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Apple Arcade could have huge consequences for the iOS app ecosystem

Apple Arcade could have huge consequences for the iOS app ecosystem


The App Store changed games, it’s sure to happen again

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Apple Arcade

I think that when we look back at 2019’s iPhone keynote, the most consequential part of it may very well be the pricing for Apple Arcade: $4.99 per month.*

From a consumer perspective, it’s just a killer deal. Apple plans on getting more than 100 games in there eventually, but the initial game lineup looks surprisingly excellent, as Chaim Gartenberg writes.

The quality of this lineup is even better than it might appear at first blush, too. That’s because of Apple’s more stringent requirements for getting into its Netflix-for-games system. The most important one is that there are no scammy in-app purchases, but I also heard from some developers that Apple has more stringent privacy protections.

If you haven’t looked into it, you would be completely shocked at how much gameplay data lots of iPhone games collect — and not just for advertising. They do it so they can collect analytics on where players get stuck, or to optimize their in-app purchase flow, or for other reasons I can’t imagine. Some apps were even using secret screen recordings until Apple figured it out and cracked down on that earlier this year.

Apple Arcade has stricter privacy standards than the rest of the App Store, and my understanding is that making and distributing games via Arcade works much more like the pre-analytics world: make a good game, play test it, put it into the world.

Privacy aside, the possible effects Apple Arcade could have on the entire iOS app ecosystem are just fascinating. We’ve seen several App Store epochs already: The early rush. The rush to the bottom. The increase of scammy in-app purchases. The experiments with subscriptions. Apple Arcade could be the beginning of a new epoch, one where developers could find a more humane way of making money off their games.

Or not! Andrew Webster wrote an excellent piece about developers’ cautiously optimistic view of Apple Arcade when it was first announced in May. But there are so many more ecosystem questions we don’t know the answer to! Here’s a tiny sample:

  • We don’t really know how developers are getting paid from Apple Arcade. One lump sum? Per download? What happens when developers want to put out a significant update?
  • What sort of marketing will developers want to do to ensure they hit their numbers?
  • How do developers get into Apple Arcade in the first place?
  • If Apple Arcade becomes dominant, do we really want Apple’s sensibilities to have that much sway over the games we play? Games are a huge part of culture, after all.
  • Will developers find they make enough money to stay in? Does it matter? Apple is clearly funding the development of some of these games, so the economics of game development could end up becoming totally unpredictable.
  • Do we want to go back to the pre-iPhone days of mobile app development where developers spent their time trying to please large corporations (it was carriers then, it could be Apple now) instead of the end user? Would that happen?
  • How will Apple Arcade affect the development of future games? We’ve seen the App Store itself lead to all sorts of weird game mechanics, like games that give you a limited number of turns per day unless you pony up for more.
  • How will developers convince Apple to give them premium placement within the Arcade section of the App Store? Or do downloads and popularity not matter as much in this subscription world?
  • How long will Apple Arcade stay at $4.99?

Apple operates at such a large scale that every policy it institutes is almost guaranteed to have unintended consequences. The answer to any one of those questions could end up shaking up entire industries. I don’t expect even Apple could know how this will all shake out.

What I can tell you is that the first batch of games is excellent. I’ve played eight or so of them and they’re the kind of games you want to imagine would be super popular on iPhones: beautiful, clever, and fun. I’m sure there are plenty of duds in there, but I would have spent five or ten bucks on several of the games in the bundle already.

Apple Arcade is already live for iOS 13 beta testers and launches officially on September 19th. I suspect it’s going to be a massive hit — what that ends up meaning for developers and the iOS ecosystem is anybody’s guess.

* One small sidebar about prices: I’m feeling ever queasier about only listing subscription prices at their monthly rate. It’s useful for consumers to put in relative context to other services because that’s how everybody lists their subscription prices. But it’s also not a useful context in terms of thinking about whether a subscription delivers enough value to justify its price. I much prefer to list things at a yearly price.

For example: Apple Arcade is a steal at $60 per year — about the cost of a AAA console game. On the other end of the equation, the “Premium” version of Netflix costs $84 more per year than the basic plan — is that worth it? Apple Music is $9.99 per month, which doesn’t feel like a meaningful amount of money to most people — but $120 definitely does, and it’s easier to put in the context of whatever your larger financial goals are.

Anyway, no easy answers here except that whenever you see a monthly price, I encourage you to immediately multiply it by 12. You’ll get a better sense of its true cost in your life and you’ll get to practice your math skills.

Upcoming tech events

Google announced an October 15th hardware event for Pixel 4, which is today’s other big piece of tech news.

The most surprising thing about this announcement is that it didn’t leak a thousand times. I’m also intrigued by the tagline: “Come see a few new things Made by Google” (capitalization theirs). We very obviously know the Pixel 4 is coming — heck, we know so much it’s getting to be exhausting — but what else will there be? Chris Welch puts his money on new Nest Home products and a Pixelbook 2. The former would be fine, the latter would make me very happy. Anything that puts the Pixel Slate behind us is good.

Someone sent Jake Kastrenakes 21 more pictures of the leaked Pixel 4 XL and there are a few tiny new details in those photos. At this point, Google could just walk onstage, say the price, and walk offstage. It would be cheeky, which falls in line with Google’s whole “let’s leak this thing ourselves” vibe. Also, it would harken back to Sony’s famous 1995 three-word E3 speech for the PlayStation. There’s no way Google actually does this, but if it does it’ll make our live blog really short and easy.

+ Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 may include a new 15-inch model

+ Microsoft, we haven’t even made it through a quarter of this fall’s tech event schedule, please have more chill: Microsoft’s annual Build developer conference kicks off on May 19th

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