Apple Arcade – Is It Worth It?

We take a look at Apple Arcade, play all the launch games and most importantly ask the question on everyone's lips, is it worth it?

Apple Arcade is the tech giant’s latest step into the subscription based revenue model. After the success of Apple Music and the potentially fantastic video service Apple TV+, are mobile gamers going to want to jump into the pay to play market too?

As the old cliché states, you can’t get cheaper than free, and that’s certainly true on the App Store. There’s 100,000s of free games to be downloaded that ask nothing more from you than your time. But this creates a dilemma for developers. Games that are bought up front, as opposed to being free to play with in-game extras bought with in-app purchases, tend to get lost under the sheer weight of free titles. Apple have changed this with Apple Arcade. Which lets developers finance their games in a new way, as well as giving the gamer an excellent range of apps for a monthly fee.

Apple Arcade is a subscription service covering both mobile and desktop devices. Subscribers can play as many available games through the service as they like; without restriction. Gamers can expect over a hundred exclusive titles within months of launch, with more planned after that.

The service is accessed through the App Store. Games can be downloaded and played offline, so you don’t need a permanent Internet connection to enjoy them; and they can be played across Macs, iOS devices and Apple TV. You can even start a game on one device and then continue on another, picking up where you left off.

Family Sharing is once again available at no extra cost, and once again, your privacy is guaranteed; no one can gather information about what you’re playing. This could be Netflix for gamers, which is surely a bullet proof seller? Apple have to be looking at a winner here right?

Well, they certainly aren’t shouting about it!

Apple Arcade is currently found via a tab at the bottom of the App Store app. Why it hasn’t been deemed worthy of its own stand alone application seems a little bizarre and a possible indication that there is genuinely little marque value in the service as it currently stands. Why the latter is even being discussed is a cause for alarm but delve deeper and start downloading the games themselves and a few more red flags are raised.

One of the key selling points of Apple Arcade is that the games are all exclusive titles; not available anywhere else. Thus if you want to play, you have to pay the subscription charge. This is a double edged sword for gamers. The benefits of exclusive access doesn’t require any explanation but surely there are many classic App Store games that would be equally enticing if they were also included within the monthly fee? It’s always nice to see a familiar face when you are somewhere new.

The initial impression of the content that makes up Apple Arcade is that the games rarely step outside of the pick up and play style of “mobile gaming”. Endless runners, logic and word puzzlers, point and clickers and all the sub-genres popularised by mobile/touch screen gaming are present. Yet what excited me most about the latest generations of Apple TV was the ability to turn your little black box into a Xbox(ish) console. Alas, yet again the promise of cross platform gaming feels a little unfulfilled, as all of the games at launch are iPhone only, and it’s hard to see the vast majority of titles being better suited to the larger screens.

Of course when you are looking at unit sales alone it’s hard not to see why Apple’s focus has been on the iPad and iPhone centred content. Yet with iOS 13 and iPadOS allowing PlayStation and Xbox controller functionality, surely greater steps away from touch controls must be pending?

With a few exceptions, the vast majority of the games available fall into the quick fix, limited lifespan format, again as expected for mobile gaming. As a lifelong gamer I adore mobile-style games, they sit perfectly alongside deeper, long lifespan “console” games. The industry crosses between the two platforms seamlessly, I loved playing GTA Vice City or Final Fantasy VII on PlayStation as much as I did on my iPad/iPhone. Apple Arcade has the chance, particularly considering the Apple TV/console joypad compatibility, to further bridge the gap between the console and mobile. Closer links between the two is extremely exciting, pointing the way to genuine multi-platform gaming. Thus the failure of Apple Arcade to do so or even attempt to, is extremely disappointing.

On a massively positive note, and for those of you that often head to the free games section of the App Store will be delighted to hear, Apple Arcade is free from in-app purchases and any form of advertising. So no more watching a video to play the next stage nonsense here! This is one change I don’t want Apple to revert, as it is a massive selling point for those who have had their credit card or iOS gaming experience blighted by the above intrusions.

Discounting broadcast TV, mobile phones etc., I have a total of five subscription services taking their toll on my bank balance, so do I really want to add another one? The core concept of Apple Arcade is certainly an appealing one. However, the current software line up lacks that killer app that every gaming platform requires to succeed. The huge success of Apple Music and Netflix/Prime is down to their mainstream appeal. There is genuinely something for everyone to enjoy, from speed metal to freeform jazz for the ears and 1970’s kung fu to MCU mega blockbusters for the eyes.

This is where Apple Arcade fails and will continue to do so for the core gamer demographic. There simply isn’t something for everyone to enjoy on Arcade. There is nothing here that hasn’t got several free alternatives already available in the App Store; if you can endure the ads. Without some exclusive Triple A titles or even mobile versions, there simply isn’t enough quality to stop me cancelling my subscription after the free month ends. Which is just odd!

This is Apple we are talking about here, surely they could have approached Rockstar for an exclusive Grand Theft Auto (re)release or Nintendo to make Mario Kart Tour a timed exclusive at the very least? Without the name value of an established franchise, the support of some respected mass mainstream software developers or even the inclusion of some retro gaming titles to boost its credibility with the older fans, I’m left with a collection of games that I will struggle to remember in a month, let alone be eagerly paying to play.

So to answer the question posed at the start of this review, is Apple Arcade worth it? Well it’s a very little “yes” and pretty large “no”. I would certainly recommend signing up for the trial period and then you can judge for yourself whether you feel the range of games is enough to justify the small but regular charge. For me, unless there is a big up tick in the quality, innovation and originality, Apple Arcade is not worth it! Not yet anyway…

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Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. A self-confessed (and proud) geek about all things tech, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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