Apple is sitting on an unproven marketplace, where it’s planning to charge $5 a month for access to a library of more than 100 games on limited platforms. It’s unclear what will resonate with this group of players or how the service will hold up in real-world situations. Given enough incentive, any studio could create a game only for Apple Arcade, though it makes sense that right now, many aren’t willing to risk unleashing bold new ideas on an untested market. Rather, recent competition among platform holders is driving better deals for developers, and there’s simply no reason to risk everything on Apple Arcade.
Exclusivity is a critical facet of the gaming economy. Sony and Microsoft have long battled to own major, genre-defining franchises that push players to buy their hardware specifically. To get players on PlayStation, Sony has Final Fantasy, The Last of Us and God of War. To entice Xbox players, Microsoft has Halo, Gears of War and Forza. Nintendo, of course, has an extensive lineup of proprietary games in the Mario, Zelda and all-things-adorable universes, driving players to its own consoles.
This phenomenon is finally playing out in PC gaming, thanks to the introduction of the Epic Games Store. For more than a decade, Steam had an essential monopoly over the PC gaming ecosystem; “coming to PC” was synonymous with “coming to Steam.” Epic launched its own Games Store at the tail end of 2018, and, backed by the financial power of Fortnite, the Unreal Engine and Tencent Games, it started gobbling up timed and full exclusives. Steam has real competition, and Epic is using its position to offer developers a better business deal while pushing for Steam to adopt the same model.
Apple has experience with this push-and-pull, considering its history of competition with Android. However, with more platform options than ever before and the steady rise of subscription services like EA’s Project Atlas, Microsoft’s Project xCloud and Google Stadia, Apple Arcade is going live within a brand new gaming marketplace. It needs exclusive content to be competitive.
Apple Arcade is getting a lot of great games. It’s even getting some great-looking exclusive games — the company just needs to tell everyone about them, if it wants this new subscription service to thrive.