Playing with mobile gaming’s future
was supposed to raise the bar for the quality of mobile gaming. At a time when the best way to make money from a mobile game was to stuff it full of ads, or force users to gamble real money for possible power-ups, Apple’s subscription service came as a breath of fresh air.
This, it seemed would be a home for artful games that didn’t have to hook you forever. It would be a model that would see developers paid for the games they wanted to make, rather than the games they needed to make.
But now Bloomberg reports [paywalled
] that Apple is taking Arcade in a different direction:
Apple Inc. has shifted the strategy of its Apple Arcade gaming service, canceling contracts for some games in development while seeking other titles that it believes will better retain subscribers…
On calls in mid-April, an Apple Arcade creative producer told some developers that their upcoming games didn’t have the level of “engagement” Apple is seeking, the people said. Apple is increasingly interested in titles that will keep users hooked, so subscribers stay beyond the free trial of the service, according to the people. They asked not to be identified discussing private conversations.
That sounds a lot like the focus will be on repeat play and addictiveness, rather than quality, artistry, and originality.
But setting Apple’s commercial interests aside, aren’t the games with the most engagement also the kinds of games the public wants to play on their phones? I’ve shunned Apple Arcade because I have three games I play every day, and that’s more than enough for me. I dip into them when I have a little spare time. At breakfast, it’s Mario Kart Tour, and lunchtime, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (I’m not a Harry Potter fan, I just enjoy the game on its own terms, strangely enough), and in the evening, I play Final Fantasy Record Keeper.
These games all focus on growing stronger and becoming more skilled over a long period. If you play a game like Candy Crush every day, it’s a similar experience — there’s always something new to do, so you keep coming back. It’s exactly the kind of fun you want on a phone.
From a monetisation point of view, games like this are probably packed with horrible tracking software to help advertisers target you, and they all try to get you to spend ludicrous amounts of money on upgrades. They’re ethically dubious, but they are the games that people come back to. Ergo, they’re the games that work best on mobile platforms.
So while I think there should be a space for artfulness and experimentation in mobile gaming, I can’t blame Apple for wanting to offer games that keep people hooked.
There is a middle ground though. Major record labels traditionally signed a range of artists, from commercial big-hitters to riskier bets that might make great music but may not make much (or any!) money. By supporting both types of artists, they helped push the medium of popular music forward through the experimentation of the smaller artists, while making more than enough money from the big acts.
With its vast piles of cash, Apple is in a rare position where it can make a big splash with a few addictive, ‘engaging’ hits, while also nurturing talent that can experiment to shape the mobile hits of the future, even if the games themselves don’t keep users hooked for weeks on end. Hopefully Apple realises it can do both.