What Apple Arcade is Really About
The Short Answer: Quality of User Experience.
Apple and Gaming is a double-edged sword. Historically, Mac were always behind, with computer game developers focusing mainly on the far more Popular Windows platform.
With the Rise of Mobile games and with iOS, this has changed and Apple runs one of the largest gaming platforms, while Mac Gaming is still lacking.
PC gamers argue that this is mainly due to the lack of availability of higher-end GPUs in Macs, but forget that
- PC gaming itself is only a smaller part of the market, with the market being dominated by console and mobile games
- A lot of the more popular games having moderate system requirements
- Macs have been available with very capable GPUs for 10 years (Yes, you could get a 24-inch with a GeForce 8800 10 years ago, and the currently available 16 GB Radeon Vega 64 is also not too shabby). IOS devices also regularly are the fastest mobile devices on the market.
So considering that Apple devices are great to play games on, why doesn't Mac and iOS gaming lift off?
Quantity doesn't equal quality. Why is it that I prefer playing games on my XBOX than my Mac with a GPU that's twice as fast?
There are thousands of games available in the Mac and iOS App Store, but while Apple has well-documented guidelines for human interfaces, general quality and more, those have been mostly ignored in AppStore approvals, arguably in order to build a competitive selection of games in the AppStore.
The result is an AppStore full of games with a number of problems:
- Many AAA games don't even run on most Macs and the system requirements aren't transparent. Games aren't tested on all available hardware configurations.
- Due to the flood of games and low average quality, players are less likely to pay for pay-once games. This results in flood of "freemium" games and re-inforces the problem.
- The input models for games aren't standardized, Even though there is the MFi Controller standard, most games don't support those controllers. Some games which are PC ports even require players to press mouse buttons or keyboard keys that Macs don't even have!
- A lot of games bring their own "launchers" and require log-in to third party services, potentially collecting user data.
- Apple attempted social gaming with Game Center was a good idea, but due to the non-curated nature of App store, an achievement wasn't really an achievement since virtually and leaderboard is led by cheaters.
Game consoles like an XBOX or Nintendo Switch, in comparison, have a sophisticated curation process that insures quality and consistency. A game crashes? Rejected. A game exceeds a 20-second load time on a minimum hardware configuration? Rejected. A game doesn't display button prompts consistent with the user interface guidelines? Rejected. Game consoles are also more closed platforms where multiplayer game experiences can be monitored.
With the new Apple Arcade, all of this could change. Players could simply fire up their Apple devices and play to their heart's consent without having to worry about the problems above.
It could solve the quality problems both on the technical and user experience level and could encourage game designers and developers to, again, design games with players and enjoyment in mind first, instead of designing games to mainly annoy money out of them.
We're looking ahead at a bright future. However, there are some problems that Apple will face:
- Gaining traction: With the cost involved in game development, developers like creating multi-platform titles. If the requirements for the Apple platform are too specific, it could increase the threshold for developers to consider the Apple Arcade. Apple also uses non-standard APIs like Metal which means that, in order to get the most out of Apple devices, developers will have to write custom code. (cross-platform Game-engines like Unity, which supports Metal, can help, though). From my understanding Apple wants to have an exclusive cross-platform experience like no other, but the question is if the Apple Platform is big enough to make it attractive for developers to actually create exclusive titles.
- The Apple gaming ecosystem is already damaged. For example, there are multiple different versions of standards for gaming inout devices. There was the abysmal Logitech PowerShell that didn't have thumbsticks and made most games that supported controllers unplayable. There was another revision that added clickable thumbsticks. Supporting all this fragmentation will be a nightmare for game designers. The best thing is to make a cut and start over. Why doesn't Apple build one standard controller instead of having third-party companies create dozens of models with inconsistent layouts and functionality?
- We haven't heard anything about the social gaming integration for Apple Arcade yet. Can I brag to my friends about my Achievements in games?
- With all Apple Arcade games being cross-platform compatible with MacOS, a relatively open UNIX system, it's going to be very hard to control the online experience as the platform could be flooded with bots and cheat software.