arcade, one for older App Store hits, another for classic games like chess or solitaire, but it’s still releasing those great exclusive titles. In addition to Fantasy, last week’s update included Wonderbox (to think Minecraft Satisfies Zelda for younger players), Demon world (the latest action game from PlatinumGames, the team behind Nier: Automata and Bayonetta), and Taiko no Tatsujin: Pop Tap Beat (a new entry in an excellent series of full-length rhythm games). It is a great and diverse range of experiences; Sometimes scrolling through games in Arcade can seem like heading into an alternate reality version of what mobile games might have been if the race to free play never happened.
Obviously, none of this is a guarantee of success. And if previous reports are to be believed, the change appears to be the result of Arcade’s inability to keep subscribers hooked. While the subscription model is now dominant for the music, film and television industries, it is still relatively nascent for games. Outside of Xbox Game Pass, there hasn’t been a huge success to date. Apple Arcade is arguably facing a bigger challenge on mobile devices, where users have long been conditioned to expect free games. Netflix of games still feels inevitable, even if we’re not there yet, but Arcade feels closer than ever.