Mobile gaming is a massive market, there’s no doubt about that. There are plenty of games that make unbelievable amounts of money from smartphone users. But most of those games are more like pieces of software designed to suck money out of people vulnerable to gambling mechanics. These are games that can be fun, but have barely any cultural relevance outside of mobile devices. People in the more hardcore gamer spaces are always sort of paying attention to mobile gaming, as technology gets better and mobile phones more closely resemble dedicated gaming hardware. The potential is there, but hasn’t been met yet. However, with Apple’s official unveiling of Apple Arcade, it seems like the company’s long struggle with gaming could be coming to an end.
During the 2019 Apple event, which saw the reveal of the usual, annual Apple hardware announcements, a few services were also revealed and detailed. In September 2019, Apple will launch the Apple Arcade, a new service baked into the iOS App Store that more or less seems like the Apple version of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass. However, unlike the Xbox Game Pass, the Apple Arcade will have games totally exclusive to that service. Even in the initial presentation, some muscles are being flexed.
Don’t get me wrong; Apple Arcade is meant to appeal to a wider audience than gaming consoles. Not every game on the service is going to be a big, AAA, console-like experience. But there are big publishers involved, big IP, and again, exclusive content. The show started with a brand new Frogger from Konami, which was about the last thing I would have thought would open the event. But, as weird as that was, Capcom revealed a brand new game, and after the show the likes of Square Enix and Ubisoft also had brand new games to show off. With new games coming every month, it seems like Apple Arcade will be a constant flow of new and exclusive content. (Though, not every game is exclusive.)
But it isn’t just the games and publishers. All of those companies have already been involved with mobile gaming for better and for worse. It’s also the platform. Apple iOS 13 will be launching around the same time, and with it comes one of the most important features yet for prospective mobile games. Before, iOS only supported MFi controllers, or controllers made specifically to work with Apple devices. With iOS 13, users will be able to connect their Xbox One controllers and DualShock 4s through simple Bluetooth. As a beta tester, I’ve used it myself, and using a DualShock 4 for mobile games (or even PS4 Remote Play) works like a charm.
If Apple Arcade launches with enough games that have controller support right out of the gate, that’s a huge step forward for mobile gaming. At $4.99 a month, this is an attractive service, and Apple will want to make sure the content is of a high enough quality and comes out frequently enough that players will continue using it. Having that more common and versatile controller support is practically a requirement, even if there will still be plenty of games that are more touch-based. Options matter, and so do the kinds of controllers you can use.
With Google Stadia on the way along with the next console generation and the Switch only continuing to pick up steam, gaming in 2020 is going to be ridiculously crowded. Discoverability is already a growing problem, and it’s only going to get worse from here. It seems like the worst time to announce a new service. Yet, Apple is going all out to present iOS as a legitimate platform for gaming. While Apple Arcade will still have a more accessible array of game types than most, there’s no denying that “gamers” are being reached for here. Thanks to a low price point, exclusive games from big developers, and modernized controller support, mobile gaming could be facing the next step on its evolutionary ladder.