The latest additions to Apple Arcade show that Apple is looking back, not forward

A screenshot of Vampire Survivors on iPhone
Enlarge / Vampire Survivors on the iPhone. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s addictive.

Samuel Axon

Apple recently announced that new games are coming to Apple Arcade, its gaming subscription service for iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple TVs and Vision Pro headsets. The headliner is titled Vampire Survivorsan indie hit that combined the gameplay of bullet hell shooters and the addictive quality of clickers and became a mega sensation two years ago. Also coming Temple Run: Legendsa revamped version of the popular 2011 game.

Vampire Survivors was already available on the App Store, but was ad-supported, with the option to spend in-app money to get additional content. The Apple Arcade version, called Vampire Survivors+seems more like the PC or Xbox versions which do not have ads. Both paid add-ons are included at no extra cost.

In the meantime, Temple Run: Legends is a completely new game (not just a remake of the original) Temple Run) that transcends the ‘endless runner’ genre label by splitting the gameplay into separate levels. There will also be some sort of optional endless mode, however.

If you haven’t played yet Vampire Survivors rather, it’s worth a try. Both titles will launch on August 1st.

Arcade could use some fresher and riskier choices

These new additions are the latest in a long line of Apple Arcade titles that have been put together with a risk-averse, only-if-it’s-proven mentality that more or less ensures that the subscription service doesn’t deliver the kind of surprise hits that would draw people to it.

When Apple Arcade launched, its initial lineup featured a compelling mix of casual and indie titles, some of which found popularity on other platforms once Arcade’s exclusivity ended. However, there were early reports that Arcade wasn’t gaining the traction Apple had hoped, and the company quickly pivoted. It focused on continued, ongoing engagement as the primary metric by which to judge success, leading to a preference for games-as-a-service over standalone or narrative-driven experiences. And it began releasing primarily games based on established intellectual properties like Hello Kitty or Star Wars, as well as re-releases of games that had already proven successful elsewhere on the App Store.

Many of these re-releases were over a decade old, harking back to the early days of the App Store, when premium titles ruled the roost and free-to-play games as a service didn’t yet exist.

This week, Apple released a new game-as-a-service in a 2011 mobile IP and a viral indie hit many months after its virality had waned. I’m not saying that no one is interested in or playing Vampire Survivors but imagine how many more iPhone owners would have flocked to Arcade if it had been around when it first hit the news.

It didn’t take long for Apple to move away from its original strategy of reaching out to creative new developers who were presenting interesting work at events like IndieCade, and instead focus solely on games that had proven themselves to be successful, IPs that had already proven popular, or experienced developers who had already made waves on the App Store. Perhaps Apple didn’t give that strategy enough of a chance.

What we have now is a safe subscription service that essentially curates the best of what other people have already discovered, and (thankfully) strips out the ads and microtransactions. That’s a nice value proposition, especially for the price. But it’s unlikely we’ll see any big hits on Arcade making waves among players, influencers, or the press, because Apple is largely following the headlines with this service, not leading them.

That limits Arcade’s position in the landscape a bit, and limits its growth potential. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good value for the right type of player, but it does mean that those looking for the next best thing will likely look elsewhere, and by the time something reaches Arcade, they’ve already moved on to the next trend. Whether that works for you may vary, but with increased competition from other mobile game subscription services, Apple may need to accommodate more types of players. A better balance between proven hits and more experimental or ambitious titles day-in and day-out on other platforms could help it capture both buckets.

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