Apple “gets” games again

For a few years now, some people have been saying that Apple doesn’t “get” games. Reportedly Steve Jobs himself wasn’t too fond of games as a medium; Apple’s dedicated gaming device, Pippin, released in 1996, failed; and Mac has long lost the status of a truly credible core gaming platform which it arguably was in the 90s. Most recently, Apple has struggled with turning Apple TV into a capable gaming device — it was too slow with allowing third party controllers and removing some software limitations. All around, it felt that Apple just didn’t really care about games the way it’s always cared about music or TV — even though games have long been the highest grossing and extremely successful app category on the App Store and generated billions for the company.

But things changed. Today, it feels again that Apple not only cares, but loves games and the potential of the medium, and there are now many people at Apple who deeply get what video games are and can be.

The main indication of this revitalized love and care for games is the recently launched subscription service Apple Arcade. When it was announced, I was skeptical both because it didn’t feel particularly innovative technically, and because I was (and still am) unsure of the product-market fit, potential churn rate, and long-term sustainability of Arcade. Apple Arcade might still end up being neglected and forgotten a year or two from now. But so far, this service has exceeded my expectations — and more importantly, it shows how much Apple actually knows and gets games.

Overland

If you are a gamer, no matter how much you loved your Apple gear, there was just no strong reason to do much of your gaming on a Mac, iPad or Apple TV. The catalogue of games on the Mac pales in comparison with what you can play on a Windows PC, Apple TV’s selection of games has been quite underwhelming, and sure, there are bunch of great and very successful mobile games on iOS App Store, but few of them came close to the level of production and ambition console games offer. With Apple Arcade, things have started to change. For just $4,99 a month, you get access to more than 100 quality games, many of which are surprisingly engaging and deep — not typical mobile games chart toppers you usually think of.

Overland is a fun resource management and survival tactical game set in a post-apocalyptic USA. Mini Motorways is a smart and addictive sequel to Mini Metro that tasks you with an impossible challenge of maintaining traffic and communication infrastructure in an ever-growing city. Manifold Garden is a puzzler that allows you to alter gravity and navigate psychedelic colorful landscapes. The Bradwell Conspiracy is a first-person action adventure where you find yourself in a collapsed research facility and need to figure out what happened and how to escape. There are dozens of similarly creative, interesting games on Arcade, and hopefully more will come.

Many Apple Arcade games are available on Windows and consoles as well, so they are not full exclusives. But this is the point — these games are not “just” simple mobile games, in fact, many of them are so compelling and complex that they would fit with traditionally more hardcore gaming platforms and audiences. The Bradwell Conspiracy, for example, is immersive enough that it would benefit from a big screen and dark room set-up. With iOS and tvOS now fully supporting DualShock and Xbox One controllers, you can play these games on your TV, if touch controls on your iPad screen is not enough for you.

The Bradwell Conspiracy

With Arcade, Apple didn’t just go to a bunch of established iOS developers and ask them to create a few exclusive games. Instead, the company reportedly hired people from the core games industry and reached out to the biggest publishers and indie developers not all necessarily known as primarily mobile games makers, but also those who became known on consoles and PCs as well — such as Chucklefish or Bossa Studios. Apple did impressive amount of homework ahead of Arcade’s launch — they did it right.

Apple Arcade could’ve been a soulless attempt from a huge tech company at pretending to do games by the book and by the numbers — in reality it’s the opposite of that. And it feels that the company’s care for games as a medium doesn’t stop at just Arcade. Apple now designs for and targets at games industry professionals and gamers as much as they’ve always catered to music and film industries. The launch video for the just-released 16-inch MacBook Pro features Laure De Mey, a developer from ustwo games, alongside a photographer, a music producer, and a visual effects artist. Previously, famous game director Hideo Kojima was featured alongside J.J. Abrams in another Mac commercial, “Behind the Mac”.

But this could only be the beginning of Apple’s new-found spotlight on games. Recently, The Information and Bloomberg reported that Apple is working on an AR/VR-headset, planned for 2022 release, which could be heavily focused on gaming. If Apple indeed sees games as an instrumental factor behind their upcoming technologies and products, it’s indeed about time they started showing that they fully “get” games.