Apple Arcade has persisted for just over a year at this point, and although that means I've been busy ranking and re-ranking every game on the service for just about as long, I haven't done much reflection on the service as a whole.
If you want the short version, I think Apple has done a decent job at providing a wide variety of titles on its service, and their near-weekly new releases and title updates give you a reason to dive back into the service on a regular basis. That said, the dedication to keeping Arcade feeling fresh alone doesn't quite justify the cost of subscribing, and it seems like Apple has to put in some more work if they want this service to flourish.
See below for a detailed breakdown of my thoughts on Apple Arcade, including the service's strengths, weaknesses, and what they can or should do to improve the service down the road.
Let's start with the simple fact that Apple Arcade more-or-less does exactly what it says it does. Subscribers have access to a growing library of over 100 games, all of which are free of ads or other monetization schemes. These games also all work on all iOS devices and your progress syncs over the cloud. It's an impressive feat that can still sometimes feel like magic, even after using it for a year.
Something for Everyone
Apple Arcade has a game for everyone. There are hardcore action titles, deep strategic experiences, lite arcade games, and plenty of family friendly options in nearly every category. It's hard to deny that Arcade doesn't have something that you'll find appealing. I guess the flipside of this is that this variety can also mean any given person is likely only interested in some fraction of the library, but Apple's decision to opt for breadth initially is wise.
With Apple now bundling Arcade into Apple One, the service is now a great value-add for anyone who is subscribed to other Apple services. This is obviously only recent news, but it should help with anyone who was on the fence shelling out money specifically just for access to Arcade.
My biggest problem with Arcade (and I'm likely not alone here), is the overall game quality, which is lacking in myriad ways. Games routinely launch with technical issues or in an incomplete state, different games handle what is supposed to be standardized functionality (e.g. cloud saves, etc.) in totally inconsistent ways, and--throughout Apple Arcade's short lifetime--there has been a higher rate of high-quality, premium experiences releasing on the regular old App Store as compared to Arcade. If Apple is trying to convince people that Arcade is worth subscribing to, they need to successfully curb these problems while securing titles that feel like a cut above what you can find elsewhere.
In a way, it's been nice seeing Apple drop surprise titles on Arcade, but it's not a smart way to generate excitement for your service. For better or for worse, games need the hype train, and Arcade hasn't been successful in building one beyond their initial launch because there's no preview or advance coverage that's really been possible for its new titles.
The biggest problem with games on iOS is the way they are surfaced on the storefront. Although Apple Arcade has its own dedicated section within the App Store, the way they lay out their titles stinks, and there aren't many options to help you sort and browse offerings in the ways you might want to. The only workable view in my opinion is their list of all titles, but you can only access that at the very bottom of the Apple Arcade tab in the App Store.
Shift to Engagement
It's no secret that Apple is looking to change their strategy for Apple Arcade to focus more on "engagement." This word can mean a lot of things, but the most obvious thing it points toward is the same strategies free-to-play developers employ to keep you hooked on their game. I'm really hoping it doesn't, and instead Apple pursues developers making games with content schedules, seasons, or even early access games that may change over time. With this approach, Apple could create a library that feels like it's growing and changing all the time without making you feel like you've subscribed to play a bunch of free-to-play games you can't spend money in.
Worry Less About Exclusivity
Apple Arcade is touted as a service of "exclusive" games, but Apple's definition of exclusive doesn't seem to mean much. If Apple worried less about their games being brand new and more about building out a high-quality library of mobile ports, the service would likely be way more successful than it is now. Fantastic PC games like Dicey Dungeons and Into the Breach could be on Apple Arcade and drive subscriptions but--simply because they have already launched on PC--they can't. I really hope Apple can take a look at the constant call of folks wanting games ported to Switch and see that they could be capitalizing on that, too, but with a device many more people already own.
Look at What Works
Apple Arcade launched with a huge variety of games, but they really need to start looking for individual titles that will sign people onto the service. In order to do that, they need to look beyond the devlopers they already made agreements with, look at what's hitting now, and lock down deals for what's sure to make a big splash. Imagine if the next Fall Guys game (whenever that is) was on Apple Arcade. What about Among Us 2, which has been announced? What if Apple made a deal with Blizzard to make Diablo: Immortal an Apple Arcade game? I hope these are the questions that folks at Apple are asking themselves, because without securing tentpoles like these to their service, Apple Arcade will continue to feel like a sideshow for only the most dedicated mobile gamers.