dominik wagner

Apple Arcade vs. Slot Machines

When I left TheCodingMonkeys for my journey at Apple, my last post on this blog was Slot Machines, bemoaning the shift to free to play games in the App Store.

Although this was 4 years ago, nothing much has changed in that area since. In fact, it got worse. It is ironic to see that Apple was and is a very willing participant. As platform owner it has the full power to change the rules, which is clearly visible in other areas, just look at porn and politics.

For those who remember: with the introduction of in-app purchases in 2009, Apple had the customer at heart and made it explicitly clear that “Free apps remain free”.

Nowadays, with the staggering amount of money they make from those in-app purchases, I think they painted themselves in a 'Revenue Corner'. Probably not one to easily get out of without a significant drop in their services category, stock price, et cetera.

However, they could change the rules, and they should, but clearly for years now they have chosen not to. I would argue that decision was quite short sighted and made both iOS and the App Store a worse place for it.

Now fast forward to their latest approach: Arcade – essentially an attempt to pull all games outside that casual, slot-machine-style genre into their own Netflix-style curated subscription service. There are multiple reasons why I think that is a bad idea, to name a few:

  • Exclusivity: I don't want platform exclusive games, especially not the kind of independent games they are going for. That is unhelpful to the eco-system.
  • Curation: I don't want Apple to be the kingmaker, influencing and deciding which kind of games they put in there.
  • Independent Games: I think this will essentially destroy what is left from the market for paid games out there, both in terms of people buying as well as in terms of marketing. The App Store app will certainly rank Arcade ahead of other games in the store.
  • Apple's track record: Just take Game Center, Game Controllers, SpriteKit and tv as examples on how Apple handles the games sector.

Lastly, I do think it is worth calling out the two major games they put on stage on the last two iOS Keynotes. I do see them as further evidence how arbitrary and undecided their direction in the games sector is.

Blades - Bethesda

Announced in the 2018 Keynote, The Elder Scrolls: Blades has been in Early Access for quite a while, accessible exclusively to users with a Bethesda account (although recently, that requirement was removed).

While Blades is a nice example of a complex, good looking 3D engine on mobile, it sadly falls squarely into the slot machine genre. For example, many items in the game drop as loot boxes that take a certain amount of time to open and reveal their contents. Of course, spending real money allows you to speed that up.

Sky - thatgamecompany

The still to be released Sky, from the terrific makers of Journey was announced at the 2017 iPhone reveal keynote. As it turns out, Apple heavily pushed thatgamecompany to make that game free to play:

“They were concerned about our business model, because they’d seen a big decline in people’s willingness to pay for a game that comes with a huge price.” […] Just when the game was ready for its final spit and polish, Chen was told he should consider making Sky a free-to-start game.

Edge 05/2013

It is quite a shame that Apple is so confused on what they want to do in the games sector. The iOS devices are so powerful, and the potential is really great. Maybe at least the developers in the Arcade program currently do have good working/funding conditions, so that might be worth something.

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