Apple Arcade: first impressions and thoughts

Apple Arcade has been launched for a week. There is a lot of speculation out there on what this means for the subscription model in mobile gaming, and how this might change the gaming ecosystem. After using the service and playing some of the many games in the catalog here are a few unstructured thoughts.

How is this going to impact store visibility for f2p titles?

There is a specific tab for the arcade section. Previous changes in the store have already made getting a feature less impactful. There already is quite a bit of featuring for premium titles (when considering how the proportion of features for premium titles compares to the proportion of revenue from those titles). If Apple wanted to make a push towards its arcade service it could further reduce the visibility of f2p games in the store. The launch of Apple Arcade makes me wonder how is this going to impact weekly featuring policy (so far this week nothing seems to have changed).

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Some f2p best practices could be used here

I know the point behind Apple Arcade is to have games without IAPs. But that doesn’t have to mean all the best practices in f2p need to be disregarded. Most games I’ve tried to downloads were over the 150mb limit. Plus very few games featured any basic tutorial. Those games might not depend on IAPs to monetize, but you still want to believe having players install your game and going through the funnel is a priority for developpers.

Can more be done for a native integration?

Apple Arcade apps function like every other app – it’s an isolated icon on the phone next to all the other ones. The apps are not identified by any specific icon, and users don’t access them from a different location or menu. The only difference here is that you can’t launch the app is your subscription is terminated. In addition, given how the service is native to the device, it feels like there is a huge opportunity for Apple to successfully be pushing the Apple Arcade service onto iOS users. I assume we’ll be seeing some evolution on that front in the future.

Will there only be titles that can’t monetize with a f2p model?

Out of the titles played, some are fun, quirky, a bit innovative. But I haven’t seen anything that blows me away. If anything, the games in the service are very simple and have less of a focus on upgrades and grinding (the kind of features users can bypass by spending in many f2p games).

It’s not totally clear how rev share works for developers. What seems pretty certain is that a f2p game that monetizes well will generate more revenue as a f2p game than as a game bundled within a subscription. Apple arcade could be an opportunity to have more games targeted at an underserved audience. But that underserved audience is the group excluded by IAPs (I’m going to say mostly kids). So by definition an audience with little to no potential to monetize in the first place.

What will this mean for Apple?

What is the purpose behind Apple Arcade? Is it to generate revenue from the service itself (the subscriptions), or is it to increase the appeal and desirability of iOS platforms?

I’m going to on a limb here – and actually commit to an opinion so early – and say that after playing Apple Arcade for a few days I don’t see this service performing well enough to greatly impacts the f2p ecosystem. Services like Netflix and Spotify started and grew by offering a library of content that was already available out there. The convenience for users was to have all that existing content they loved bundled in one same place. In the case of mobile gaming, the advantage of a subscription service is more that users can enjoy mobile games in a different way (with no IAPs). So that means the games featured in the service either have to be existing premium games, or new games without IAPs. But it won’t be existing titles – already available in the app store – that are f2p. So, this service is not about bundling content. It’s about offering users an opportunity to engage with mobile gaming in a different way. A different paradigm. The problem here is that users can already engage with a huge catalog for free – that’s the basic premise at the heart of f2p. In this context, offering a paid service to get games seems like a tough sell.

Perhaps down the road if this is not successful having a free Apple Arcade service could be a way to further promote iOS products. Could having a free Apple arcade increase iOS device sales by a couple of percent point? How many subscriptions would Apple need to sell to have the same impact on revenue? While I don’t see many people signing up for this service (although the convenience of signing up is huge – and even more can be done on that front), it feels like Apple Arcade might have more potential to indirectly increase Apple revenues by being a free service.

I haven’t come across any ads on the service. But – regardless if the service were free or subscription-based – it feels like this could be Apple’s first opportunity to actually benefit from ad monetization in games. And if Apple were to start getting a taste of ad monetization, then I would anticipate bigger potential changes for f2p titles down the road.

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