Earlier this year, Apple reportedly canceled several contracts for games that were set to launch on Arcade, the company’s game subscription service known for its library of high-quality titles that don’t have ads or in-app purchases. It allegedly canceled each of them for the same reason: Apple wants new games that will keep players coming back to the service.
A report from Bloomberg notes that an Arcade executive told some developers who were on contract that Apple is seeking out games that have a high level of “engagement,” as it was put by one of the publication’s sources. For developers wondering where Apple’s bar for engagement currently lies, the report mentions that an Apple Arcade representative cited Grindstone, Capybara Games’ charming, multilevel puzzler, as a model example.
According to this report, Apple paid the affected studios for meeting development milestones, and it told developers that it would work with them in the future if they meet Apple’s requirement for engagement. However, Bloomberg mentions that some of these developers faced financial woes as a result of the canceled contracts. Presumably, these games are allowed to release on other platforms, like Google’s similar Play Pass service for Android devices, though that may not be enough to recoup the losses. According to my colleague Andrew Webster’s interview with indie developers who published games on Apple Arcade, Play Pass pays developers based on user engagement metrics, whereas Apple negotiates deals with developers for their games.
The reason why Apple may be changing its requirements at all almost certainly comes down to keeping subscribers. Arcade had a lot of momentum in late 2019, partially helped by a free one-month trial that came as an introductory offer with the service, which otherwise costs $4.99 each month or $49.99 per year. The other big component of that momentum, of course, came from the excellent games, most of which are exclusive to the platform.
How exactly Apple measures engagement in its upcoming games might change the kinds of games we’ll see coming to the service. It’s hard to see Apple walking back on requiring no ads or microtransactions, but it could mean that shorter games, like ustwo’s Assemble with Care, may not fit within Apple’s new direction for engagement. It could also mean fewer games, but for Apple’s sake, hopefully there will be some good ones in the mix.