For Better or Worse, 2019 was the Year of Apple Arcade

By Jarrett Green 30 Dec 2019 0

It’s impossible to talk about the mobile platform in 2019 without ending up in the realm of the Apple Arcade. There’s big mobile news that goes ignored by mainstream outlets all the time, but Apple’s video game Netflix was something that we can all agree is among the biggest news to ever hit mobile games.

It started with the lightning shock from 2018, when Apple decided to kill their App Affiliate Program. This used to provide sites that covered mobile games a percentage of app revenue for every app bought through links featured in an article on their platforms. This was a large source of revenue for a lot of mobile-centric sites, and really challenged the landscape of mobile editorial even more than it normally was. (Although we've managed to survive quite well without it, losing that revenue was a shame-ED).

But why do it? Back when the internet was the wild west, the value of mobile sites was undeniable. Curation by affiliates through features and reviews on sites like the one you’re reading now remains a big part of how premium games find people, and vice versa. The explosive rise of the free to play sector made it extremely difficult to make that previous arrangement consistently profitable. In-game revenue through ads and microtransactions became the new norm, and Apple moved on to find ways to make the most out of those profits instead. They have the reach and resources to recentralize curation internally, these days.

Evidenced initially by the change in the App Store, which runs its own sort of features daily, pointing users towards games that the Apple staff thinks are worth the time and money. In doing the job we used to do for them themselves, they have more direct control over how people get funnelled into certain game pages, or towards certain developers. Why would they want to do that?

is this fortnite

Because the rumbling thunder of Apple Arcade was set to echo through the industry. The free to play market created a blessing and a curse for the App Store. Top grossing games like Clash of Clans and Fortnite make TONS of money. But the glut of games released seemingly daily that attempt to chase that dragon created a mire where it's near impossible to find a game of quality on your own. Controlling the conversation is one step towards bring clarity back to the storefront. The next step? Curating and publishing the games yourself.

Apple Arcade launched to great fanfare, and much of it deserved. Many of the launch titles were top notch, and it brought an energy to the mobile games discourse that had not existed in a long time. Many of these new games sit well represented on my Game of the Year list.

Capy’s Grindstone is a clever take on the match-3 puzzle game. Matching is the basis of play, but you’re not limited to just three. You can chop through as many matching gems as you can connect, killing monsters and toppling obstacles on your way through various worlds. It’s clever RPG implementation, and its gradual difficulty curve helps keep you coming back.

Card of Darkness, by famed mobile game developer Zach Gage, is a compelling card game that constantly challenges your risk management and organization skills. A 4x4 grid full of different stacks of cards separates you from the exit. Each stack is a space to move into, and you must draw through every card in it before you can move on. In the stacks are monsters, weapons, items, and spells, all of which can help or hurt you. Choosing how to proceed based on your draws, and deciding when to risk what you have versus new, untapped stacks is a great blend of casino game odds busting, and adventure game exploration.

Bleak Sword is an isometric action game that invokes the patient Dark Souls, block and riposte combat to the best of its ability. Combat is quick and deadly, and progression takes the best parts of modern roguelikes and distills it to something great to pick up and play in short bursts.

It’s still too soon to really know the full ramifications of this storm on the rest of the industry. There have already been responses to the Arcade in forms like Google’s Play Pass. But bigger questions have yet to be answered. How does this effect developers and how they choose to release their product? Can they really compete on the App Store and not be part of the Apple Arcade brand? How are these folks getting compensated for their games showing up in this program? Will this really spark a drive to develop premium games again?

2019 was a year that felt like multiple years, but it still wasn’t long enough to answer any of these questions. Hopefully, 2020 will prove if this can really reinvigorate the platform.

What have you thought about Apple Arcade since it launched? Let us know in the comments!

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