Apple Arcade offers up a ton of cool mobile games for only 5 bucks a month. The price seems more than fair from the player side, and it helps that these games aren’t packed with microtransactions, since they’re already funded by the subscription fee. But is that subscription model actually sustainable? And do we want to see other game stores heading in this direction? On this week’s Kotaku Splitscreen, Kirk and I discuss.
First up, we talk about games we’re playing. Kirk and I are both living our best (horrible) goose lives in Untitled Goose Game, and Kirk’s also stuck on a hard boss in Gears 5. He then runs down his favorite offerings in Apple Arcade before we break for news (31:04) about the Oculus Quest, discuss the sustainability of Apple Arcade, and read a bunch of listener emails about weird gaming traditions. We close with off-topic discussion (59:54) about Dark Crystal, Hustlers, and Kirk’s music pick.
Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt below.
Kirk: Apple Arcade. The first thing that’s cool about this, I think, is that for the first time since I can’t remember when, it feels like mobile games are something that I have any interest in talking about. There’s a lot of people talking about this and writing about it. That, to me, feels remarkable. When was the last time anything related to mobile gaming felt vital or important?
Maddy: Or encroached upon the games journalism world of what we talk about. For better or worse, I feel like usually the mobile game conversation is people trying to convince the greater gamer audience: “No, this one’s really good!” Every now and then, one will rise above. Monument Valley is a good example. There have been a few other mobile games that encroach into that area.
This is such a huge amount of games that it’s undeniable in some way. I see people who I’ve never seen talk or write about mobile games, and their Twitters and articles are now full of, “But seriously though, this Apple Arcade stuff is really cool!” That is wild to see.
Kirk: There was this period of time, I think before your time, when we did Kotaku Mobile.
Maddy: [Laughs.] Definitely before my time.
Kirk: It was quite a ways back, I guess. Kotaku Mobile was always this interesting challenge. I think Kotaku Social also existed, and Mike Fahey was sort of shepherding both. He did a ton of work; he played all of these games and wrote about them. But it was really tricky to get people to care, because even then, there was always this feeling that mobile games are all kind of trash. They all have these built-in microtransactions.
There were so many headlines that were, “This one’s different!” Which, like you said, often that would be the case. There’d be really cool games that would be on mobile. Like Reigns, I remember when I first played Reigns. This game is so cool, works perfectly on a phone. It’s a really brilliant game. You want to say to people, “Ah, this one’s different,” but then they hear that so many times. The whole thing is a cesspool. As the years went on, I just stopped thinking about it or caring really. I have all these games on my phone; some of them are really good, and I can’t play them anywhere else. But I just don’t care.
It’s remarkable that Apple put all of this stuff together and dropped this meteor on everyone in order to make everybody pay attention again. And it really worked, because the games are all really good, and it gives you this alternate reality where mobile gaming didn’t just become this bummer cesspool of knockoffs and IP stealing and free-to-play psychology games. Instead it’s just a bunch of the best kinds of mobile games. I think that’s the remarkable thing about this. I don’t know who at Apple was in charge of this; Apple is super opaque.
Maddy: Yeah, we’ll probably never know.
Kirk: Maybe not. At least if they talk a little more about the process of this—because no one else is really positioned to do something like this. And it feels different. It feels like something I’ve never quite seen in video games before.
Maddy: The big “but” there is the fact that you still haven’t paid for any of the games that you’ve gotten on the service yet. And that is the question that everyone has about this, which is, how is this a sustainable model? And is it a sustainable model? It’s not why I haven’t gotten it, but it’s definitely a question that’s lurking in the back of my mind. We touched on it a little bit last week. I have guilt about these kinds of services and our new subscription-flavored future. I don’t think I can do anything about it, but I don’t love it.
Kirk: Your guilt is related to what exactly?
Maddy: I feel like I actually have started to devalue a lot of pieces of media in ways that I didn’t do when I was growing up in the ’90s. I used to go to Blockbuster and spend a couple of bucks on renting a movie. But nowadays, I don’t want to spend 5 dollars on “renting” a movie from iTunes. I just don’t. I’d rather watch a different movie on a subscription service that I pay for than pay not that much more money to rent a movie. Why is that? That’s interesting. That’s clearly a mental change in me that I’ve observed.
I feel similarly about games. Like Jason was saying before, mobile games in particular have just been framed as ephemeral and valueless for so long that it’s taking a lot for me to get over that mental hurdle and be like, they actually are a thing I should be paying for! And I actually probably always should have been paying five dollars for each of these games, if that were ever possible. But that wasn’t. It was not something that those games could do, because they knew I wouldn’t pay for them, so they structured themselves in such a way that I didn’t have to.
I’ve gotten hours of enjoyment out of the Harry Potter game [for mobile] and I’ve not spent a dime on it, so my enjoyment is basically something that I’m having at expense of the whales out there who are funding this game. That’s not a great feeling for me to have about the creation of that game, putting aside any other concerns I might have about that game and its location services. I have other ethical concerns about that game and how it’s funded. So then I’m like, OK, cool, in theory Apple Arcade is the answer to my problems. It’s a subscription service. Mentally, I’ve already accepted that subscription services are a thing I’m willing to pay for. But am I paying enough for them? That’s not a problem I can solve individually. It’s just something I’m thinking about.
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