Mobile game subscriptions are here at last. Apple Arcade has launched on iPhones across the world (and iPad too, if you use our guide) and Google Play Pass is incoming worldwide very soon indeed. Both subscriptions are priced similarly, but definitely offer some big differences in terms of the library.
For the most part, I'm feeling very positive about Apple Arcade and the upcoming Google Play Pass for a number of reasons, but I also have some extreme doubts, even though I've finally been able to go hands-on with Apple Arcade for myself.
I'm already pretty convinced that Apple Arcade is a great offer for consumers at this point, and I'm going to explain why, but I don't think this subscription is for everyone, nor do I think it'll be the savior of mobile games, and I'm going to explain why…
Here at Pocket Gamer, we play a lot of mobile games, often dozens in the space of a month. When you've done that for several years, you get used to the usual mobile trappings, the monetization of free to play games, ferocious ads on others, low quality shovelware… We have most certainly seen it all. But as of right now, not on Apple Arcade.
It should go without saying really, but with Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass, we are paying a small fee for premium mobile games which provide massive amounts of value. No interruptions from ads, no frustrations from free to play mechanics which slow the pacing of games to a crawl, none of that.
A curated library of quality mobile titles is truly amazing, especially since it can be so difficult to find the mobile game for you in the oversaturated gaming marketplaces.
And I'm happy to report that thus far, I've played nothing but quality games on Apple Arcade, the kind I find hard to put down. Quite a contrast to many mobile games I've played in the past which can often make it hard to motivate myself to keep playing. The likes of Mini Motorways, Grindstone and Sayonara Wild Hearts alone make subscribing for a month more than worthwhile.
This also tackles the difficult mobile value proposition. People are often not willing to pay even small amounts for a mobile game when there are so many to try for free, and half the challenge of free to play mobile titles often feels like getting the most of your playtime from zero investment.
But with Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass, people can experience quality mobile games on the move at an incredibly low buy-in cost per month. Honestly, I've paid more for lunch than these services are asking for, and I've already spent longer in Grindstone than it would take me to eat lunch.
That affordable availability is incredible. Wonderful for the consumer. But I wonder how it works out for the developers in the long term.
Much too much
Google Play Pass is offering you access to more than 350 apps. Arguably the subscription price is worthwhile for Stardew Valley alone, but 350? That is a lot. Too much, perhaps.
I already mentioned that mobile gaming marketplaces were oversaturated and a curated list of quality titles is wonderful. But, three hundred and fifty? That is already a bit of an oversaturated library, and it has barely even begun.
I realize this absolutely sounds like me complaining about having too much choice, but I would prefer fewer titles, and a much higher bar for quality, than… 350.
But not only that, I worry this devalues mobile games. Some games release on mobile devices that are absolutely worth full price. That is just a fact, and when you release a game on a subscription service, you've automatically devalued it, just the same as how Blu-ray releases drop in price once a movie hits Netflix.
Sayonara Wild Hearts, for example, has already been critically acclaimed, and despite this hasn't really made a dent in the Nintendo Switch eShop's top ten charts. I checked and saw it at 13, which is a vast improvement from what I saw at release, so word of mouth is clearly doing its job, but I wonder if having this game launch on Apple Arcade simultaneously has devalued it in the minds of the consumer.
Not only that, but will these subscription services take business away from indie developers that wish to release their games directly to the App Store and Google Play, instead of through subscriptions? If you already have 350 apps to choose from, why give the time for a new release which costs an additional £10, regardless of how good it is, right? And £5, for a single game, when you can get access to dozens upon dozens for a month at the same price? Value suddenly feels incredibly skewed in these scenarios.
This is nothing for the consumer to worry about, at least not for now. As long as mobile developers are incentivized to create high-quality titles for the platforms, consumers should be happy. But if this dissuades developers from creating something truly big, original, and perhaps more costly, for mobile devices, then it's a net loss for the industry.
Right now, it's all a bit much to think about, honestly. Each of the subscription services absolutely has its plus points, and right now, very few downs, but I do wonder about how this will affect the industry in the long term.
I can't argue with the value proposition that is 350 apps for a fiver a month, especially assuming those apps will either be great games or truly useful productivity apps. But I wonder how I will be able to sift through all of the options to find what I want.
The bottom line, though? Right now, Apple Arcade has some incredible mobile titles available at a great price and assuming the Google Play Pass has the same kind of quality, then it's a very exciting time for mobile gamers everywhere.