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Apple Arcade finally delivers on its mobile gaming ambitions

Apple Arcade just got a major overhaul. Late last week, Apple surprised subscribers by revealing its biggest expansion to the mobile gaming service yet. It added over 30 games, including long-awaited titles like Fantasian. On top of that, it brought some old classics along like Fruit Ninja and Monument Valley.

It was an overwhelming moment that acted as a sudden relaunch for the platform. First launched in 2019, the service had yet to make a lasting impact on the mobile gaming space. It seemed like it could go the way of the dodo eventually, but the new move shows that Apple is serious about making the service work.

The surprising second act isn’t a last gasp attempt to salvage Apple Arcade; it’s a thoughtful reimagining that finally showcases the true potential of a mobile gaming subscription service.

In with the old

The most surprising aspect of the update is that it’s not just centered around new games. Apple’s previous selling point for the service was that it offered entirely original titles that were largely exclusive to the platform at launch. Excellent games like What the Golf? And Grindstone were only available on Apple Arcade for months or sometimes a full year before coming to platforms like Nintendo Switch.

Despite launching with some hits, Apple reportedly had an engagement issue on its hands. People were signing up, but not sticking with any one game for too long. That issue tracks considering that the platform’s biggest launch games, like Sayonara Wild Hearts or Assemble With Care, could be completed in under two hours.

According to a Bloomberg report last June, Apple was plotting a strategic shift to address that very problem. It reportedly canceled existing contracts with developers and started making moves to grab games that would keep players engaged longer.

Fruit Ninja
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The solution? Bring in the old standbys. Apple Arcade now has an entire category dedicated to “Timeless Classics,” which includes mobile cornerstones like solitaire and sudoku. Then there’s an “App Store Greats” category which brings heavily replayable games like Threes and Fruit Ninja to the table. It’s a simple fix for a complicated problem. Just offer the same games that already have players hooked instead of gambling with new ones. Elementary, my dear Watson.

Engagement metrics may be Apple’s main priority, but the new-old games fix other problems too. For users looking to sign up, the new titles add some much-needed name recognition to the platform. It’s hard to get a feel for what kinds of games are on the service when the majority of titles are entirely original franchises. Having basics like chess and crossword puzzles included provides an easy entry point for curious, but casual gamer who just wants a 5-minute time-waster.

It simply broadens the scope of what the service provides. Whereas it previously felt like a niche destination within the app store, it now feels like a one-stop-shop for most mobile gaming needs. It’s transformed from a boutique to a general store overnight.

Doubling down

What’s important is that Apple hasn’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Those who were initially drawn to the service for its ad-free, original games aren’t left out in the cold. Of the 30-plus new titles, 11 are brand new releases that come from notable studios. Fantasian is a new RPG from the creator of Final Fantasy, World of Demons is an action title from PlatinumGames, and there’s even a new Taiko drumming game from Bandai Namco.

That’s where Apple’s two-pronged strategy starts to feel more fully formed. Casual players get a collection of recognizable classics, while hardcore gamers get impressive new titles from a who’s who of gaming greats. Apple seems to understand that it needs to cater to both of those factions to grow its audience.

The hardcore crowd is the bigger challenge among the two halves. There’s still a stigma when it comes to mobile games, which some enthusiasts still see as inferior to console and PC. Apple had yet to land that true “killer app” that could force gamers to swallow their pride and subscribe.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The new expansion makes a much more compelling argument. Take Fantasian, for instance. It’s an excellent, traditional JRPG that sports a gorgeous visual style that utilizes real dioramas. Legendary director Hironobu Sakaguchi says it may be his last game entirely, making it an important historical release for fans of RPG history.

Those are the kinds of swings that are going to make Apple Arcade into a relevant piece of the gaming landscape. Up to this point, it always seemed like Apple was building its own self-contained ecosystem that was too isolated from the wider gaming world players exist in. Apple has always felt like an outsider looking in, but this expansion could finally be the missing link that connects it to the industry at large.

Apple Arcade feels more viable than ever, but now it’s a matter of pushing the momentum. It needs to keep bringing new games consistently, between mobile classics and innovative new releases. If it can expand the groundwork on both ends of the spectrum, it’ll quickly start to feel like the Xbox Game Pass of mobile gaming. At this point, that’s the comparison every game subscription service needs to be aiming for.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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