There’s often a line to use the iPad Pro in my house, and it’s all Apple Arcade’s fault.
When the subscription gaming service first launched back in September, it seemed like an impossibly good deal. Here were nearly 100 new games from the developers behind titles like Monument Valley and Alto’s Adventure, all free of ads and microtransactions, for $5 a month. It felt like Apple Arcade had instantly become the place you went to find the best new mobile games. With premium titles dying and free-to-play experiences dominating the App Store — and the industry at large — it was a welcome change.
That’s all still largely true. Since launch, Arcade has added excellent titles like Guildlings, Pilgrims, and the surprisingly sweet Lego game Builder’s Journey. But it has also grown into something else: it might just be the ideal gaming service for families and young children.
That becomes apparent when you look at some of the recent launches on the service. There’s Butter Royale, a quirky, nonviolent take on Fortnite, or last week’s debut of Crossy Road Castle, a simple, colorful, and surprisingly addictive platformer. In the former, you lob globs of ketchup and popcorn at opponents dressed as chickens and aliens; in the latter, you guide cats and unicorns through a maze-like castle filled with rainbows and spikes. My kids were particularly excited when a game based on their favorite Nickelodeon show, The Loud House, popped up in Arcade.
These games are all fun and approachable, but more importantly — because of the way that Apple Arcade works — they’re also experiences that I don’t need to worry about. And not just because they’re family-friendly content-wise (though that’s a relief as well). If these games had been on pretty much any other platform, they’d be rife with all kinds of virtual currencies and different ways to buy things in-game. But that doesn’t exist on Apple Arcade.
I’m not entirely against the concept of free-to-play games — I play Fortnite almost every day — but it can be exhausting. It’s especially problematic when you factor in young kids who don’t necessarily understand that real money is involved. But if my kids sit down to play an hour of Crossy Road Castle, it’s not something I have to think about at all. I can help guide them past tricky jumps, not work around pay-to-win schemes.
It’s also something that benefits developers and, in theory, leads to better games. “It’s creating a space where you can take risks,” Andrew Schimmel, producer at Alto developer Snowman, told me back in October. “You don’t have to think about the monetization model as you’re designing.” Similarly, Simon Davis, CEO of Butter Royale studio Mighty Bear Games, told me last month that “one of the beauties of being on a subscription service is that you don’t have to worry about monetization. You just focus on creating the best possible experience for everyone.”
As subscription services become more normalized — something that’s already happening, thanks to offerings like Xbox Game Pass — we’re getting closer to having something akin to Netflix for games. But Netflix didn’t just explode in popularity because of its low price and big-name shows; it also appeals to multiple demographics. Sure, The Witcher might get the headlines, but in my house, shows like Hilda and Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts are the main draw.
Apple Arcade is turning into something similar. It has the big names, with exclusive titles developed by mobile standouts like Ustwo, Zach Gage, and Amanita Design. But slowly, those indie gems are being balanced out by other types of experiences, like multiplayer titles and family-friendly fare. The headliners lured me into subscribing, but it’s the breadth that has kept me around.
Really, the only drawback is that my iPad constantly needs to be charged.