What Is Apple Arcade Trying To Be?

King of the living room is a good place to start

Key Takeaways

  • The Apple Arcade game subscription service now has over 180 games.
  • The next Apple TV might be the perfect "casual" gaming console.
  • Apple doesn’t need big-name games to succeed.
People playing arcade games.

Louie Castro-Garcia / Unsplash

Apple Arcade just added 30 games, including a bunch of old iOS favorites. But just what is Apple Arcade trying to be?

Apple Arcade is Apple’s game subscription service. A subscription fee of $5 per month gets you access to over 180 games, some of which are worth playing. There are no in-app purchases and no ads. The focus is on "casual" pick-up-and-play games, but there are lots of in-depth titles, too.

The problem with Apple Arcade, though, is that it's not clear what it wants to be. Is it a premium tier, above the rubbish in the App Store? Is it a push to take over Nintendo Switch territory? Will Apple turn the Apple TV into a home console? Or is it just Tim Cook's attempt to take a bigger slice of all that sweet recurring game revenue?

"I think it's a losing bet to believe Apple Arcade can compete with traditional game consoles," Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review, told Lifewire via email.

"The Switch might be the closest competitor, but the Switch's library is massive with some surprisingly resource-intensive games. It also has the brand recognition of Nintendo powering it, whereas Apple's brand is trusted in other fields."

Casual Gaming

"Casual" might be considered derogatory in terms of gaming, implying that the folks who enjoy a quick blast of Mario Kart Tour or Alto’s Odyssey on their iPhones aren't real gamers. But the revenue from mobile apps is enormous.

In 2018, the Candy Crush series pulled in $1.5 billion. And that's for a game that's almost a decade old.

With that kind of money involved, it’s easy to see why Apple wants a slice. But while players seem happy to rack up in-app purchases in pay-to-play titles, getting them to subscribe to a gaming service like Apple Arcade may be a harder sell.

Closeup of an arcade game.

Senad Palic / Unsplash

In that market, Apple Arcade competes with Xbox Game Pass and Nintendo Switch Online.

If you’ve already bought the Switch or the Xbox, those are both easy sales. You purchased a console solely to play games.

Apple might have a harder time convincing people to pay for a game subscription on a phone or a tablet. Then again, perhaps Apple Arcade can mop up games enthusiasts who aren’t willing to drop hundreds of dollars on a console.

"I don't think Apple really needs to compete in this arena, though," says Freiberger. "People who buy this product are going to buy it because it's Apple and may allow them to play a few iOS exclusives, not because they're wanting to replace a traditional gaming console."

Apple TV Console

Rumors say that the next Apple TV will feature a new kind of remote to replace the much-hated Siri Remote. It’s not a stretch to imagine that this remote will double as a game controller or that Apple will sell a gamepad, as well as that dumb Siri Remote.

There are references inside the latest tvOS 14.5 beta that suggest support for a 120Hz screen refresh rate.

Could the next AppleTV be a stealth video game console?

It makes sense. Few people buy smartphones to play games, but they will play them if they are available. Perhaps the same is true for TV set-top boxes. Or perhaps Apple Arcade will be the factor that finally justifies the Apple TVs frankly absurd price.

This last possibility relies on Apple Arcade developing a solid library of games. Bringing Fruit Ninja back from the dead is great for the iPhone and iPad, but is that enough for a more “serious” game console?

I don't think Apple really needs to compete in this arena. People who buy this product are going to buy it because it's Apple...not because they're wanting to replace a traditional gaming console.

The answer may be that an Apple TV doesn’t need to be "serious." It could do for living-room gaming what the iPhone did for mobile gaming.

"I feel personally more attracted to the Apple Arcade because they have more of a variety pack of games to choose from," artist and programmer Tyrone Evans Clark told Lifewire via email.

"Nintendo's Switch Game Store has a limited number of games, and they are mostly predominantly Nintendo brands such as anything relating to the characters Mario, Zelda, Pokémon, etc. Apple Arcade, on the other hand, has a little bit of everything for everyone."

Apple has never been interested in courting the big game developers that make AAA titles for Xbox and PlayStation. One look at how it treats iOS and Mac App Store developers, in general, tells you all you need to know about Apple’s attitude toward developer relations.

But it doesn’t need those big titles to succeed in the living room. It just needs the same fun, easy-to-play titles it has on iOS, only perhaps built for multiple players so they can enjoy the bigger screen. And Apple Arcade is perfect for exactly that.

Was this page helpful?