Game

Premium games for minimal outlay – it’s like living the gaming dream

The race to the bottom in the App Store’s early days was swift and brutal – especially for games. We quickly reached the point where ‘premium’ titles cost just a few bucks – the same as budget games in the 1980s. Then countless players refused to pay anything at all, resulting in ‘free’ games packed full of in-app purchases, with an experience heavily reliant on ‘grind or pay’ mechanics.

Two services – Apple Arcade and GameClub – recently launched and instantly changed the mobile gaming landscape. Both are all-you-can-eat subscriptions. Each charges five bucks a month, for which you get access to the service’s entire catalog. Every game within has no advertising, no IAPs, and can be played offline. This is premium gaming without a premium price tag.

The ethereal and beautiful Lifelike, on Apple Arcade

Although these services are competitors, they currently have different target markets. Apple looks to snare anyone who wants modern, quality titles that mostly tend toward family-friendly fare. GameClub has spent many hours resurrecting and updating games that had long departed the App Store, and provides a glimpse into the best of the platform’s gaming past. In an iOS sense, it’s retro.

Both services offer strong value for money, especially Apple Arcade, which has blazed past 100 games. Some exist on other platforms, but if you were to pay for a dozen of those that do, the same outlay would get you at least three years of continuous access to Apple Arcade – during which time yet more new titles would arrive.

What’s less clear is what this all means for the future. GameClub has the harder battle ahead. It’s up against Apple Arcade, has fewer games, and – for obvious reasons – is unlikely to be featured by Apple on the App Store. But a hardcore following and key titles like Super Crate Box, Minigore, and Forget-Me-Not in its library might be enough. As for Apple, it surprised everyone in finally getting gaming right: Apple Arcade games are mostly good; you can connect a PS4 or Xbox One controller; and cloud sync lets you pick up games started earlier on another device.

Neon retro shooty thrills in GameClub’s Forget-Me-Not

Concerns remain. Perhaps now Apple’s hit 100 games, the catalog will eventually stagnate. Access for even the best developers is a lottery – many games creators who deserve a shot on Apple Arcade may never get the chance. GameClub has plans for the future that may provide an opportunity for such overlooked game developers, but it’s unclear how rapidly the service will grow. Either way, it’s hard to see how the dwindling number of premium gaming titles on the App Store won’t fall even further, and so these services may become increasingly important as time moves on.

As for exploitative, grindy freemium games, they’ll stick around like a bad smell. But games offering monthly VIP subscriptions higher than Apple Arcade’s monthly price now look ridiculous; and games that shove ads in your face every few minutes feel deeply unpleasant when you have a taste of what mobile gaming can be like without such user-hostile horrors.

It’s too much to think such games will change overnight – or even at all – but they do at least now have effective, very affordable competition. And for a great many people who’ve tried and enjoyed Apple Arcade, they’ll look at that five bucks per month family subscription and reason that there’s no going back.