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Apple doesn't care about games, long-time Apple Arcade developers say

Apple Arcade

Game developers are expressing frustration about Apple Arcade, as payments plummet and projects get axed by Apple's leadership.

As an all-you-can-eat model, Apple Arcade offers developers a way to create games without relying on players opening up their wallets. However, in the years since its introduction, developers are getting worried about it, with one describing Apple Arcade as having the "smell of death."

Developer sources of MobileGamer.Biz said that initial upfront payments from Apple were generous at launch, and that most games released in the opening years were profitable from the first day. Numerous developers were positive about the service, making the development of premium games on mobile more viable.

As time rolled on, the cracks began to appear in the relationship between developers and Apple itself. In October 2020, the per-play "bonus pool" payments started to reduce, followed by the cancellation of multiple projects in Spring 2021.

Ending many projects upset "a lot of people," one source claimed, but it signaled a strategy shift for the service to family-friendly games with major IP attached to it.

Messaging and payment issues

In one case, a studio had months of glowing feedback from Apple for a game, but then the Apple Arcade team withdrew interest without warning, due to a change in strategy. The team also reportedly declined to respond to emails from the studio offering budgetary changes and a retooling of the game.

The issues with messaging was also a problem for other developers, including where Arcade was actually headed in the future. "I got the sense they didn't really know where they were going with it at all - almost like they weren't sure if they'd have jobs at the end of it," a studio chief admitted.

The upfront payments have also gone down even more for new Apple Arcade titles, as well as the "bonus pool" payments. "We're going to see that amount and decrease and decrease and decrease until it's pennies," a developer insisted, with further reductions reducing the viability of making an Apple Arcade game.

Developers are also confused as to why the payments are going down, because Apple has avoided explaining how the payments are calculated.

A "qualifying session" is used as a basis for bonus pool payments, but developers don't actually know what the qualifying session is. "It has something to do with if the game was launched, how long the player played it for, and how often they return, but it's a black box really," a source explained.

App Store games released to Apple Arcade under "App Store Greats" don't get an upfront payment but do receive bonus pool payments. This does benefit games with longer retention terms, but shorter narrative-driven games and premium indie titles don't stand much of a chance under such a release.

Marketing woes

Developers also believe it's hard to get much marketing help from Apple when they're included in Apple Arcade. "We have to basically beg for featuring from Apple" within the Arcade tab, one developer said.

"Getting that banner featuring at the top is like squeezing blood from a stone."

A source also said getting Apple to help with marketing is difficult and time-consuming. "As with all things Apple, it's a six-week lead time ton get, you know, a single tweet or whatever."

Another reboot?

While it has already undergone one reboot in 2021, developers believe that Apple Arcade could undergo another one, thanks to some competition from Netflix.

Netflix's gaming service also offers generous upfront payments, but not ongoing bonus payments. Though willing to spend hugely now, there is the fear that a similar drying up of funds could occur down the road.

However, developers do say Netflix is apparently much easier to work with compared to Apple.

"I really hope Netflix continues doing what they're doing because it is requiring Apple to continue to try to be relevant and competitive," a source hopes.

The lack of progress is also thought to be down to Apple's leadership, a studio chief said, believing there's a lack of gaming passion at the executive level.

"It all depends on how much buy-in there is from those guys at the top, and I don't think they really value Arcade or invest in it the same way you see them invest in music or TV," they offered.