Apple Arcade in review

Posted by Campbell Bird on October 18th, 2019

This weekend, Apple Arcade will officially be one month old. That means anyone who signed up for the free trial on day one has a decision to make: Stick with the service and shell out $5 a month, or cancel and go about your merry way.

As someone who dove head first into Apple Arcade by playing 35 games since launch (and counting. See their rankings here), I’ve come away ambivalent about the service in its first month. While it is really nice to have a huge, curated list of premium games from a lot of well-known developers, there’s a lot about the service that could be improved. To illustrate this, check out some of my notes I kept while thoroughly testing the service:


    • It has some legitimately great games (Card of Darkness, Overland, Mutazione, Dear Reader, What the Golf?).
    • It feels really cool to have access to a large library of premium games.


    • A lot of games didn’t work the way they should at launch due to bugs. Some still don’t.
    • Some games were clearly initially designed to be free-to-play.
    • There’s a lot of chaff. There are only a handful of games on the service so far I’d recommend without any hesitation.
    • Discoverability sucks.
    • Game Center ruins the experience of “play anywhere” by requiring a data connection. This can lead to a lot of games failing to boot or load your save offline.

I don’t know ¯_(ツ)_/¯:

    • How developers are going to get paid.
    • If this service is actually financially viable.
    • What we can expect of future releases.

Given this snapshot of current affairs, there’s only a few bright spots in what is otherwise a pretty messy experience, which isn’t exactly inspiring. That said, I can’t emphasize enough how cool it feels to have access to such a vast library of premium games without having to think about paying for them or wondering whether they’ll start asking you for more money. This is a low bar, to be sure, but one that I’m sure avid mobile gamers have been looking for the App Store to clear for a long time.

For folks not-so-invested in mobile already, I can see Apple Arcade leaving them with either a wildly positive or negative experience, depending on how they approached it. If they tried a bunch of buggy titles or wanted to play things offline, they'd clearly see it as a frustrating mess. But, if they only tried some of the service’s early darlings like Grindstone and Card of Darkness, they’d probably be pretty pleased with it.

Considering all of this, I don’t know if I’d actually recommend Apple Arcade to anyone. Sure, the unfettered access to so many titles feels magical, but I don’t know if that’s exciting unless you were already invested in mobile games to begin with. Even then, with the prospect of paying monthly for games—some of which you’ll just play once—it might just seem too high of an ask, even at the reasonable rate of $5/month.

This is my primary reason for being disappointed with the service overall. For every positive aspect of Apple Arcade, it’s undercut by some significant problem. There are a lot of solid titles on the service, but only just a handful of them stand out (and I’d rather buy those titles a la carte than pay monthly for them). Then, there’s the appeal of being able to sift through so many games, which could lead to discovering some hidden gems, but I don’t know many people have the patience to do that. I certainly do, but if everyone was like me, they would have been buying premium mobile titles at a rate that would have made the idea of Apple Arcade seem silly to begin with.

These problems make it easy to imagine that a ton of folks will bounce off the service as soon as they try a couple games in a row that don’t immediately wow them. This wouldn’t be a huge problem if not for the fact that this is a surprisingly easy thing to do on Apple Arcade in its current form, and I’m sure that will lead to a whole lot of people canceling their subscription once their free trial expires.

Despite my misgivings with the service, though, I do geniunely hope Apple Arcade succeeds. For everything it hasn’t quite nailed, it’s still driving things in the right direction. Apple has partnered with quality developers, set a consumer-friendly price, and is aggressively rolling out new games each week. I guess now we have to see if that feels like a good enough reason for people to actually pay for it moving forward.

Posted in: News, Opinion, Editor's Corner
Tagged With: Review, Apple Arcade
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