Game Developers Describe 'Smell of Death' Around Apple Arcade

Some game developers are dissatisfied with Apple Arcade amid concerns about the subscription service's future, a new report claims.

Sources speaking to described a "smell of death" around Apple's games subscription service and noted the difference between the company's investment in TV and music, and its interest in games. "At the very top of the company there needs to be a passion and respect for games, and there just isn't," one developer said. "It all depends on how much buy-in there is from those guys at the top, and I don't think they really value Arcade or invest in it the same way you see them invest in music or TV."

The service initially touted generous upfront payments to developers. Most games released on ‌Apple Arcade‌ in the service's first few years were apparently profitable, providing a lifeline for studios. "Despite its imperfections, we're very very happy Arcade exists. It has made premium games viable on mobile," one games studio executive said, explaining that their company would not exist without Apple's support.

The report claims that ‌Apple Arcade‌'s payouts to developers have been falling for several years, noticeably starting in October 2020. Both upfront payments and the per-play "bonus pool" have shrunk, and Apple is said to be evasive about how these sums are calculated. "They have this opaque metric that they call a qualifying session, and bonus pool payments are made based on that," one source said. "But no-one knows what a qualifying session actually is – it has something to do with if the game was launched, how long the player played for and how often they return. But it's a black box, really."

"App Store Greats" are not eligible for upfront payments, receiving bonus pool contributions only. As a result, games with shorter narratives and premium indie titles earn less than games with longer-term retention. This apparently explains the slow loss of certain types of games on the service. Moreover, there has apparently been a strong shift toward prominent family-friendly IP in Apple's commissioning decisions, with one or two new "‌App Store‌ Greats" per month. Very few original games are greenlit for the service unless they meet these requirements.

While some developers spoke about their relationship positively, others described the company as "vindictive" or "spiteful" in its dealings. Some developers claim that the ‌Apple Arcade‌ team has not made its strategy shift and overall direction clear, and often simply stops replying to emails. "I got the sense they didn't really know where they were going with it all – almost like they weren't sure if they'd have jobs at the end of it," one studio representative said.

Developers similarly spoke about their difficulties getting marketing support or obtaining features on the ‌App Store‌, even when their games are struggling to get traction on ‌Apple Arcade‌. "We have to basically beg for featuring from Apple. Getting that banner featuring at the top is like squeezing blood from a stone," one developer added.

Apple "rebooted" the subscription service in April 2021, cancelling a large number of projects. Some developers believe that Netflix's competitive move into gaming subscriptions has prompted Apple to consider another ‌Apple Arcade‌ reboot, but the long-term future of the service is unclear.

Top Rated Comments

tekcor Avatar
8 weeks ago
I really hope Arcade doesn't go away. I tell my kids I will approve anything from the Arcade, since I know I can trust the content. No microtransactions, no ads, no manipulative gameplay... you know, actual games. I don't have to scrutinize Arcade content like I have to non-Arcade games, which are more often ad platforms with games attached.
Score: 83 Votes (Like | Disagree)
rgwebb Avatar
8 weeks ago
Apple will never succeed in gaming because they won't really work at it. The only reason iOS has any success with gaming is an utter accident.
Score: 82 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Cryates Avatar
8 weeks ago

Ye ok, if you think so. They are just realising no one wants to pay a subscription for games. It’s not a misstep, maybe they see the numbers and know it’s dying.
34m Game Pass subscribers. People are willing to pay if the service is good.
Score: 53 Votes (Like | Disagree)
iLoveDeveloping Avatar
8 weeks ago
Why would they invest in it. It’s a terrible idea. I don’t want to pay a subscription to play a bloody game. I’m so sick of all these subscriptions. Let me buy my own stuff and keep it. I absolutely love sneaky Sasquatch but there isn’t any scenario where I’m paying monthly to play it.
Score: 48 Votes (Like | Disagree)
tomtad Avatar
8 weeks ago
Another Cook misstep
Score: 39 Votes (Like | Disagree)
icanhazmac Avatar
8 weeks ago
It never stood a chance. I guess it was an attempt by Apple to care about games but it was a poor attempt.

They should have taken all the money invested here and financed some AAA games on Mac.
Score: 30 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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