How Apple Arcade is set to upend iOS gaming forever

Apple yesterday revealed the final details about Apple Arcade. The subscription gaming service will arrive on iPhone on 19 September, and then roll out to other Apple devices over the following four weeks. It will cost a fiver a month – and supports Family Sharing.

This has all sorts of ramifications for iOS gaming – and the potential to upend everything on the platform. First, the obvious positive is Apple is now taking gaming seriously. I’m hoping cross-device sync will work well, the games will be mostly worth playing, and that Apple won’t just get bored in a year and shutter the whole thing. (Anyone remember game Center?) But right now, the outlook is good.

Apple has priced this service sensibly. It’ll work on Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple TV. Also, you’ll be able to use MFi, PS4 and Xbox One controllers with many titles, rather than having to grapple with the Siri Remote, or play complex console-style fare using touchscreen controls.

The question is where this leaves pretty much all other gaming on Apple platforms – particularly iOS. At launch, Apple Arcade will have dozens of titles, and over 100 will arrive within “the coming weeks”; Apple is planning to add more titles every month. So for the price of a single premium iOS game each month, you’ll get access to hundreds. Quite how premium games are going to compete – even in the short term – I’ve no idea.

But Apple Arcade will impact on free and freemium titles as well. Apple has stated Apple Arcade titles can have no advertising, and no in-app purchases. Once a player’s immersed in that system, the vast majority of free App Store titles are from a user experience perspective going to range from irritating (ads being periodically thrown in your face) to downright skeevy. Clearly, developers will have to up their game in this regard – or hope that people would rather pay nothing and put up with a terrible UX than venture towards a subscription.

It’s an interesting time for Apple and games, then, and one that is filled with much promise. But it does feel ironic that the one time Apple finally gets interested in games, it may make the rest of the iOS gaming ecosystem even less viable. Here’s hoping it has the opposite effect – acting as a halo that draws more gamers to Apple devices, and finds them venturing from the Arcade tab to the Games one, and exploring the many goodies found within.

September 11, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, News, Opinions, Technology

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How old is too old to play videogames?

Over on Digitiser 2000, Paul ‘Mr Biffo’ Rose mulls over: how old is too old to play videogames? Only he puts a space in ‘videogames’, because of a traumatic experience with a production editor.

Anyway, his story is that having blasted the iconic Digitiser into millions of eyes in his 20s (and, more recently, endearingly bonkers YouTube telly show Digitiser), he now finds himself an old git, 48 years ‘young’, playing games. What a total man-child idiot! Except: no.

Frankly, I find it astonishing this is still a question people need to ask themselves. Games are just another thing people do to be entertained and pass the time. They are interactive entertainment that sits part-way between puzzle solving, dexterity test and television. No-one suggests at 36 you should throw your telly out of the window, or at that 43 you should stop doing crosswords. But gaming has somehow been labelled a juvenile pursuit.

In part, this is down to short memories. Arcade games when originally created were aimed squarely at adults. Early home-gaming systems were largely in that space, although often also marketed as family entertainment. It was mostly with the arrival of NES-era consoles that gaming took root as something ‘for the kids’. Only, those kids grew up, and a big chunk of gaming grew up with it. Today, the range of games you can access is huge, from tablet-based fare like Thinkrolls that my then0two-year-old managed to grasp on an iPad, through to the kind of content that no-one under 18 should really be setting their eyes on.

Any negativity is really just another oft-repeated hot-take by curmudgeons and spoilsports who hate people liking stuff that they themselves don’t like. Comics? Pah! Those are for children! (What, even Saga? OK, then.) Tabletop gaming? Are you twelve? You still watch Doctor Who? Pfft! Etc!

A few years back, I wrote a piece for Stuff that sums this up, and I stand by it. In short, like what you like, and – assuming it doesn’t negatively impact on others (i.e. I’m not going to support, say, your desire to catapult parked cars at supermarkets) – nuts to everyone else. So you want spend evenings building a Picade retro-gaming console, like I did, to tinker with ancient games in your spare time? Go you! You prefer Harry Potter over more ‘worthy’ books bothering the fiction charts? Have fun with it! You want to settle down of an evening with MarioKart rather than EastEnders? Queen-Vic-You-Don’t!

You’re not too old to do the things you like. Instead, as you get older, you should cram more of what you love into those years you have left, not discard them because some miserable gits disapprove.

January 10, 2019. Read more in: Gaming, Opinions

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Simogo quits iPhone and iPad gaming, and points the finger of blame at Apple

Simogo was my favourite mobile developer. Its games include Device 6, Year Walk, and the amusingly audacious one-thumb stealth/puzzle/platform/route-finding hybrid that is Beat Sneak Bandit. But, as you may have gleaned from the tense used in that opening line, the company has – for now at least – quit iOS.

Apple should treat this as a body blow. Simogo has consistently been one of the best developers on the platform, pushing the boundaries of gaming in new and interesting directions. Device 6, in particular, remains a masterclass in touchscreen game development – a strange puzzle/adventure hybrid, where you explore corridors composed of the very words in the game’s narrative. Sure, it could be made for a traditional console or PC – but it’d make far less sense.

But sadly, Simogo elaborates in a blog post that Apple is the problem, and I suspect the company remains largely oblivious to the pain it’s putting developers through, not only in terms of supporting games, but also regarding the longevity of their output.

Some choice quotes from Simogo’s writings say everything:

Let’s get the rough things out of the way first. This year we spent a lot of time updating our old mobile games, to make them run properly on new OS versions, new resolutions, and whatever new things that were introduced which broke our games on iPhones and iPads around the world. We’ve put months of work into this, because, well, we care that our games live on, and we want you to be able to keep playing your games. Had we known back in 2010 that we would be updating our games seven years later, we would have shook our heads in disbelief.

I’ve heard similar from other developers. It’s such a shift from when I visited an EA developer press event around 2012, when indies they’d got on board were brimming with excitement about iOS gaming. Then, it was a breath of fresh air – less hassle with platform issues and gatekeepers alike. But iOS has become a moving target in a way it never used to be.

This year, a lot of time we had planned to spend on our current project, ended up being spent on just making sure that our games would not be gone from the app store. Because sadly, the platform holder seems to have no interest in preservation of software on their platform.

This in itself is quite curious. I suspect Apple has no senior advocate of gaming. I’ll be amazed if anyone in Apple leadership is a big gamer. Much of the evidence points to Apple still largely considering gaming broadly throwaway. There’s a kind of ‘read and burn’ mentality, which is at odds with how the company thinks about movies, television, music and books.

We can criticize and be angry and mad about it all we want, but we don’t think that any efforts we put in can change that direction.

Developers feel powerless. They feel that Apple isn’t listening – and doesn’t care.

So, instead, we’re thinking a lot about how we can find ways to preserve our games, and our own history, because it is inevitable that our mobile games will be gone sometime in a distant, or not so distant future, as iOS and the app store keeps on changing and evolving. We don’t have a definitive answer, or any final ideas how this would be possible, but we’ll keep on thinking about it, and try to come up with solutions, and we welcome any input and ideas on this from you too!

I at the time wrote about the appocalypse. Many games have since been updated, but then the iPhone X threw another spanner in the works. Regardless, even 64-bit support feels like a stay of execution. Come iOS 12, how many games will fail to work and just disappear?

The response to all this is perhaps inevitable:

As you can imagine, this has led to thoughts about platforms in general.

Simogo notes that the iPhone changed everything, and the ease of mobile development drew the tiny studio to making iPhone games, but:

it’s getting increasingly financially unviable, tiring and unenjoyable for us to keep on making substantial alterations for new resolutions, guidelines, and what have you, as they seem to never end.

The appeal is gone. And, crucially:

Before we started Simogo, we had made console games, and had grown really tired of the clunky processes, politics, certifications and primitive development environments that was involved in making a console game. Today, a lot of that clunkiness is gone, and sadly, for a small developer like us, mobile has become more difficult to support than consoles.

In other words, the advantages mobile had – iOS had – are gone, while console gatekeepers have slowly recognised and removed barriers to entry.

The next Simogo game therefore won’t grace the iPhone and iPad. It feels like the end of an era.

December 12, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions

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Find your iOS 11 games death list – and learn how to save your favourites

As outlined in Alex Hern’s Guardian piece, iOS 10.3 provides a death list for apps and games. Without updates, these products will all cease to work in iOS 11. You can find the list in Settings, by navigating to General > About > Apps. Of the 74 favourite/stored games I have on my iPhone, the following are currently listed as having no updates available:

Beat Sneak Bandit; Bit Pilot; Crazy Taxi; Critter Panic; Devil’s Attorney; Drop7; Drop Wizard; Flick Kick Field Goal; Flight Control; Forget-Me-Not; Gridrunner; I Am Level (which in some ways is the saddest entry in this list – here’s why); Infinight; LEX; Mikey Boots; Mikey Hooks; Mikey Shorts; Mini Motor Racing; Mos Speedrun; Osmos; Relic Rush; Ridiculous Fishing; Spell Sword; Strata; Trainyard; VVVVVV; Westbang; Zen Bound 2.

And that’s just the games on my iPhone. On my iPad, which has far more games stored, you can add: Active Soccer 2; Big Big Castle; Crazy Taxi; CRUSH; Darkside; DRM; ElectroMaster; Halcyon; Helix; HungryMaster; Magnetic Billiards; Minotaur Rescue; Minotron; Ms. Particle Man; Mutant Storm; Nightmare Cooperative; Puzzlejuice; QatQi; Reckless Racing HD; Sailor’s Dream; Slydris; Space Invaders Infinity Gene; Space Junk; Sprinkle Islands; Stealth Inc.; Sunburn!; Super Crossfire; Twelve A Dozen; Wave Trip; Wonderputt; World of Goo; Year Walk. That’s… a lot of games.

There are still five months until iOS 11 drops, and some may be updated by then. VVVVVV’s author has confirmed to me that his game will be, as has Darkside’s. Mos Speedrun’s author readied a 64-bit build within a couple of days of me flagging the game as under threat on Twitter. Simogo is also aiming to make its games compatible. However, I also know several games on the above list definitely won’t be fixed – either because it’s impossible/not viable to, or because the creators would rather you grab sequels/follow-ups instead. Worryingly, several developers I’ve contacted weren’t aware there was even a problem with their apps.

This piece isn’t a criticism of Apple, note (although it would be good if the company would again politely nudge developers of apps in the firing line). We no longer live in a world where mobile games systems are a single unit, living for a finite time, and offering one generation of backwards compatibility if you’re lucky. Instead, mobile systems in the sense of smartphones and tablets are all about incremental upgrades. Things break all of the time, as OS upgrades cause issues with older software. But iOS 11 looks like it’s going to be a doozy, so you’d best come prepared.

I outlined how in a feature for Stuff a short while ago, which also explains the history of this particular transition, warnings Apple provided to developers, but also the sad reality that in many cases it’s simply not worth a developer’s time to update a game. So, again, welcome to gaming’s future – it’s not especially bothered about even its relatively recent past.

April 4, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Gaming

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Super Mario Run will cost ten whole dollars. Entitled idiots assemble!

As reported by the entire internet, the upcoming Mario game for iOS, Super Mario Run, now has an official price tag: $9.99/£7.99. Predictably, people have immediately split into three camps (with crossover between the first two): those happy to see Nintendo value its mobile product appropriately (thereby also hoping that means it’s good); developers hoping it’ll impact on iOS pricing as a whole; and entitled furious idiots throwing toys out of their prams at the prospect of a company having the audacity to charge money for an iPhone game.

My inkling is the first of those suggests a game that, at the very least, won’t be shit. Nintendo’s perhaps smartly not bringing existing classics to iOS, nor even a ‘full’ Mario experience, but there’s no reason it cannot create a really great touchscreen-optimised game. After all, two of the four Rayman titles work really well on iOS; of the two that don’t, one is a direct port of an ancient Rayman game, and the other had hope beaten out of it by a baseball bat with ‘freemium’ scrawled across it in pen. By contrast, Super Mario Run has precisely one IAP, to unlock the full game.

I also suspect the second of those things won’t come to pass. Developers might hope a ten-buck game would lead to people’s entitlement and expectation on mobile shifting, but that ship has long sailed. Instead, it will simply prove that Nintendo can charge ten bucks for a game. Unless your IP is similarly famous (the Codemasters F1 title also has the same price), you’ll still be scrapping it out at the low end, or hoping for the best in the $2.99–$4.99 pricing arena that’s laughably referred to as ‘premium’ on mobile.

As for the idiots? They’ll continue being idiots. There are no guarantees about the quality of Nintendo’s game, nor how well it will perform. There’s not even any guarantee that it won’t bump up the average price of iOS games, even though that is extremely unlikely. No, the one certainly is this the free-to-download game will get a slew of shitty App Store reviews from people horribly angry they can’t play yet another game for free.

November 15, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions

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