Monday, February 26, 2024

Apple Arcade’s Uncertain Future

Neil Long (2023, Slashdot, MacDailyNews):

In the 15 years since it launched the App Store, Apple has proved again and again that it cares very little about games – though it is happy to make billions from them. I should know: I was an App Store games editor for seven years.


The woefully understaffed team of app reviewers couldn’t handle the volume of games coming through – and seemingly still can’t today.


Meanwhile, some brazen clone sails through the app review process no sweat. It’s been happening for years. In 2016, a hilariously fake “Minecraft 2” was approved for sale by the App Review team and made it all the way into the Top 10 chart before it was pulled from sale. Brazen Pokémon rip-offs make it through surprisingly often too.


So perhaps, once those huge App Store profits are under genuine threat, we’ll see Apple start to take its role as a mobile game platform more seriously. It has the excellent Apple Arcade subscription service, sure, but it’ll take more than that to help rescue mobile gaming’s reputation.

Neil Long (MacRumors, AppleInsider, The Verge, Hacker News):

Multiple sources have voiced their concern for Apple Arcade’s future, citing a glut of cancelled projects and ever-declining developer payouts.


Payouts for titles on Apple Arcade have been falling for years, our sources said, and following a shift in strategy very few original games are being greenlit unless they are attached to a big family-friendly IP.

Apple is often aloof or difficult to work with too – though as one developer noted, “that’s nothing new”. While some described their relationship with Apple as very positive (and lucrative), others said that Apple is “famously vindictive” and “spiteful” in its dealings with developers – especially once the tech giant discovers that you have signed a deal with Netflix’s rival service.


One studio boss told us that after months of glowing feedback on one particular game, the Arcade team suddenly withdrew its interest in the title, citing a change in strategy. When the developer asked for feedback and offered to reduce the budget and re-tool the game to better fit Apple’s needs, the Arcade team simply stopped responding to their emails.


Update (2024-03-01): John Voorhees (Mastodon):

The details of’s story that I think are most interesting are the ones about the business terms Apple has struck with game developers. Those are details that developers seem to be contractually prohibited from talking about. I know because I’ve asked developers about how it works before. However, according to, Arcade developers are paid an up-front fee and from a ‘bonus pool’ based on something called ‘qualifying sessions’[…]

Brendon Bigley:

it is SO wild to me that apple has such strong leverage here that they can get developers to commit to payout deals that are this opaque

Jack Wellborn:

My sense on Arcade is that while it does address the casinofication of iOS games, it doesn’t really address the fundamental problem -- that mobile games aren’t considered worth paying for. My thinking is that Apple should create a whole new category just for premium games at premium prices, regardless of whether its pay once or a subscription fee.

Craig Grannell:

Sad but unsurprising given that Apple doesn’t have gaming baked into its DNA and at some level thinks they are unserious (unless wheeling a AAA title out for a tech demo).

Brendon Bigley (via John Voorhees):

Arcade was phenomenal in its launch window, with titles like Sayonara Wild Hearts and Fantasian immediately hitting all-timer status in my eyes, but I’ve noticed a waning faith in the player end of things as much as Long also outlines the developer discontent. Take this post on Reddit, for example, filled with subscribers lamenting the loss of Cozy Grove, a game notably making its way to Netflix Games and whose lineup includes a treasure trove of “best of” indie titles from the past decade. This internal strategy pivot towards more family-friendly games feels like a clear play for the iPad-kid market, but how valuable that ends up being long-term is unclear and in the short-term is clearly hurting both player and developer relations.


I think it would be an unfortunate pivot, as Arcade has brought me a huge amount of joy via inventive titles from smaller teams, but you can practically see the boardroom conversations that would lead to such a decision.

Eric Schwarz:

While Arcade has plenty of excellent titles, it never clicked with me to keep it beyond any trial (I have a handful of purchased favorite iOS games and even those don’t get played that often). It reminds me a lot of Apple News, a great idea on paper, but the execution has been lacking.


Unfortunately, unless they continue to add excellent games through cultivating great developer relationships, everyone doing worthwhile stuff will walk away, leaving buggy or lazy ports, along with derivative franchise releases as the main options on the service.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Apple is optimizing its developer base for ‘people who only care about money’ and I’m sure that’s not going to come back to bite them at all 😛

Update (2024-03-05): Craig Grannell (Mastodon):

[While] I thought it was a weird decision, I’m nonetheless glad it exists. Because it’s objectively good. Sure, people who claim the only ‘real games’ are AAA (and who even attempt to dismiss the Switch, let alone mobiles) won’t give it a chance. But there are loads of fun titles, even if much of the service’s strength now lies in ‘+’ fare (existing App Store releases minus ads/IAP) rather than exclusives. It’s superb for kids who like mobile games (again: no ads; no IAP). And there are still interesting new things to play. (I mean, Arcade added a pinball game at one point. And pinball is pretty niche!)

For me, the main error Apple Arcade made was during its launch. It offered too much, too soon. It was simultaneously overwhelming and somehow yet made people think they could blaze through everything and instantly demand more. And more didn’t come for a long while, and so users felt they weren’t getting good value, even though Arcade at the time cost only five bucks per month.

8 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Kevin Schumacher

I still have a folder full of games from Arcade that were from probably the first 6 to 12 months of the service, and the random download since then. I do still regularly check New and Coming Soon on the Arcade tab, but I have been feeling for a while like there is both a dearth of new releases and of the ones that did show up, most were completely irrelevant to me and/or not very interesting. Suddenly that all makes sense.

As if we needed more data points, gaming just isn’t in Apple’s DNA. They have so many of the building blocks but they just cannot (or don’t _really_ want to) put them together.

Every few years, we get some AAA game demo at WWDC and big declarations “this time we’re serious about gaming”. Apple Arcade announcement was arguably one of those. Others here surely remember proclamations of best-in-class OpenGL support, first demo ever(!) of Halo coming to the Mac(!), the new Game Porting Kit… Remember Pippin?

It’s too bad. A souped up Apple TV with a nice included first-party game pad could actually accomplish something, with the right stewardship.

I hope it dies and the exclusive games are made available on other platforms.

"Every few years, we get some AAA game demo at WWDC and big declarations “this time we’re serious about gaming”."

Game Sprockets!

Well, there aren't many game studios featured in both Apple Arcade and Netflix. In fact, I only know one: Ninja Kiwi's Bloons TD6.

This could totally explain recent drama: a major version of the game was released, and Netflix/iOS didn't get it for almost two weeks, with no explanation from the developers.

(To be clear: the desktop version on other platforms was updated first, the iOS paid and Apple Arcade versions were update a day or two later, as usual, and the Netflix version, which is functionally identical to the Apple Arcade version save for subscription integration, was 13 or so days late)

Another crap service headed by Eddy Cue

> Well, there aren't many game studios featured in both Apple Arcade and Netflix. In fact, I only know one: Ninja Kiwi's Bloons TD6.

Land & Sea (Alto's Odyssey, Laya's Horizon)

I have Arcade included with my family Premium subscription, but at least on the Apple TV the selection of games is asinine -- at least the ones that are recommended or most popular or whatever. They all look so dumb and not interesting at all, like they're geared towards kindergartners.

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