As Apple Arcade approaches its second anniversary, AppleInsider examines how the service has grown and the potential future of this game subscription service.
Gaming is Apple's most lucrative business on the App Store, so it was an obvious target for services revenue. For only $4.99 per month, customers get access to every game in Apple Arcade — ad-free and no in-app purchases.
So far, Apple Arcade has lived up to its namesake so far by offering mobile-first games that are easy to jump in and play. Even the bigger titles that feature open worlds feel bite-sized in comparison to a massive console title.
Most of the App Store income is from games, and this means that Apple's App Store is the most lucrative gaming platform on earth. Despite what purist gamers may claim, there is a lot of money in mobile gaming, whether or not they think it is a "true" form of gaming.
It is difficult to determine if the lack of AAA titles is a strength or a weakness of the service. Mobile gamers seem to gravitate towards games with simple mechanics, one-touch controls, and asynchronous multiplayer. This is the opposite of console gamers who want high-fidelity games with complex systems and gameplay elements.
The majority of Apple Arcade titles fit the "mobile" description, while only a handful creep into "console" territory. Rather than recreate the experience of a PlayStation Portable or Nintendo Switch, Apple has leaned heavily into the existing App Store demographic.
Game streaming versus Apple Arcade
There are multiple competing viewpoints around how to address gaming on mobile devices like iPhone and iPad. Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have all moved in the exact opposite direction of Apple Arcade by offering console-quality titles on mobile.
These companies use game streaming as a distribution method rather than on-device downloads. This ensures games will work the same regardless of device performance.
Only Netflix seems to be taking the mobile-first route in its gaming service. It plans on launching mobile games that subscribers can play as long as they have an active Netflix subscription.
So far, the fledgling streaming services appear to have captured a particular market of gamers. However, Apple Arcade and its mobile-first platform have a much broader market appeal, lower entry price, and a constantly growing library.
Apple's approach also accounts for those who don't have high-bandwidth internet at their disposal. Rather than needing the internet to play games, Apple Arcade games can be downloaded all at once and played offline.
Determining the service's value
Apple Arcade launched in September of 2019 with about 70 titles. By the end of 2019, Apple had amassed over 100 Apple Arcade games with exclusive launch windows and mobile-exclusive contracts.
Each passing month brought one or more games to the subscription service. By the spring of 2021, Apple had nearly 150 titles available to play for its subscription fee.
A shift in strategy from Apple in 2021 caused a change in how Apple Arcade games were categorized alongside a big release drop. Now, Apple Arcade titles are considered Originals, Timeless Classics, or App Store Greats.
As of August 2021, Apple has over 200 titles available for subscribers. Each game is the full version with no ads, no in-app purchases, and no annoying game timers.
Apple Arcade - hit titles
Apple says it wants quality over quantity when choosing media for its various services. Even with over 200 games, the service doesn't feel bloated, and there seems to be something for everyone.
Eagle-eyed gamers will have noticed that many of the Apple Arcade games have since launched on Nintendo Switch and other console platforms. Many games range in price from $20 to $40 each, with no added benefit from being on the consoles themselves.
Six of these highlighted games are available to purchase elsewhere, which would have cost $158 plus tax. That would pay for two years and seven months of Apple Arcade alone.
While people will not play every Apple Arcade title, it is difficult to argue against the per-title cost savings for those who like to jump around and try different games.
Also of note, the lack of in-app purchases and ads is a huge boon for parents. Young children may not understand why a website has suddenly appeared on screen or why a pop-up asking to buy more lives is there — they simply want to play.
The following titles were chosen based on their popularity or quality of gameplay. We've highlighted the console price of each game below the description.
Apple heavily advertised this Legend of Zelda clone when Apple Arcade first launched. It was deserving of attention because it was a showcase of what a little bit of graphic fidelity and a controller can do to change people's minds about "mobile" gaming.
Don't avoid this game because of the "2" in the title because it takes place 1,000 years before the original. This hack and slash adventure is a decent homage to the genre, but we would argue that Oceanhorn: Chronos Dungeon is better overall.
$30 when purchased on consoles
What The Golf? is a real treat for those of us seeking a moment of mindless fun. One of the true "arcade" style games Apple offers, this wacky game pits players against all kinds of crazy obstacles and silly gameplay.
We highly recommend anyone who hasn't tried What The Golf? give it a shot. One of the game's best features is a quick-access demo mode that lets new players try a few levels to get a taste of the insanity.
$20 when purchased on consoles
Fans of Untitled Goose Game may enjoy exploring a campsite and nearby town as a Sasquatch. This popular title has a big and open map to explore while players complete each task without getting caught by angry campers.
Since its launch, this game has had a few content updates, adding to the adventure and keeping players engaged. Recent additions include a motorcycle and dirt racetrack to compete on.
Since Apple Arcade is a subscription service, all updates are free and are added to the game without user input. That is in direct contrast to modern games charging an additional $30 for a "season pass" that may or may not include content worth the added price.
Exclusive to Apple Arcade, not on console
This game combines an amazing soundtrack with fast-paced rhythm action. The neon-drenched art style and simple controls make it one of Apple Arcade's more unique titles.
You'll battle against Little Death and her cohorts as "The Fool," a manifestation of the main character's other-self. Endure heartbreak as you battle on motorcycles, skateboards, and perform dance battles.
$13 when purchased on consoles
From the creators of Crossy Road comes a different kind of adventure. Traverse 2D levels as an assortment of comical animals, and don't forget your favorite hat!
Crossy Road Castle borrows from classic platformers like Super Mario Bros. and adds a dash of chaos with random level generation. This is one of the better multiplayer games available on Apple's service, which allows up to four players to play through levels together.
Exclusive to Apple Arcade, not on console
Fans of the Cartoon Network epic "Samurai Jack" will feel right at home in this action-adventure. The narrative of this game fits right before the series finale and lets players explore several iconic locations from the show.
This is one of Apple Arcade's more intensive titles. You'll fair much better with a controller, and the game will lag on older devices.
Even though it is a direct port of the console game, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time still feels like a mobile-friendly game. For example, the gameplay feels like it breaks up into clean sections for easy pick-up-and-play but lacks the usual silly "world map" element that makes "mobile" feel mobile.
$40 when purchased on consoles
From the creators of No Man's Sky comes a much smaller, introspective adventure. The Last Campfire is a story of hope told through a little lost Ember.
Navigate through this beautiful world as you help others rekindle their hope. Meet many different personalities and complete increasingly mind-tingling puzzles.
We love the art style and storytelling narration provided by a single voice actor. It all combines into a great game you can be lost within.
$15 when purchased on consoles
We've found that The Pathless is yet another example of proper "console" gaming on mobile devices. This open-world renders beautifully on iPhone and iPad, and navigating the world involves constant input, so it never feels boring.
Complete puzzles, defeat enemies and traverse an open world full of spirit creatures. You'll play as the Hunter, an archer with a trusty eagle companion.
$40 when purchased on consoles
What AppleInsider thinks
A few staff members shared their favorite game and what they thought about Apple Arcade, myself included.
Mike Wuerthele - Mini Motorways"
Unsurprisingly, I don't have a lot of time these days. The "iPhone 13" is imminent, the rumor-mill is tempestuous, and this doesn't even include the miles of personal crap I need to wade through.
It's been like this for years, though. So, instead of firing up the gaming PC (and eventually, a Stream Deck) for my go-to Destiny 2, like most of the rest of the world, I turn to mobile gaming, and one title in particular on Apple Arcade — Mini Motorways.
The game is strategic from start to finish, and it's not hectic until near the end-game — and then, only for a few minutes. Choices you make early impact the entire game, and one cross-road badly placed can mean the difference between a paltry 300 successful journeys or 1,000 before your digital commuters get too rowdy and your game ends.
As far as the rest of the service, everything on it is a welcome respite from the Gacha loot box concept, which I will not let my children participate in. For that monthly fee, I get everything any given game on the service has to offer if I'm so inclined.
I buy the Apple One bundle because I need the storage space and Apple Music Family. I've started using Fitness+ too. So, Apple Arcade (and Apple TV+) is basically free for me, and I'm glad it's there. And, like Apple TV+, Apple has the cash to wait forever for a fat library spanning multiple genres.
Amber Neely - What The Golf?
I think that Apple Arcade is solid and that the asking price is fine, but what I really appreciate about it was some of the games that came out of it. Specifically, I really enjoyed What the Golf? and Pinball Wizard.
Apple Arcade brought back true arcade-style games, which largely had disappeared when those sorts of games went "freemium." Neither of the games I mentioned would have been good had the developers been forced to try to get players to repeatedly spend money on unlocks, premium currency, cosmetics, etc.
Andrew O'Hara - Alto's Odyssey: The Lost City
I've very much enjoyed having Apple Arcade, though I may have been a bit apprehensive about signing up if it had not been bundled with Apple One. Right now, my favorite games are remastered games.
It is still missing those big titles, though. I don't hear many Apple Arcade titles talked about with my friends and most of the games feel like lightweight, cartoony mobile games. I'd love if Apple invested in some major IP to get people talking like they've done with Apple TV+.
Wesley Hilliard - Fantasian
I'm an avid gamer and spend a decent portion of my free time playing video games of all kinds. I love RPGs, so of course, Fantasian became an instant favorite for me.
Everything from the classic JRPG gameplay to the handmade dioramas made me fall in love with this simple game. I've poured over 20 hours into this game only to discover it is the first of two parts!
Apple Arcade as a whole has been an interesting service for me. I get to download any game that catches my passing interest and play as long as it holds my attention — no ads, no payments, no timers.
The upcoming titles for the service like Baldo: The Guardian Owls and Asphalt 8: Airborne+ give me some hope for the kind of games we can expect going forward. Apple has a commitment to add more engaging titles, so I believe more AAA experiences are coming.
What's next for Apple Arcade?
Games like Fortnite and Roblox have been the top earners for the App Store over the years. These games are built around selling in-app goods to children who don't understand the cost or adults who enjoy gambling. By targeting these "whale" demographics, some apps can make millions of dollars off of a very small population.
Apple Arcade takes the opposite approach. Offer as many different titles as possible to the subscriber without ads or up-sells and earn profit thanks to the low cost of maintaining a game library.
Apple's approach ensures that Apple Arcade can continue to grow and be of value to subscribers while standard App Store games can rake in cash using gamified purchases. Apple's increasing services revenue is an indication that this is working.
By offering a $5 per month service or bundling it with Apple One, Apple ensures that people who would never spend a dollar on games are now adding to App Store revenue. As long as the cost of the service and adding new games is much lower than the total income generated by subscribers, Apple Arcade will continue to be supported.
Very little has leaked out about Apple's strategy surrounding the service, but one leak suggests that Apple wants to pull back on the number of titles being released and focus on more engaging titles. Speculation has run wild about this apparent decision, and nothing has changed on the surface of Apple Arcade to indicate such a change has been made.
Apple has minimal incentive to draw in the purist gamer crowd since there is no way to monetize this group with the subscription. Because of that, Apple isn't likely to spend a lot of money on a AAA title unless it guarantees to add enough subscribers to offset the cost.
The rumored Zelda: Breath of the Wild style game that was rumored in late 2020 could be one such title. The lack of AAA games isn't about power since the processors in the latest iPhones, iPads, Macs, and even Apple TV 4K are more powerful than the Nintendo Switch.
Apple could offer a high-end tier of Apple Arcade, aptly named "Apple Arcade+," that cost more money and added more console-like titles to the platform. Such a tier would enable Apple to earn money from more elitist gamers while still offering the base tier for casual play.
What Apple Arcade means for gaming
If you're someone who was born in the '90s, then you'll understand the desire to bring your favorite game anywhere, to any screen. The Nintendo Switch realized this desire, but perhaps it is being perfected by Apple Arcade.
The ability to sit down at any Apple device and play the same game without compromise while syncing save data across every device is a great experience. However, it is difficult to determine which method is more desirable — one console that goes everywhere or a game synced and ready to play on any device.
With video games becoming more democratized than ever, a single service available across a single ecosystem of devices with no further subscriptions, in-app purchases, or intrusive advertising can only help make things easier.
Finally, Apple's investment in high-end mobile gaming experiences means that game developers have to step up to the plate and do better too. Of course, standard games that can be purchased and played on the App Store still exist, but rather than put out some lame clone and expect moderate success, developers have to try to compete.
The future of gaming on Apple devices seems bright. Parents can pay a small fee for access to dozens of games for their kids, casual gamers have a place to find a quick fix without the fuss of ads, and console gamers can find some enjoyment in the more ambitious titles within the service.