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Apple Arcade, Apple's new game service, could change the way you play on your phone

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Ann Thai reveals Apple Arcade’s launch on September 19, featuring over 100 new and exclusive games. Image: Apple

On Sept. 19, Apple (AAPL) will officially launch Apple Arcade, the company's new game subscription service. Available for $4.99 a month, with a 1-month free trial, Apple Arcade gives users access to more than 100 games across their iOS, macOS, iPadOS, and Apple TV devices.

It's a first-of-its-kind service for mobile games, giving users the ability to download as many games from the Arcade as they want, without having to pay any of those in-game microtransactions like you otherwise would with titles like "Candy Crush."

I spent time playing some of the launch titles for Apple Arcade, and Apple has managed to put together a compelling list of offerings that are sure to please gamers looking for more from mobile games than having to pay $0.99 to play each level. As for game developers, Arcade could give them the means to reach an audience they may never have been able to before.

Games on the go

Apple Arcade will live as a new tab in the App Store. When you're subscribed, you'll be able to browse games, and download the ones you want to try. Importantly, every game in Apple Arcade has to be playable offline. That means you'll be able to download your games and play them on the subway or on a flight without having to worry about an internet connection.

Konami brand manager Benjamin Kinney demos “Frogger in Toy Town,” a reimagining of the classic game available only on Apple Arcade. Image: Apple

That's a big benefit right out of the gate, because many games force you to stay online to play, or they simply won't work.

Games available for Apple Arcade exist across a spectrum of exclusivity for the service. There are games that are exclusively available on mobile via Apple Arcade, but still available on consoles like the Nintendo SwitchSony's PlayStation 4, or Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox One, on one end of the spectrum. And then there are those that are only available on Apple Arcade full-stop.

The vast majority of Apple Arcade games can also be played across devices, and are tied to your Apple ID. So if you start a game on your iPhone, you can pick up on your iPad, Apple TV, or Mac, right where you left off. What's more, if you play on your Apple TV or iPad, you can use your existing PlayStation 4 or Xbox One controller rather than shelling out cash for a new third-party controller.

What it's like to play

I got to demo a number of games that will be available at launch for Apple Arcade, and found them incredibly diverse from a gameplay perspective, as well as in artistic direction and narrative styles. The first game I tried was "Skate City" from developer Snowman.

Capcom producer Peter Fabiano introduces the Apple Arcade exclusive, “Shinsekai: Into the Depths,” an undersea platformer.

A side-scrolling, 2-D skate game, Skate City enables you to travel through each level performing tricks by flicking your left or right joystick in a particular direction. If you're using an iPhone or iPad, you flick your fingers in a direction on the right or left side of the screen to do tricks.

I also demoed "Overland," by Finji. A turn-based strategy game, "Overland" sees the player attempt to navigate across the U.S. following the apocalypse. You do this by driving from one location to the next, each a small playable area where you can interact with every item. This game's sandbox play style and changing levels alone make it worth checking out.

On the more experimental side of things is RAC7's "Spek." A game with both standard and AR elements, the title allows you to manipulate geometric objects as you guide a glowing spek around its edges in order to collect glowing fragments.

It's a one-dimensional journey through the two-dimensional outline of a three-dimensional world. You know what? It's probably best if you check it out yourself.

RAC7 also demoed its second Apple Arcade game "Sneaky Sasquatch." This title puts you in the role of a mischievous big foot as you stealthily make your way around a national park, stealing food from campers and completing missions for animals without being caught by the park ranger or campers.

It's a cute, silly game with a lot to do — eventually you'll end up at the DMV — and something that gamers of any age can jump into and play.

It’s clear that Apple is working to ensure it has a wide variety of games and game types available on Arcade for launch.

Developer impact

Arcade will generate services revenue for Apple, but it could also be a boon for developers. The company is providing material support to developers that's through funding or help with development as they put their titles together, and is offering them a large platform to stand out.

Full-pay games, those without microtransactions or that don't use a free-to-play model, face an uphill battle when it comes to getting consumers' attention. That's because free-to-play games are specifically designed to draw in users by letting them play a few levels without paying a thing, then charging them once they're addicted to the gameplay. They also generate sizable revenue when done right.

But those types of games generally don't afford the kind of narratives or cohesive structure that full-pay games do. Apple Arcade will let developers build out the kinds of titles they want without having to choose between using a free-to-play structure, or worrying about being found by users.

Of course, there are certain to be some developers who choose not to push their titles into Apple Arcade and go it alone in the App Store.

At $4.99, Apple's offering is certainly more affordable than purchasing several games each month. And with the ability to download as many as you want, it's almost too hard to pass up.

So far, I've only been able to play a handful of the titles that are expected to come to the service, so I can't say if it's worth signing up right out of the gate just yet. Stay tuned for a full review after Apple Arcade launches on Sept. 19.

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