2020 has been a big year for video games and video game systems. It might not feel like that because of a certain other issue that’s dominated the news all year so far, but a lot of happened within the gaming industry this year. We’ve seen the current generation of video game consoles reach the end of their shelf life, and we stand on the verge of a whole new era with the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X. We’ve seen Amazon unexpectedly get involved in the emerging market of video game streaming, too – and who can honestly say they saw that coming? This industry has really seen some big changes. Another change that has happened in this industry is the rise of computer gaming. Many people have found that the new gaming consoles were priced unnecessarily high, so people had to find other ways to game. This led to some people finding out how to download roms on their computers. This allows people to play older video games from their computers. This saves them a lot of money and gives them many more games to play.
Because of all the attention that’s been focused on those headline announcements, you might have missed a few things that have been going on at the lower end of the gaming ladder, among the companies that aren’t lucky enough to control such a large share of the market. We’ve seen Nvidia launch a streaming platform called GeForce Now and then immediately run into trouble after being accused of not seeking licenses for the games that were streamed on the platform. We’ve seen Google slowly start to rebuild the reputation of its Stadia platform by launching a free tier and expanding the number of games available to those who do pay for a subscription. We’ve also seen Apple struggle to generate interest in its Apple Arcade service – but that might be about to change.
Thus far, Apple has struggled to find a foothold in what’s become an extremely competitive video game streaming market. To all intents and purposes, the streaming platforms offer a service that’s similar to an online slots website. As anyone who likes to gamble in their spare time knows, online slots websites like Money Reels stack as many games as can onto their platforms and then invite players to sign up and play them in one place. In most cases, the slots you’ll find on those online slots websites are identical. Where they try to distinguish themselves is through promotions, incentives, and loyalty schemes. That’s why Google introduced its free tier and started supporting 4K streams. That’s why Amazon has launched the concept of channels maintained by video game developers. Amazon had hoped that it would distinguish itself from the pack by offering ‘classic style’ family-friendly games, but that’s turned out to be a commercial dead end.
As long ago as June, there were suggestions in the press that Apple’s upper management was growing tired of Apple Arcade’s direction. They were reported to be frustrated that the platform was yet to spawn a ‘viral hit’ in the style of “Animal Crossings” and questioned the wisdom of financially supporting dozens of different developers without a clear focus on “stand out” titles or eye-catching brands. By July, it was said that the company’s focus had entirely changed, with several developers dropped and those who had survived the purge told to focus on quality rather than quantity. The ‘retro’ feel of the platform’s output was apparently going to become a thing of the past. From now on, Apple Arcade’s small but loyal customer base would get exclusive video game experiences that could be compared to anything they’d get by signing up for a rival service.
So far, this new direction has failed to translate into sales or subscriptions. The market is crowded, and gamers only have so much money to spend. With new consoles about to launch and huge amounts of money about to be spent on them, and Apple Arcade subscription isn’t a high priority for the majority of gamers. Apple is now confident that it has games worthy of paying a subscription for, but it’s struggling to persuade people to give the platform a try and find out what they’ve been missing out on. To that end, they’re going to start giving Apple Arcade subscriptions away with pretty much every Apple product, and with near-immediate effect.
In a company statement, Apple has confirmed that every customer who buys a new Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple TV subscription from October 22nd onward will also receive a free three-month subscription to Apple Arcade, granting access to more than one hundred games that can be played through the device they’ve just purchased. This is similar to the tactic that the company used when it launched Apple TV, although in that case, the free subscription lasted for a full year. As an added incentive, the free Apple Arcade subscription can be shared with up to five people. It appears that Apple has decided that the best way forward for the struggling platform is to get as many people playing with it free of charge as possible and hope that a significant percentage of them decide to keep their subscription after the three-month trial comes to an end.
This is one of two ways that Apple is about to try to push an Apple Arcade subscription on you. The other is through its forthcoming “Apple One” scheme, which bundles together access to every Apple subscription service for a heavily discounted price. A date hasn’t been given for the launch of the service yet, but it’s understood to be coming before the end of 2020. For $14.95 per month, Apple will provide access to Apple TV Plus, Apple News Plus, Apple Music, additional iCloud storage, and of course, Apple Arcade. In both scenarios, the idea is to put access to Apple Arcade in the hands of people who would never normally think of buying it or perhaps weren’t even aware that it existed.
Obviously, not everyone who takes advantage of the free trial will stick around when the three months are over, and some of those who get access won’t even use it. Not everybody is a gamer. Somewhere within Apple HQ, a percentage has been identified as the ideal take-up level, and the company will find out whether they’ve reached it just in time for Christmas. If they have, we can probably expect Apple Arcade to be a significant focus for the business through 2021 and beyond. If they don’t, we may need to question whether Apple Arcade has a future as a concept at all. The platform now has the games that it needs in order to succeed – let’s see if it’s capable of attracting and holding the attention of players.