Game over for Apple Arcade?

As ably documented by Michael Tsai, Apple Arcade’s future is looking rocky. This comes from reports Apple’s rowing back on new content and paying less to developers.

Honestly, I always thought Apple Arcade was a strange move for Apple, given that it’s never seemed there was anyone sufficiently senior at the company who genuinely cares about gaming. Music and typography are infused in Apple’s DNA. Gaming is too often presented as something cool to show off the power of new devices, or comes across from Apple execs as a weird thing people waste time on. No new M-series chip or gaming toolkits will get us past that.

However, specifically on Apple Arcade, 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.

Retention then became the driver, as subscribers dried up, extinguishing much of the original direction of the service (quality; games as art; experiments; uniqueness) for friendlier and grindy fare that is too often akin to freemium with the IAP ripped out. It’s hard to see where things go now. Maybe the future of Apple Arcade will be mostly + games, thereby turning it into Apple’s equivalent of Google Play Pass, rather than a place to exhibit the pinnacle of mobile games.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, but Apple Arcade feels like the same old story with Apple and gaming: what success occurs is in many ways despite rather than because of Apple’s decisions and direction. I do hope things improve. I won’t hold my breath. Had I been doing so with Apple and gaming, I’d have expired within a year of getting my first Mac, way back in the 1990s.

March 2, 2024. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions


My favourite mobile apps and games: 2021

It’s the end of the year, so here’s a round-up of my favourite apps and games. Apps first!

10. The Geography (@thesaveroom): Generative audio meets abstract Nordic landscapes in this hypnotic endless chill-out machine, featuring a little five-note keyboard for you to add your own notes. (Android/iOS)

9. Mission to Mars (@SmithsonianChan): Visit the red planet and drive rovers across your desk/down the street in this engaging, educational and entertaining AR app. (Android/iOS)

8. Serial Reader (@serialreaderapp): Reckon you lack time to read the classics? This app thinks otherwise, smartly feeding you bite-sized chunks of famous books on a daily basis. (Android/iOS)

7. (@StartPageAI): Safari extensions arrived thick and fast these past few months. This is my favourite, listing all existing open tabs (and letting you close them with ease) when you try to open another. (iOS)

6. Halide (@halidecamera): The iPhone’s best camera app lands on iPad, with a fully optimised interface. You’ll still feel like an idiot shooting snaps with a tablet, but at least now the results can be superb. (iOS)

5. Animoog Z (@moogmusicinc): Animoog combined Moog’s trademark sounds with a stunning multitouch interface. This follow-up takes audio sculpting into the third dimension. Essential for newcomers and pros alike. (iOS)

4. Book Track (@SimoneMontalto): As someone with terrifying ‘to read’ piles in physical and digital editions, this app helps me make sense of it all, with its gorgeous interface and smartly conceived features. (iOS)

3. Carrot Weather (@CARROT_app): The best weather app for iPhone and iPad continues to excel, with an absurd amount of customisation, superb design and buckets of snark. (iOS)

2. Pixelmator Photo (@pixelmator): Sneaking in right at the end of the year, this iPad classic for improving your snaps has now been squeezed into your iPhone. Only avoid if you hate making your photos look better. (iOS)

1. Solstice (@dte): An excellent example of an app that does one thing really well, Solstice tracks daylight changes in a human manner, and offers notifications that can aid SAD sufferers by only running when days are getting longer. (iOS)

Apps 2021 honourable mentions: MusicHarbor; Morpho Convertor; Obsidian; Meandr; Kiff; PageTurn; StopTheMadness; xSearch; Watch to 5K (Apple Watch).

Next up: my favourite mobile games of 2021…

10. Super Mombo Quest (@orubegamestudio): Console-like platformer, which has you direct a big-tongued hero about tiny levels, grabbing gems and leaping on enemies. Fast-paced and packed with things to do.

9. Impossible Isles (@TeamPesky): Clever puzzler where you boost your score by laying down tiles in a way that adds bonus points. Ducks hate rabbits but love water. Trolls are smashy. A new daily deal keeps things fresh.

8. Retro Goal (@newstargames): Football for the rest of us, stripping back management to the basics and matches to touchscreen-friendly highlights. (Android/iOS)

7. Railroad Ink Challenge (@horribleguild): Single-screen strategy, where you build a road and rail network from randomly dished out cards across just seven turns. (Android/iOS)

6. Sliding Seas (@MugshotGames): Yet another match game, but this one had me hooked from the start. Varied level design and smart mechanics make this one a joy to play for the long term. (Android/iOS)

5. Day Repeat Day (@gimblll): Another match game, but this one lives within a slice of dystopia that plays out via a messaging system. Hugely rewarding when you take in all its finer details. (iOS)

4. Baba Is You (@ESAdevlog): Wonderful conversion of a Switch puzzler, where you redefine the rules for success by shoving labelled blocks around. Baba Is Brain-Smashy. (Android/iOS)

3. Townscaper (@OskSta): City building that’s all about the joy of building. There are no goals/budgets/scores – it’s just you and the algorithm, discovering secrets and making your little cities grow. (Android/iOS)

2. Super Arcade Football (@outofthebit): Overhead footie done right – and the first that to my mind manages to take SWOS to penalties. Plenty of options. Great controls. Just get it. (Android/iOS)

1. Cards of Terra (@obsolete_one): Unassuming sort-of solitaire with monsters? Sure. But Terra soon expands into a deeply compelling mash-up of collective card games, turn-based strategy & puzzling. (Android/iOS)

Games 2021 honourable mentions: Letter Rooms; Pureya; Salvagette; Rush Rally Origins; Overboard; Deep Golf; Kitty Q; Sugar.

Apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten. I’m sure there are quite a few. And if you make apps/games and would like to pitch an iPhone/iPad/Android/Mac app or game to me for possible coverage in 2022, email me next week. Until then: Happy New Year!

Originally posted on Twitter. Follow me there for more app/game stuff.

December 31, 2021. Read more in: Apps, Gaming

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Apple should counter its emulation stance by adding retro classics to Apple Arcade

9to5Mac reports iDOS 2 is to be pulled from the App Store. This isn’t the first time the app’s been removed, and probably not coincidentally comes hot on the heels of news posts showing people using it to get Windows 3.1 running on an iPad. (With a bit of effort, you can get classic Mac OS running too.)

Apple, naturally, cites that its rules have been broken:

Executing code can introduce or changes features or functionality of the app and allows for downloading of content without licensing.

Presumably, Apple reckons the ‘executing code’ bit is the main issue; after all, kicking an app for running illegal content would be a touch hypocritical, given how many book readers and audio and video players are on the store. Ahem.

This also points to shoddy App Store review. It’s not like iDOS 2 snuck through. It’s been back on the store with this exact same functionality for a while now, and received several updates. I’d hoped this was a sign Apple was changing its tone on retro gaming and emulation, but feared it was not. And Apple’s seeming distaste for emulated classic games feels further cemented by it not approving entirely legal retro-gaming streaming service Antstream Arcade for the App Store.

So what now? If you like emulators and want them on your phone: Android. Sure, there are workarounds on iOS, but they’re more hassle than they’re worth. But if Apple was canny, there would be another way — a very Apple way: add a retro arcade to Apple Arcade.

Apple Arcade is oddly lacking in arcade games. Apple likes doing things by the book. Plenty of companies are happy to license out old IP. So alongside Arcade Originals, App Store Greats and Timeless Classics, let’s have Arcade Classics. Get fully licensed Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Robotron, Bubble Bobble, Dig Dug and loads more — an actual old-school arcade — on to Apple Arcade. It would be a great way to show off iOS 15’s new virtual controls overlay system, along with simultaneously dealing with the bizarre lack of arcade games in Apple Arcade and the paucity of classic games on the App Store as a whole.

July 23, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions, Retro gaming

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Changing my mind on Apple Arcade’s range of games

I’ve broadly been a fan of Apple Arcade since the start. Some gamers got sniffy about it, arguing it didn’t include ‘proper’ games or a pile of AAA hits. That missed the point: Apple Arcade was meant to be something different, not another me-too service. Thing is, I missed the point myself a bit as well.

My Stuff article on the best Apple Arcade games lists titles that personally clicked with me, but in introducing Apple Arcade to my daughter, the manner in which I’m approaching and thinking about the service has shifted.

My daughter has used mobile Apple devices since before she could talk. She could navigate an iPod touch at 18 months. Safe to say, she’s familiar with this stuff. These days, she has her own iPad, which she uses almost daily—for a limited amount of time. It’s stuffed full of games and educational apps. She loves it.

One thing, though, is she’s never been keen on games with risk. There are exceptions: she’ll happily play two-player retro games with me. Broadly, though, she dislikes arcade fare on the iPad (with the notable exception of Super Phantom Cat 2, for reasons I’ve never quite been able to figure out).

She likes comfort and repetition when playing games (and also watching TV) and so stuck with a lot of kiddie games she’s now outgrown. Yet she blazed through Hidden Folks (intentionally deleting her progress several times to start again) and happily plays Dissembler and Threes! So I got thinking… what about Apple Arcade?

I dumped a ton of games on to her iPad and kind of left her to it. She’s working her way through Monument Valley. She’s got quite far in What The Golf? Mini Metro has had a few launches. Farm It! has gone down well. I’m glad I figured out that this service could provide new gaming opportunities for her—new things to try; new challenges to solve. It also opened my eyes to a certain diversity of approach within Apple Arcade that I’d not fully considered before.

A lot of gamers—myself included—were (and, indeed, are) quite sniffy about certain choices Apple made. I still think some Apple Arcade games are objectively poor. But it’s interesting to see a few cute ‘grind’ games in the mix, since those tend to align with exploitative freemium loot boxes and related horrors.

Ultimately, these games sort of are freemium games without the hideous business model. But you know what? My kid is really enjoying Farm It! She’s having fun. BUT. There are no ads. There’s no IAP. It’s safe from the crap we so often see elsewhere. And it showcases that Apple Arcade is a service intentionally designed to be for everyone. Even today, that seems quite rare in gaming and can only be a good thing. I wish I’d figured that out sooner.

May 21, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions

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My Android/iPhone/iPad mobile games of the year (2020)

I play a lot of mobile games. This year, I thought I’d list my favourites. All titles are available on Android/iPhone/iPad, except Little Orpheus, which is part of Apple Arcade. So without further ado…

10. Bird Alone: What initially looks like a vapid virtual pet quickly transforms into an intriguing tale of making a connection with another creature, underlined with emotional clout you don’t see coming.

9. Ord (Android/iOS): Classic text adventuring distilled into three words, with each scene being a single-word set-up, action and outcome. It seems reductive, but your mind plays in the gaps of this intriguing, amusing experience.

8. Fancade: Absurdly ambitious, Fancade is on the surface a bunch of entertaining mini-games. But dig deeper and you find an entire customisation engine—and even full frameworks for crafting your own creations.

7. Empty.: A rare free puzzler that isn’t out for your wallet, Empty. wants you to relax with its gorgeous soundtrack and reduce its tiny worlds to nothingness by spinning rooms and matching the colours of objects and flat planes. Beautiful stuff.

6. Krumit’s Tale: With an unparalleled level of sophistication and depth, this title feels like the last word in cramming dungeon-crawling into a shoebox. It looks great, has plenty of depth, and includes several distinct modes. Fab.

5. Ready Set Goat: The goat runs left! And then it runs right! Also, it’s being attacked by invading nasties. All you can do is prod to make it jump. It’s like a claustrophobic Canagoat, and I’m rubbish at it—but it’s annoyingly compelling.

4. Little Orpheus: In 2020, Apple Arcade offered deeper experiences than this Limboish platform puzzler, but a mix of visually awesome set pieces and a properly chucklesome script for me lifted Little Orpheus above the competition.

3. Super Fowlst 2: Demons are invading and only a chicken can stop them! Fantastic two-thumb Metroidish larks here as you flit about, bonking baddies on the head, grabbing gems with which to buy missiles you poop at your foes.

2. unmemory: This one starts off looking like an illustrated ebook, before events send you down a rabbit hole that reveals the game to be a set of room escape puzzles reworked as a book (or the reverse). It’s the modern mobile era’s DEVICE 6.

1. There Is No Game: WD: TING leaps between genres, after spending some time trying to convince you it’s not a game. What it is: a clever, witty, unique experience that shows what enterprising indies can do. My GOTY—on any platform.

December 31, 2020. Read more in: Gaming

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