It has been about two years since Apple Arcade was first showcased. The offering was fairly obvious — gaming has been one of Apple’s biggest revenue streams from the App Store, and mobile games are seeing increasing traction with passing time. So, Apple introduced Arcade as a mobile gaming subscription service for $4.99 a month globally and Rs 99 per month in India. In return, you’d get access to a collection of games that would only grow thanks to Apple’s considerable pull over developers, and a large-enough iPhone user base to attract them. Has that, though, been appealing enough? After two years of Apple Arcade, we take a look at what’s what.
The biggest perk: The joy of no ads and in-game purchases
It took me about 30 minutes after signing up for Apple Arcade to notice something — not once did an in-game purchase alert show up asking me to pay to unlock a feature, or the rest of the game. Neither were there repetitive ads after every level that can often border on lewd and awkward content if you’re gaming in public. Personally, this made a massive difference for me, as I’m very often put off by the sheer intensity and volume of ads served in mobile gaming.
With Arcade, you get access to an entire game, straight-up. It’s something very Apple to do — pay a premium to get something that hits the sweet spot. No distracting pop-ups will side-track you from missions, which leaves the game’s aesthetics to just how the developers wanted it to be. Unlocking missions and gaining extra lives in titles such as Jetpack Joyride or Alto’s Odyssey: The Lost City will need your skill — it’s not something that you’d do by watching a 30-second ad. It reminded me of a time when the internet was not all about ads, and in essence, the focus on pure user experience remained undeterred.
This also made a big difference in my mobile gaming habits as well. I have involuntarily found myself checking out more Arcade titles than I would on any phone, before. As a result, I’ve ended up playing more games than I typically do on phones. For instance, I’d probably never play titles such as Skate City, Detonation Racing and Sneaky Sasquatch, had the aesthetics of Arcade in general not beckoned me to try them out. For Rs 99 per month, this does qualify as good value for money to avid mobile gamers.
The lack of payment prompts and unfiltered in-game ads can be major relief for parents of kids and teenagers, as well. Most parents would likely not want their children to end up inadvertently charging their credit cards for an exorbitant in-game costume, and Arcade makes sure that this does not occur.
Collection and variety: Plenty to please most
Apple Arcade presently has over 200 games for its paying customers. For Rs 99 per month, this is most likely the most value for money game subscription around. In terms of major mobile games, titles that are on Arcade include 2K’s NBA 2K21, Fantasian from the makers of the Final Fantasy series, Star Trek: Legends and a few others. Asphalt 8: Airborne, one of the most popular racing games across all mobile platforms, is also set to hit the service, soon.
On overall terms, there is a fairly wide selection of games across most genres, meaning that it’s highly unlikely that you’d not like even one game. You can choose from organised categories, and Apple’s pre-curated collections such as Arcade originals, Timeless classics, App Store Greats and more. The latest additions show up in Recently Updated, while the most visually rich ones show up under ‘Gorgeous graphics’. In about two years, Apple has added over 100 titles to the service, and while you may not play each and every one of them, the fact remains that if you want to try out a new game at regular intervals, Apple has something for all. At an average, this accounts for roughly one new game every week, since launch.
It is this that makes Apple Arcade great fun, particularly for infrequent mobile gamers such as I. It offers a welcome break from the conventional console games, and have a laidback essence to how the service is presented. Add Apple’s typically excellent sense of aesthetics, and Arcade is a top-notch service in terms of the total collection of games, and the variety on offer. At the time of publishing of this review, Apple announced two new games for Arcade — MasterChef: Let’s Cook!, and Layton’s Mystery Journey, which would be coming to the platform soon. It also released three new titles to the service, including Arcade original Super Leap Day, Capcom’s Monster Hunter Stories and Super Stickman Golf 3, a long-time popular iOS game.
It is also important to note that for games that release frequent gameplay updates akin to ‘season updates’ that popular titles push out, there are no additional payments to be made. For instance, Apple also announced new, in-game content for two Arcade titles — Spongebob: Patty Pursuit and Wonderbox: The Adventure Maker, for which their players will not need to pay additional sums. Even if the costs aren’t prohibitive, it makes a world of difference in terms of the overall user experience.
Improvements and limitations: Bigger titles beckon
While the service has undeniably grown on me, it is also hard to overlook the fact that essentially none of the most popular names in mobile gaming are on Arcade. This is a conundrum, since I don’t see Activision or Krafton bringing Call of Duty: Mobile or Battlegrounds Mobile India to Arcade — especially given the massive in-game purchase revenues that they generate. Yet, what Arcade perhaps really needs is a shot in the arm title that would give mass players a resounding reason to subscribe. Think of how Microsoft brought titles such as Batman: Arkham Knight, EA’s FIFA series, the critically acclaimed Control, the Forza titles, indie favourites such as Ori and the Blind Forest and more to the Xbox Game Pass.
It is this lack of a big-ticket name that may be limiting Arcade from sweeping in larger subscription numbers. NBA 2K21 may have been the first of the kind of titles that would have more users want to pay for it, and the upcoming addition of Asphalt 8: Airborne would add to this as well. It isn’t an impossible ask, either — if there is one company that can have the kind of developer outreach that would bring big names into a subscription service’s fold, it is Apple.
However, even for the time being, a price of Rs 99 per month is money well spent for the entertainment that Apple Arcade provides. The absence of ads and pop-ups are possibly its biggest attractions, and if Apple can pull off a few more big ticket signings to the service, Arcade could very well be one of the best game subscription services across all platforms.